Verge Meets: Nicki Shields

Recently, Verge got the opportunity to interview Nicki Shields, a reporter on motor sports for big broadcasters such as the BBC and host of CNN’s Supercharged. In this interview, we discuss the course of her career, her passion for motor sports, and the intersection between technology and racing.

How did you get started in your career as a reporter? What drew you to the job?

I actually did science at university, and my building used to back on to the BBC. They were producing natural history programs, so it was a massive dream of mine to work for them producing a natural history program. Eventually I started working for the BBC, which was awesome. Then I did a program on sustainability and the environment. We did a show on electric vehicles, and they told me about this project they were involved with called Formula E. I found it amazing because, as well as being into science and the environment, I’m also a massive petrolhead. I grew up in a house full of petrolheads, and so it was wonderful. They got in contact, and it ended up working. I’ve been the host, presenter, and anchor for Formula E for the past two years. I do a lot of broadcasting in motor sport, which is an amazing opportunity. It continues to grow, and I think it will continue that way.

So motor sport has been a lifelong interest for you

Yes! As a little girl, I always thought I was going to grow up to be a Formula One racing driver. I watched the Formula One with my dad, and we’d watch some other racing, and do track days, and I’d do go-karting with him. I didn’t end up being a Formula One racing driver, but it’s nice to work in the industry.

You also get to travel a lot for this job to go to different races.

Yes, lots of traveling! We go to ten different cities every year, so I travel for all the races. I host Formula E, and I also host two series on CNN, one called Supercharged and another one called Going Green. My Supercharged program also requires me to travel to lots of wonderful destinations to film.

Do you have a favorite place to go?

If I was to pick a favorite race, I would say the Formula E race that we had in Moscow was amazing. We built a race track around Red Square, the Kremlin, and St. Basil’s Cathedral. It was sort of like the equivalent of racing around Buckingham Palace, so that was pretty amazing. In terms of other places, the best holiday I’ve ever had was going recently to Patagonia. I went on a big expedition onto the ice glaciers there, which is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was amazing. I would highly recommend it as a trip.

In addition to racing, you have an interest in technology as well, and you founded a tech start-up. Could you talk a little about that?

Yes, it was about five or six years ago now. It was a company called Starcount, and it was one of the first social media data analytics tools. We created social media charts on how famous people were on social media. We did a huge social media award show. It was like the MTV Awards for social media stars. There were stars from music and entertainment, but it was based on their social media popularity. We had Justin Bieber, who accepted an award, and Carly Rae Jepsen and Psy. So it was a great experience. It converted what we understood about social media and analytics into a big data platform. We were kind of one of the first to do it, as well. Now there are lots of data analytics businesses out there, but it was nice to say that we were one of the first.

Are you still into technology today?

Absolutely. I do quite a lot of technology features for CNN, especially around automotive technology. For example, recently we were looking at the technology behind autonomous driving. We did a really fascinating feature on how lidar and radar sensors work in autonomous driving and how safe it really is. We’ve also looked at the technology used to create special renewable fuel. There’s a new E-diesel, as they’ve called it, so we went to this big power plant to look at that. We also did a big feature with Tesla this week, in fact. I went behind the scenes at the Tesla headquarters. I believe not many people get the chance to do that – to be allowed into the world of Elon Musk. He’s very protective of it. It was quite an amazing opportunity to see the manufacturing process. As you can imagine, it was very Tesla – super cool, really high-tech.

Looking at your career, what would you say are some of the most important things that you’ve done or learned?

I think the most important thing is that I’m trying to be a good role model for women in motor sports. I get quite a lot of messages from girls who want to work in motor sport, or in broadcasting in motor sport, or they’re big motor sport fans. When I get those messages, it’s just really nice to know that as a consequence of what I’m doing, they’re going to follow up into it. Showing that women can do really well in this industry is important. One of the things I got to do was drive a Formula E car, and that was quite important because it shows that anyone can do it – obviously not racing in it, but you can still work in that kind of environment.

I’m actually doing a thing over the summer where I’m getting a gang of women from the media together to get their race licenses. That’s really really cool. It shows, again, that anyone can do it. You don’t have to drive like Michael Schumacher to enjoy racing and enjoy driving.

Is there anything else interesting that you’re doing now that you can talk about?

I have a Youtube channel, which is quite cool. I was really scared about setting it up because I think you’re really open to everyone’s comments. It’s very obvious if it doesn’t do very well because you can see how many views it gets. It’s quite easy to hide behind a channel, which is what I normally do, so I was quite nervous about how that was going to go. But it is doing really well at the moment – it has 10,000 subscribers and almost half a million views.

Nicki Shields can be found on Twitter (@Nickishields), Youtube (Nicki Shields), and hosting CNN’s Supercharged.

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