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Big Interview: Isla Traquair on talking, stalking and seeing crimes as both journalist and victim

The internationally-acclaimed podcaster has suffered from PTSD after a long-term ordeal, but is determined to keep making waves.
Neil Drysdale
Isla Traquair with Holly and Phil on 'This Morning'. London
Isla Traquair on 'This Morning', London. Supplied by Isla Traquair/Shutterstock

Isla Traquair is nobody’s idea of a shrinking violet. When she is interested in a story, she is as tenacious as a bloodhound on the scent.

Yet, these last few years have turned into an ordeal for the woman who grew up in Aberdeenshire in the 1980s, studied at Westhill Academy, joined the Press & Journal and subsequently moved on to Grampian TV, then ITV and Channel 5, as the prelude to becoming the creator of a globally successful podcast.

As a crime reporter, Isla Traquair has witnessed the worst of human behaviour, but that didn’t prepare her for becoming the victim of a stalker, Jonathan Barrett, who just happened to be her next-door neighbour – somebody from whom there was no easy escape.

Barrett, a 54-year-old gardener, was found guilty last August and ordered to do 300 hours of community service and pay £715 in costs after being convicted of stalking, but that punishment offered scant comfort to Traquair. Where was she to go? What did it mean for her future? And, more than six months later, she is still in a state of limbo.

Isla Traquair: ‘I haven’t been able to live there since’

Isla Traquair on set to present Channel 5 News.
Isla Traquair used to present the news on Channel 5.

As she said: “It got to the point where the police advised me to leave my home for my own safety and I haven’t been able to live there since.

“I couch-surfed and stayed with various friends and eventually moved back to America while I waited for the trial, so it was extremely disruptive living out of a suitcase without my things. The other major challenge was PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder].

“I’ve had panic attacks, crippling anxiety, nightmares, insomnia to name a few. When people see me on the TV and I’ve had my hair and make-up done and I’m talking about a subject not related to my own life, they think I must be doing great, but what they don’t see is the daily struggle to even go out to do food shopping.

‘Your sense of safety is so shaken’

“For anyone who has suffered from any form of anxiety, they will understand that it’s not as rational as a fear of something specific happening. It’s more your sense of safety is so shaken from repeated incidents that you live in a state of high alert.

“I’ve been having EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) which has been really helpful. I am doing a lot better, but I still have bad days. Thankfully, I am the type of person who loves a distraction, so if I can throw myself into a case, then I have laser focus and I can be my normal professional self. It’s the time after, once a project is over, that it hits me.

“The worst impact on my work was I simply couldn’t concentrate on any of it while I was in that house. There was one day I had finally got my flow back with a writing project and something happened which led me to call the police multiple times and I left the house later because I was so scared.”

Isla Traquair with Gyles Brandreth on "This Morning" in August 2022.
Isla Traquair with Gyles Brandreth on “This Morning” in August 2022.

Traquair’s approach to her podcast production is that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains. While working on these projects, she usually ends up wearing more hats than Audrey Hepburn, but they have been remarkably successful both before and during the pandemic when not even Covid could slow her down.

She told me: “The first series The Storyteller: Murder Most Foul went straight to number one on the iTunes true crime chart and number two on the overall chart which was mind-blowing. I research, write, produce, edit and present the entire thing solo (apart from the music) and I had no clue how it would be received, so I was really touched that it resonated with so many people.

Isla Traquair’s podcast is being made into a drama

“I’ve been contacted by people all over the world with amazing feedback. The pandemic then hit and I did series two, Violent Delights, and once again, it had incredible response with more than a million listeners worldwide. That series is being made into a drama and I’m in the process of writing a book on series one.

“I think the reason why they have been popular is that I am a genuine crime journalist. I dig deep, I interview actual people involved in the cases and I do my best to tell the stories in a respectful and compassionate way. I am not judging the other types of podcasts in which they research online and then chat about it because some listeners prefer a more informal and less in-depth style.

“The only issue I have is people not fact-checking, making insensitive speculations which really upset families and the biggest problem is when a podcaster, without any legal training, potentially risks active cases. I did actually once tell a podcaster to remove an episode because it could have resulted in a trial not going ahead.”

Isla Traquair on a visit to Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven.
Isla Traquair on a visit to Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven.

‘I cried when guilty verdict was read out’

Traquair watched the court proceedings last month when 82-year-old Christopher Harrisson was found guilty of murdering his ex-wife Brenda Page in 1978, at the end of one of Scotland’s longest-running criminal investigations.

And, while she isn’t somebody who believes in the pat notion of “closure”, there was satisfaction at how a family, however belatedly, had been granted justice.

She told me: “I cried when the guilty verdict was read out. I first covered this case for the Unsolved documentary series for STV, so it was a case that I have felt connected to for 20 years. At the time, I interviewed her family and friends and I felt their pain.

“These type of unsolved cases are, without doubt, the worst. You just want to give them the answers and help them find resolution.

Isla Traquair with her dog at their temporary home.
Isla Traquair with her beloved dog at their temporary home.

“The other aspect that made this case interesting was that I confronted Christopher Harrisson during the documentary, so I had to come face to face with him in court every day for three weeks. That was unusual, to say the least.

“It was an absolutely fascinating case because Brenda was the loudest voice in the witness box. She had shared with so many people her fears that Kit would kill her.

‘My tears were for Brenda’

“It was as if she got her power back and her words helped convict him even after 45 years. Was it satisfying to see an 82-year-old man led away in handcuffs?  The visual of that was hard to watch, but do I feel relief and a sense of justice that a killer is finally behind bars? Yes. My tears were for Brenda, her family and friends and for women.

“So many victims of domestic abuse have died at the hands of men who allegedly love them and though the justice system has moved forward, we still have a long way to go.”

There’s no sign of Traquair’s hectic schedule offering any respite in the future. But, ever since she was a teenager, she has poured her heart and soul into her work.

She said: “I’m the first journalist in UK history to be allowed to record the audio of a murder trial, so there’s huge pressure. When I have my flow, I just don’t stop.

“I get up pretty early and I’ll be editing and writing the script and doing voiceovers as I go along. I take breaks to walk my dog, but even then, I am listening back on my headphones to what I have just edited.

Not enough hours in the day

“I am also juggling the development of a documentary series right now and the scripted projects…and my book. I don’t have enough hours in the day, but I love what I do.

“In the coming months, keep your eyes out for the next podcast series and I also have a series of crime features coming soon on ITV’s This Morning. One of them is on a north-east case, so keep your eyes peeled.”

Traquair is passionate about her craft. It’s just a pity that she is working away from home for reasons outwith her control. Or blame.


1)What book are you reading? “Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss.”

2)Who’s your hero/heroine? “David Attenborough. No explanation needed.”

3)Do you speak any foreign languages? “I learnt German at school but haven’t had the opportunity to practice so I can only remember the basics. I did learn Italian some years ago but I’m very rusty.”

4)What’s your favourite music/band? “I grew up listening to my brothers’ and parents’ weird mix of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N Roses, Dolly Parton and lots of musicals. However, as a child my preference was soul music.”

5)What’s your most treasured possession? “I don’t know if I can call her a possession but my dog Bu. If there was a fire in my house, I’d risk my life to save her. She’s a rescue from LA and she rescued me as much as I rescued her.”