During a recent appearance on Chris Evans’ podcast How to Wow, Sarpong, who was appointed the BBC’s first director of creative diversity in October 2019, spoke about a time in her early 20s when she was working for MTV.
The 43-year-old said that MTV organised a beauty shoot with SKY magazine, an entertainment magazine published between 1987 and 2001.
“SKY magazine for any of you that don’t remember it, in the Noughties, was basically the coolest magazine around,” Sarpong said.
The television presenter explained that the women who worked at MTV at the time were referred to as “the MTV girls”, adding: “I mean you couldn’t get away with calling us that now, but we were the MTV girls.”
"It was Cat Deeley, Sarah Cox, Edith Bowman, Donna Air – so all of my white female colleagues and this was during the 'ladette' period,” she said.
Sarpong told Evans that she “wasn’t included in the shoot” with her white colleagues.
“What later transpired was it wasn’t SKY magazine that said they didn’t want me. The PR team at MTV had not put me forward for the shoot for whatever reason…” she said.
“And it was a beauty shoot – just to put that out there.”
Sarpong said that she was around 20 or 21 years old at the time, describing the experience as “heartbreaking”.
In hindsight, the former Loose Women panellist said she believes she “would have dealt with it differently”.
“But then I cried and I cried and I cried,” she said.
At the time that she was left out of the SKY magazine photoshoot, Sarpong’s MTV show was one of the “most highly rated shows on the network”, she said.
As such, members of the public who noticed she had been omitted from the photoshoot called up to voice their concerns.
“The only thing that made it bearable was the way the audience responded,” Sarpong said.
“What happened was, the audience, because at the time I had one of the most highly rated shows on the network, began calling up.”
The presenter said her agent told her they had two options: either to “get really hurt or upset” or to use the incident “as a way of teaching the teams this is unfair”.
Sarpong was able to renegotiate her contract with MTV. “Put it this way, I got a nice kitchen that year,” she told Evans on the podcast.
The BBC director of creative diversity also spoke about other times throughout her career when she has been told “black girls don’t sell”.
"There were so many times where I would do a shoot and be told it was the cover and then at the last minute it would be dropped because they thought black girls didn't sell,” she said.
"So many times producers would say we think she is amazing but we aren't sure a mainstream audience will like her on a Saturday evening shiny floor type show."
The Independent has contacted MTV for comment.