Fast Confession – sports presenter and writer Vojtěch Bernatský: I fulfilled my childhood dream. I always wanted to be a sports host
When you ring Vojta Bernatský's doorbell, you are greeted not only by this charismatic man, but also by his beautiful and kind wife. In time, his daughter Eliška comes running in with her hair almost knee-length, and soon after, you'll see his freshly woken son Matyáš coming to cuddle with his mother. In short, just another idyllic morning at the Bernatský house.
This charming presenter with the best smile and father of two is living life to the fullest, never putting anything off until tomorrow. He says children and family are the best things that could happen to him in his life. He has tons of activities, which lately include writing humorous stories about parenting. And he's good at it! His third book, aptly titled "Jak dostat tatínka do karantény (How to Quarantine Daddy)", is going to be published in September. In an interview with LP-Life.com, he reminisced about his studies and first loves, how he became a sports host instead of a film producer, how he experienced lockdown during the pandemic, and how he got hooked on writing books.
How did you spend this summer?
It's been fine, the coronavirus has thankfully subsided a bit so I've been with my family a lot. We took a chance going to Turkey because we had an unused voucher from the previous year when we couldn't travel. We were at the seaside and the kids enjoyed it. And we even took the liberty of going to a foreign country with my wife after approximately "a hundred and fifty-six" years, just the two of us. We went to Italy. Four days in and around Venice. The romance, the sea, it was just beautiful.
You originally studied film production, why didn't you go into that field?
That's simple, I went to FAMU back then to study film and television production because I was interested in film and enjoyed it. But the main reason was a bit different. I was in love with a girl who was studying there, and in the meantime, I was studying at the University of Economics. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it, but I wanted to be closer to her, so I gave it a shot and it worked. I was the youngest studying production at FAMU at that time, because people usually got there on their seventh or eighth try, there were classmates a generation older than me. I really enjoyed it, it was an amazing experience. In fact, to this day I still meet my former classmates - cameramen, sound engineers, directors - in the corridors of Czech Television. I love to reminiscence these times. But I've actually been a part of the sports department of ČT since I was a freshman at FAMU, and in the end, sports just won.
If I'm counting correctly, it's been a whopping 27 years since you started working at Czech Television as a sports anchor and commentator. Do you still enjoy it and do you still have something new to learn?
That's exactly right. I enjoy it! Going to work – even just saying it – sends shivers down my spine. I'm looking forward to seeing what sport brings next, as I'm also an active spectator of sporting events. It's just a hobby of mine. I dreamed up this profession in first grade and I'm still living that childhood dream to this day. Recently we had a reunion with my elementary school classmates after an awfully long time and they all applauded me and said, "We wanted to be nurses, bus drivers and astronauts, and we didn't make it. But you said you were going to be a sports presenter and you are." I was blushing all over, but it made me happy, of course. We can't stop time, but I can see incredible developments, especially technical ones, in my profession and beyond. The world keeps evolving constantly. When I first came into the newsroom, there were typewriters, and today we use the internet and social media, so there's always something new to learn. I'm constantly experiencing, for example, that positive and wonderful adrenaline rush after the BBV sports relation ("Branky, body, vteřiny – Goals, Points and Seconds") has aired. And that feeling is priceless.
This August 5, it was exactly 25 years since you first hosted BBV. How did it feel for you then?
Oh my, it's really been a quarter of a century... It was an incredibly emotional feeling for me at the time because I remember being quite nervous. When I look at the broadcast today, it wasn't that bad. Except for that purple jacket and the brightly coloured tie that was in fashion back then. It made me very happy that my colleagues remembered the anniversary in August. It so happened that I was hosting BBV on that particular evening, 25 years after my very first broadcast, and Martin Řezníček, the news presenter of that evening, highlighted that, as he was handing things over to me. He said I almost deserve an Olympic gold medal, so I was touched. And although it seems like an awfully long time, it feels like yesterday. Oh, and one more thing! At home, I must say this and brag, I got an amazing cake from my wife that had "BBV 25" on it. And of course, the kids congratulated me too, these were lovely moments. I hope it'll keep going for a while, probably not another 25 years, that might be too much, but maybe some ten to fifteen years, that would be nice.
Are there any events in your career that you really won't ever forget?
There are a lot of them, of course. I've been with Czech Television for 27 years after all. The biggest ones are always the successes of Czech athletes. The great victories of Martina Sáblíková, Katka Neumannová, Aleš Valenta... I think the one I remember the most is my first time hosting the Olympic studio, it was Nagano in 1998. As you probably know, the Czech hockey team famously beat the Russians and became Olympic champions for the first time in history. I have to say, I felt like I won then too, that I had Olympic gold too. The euphoria was unbelievable. For months afterwards, whenever I went to the pub with my friends, people were shouting at me, "Nagano, Nagano!" It was just a wonderful experience and feeling! It's something you can't forget.
How did you experience this year's Olympics in Tokyo?
I was mainly in charge of news for BBV and we had longer footage, so we had a great time. Because there was a time shift, I think the ratings matched that and I think people were happy to see the kind of quick summary and overview we did. I was a little worried, as they banned spectators in the stadiums in Japan because of the coronavirus. I thought the atmosphere won’t be there. You could see something was off, but on the other hand, the Czech athletes put in amazing performances and won a lot of medals, so I enjoyed it. I think they were fed up with me at home because I was sitting "glued" to the TV and cheering all the time. It's a true festival, you can't skimp that, so – it was great!
It seems you’ve accomplished almost everything in this field. Are there any other challenges unmet or professional dreams that you would still like to fulfil?
I believe that without dreams, challenges and motivation, you are just gleaning instead of living real life. So I have a lot of dreams. I want to travel a lot and write books, that's kind of my new path right now, a new course that has completely enthralled me. And deep down I'm kind of hoping that maybe there will be another interesting TV offer. I'm grateful to CT for giving me opportunities other than just the sports field, I've hosted some entertainment shows as well. So I hope that I have not been completely forgotten, and that maybe there will be another opportunity like this. I have a lot of things on my mind and I would be happy if some of them could be realized again.
You often do live broadcasts, I wonder if you've ever had an embarrassing moment that you'll never forget.
Well, there have been a few. I'm an avid collector of all kinds of "blunders", "screw-ups" and embarrassing situations, so we could be here for hours. But as far as I'm concerned, I have two short stories like that. I was once an Olympic studio presenter and I was reading a live entry, when my lapel mic - the chest microphone - died, or perhaps its batteries stopped working. And so there was no choice but to... sitting next to me was... a colleague, an expert in downhill skiing, who was, let’s say very well endowed in the chestal area, and I had to lean very close to her and read the entry into the port at her breasts. The pictures were over before I finished reading and so the viewer saw the unforgettable scene of Vojta "pinned" to the expert's upper body. That must have been one interesting diversion for the sports fans. And then there is the one with Petr Novák, the coach of speed skater Martina Sáblíková. This was at the time of the Nagano Olympics, when nobody knew Martina yet. By the way, he said in the studio that one day he would raise an Olympic champion. Everybody was side-eyeing him and saying, "Is he crazy? Here, in this country?" And I was the only one who said: "I believe you." He still remembers it to this day and he always comes up to me and says, "You're the only one who believed in me." So, back to the story. Because the shifts at the Olympic Studio were 16 to 19 hours, and by then you're growing your beard through your makeup, I fell asleep, I dozed off. And at that moment, he was just talking about a special kind of skate – the "clap skates" - that speed up the ride by about a second. I woke up after about 2 minutes of his monologue and said, "And that was Petr Novák. Thank you, Peter, and now let's move to downhill skiing, and if there's ever time again, you could tell us about the special new clap skates." That's when Peter saved me and said: "Of course, yes." So these things happen as well.
Most people know you as a very likeable presenter, but you're even a writer with two very funny and successful books to your name. How did it come about that you started writing?
Thank you for asking that question. It's simple, we had kids and my priorities went all topsy-turvy. It really consumed me, it's fulfilling. I just thought to myself that these are the stories and moments we all love and cherish, but unfortunately, time flies by so quickly and in our old age, we might not remember them. The very situations that were so enriching back then. And so I decided I would start a diary of a dad in his forties experiencing intense, humorous stories and moments with his children. By some coincidence, I don't really remember how, it got to an editor at Albatros publishing house and thus the book "Dvojtáta (Double Dad)" was born. I really appreciate the fact that thanks to the votes of the readers, this debut of mine won the Discovery of the Year category in the Book of the Year poll. I keep the award here on my shelf and it's really quite surreal for me. And with all due humility to all real writers, it's wonderful! Of course, it was a great motivation and boost for me, so I wrote a second book. Again, it's kind of a daddy diary, and it's called, "Tati, už tam budem? (Daddy, are we there yet?)" which is the traditional question asked by kids travelling by car. Today and every day they ask it. And now I'm very excited that I have this notional third volume coming out in September, called "Jak dostat tatínka do karantény (How to Quarantine Daddy)". It's a work indicative of the times we’re in, actually a kind of document of this difficult period. But it is also proof that children's immediacy, joy and humour can always bring us back from rock bottom, even when things aren’t going our way or we’re sad. So I hope you enjoy this book as well, and I'm very happy about it.
I have to agree with you on that. Children above all. Do you have any more of those funny stories and kids‘ catchphrases in store, so that maybe we can look forward to another book?
As I said, I’m all in, I'm enjoying it. I often sit in my study at my computer and write and write. I've already got something like 30 pages of the next sequel. It could be called "Život není peříčko (Life is no picnic)". That's definitely my mom's most common line. And then she always adds, "With the sweets always comes the sour". I am also very happy that this time the publisher asked me to narrate the audio version of this last book. And I even strummed four songs on the guitar for the audiobook. So, in fact, another childhood dream came true. My first "record" is coming out in September.
I wanted to get to that, too, because not only do you have a great way with the spoken word, but you're a brilliant guitar player and singer as well. How often do you get strumming?
It's a purely amateur hobby, but I enjoy it. Right now I play quite often because I got a beautiful guitar from my wife. I make up various songs for the drawer and now I've even "sold" it on that aforementioned audio version of my book. I've been into it since I was a little kid, I used to go to a children's choir and later my colleague Petr Svěcený and I had this little home band. It's a wonderful relaxation, even the kids enjoy it and we sing together. It's a great way to unwind, for example from the not so easy situations that this time brings.
Since it's such a great love of yours, have you thought about pursuing music professionally and getting into that field as well?
It's not at such great of a level after all. Thank you with all due humility, and humility is very important to me. You can’t do without it. I actually tried getting into music with Petra Janů in 2009. I'm also very grateful that I got the opportunity to be part of the "Duets" or "Když hvězdy zpívají (Singing With Stars)" competition. Thanks to the votes of TV viewers, we beat Simona Postlerová and Petr Kolář in the final round. Later on, Tomáš Klus and others hampered that a bit, but at that time I used to say, tongue in cheek, that there only ever were two singers to ever beat Petr Kolář, who at that time always ended up second in the "Zlatý slavík (Golden Nightingale)" music awards – Karel Gott and ... and ME. To this day, Petra and I occasionally perform our half-hour of singing together at various events and balls. Now and then at various events, I sing alone and it is hopefully a nice surprise for the audience. So singing is something I enjoy and is part of my life.
I noticed that you are also very active on Instagram, including covering your children as well. Did it ever occur to you that your kids would disapprove and no longer want to be seen on social media?
I don't have a problem with that. On the other hand, I respect the decision of some parents who don't want to show their children to the world. A friend recently said to me, "It's a good thing you're putting your Matyáš out there, because if someone were to drag him away by the hand, everyone would say: "But that's the Matyáš of Vojta Bernatský." That's an exaggeration, of course. It's just that if I put something ugly, or some child nudity, or some problematic stuff, that would be something else, but I have a family Instagram and we all have fun with it. Until now, it's entertained both my kids and my wife. When one of them starts to have a problem with it – and our nine-year-old teenager Eliška is already speaking up a little bit – they just won't be in the pictures, photos or possibly videos anymore.
You obviously have a positive relationship with children and you also work with Naďa Konvalinková on a project where you support families with children in foster care. That's so cool! What do you do in this project?
I am glad that about ten years ago I was approached to be a patron of the "Rozum a Cit (Sense and Sensibility)" Foundation, which takes care of children in foster care and the families themselves. Naďa and I are partners, she‘s been with the foundation for over twenty years. We meet with families and we also go at least twice a year on this boat trip on the Vltava River, where about 40 or 50 families show up. We go around and give them presents. Of course, Naďa and I try to raise funds for specific cases through our contacts. For a little girl who needs a new wheelchair, or for a young lady, who needs a new hearing aid or new braces. I like the fact that the Sense and Sensibility Foundation targets specific cases and families. I can tell you that when I leave that boat, I feel so energized by the energy radiating from those parents and entire families. How much love and affection they give to children who are not as fortunate as the rest of us. This really fulfils me and I hope it lasts for a while and that they are happy with me as a sponsor.
That is very helpful and commendable. Let me go back to Instagram for a minute. We can find you there under the name Vovo. Is that your nickname? How did that come about?
Simple. When I was a kid, I only could only write two letters: "v" and "o". So, "Vovo" just worked for me. To this day, my parents still call me that, especially my mom. So I just gave myself this nickname on Instagram, I use the handle "Vovo75" because ‘75 is my birth year. Now, someone recently told me to hang on for two more twenty-five years in BBV and it will match my "Vovo75" nickname. It's really as simple as that.
Do you still do "plogging", an activity that you yourself called that?
Well, it wasn't really me. This English word comes from the Swedish "plocka up", which means "pick up, sort, carry" and this activity originated in Sweden, where, by the way, many great runners, marathoner racers were born. I'm not a marathon runner myself, but every now and then I go for a jog. I'm mainly inspired by my mother, who has lived in Gotteborg for more than ten years and has cleaned up a lot of forests there in this way, by "plogging". She goes on these long, ten-kilometre walks to the sea and she's really into it. Plus, in Sweden there is a deposit system, so she gets some coffee money for all these plastic bottles and cans, so that's cool. I think that a similar deposit system would definitely work and suit our country as well. So my wife and I run out like this every now and then with a plastic bag for collecting and we enjoy it.
You've had a successful career hosting various television shows, as you mentioned. Viewers know you as a lover of good humour and your sports commentators impressions are particularly funny. You once said somewhere that you'd like to host entertainment shows. Is there anything like that in the pipeline, and how is it progressing?
It's a bit to do with those career dreams and challenges. I'm not the type to beg or plead somewhere. I think that in the time I've been at Czech Television, the creators have some insight into whether Vojta Bernatský would be up to hosting a quote-unquote entertainment show. And after all, as we said, my colleague Petr Svěcený and I have tried it a few times. I definitely wouldn't be opposed to it, but if such an offer doesn't come, no harm done at all. I'll write books and spend time with my family. Speaking of the coronavirus thing, I don't know about you, but if someone asked me what one word I could think of in relation to lockdowns and quarantines, it's definitely FAMILY. We've come together, we're a group, a pack, and we love being together. Maybe in some families, they found out that it doesn't work, but life is short, so if that happens, we need to move on. But that’s not our case, we love being together, it fulfils us and most of all we enjoy it. We like to travel together, fool around, create. If it stays like this and there's nothing else around, I'll be the happiest Vojta in the world.
What's in store for you at the moment? What are you working on?
Right now I'm currently looking forward to September 8 and September 14. Mainly because my third book is coming out and there will also be a book launch. The book patrons will be Eva Holubová, Pavel Zedníček and Paralympian Jirka Ježek. I am so looking forward to it and I hope that the readers will like the book very much. Of course, there’s another big sporting event waiting for us again, because right after one Olympics there is another one in Beijing right this next February. So there's a lot to do and who knows, maybe there will be another challenge.
Thank you very much for the interview, have a great time and may everything work out for you in your professional and private life.
Thank you very much as well and I look forward to our listeners and viewers enjoying this interview and I wish you all the best of health.