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Portrait of a Lady

'Girl With the Microphone' Natalie Pinkham adds touch of class to the European Poker Tour

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: May 01, 2007

Season one of the European Poker Tour had Caroline Flack - a beautiful, outgoing young girl who exposed an "I enjoy life" attitude in everything she said and did. People loved the extraverted way with which she handled things, and it seemed quite likely that in time, she would become just as popular as her counterpart on the World Poker Tour at that time, Shana Hiatt.

Things have changed, though. In season two of the EPT, another young woman took over from Caroline as EPT hostess. She also was beautiful, of course, but a bit less extraverted, and very, very classy. In no time, people began to love this new person as much as they had always loved Caroline. Intelligent, articulate, and sometimes a bit cheeky, this new lady added a true touch of class to the EPT. Meet the "Girl With the Microphone": Natalie Pinkham.

For once without a microphone, Natalie chats with me. Having deduced that the only way I will probably get to spend some quality time with this lovely girl is by offering her a cover story, I decide to give her just that - a cover story. And, I will not be disappointed. Pinkham graduated from Nottingham University, where she studied politics; she is not the average TV girl that one would expect. She has lots of interest in poker and sports in general, has that typical British sense of humour, and on top of that has an excellent taste for the "other" things in life, being a big fan of slightly alternative or foreign movies (Volver, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and quality books (The Kite Runner). Being fluent in not just English but also Spanish, and practicing what most people would consider "extreme" sports as part of her TV work for Channel 4, she is not the type of young woman who can easily be labeled as "average." Here's her story.

Rolf Slotboom:
How did you get into the EPT? Were you asked, did you apply, or were you able to enter because you were good friends with Caroline, maybe?

Natalie Pinkham:
Well, no. We are friends, yes, but we didn't meet until the EPT, actually. I was doing some TV work for Sky Sports and the BBC, behind the scenes mostly. Then a friend of mine, James Hopkins, set up the Poker Channel, and he asked if I was willing to do some work in front of the cameras. This was about two years ago. He probably asked me because I was cheap (laughing), but as a result, I got the chance to start doing some interviewing and all. One thing led to another, and I found my way into the EPT. I started in season two, when Caroline still took care of the special stories and the shots outside of the casino. Starting season three, I did everything by myself. And I can honestly say that I truly enjoy the action at the tables. Probably, I will never have a mathematical brain, but I love to see players interact, and I like being perceptive with regard to people's behavior. Sometimes you get to see firsthand how otherwise reasonable people become totally unglued. I think that this is an interesting phenomenon to watch - in poker, and in life.

RS: What do you think the characteristics of an EPT host or hostess should be - and how do you grade yourself in these characteristics?

NP: First and foremost, you need to communicate with the people. This means that you will need to love people, and like mixing with them. I think I am pretty decent in that respect. But there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially when it comes to understanding the complexities of the game more: getting inside the players' heads, and analyzing why they have or have not done things. But I do love the game, and I play as much as I can - and I hope that this shows in the interviews that I do. Sometimes the work isn't always easy, though. Especially the post-elimination talks can be hard, for instance, when someone just doesn't like to talk. But that doesn't happen all that often. Most poker players are pretty good at handling adversity, and know that they will have to take the rough with the smooth.

RS: Do you have any ambitions outside the EPT?

NP: Well, Rolf, you probably know that I already have lots of work outside the EPT. I have a sports show on Channel 4, and this means that I sometimes travel to countries like Australia for the bush, to go kayaking, to jump out of helicopters, or so. I like this a lot, just as I truly enjoy my EPT activities. In all honesty, I would love to start doing documentaries at some point, especially when they involve sports or politics, my two main passions. But I would also love to set up some charity programs. A friend of mine has set up an AIDS foundation in Africa, and I have done my share, too, in creating a sports centre in Calcutta for kids in deprived areas. So, if anything, I guess my focus would be on things that are a bit more "worthwhile," maybe. But then again, maybe I'll just get married and have four children. After all, the clock is ticking (laughing)!

RS: OK, let's say that would happen. Then what? Would it be the end of a career for you?

NP: I always like to look at my mom. She first had kids, and then a career. Too many girls try to forge a career, then panic that they haven't yet had kids, and break their careers in the hopes that they can return - but usually they don't. Most of my girlfriends have careers, but no kids. And, in fact, lots of guys prefer a girl without a career of her own, as they feel a little intimidated by this. I am a bit ambivalent in this respect. I don't want to ignore my personal life in favor of my career. But if you focus on a career too much in the TV world that I am now part of, by the time that you think you have finally reached that career, a younger girl will be there to take your place. And then, not only will you have no career anymore, but you also won't have a man or a family to be happy with.

RS: What's your view on poker players in general? Do you think they lead a healthy, or even interesting, life? Would it be a turn-on or a turnoff for you if you saw a cute guy and then found out that he's playing poker for a living?

NP: Probably, my first concern would be how he handles his playing. I would worry if I found out that he has a compulsiveness, or an addictive personality. Those who are more pragmatic about their wins and losses - well, that would be OK in my book. Someone who is making value judgments, close calls, and good reads at the poker table is usually quite balanced in real life. And especially guys with strength in their convictions - well, that can be very attractive to a woman. The gambling thing could have me a little worried, though - even though I know that in general, poker players are very smart. For instance, Patrik Antonius gave me the best advice I ever got - just three words: Trust your instincts. But it applies to poker and life, because when I didn't trust my instincts, whether it was with friends, boyfriends, or something else, I got unstuck as a result.

RS: You have a special kind of connection with the girls who are participating in the EPT, right? For instance, when Vicky Coren won in London, I noticed that you seemed very happy - correct?

Well, I don't want to sound too much like I am jumping on the "Girl Power" bandwagon. For me, poker is not an exception; all the other sports that I cover for TV are male-dominated, as well. In these types of sports, you need to have a thick skin, and it helps if, as girls, we stand together a bit. The Vicky Coren win was important in the sense that it was a true sigh of relief for women's poker. One can say that the "pressure is off" now that a woman has finally won such a big event - and a beautiful and intelligent one, on top of that.

Tell me about your wildest or most interesting experience since you've been with the EPT. In other words, give us a good story, Natalie!

The best story so far was probably the Jeff Williams win at the EPT Grand Final last year. Just a decent guy, only 19 years old, his parents in the audience - and he got rewarded with a first prize of no less than €900,000. He was not even old enough to play in the U.S., and he was absolutely blown away by reaching the final table. I guess I couldn't have given the check to a nicer guy; it restored my faith in humanity a little (laughing). His win also showed how accessible poker is. If you play Ronaldinho in football or Federer in tennis, you don't stand a chance. Jeff epitomized how accessible poker is: Young, fresh-faced, a decent family guy, and he beat all of the experienced pros. Afterward, he came to the crew, and instead of just leaving with the money, he was playing the guitar and even played a little poker with us. All in all, this may not have been the wild story that you wanted to hear, Rolf - but it was brilliant, nonetheless.

RS: Are there any things that you think could still be improved at the EPT - for the players, for the event itself, or for you, maybe?

NP: Well, as for the players, I wouldn't know; I am not a player. Besides, Thomas Kremser takes care of all that, and I am certain that he listens to every complaint that they may have. As for the event itself, the venues are still a bit of a problem. For instance, for the TV set, we require that the casino has high ceilings, and this alone can sometimes be a problem. But we do have quite a few great venues already, and I think that if we can add one or two in places like Russia or Prague, that would be great. And as for me - well, I would like my own personal masseur, champaign when I arrive, and rosebuds in my bed (laughing). Seriously, I am happy. I have a beautiful job, I have lots of people in my crew with whom I would go out to have a beer, and we have tremendous fun. I guess that is more than I could have asked for when I joined.

Finally, do you have some final words of wisdom for the readers, some words that you live by?

Just one thing, maybe. I don't really believe in mantras, but this was on my grandmother's praying card when she died. I hope and expect that Card Player Europe readers will find it as beautiful as I do.

God give me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
The courage to change the things that I can,
Plus the wisdom to know the difference.

Thanks, Natalie.

You're welcome. spade