The face of journalist and TV show host Natasa Miljkovic is well-known to all. Her reputation is that of a professional who always pushes the standards higher and never steps back from a challenge – what’s more, she welcomes them. During her years-long career, this Belgrader has worked for several TV houses and left a deep trace in each of them, never fearing a new challenge.

What are your earliest memories about Belgrade? What was it like to grow up here and what places and events from those times do you especially remember?

N.M.: Actually, I remember two parts of my childhood. The first part is up to when I turned four years old, when we lived in a small house in Zarkovo and with a larger family. These were some of my happiest memories. I remember this little yard where we kept my rabbit and also some neighborhood cats who eventually ate that rabbit. It was in that yard where I realized for the first time that everyone dies...and many other things. Then we moved to Julino hill, where I stayed until I started high school.

The memories of my childhood are of running, sledding and peace – the kind of peace where your parent doesn’t know exactly where you are at all times, but they’re sure everything is okay. I remember when our neighbor brought me home bloodied after I fell over a concrete bench and got a lot of scrapes.

Interestingly, I often dream I’m back in the neighborhood where I grew up, still living there, even though I haven’t been there since 1992.

Kids are usually attached to their neighborhoods. When did you start discovering other parts of Belgrade?

N.M.: I can’t remember exactly when it was I went out into the city by myself, but I remember the first time I was allowed to ride the public transportation to Banovo brdo by myself – I was going to Beteks. I think I was in sixth grade and it was a big deal for me.

On the other hand, I didn’t start going out with my friends – those coy first nights out – until I was in 1st grade of high school. At first we kept to Julino hill, but then around 93-94, we discovered “Tacka” on Thursdays in the Youth Center and then “Industrija”. Those were our teenage days.

What were your interests back then, what did you want to ‘be when you grew up’?

N.M.: A journalist, since always. My father was a journalist, which back at the time was a very grand and important profession, which took him around the world and led to him meeting many foreign delegates, presidents... I was always so proud to pass by the “Vecernje novosti” building because “my dad was there”. Not everyone is allowed into the building, but I was and that was very important to me.

Then, in 1992 when I was 15, my father helped me and during my summer break let me work on a radio show in Studio B. However, I made a wrong turn by accident and instead of going to the radio, I went to the TV studio for a teenage show. It was that year that my one wish growing up came true and it stayed that way until today.

If I hadn’t gone to “Beogradjanka” back in 1992 on that day, I don’t know where I’d have ended up.

What was your debut in front of the cameras like? What were your first experiences?

N.M.: Back then everyone watched that show at 8PM on Sundays – everyone were at their TV screens. Not everyone could work on that show. I asked the director if I could work on one segment for it and he asked me to give him some suggestions. I prepared some and never got an answer from him, but when I left to do the radio show I was noticed by Dusan Dule Bauk, the man who changed my life back then. I was a cute kid and I remember I was wearing denim overalls and a white t-shirt. After he saw me, Dusan said to Jasmin who was the big director of that teenage TV show: “I won’t be doing the show tomorrow if you don’t let that kid host it.”

After that they found me when I was leaving the radio studio and asked “Natasa, do you want to host the show tomorrow?” To me, it was as though someone had asked me “Do you want to become the new Oprah tomorrow?” It was all my wishes coming true at once. Of course I said yes, although if someone offered me to be a new Oprah today I’d be hard-pressed to accept. Still, when you’re young you jump on every opportunity and think you can do everything.

What happened tomorrow?

N.M.: In the studio we had Ivon Jafali, who was already a big hero of mine, and me – shaking and losing my voice. Since the show was filmed live, Jasmin kept shouting at me from the director’s booth “Natasa, come back to the shot”. It was a small studio and I kept leaving the shot because of my nerves, thinking “what am I doing here”. Eventually it turned out that this fiasco wasn’t a fiasco and I stayed where I was.

You stayed with Studio B TV up to 1995.

N.M.: Yes. That was when BK television issued a tryout call that was answered by 3000 candidates. First I was invited to an interview with a committee that included the late Srdjan Djuric. And wouldn’t you know it, I got re-invited to the second round of tryouts with another 100 selected people. They had me sit down and read a news report – I could do that. Then, they took pictures of our left and right side profile and finally they asked me to angrily state “I disagree with you”, which was the hardest thing for me because I was only 18 years old.

When I saw the other girls, how beautiful and well-dressed they were and how they had no problem saying “I disagree with you”, I was sure I wasn’t getting invited back to the final round. However, I was wrong. The last ‘circle of hell’ was the interview with Alexandar Tijanic. I went to see him and Marina Rajevic-Savic (host of the show “Dok Andjeli Spavaju) was also there. Tijanic looked at me and joked to Marina “Marina, see what today’s generations are like?”

Back then I was shy and withdrawn and a friend of mine who was the complete opposite was also with me. I was sure that she would pass, not me. That’s why when everything was done I packed my bags and went to the seaside to study for my exams because I was sure I hadn’t passed the interview. The same evening I arrived to the seaside, I got a call from a friend of my mother to go right back to Belgrade because my name was listed on BK TV and tomorrow at 10AM I was supposed to be there. I took the first next train back and tomorrow got to attend the first lecture by Tijanic.

BKTV at the time was a new television concept. It seemed like their organization and production standards were far above anything else present in the market. Their show hosts were a new format of their own and many new faces emerged back then – including yourself.

N.M.: When it existed, BKTV had good viewership, but people constantly complained that everything was just showmanship and not much real content. When it shut down, then everyone started saying it was the only real, high quality TV station. We have a bad habit of not appreciating things while they are there. We always think something else is better. That was also the case with the TV show “Kljuc” that I was hosting. At the time it was on there was much criticism, but today – 10 years later – people still stop me in the street and ask why “Kljuc isn’t on anymore because it was a lovely show.

On the other hand, the only person in that domain who was giving a shot to young talents was Tijanic. Today there isn’t as much of that. Years later I asked him why he chose me against such fierce competition. He said it was my eyes and lips – the areas of the face that have to look good on screen.

After the tryouts, you had a very solid training period as a reporter, in order to be ready for work.

N.M.: All of us who passed had classes during our first month. Well before we actually started working. We had classes with Nebojsa Djukelic, Dusan Mitevic, Slavolik Mitic...some of our most famous names and legends in journalism of that time. Even though we might not have understood everything they were telling us about – being still kids back then – it all stuck and was very important for our careers.

You decided to work in authoring shows and “Kljuc” is definitely what people remember you the most for.

N.M.: Tijanic became the director of RTS in 2004. At the time, I was with BKTV. Then, he talked to Bogoljub Karic and they called me, Branka Nevistic and Natasa Jeremic. Tijanic asked: “Ladies, would you come to RTS to help me out for a year or so?” We all looked to Bogoljub and when he said it was okay with him, we said yes. Soon “Kljuc” launched and only then did I realized how young I was at the time. I had the experience, but you can never have enough experience when you do shows of that type. This was the first show that was filmed in front of a live audience, in a big studio and with hot topics and it was very important and relevant at the time. However soon many similar shows began to pop up, so I decided to cross over to popular culture topics, away from politics.

What left an impression on you from that period?

N.M.: I’m thankful to that show because of all the wonderful people I met while working on it. I was privileged enough to get to talk about important topics but also to invite people I respect to come on the show and remained friends with them. That was when we also made an internet forum. The forums came before the social networks of today and it was a special organism where I also met many interesting people, got great ideas and feedback from the viewers.

While working on “Kljuc” I remember some political topics that shortened my life by some years, but I remember best the show where the topic was Severina, after her intimate video was released to the public. The episode was titled “Severina – more than sex” and guests included Rambo Amadeus, Vedrana Rudan, Isidora Bjelica and Dragan Vucicevic, with input from Igor Mandic. They agreed – without my knowledge – to sabotage the show because of Tijanic and cuss every other word.

I still get stage fright to this day and back then I was just a baby and completely unprepared. It never occurred to me that someone could be like it. When it went downhill, I just said to Branka Nevistic to call Tijanic.

We survived the show and tomorrow morning there was a scandal in the media. What was the topic of the show and should a public service air an episode with that kind of language. Tijanic showed up, we sat down in editing and he told us to play a sound effect of a key turning over each and every swear word. We aired the episode like that.

And then you became a mother and everything changed?

N.M.: All I wanted was to get rid of the stress involved in making “Kljuc”. It’s all fine when you can stay at work until 10PM or come home and bottle up all the stress. Of course, I loved working on it, but I didn’t want to come home beat down and depressed when I had a child. These are the things that the viewers don’t see. They all think you are what they see on screen. This is why the morning program in RTS was great, because there I could work without stress. My son Lazar and his growing up are my priorities and not only in the sense that I want to be present in his life, but also to be happy, healthy and cheerful when I am there.

What’s it like being a mom in Belgrade?

N.M.: Sincerely, I would prefer to be a mom in the country – have my kid running around outside, milk cows, enjoy fresh air and eat healthy food. To not have to worry about the traffic, pedophiles and criminals. On the other hand, here he has access to culture, his friends, sports...everything. I’m not complaining, it’s good to be a mom in Belgrade, although it sounds better to be a mom in Rome. :)

What’s you and Lazar’s favorite place to go in Belgrade?

N.M.: Kosutnjak. We have ‘our’ spot there, spending the weekends there when the weather is nice. We also like to ride bicycles in Ada Ciganlija and Lazar adores Marakana – that’s his sanctuary. Still, what he loves the most is the soccer court outside his school, that’s the epicenter of his life.

He loves to travel, but he always looks forward to returning to Belgrade. Now 9 years old, he’s starting to understand this city.

You had the opportunity to see and travel to so many places. Which places mean the most to you?

N.M.: It’s Rome, a place that I see not just as a city, but a universe in and of itself. When I go to Rome, I breathe differently, talk differently and look differently. I have a tactile relationship with that city – I need to touch the building facades. For me, that was the place where I should’ve been born. Still, I was born in Belgrade and my favorite thing here are the people.

What’s your favorite thing in Belgrade to show to visitors from abroad?

N.M.: It changes with the times. In 2003, some friends came to visit from Rome and I was having a hard time deciding where to take them. I thought of Kalemegdan, but these people are coming from Rome, so as much as Kalemegdan is beautiful, it wouldn’t be interesting to them. Kosutnjak, Dedinje also aren’t things that would be unusual to them. What did leave them speechless were the ruins left behind after the bombing.

Today it’s a different story. The museums have come to life and there are so many restaurants. I think we’re building this Serbian cuisine brand that we can take pride in and that delights foreigners.

Now you work at “Prva” TV and you host the morning program on weekends. How much is it different and are there new challenges?

N.M.: Everything is a challenge here because they have such a different approach to work – fast-paced and modern, as modern television should be. This is something I’ve waited for years to feel. I think the morning program on “Prva” TV is just right.

How often today do you have to say that line that started your career “I disagree with you”?

N.M.: I say it much more easily and more often and I sound very serious. :)

Seeing how you kept ‘peeking’ into your father’s workplace since childhood, does your son like to come to his mom’s office?

N.M.: When he was younger he didn’t understand what TV was yet. But nowadays I notice his eyes go big when he enters the studio. He watched Ivan Ivanovic’s show getting filmed and said he wants to come to his sets every time.

Still, it’s a different time today. I don’t think television is as interesting to kids today as it used to be to me. Now we have mobile phones and computers and that’s what fascinates them.