Lisa Theaker

Getting To Know Assistant Chief Constable & Hunted Star, Lisa Theaker

Lisa Theaker is Assistant Chief Constable at Cleveland Police and star of Channel 4 TV series, Hunted. In a recent chat, Nicole Wood discovers more about her story…

Growing up, we all had dreams of who and what we wanted to be.

But then we reach a certain age and expectations, doubt and societal norms take over. And for some, those childhood dreams transform into ticking boxes for someone else’s idea of success.

But success should be whatever you want it to be, it should be what makes you happy. It shouldn’t be based on what anyone else deems as triumphant.

We’re all different and each and every one of us will have our own idea of what success looks like.

Sadly, society has drilled into us that we need to follow certain steps and that if we come from certain backgrounds, we can’t have the ability to dream big and go after it.

Speaking to Lisa Theaker, she’s the perfect example of how you can achieve anything you set your mind to with the right support, determination and hard work.

How it all started

“I had no childhood dream of solving crime,” she says.

Lisa Theaker

“I was studying at Teesside University but couldn’t afford to stay, so I left. The truth? I wish I had some amazing and inspiring story of why I was so desperate to join the police force. But I wasn’t, I was skint, applying for loads of different jobs and ended up in the police.

“I didn’t get my degree and it just shows that you don’t need all of that. They push a lot nowadays that going to university is essential. I fully stand by that education is super important, but you can succeed without a degree too.

“I’m Assistant Chief Constable at the age of 42 and I don’t have a degree. But I’ve worked hard to get to where I am and it just goes to show that hard work pays off. There’s different routes you can go down to success – higher education isn’t for everybody,” explains Lisa.

I was unsure what to expect from chatting to an Assistant Chief Constable, but 30 seconds in and Lisa has cracked her first joke. Her warm, hilarious and upfront personality shines through instantly.

Unapologetically herself, she’s the kind of person who tells you how it is.

Speaking to Lisa Theaker and hearing how passionate she is about her job, to me, it sounds like the career path she was always destined to follow – whether it was her childhood dream or not.

Working in the police force

“I joined the Northumbria Police Force when I was 20. I did 18 years’ service there before transferring to Cleveland Police which is where I am now.

“I’ve had lots of different job roles and experiences throughout my career. I think the reason I ended up on the promotion trail started as a bit of a competition with the guy I joined the force with. We’d always race to see who could pass exams and stuff first – and you’ll be pleased to know I won and it just went from there really,” she laughs.

“But in all seriousness, I loved every minute of the 18 years I spent at Northumbria. I finished my time there as Detective Superintendent. I was also the head of the Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, and if I’m honest, that is where my passion lies.

“There’s no greater privilege than investigating the tragic death of someone and getting justice for them and their family. I worked there as a Senior Investigating Officer for six years and I guess my area of expertise is around investigations.”

Challenging the status quo

Despite working in a male dominated industry, Lisa Theaker has never once shied away from a challenge or allowed stereotypes to stand in the way of her goals and ambitions.

“My motivation is proving people wrong. When someone says you can’t do something, there’s no greater satisfaction than proving them otherwise.

“It’s always been a male dominated industry, but it’s changed dramatically since I started. I’ve been in over 20 years and don’t get me wrong, it has changed a lot, however, there’s still a long way to go.

“I think the Police Force in particular has a reputation around who fits into certain roles and certain ranks. Personally for me, I like the disruptors who like to challenge and want to change things, those who question the norm and say ‘no’ to following the status quo.

Empowering women

“In the homicide teams we have some really good females leading investigations who are really inspiring. You know these women, they have families and could be working over 24 hours before they get home.

“It’s a challenge but the passion, the ‘can do’ attitude and their ability to manage this intense job alongside family life is impressive. Being a mother and having a family doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of climbing the ladder.

“I was also a Firearms Officer and as a female it’s few and far between. During my time in charge of that department as Firearms Inspector, I think we had around three or four female officers out of 100 people. That’s probably what kickstarted my passion around empowering women to do anything they want to do.

“We definitely need to do things differently. Now don’t get me wrong, we can’t group everyone together, men can and a lot already have made a huge difference. Two in particular inspired, encouraged and helped me throughout my career. But there’s still a long way to go and I really want to help make a difference.

Lisa Theaker

“I’ve met some amazing people at both Northumbria and Cleveland Police. Sadly, I think a lot of people equal rank to success. But actually some of the best people I have worked with are some of the detectives and cops on the street who are doing the job day in, day out. I guess that’s my motivation, seeing other women succeed and do well and then locking up the bad people.”

The Power of Women Campaign

“The first time I did Hunted I donated my fee to the Power of Women Campaign. I did it to show that, actually, there are no barriers. A big thing for me is supporting other women. I get satisfaction from seeing other women succeed and do well. Not just because they’re a woman, but because they’re amazing people and they’re really good at what they do,” says Lisa Theaker.

The Power of Women Campaign was set up by a group of business leaders in the North East who were sick and tired of young women in the region being constantly overlooked.

The aim is to provide young women of the Tees Valley with equal opportunities, role models, inspiration, resources and information to take control over the choices they make.

“The reason I stumbled upon The Power of Women Campaign is because I went to meet Professor Jane Turner OBE. I was arranging for her to come into the force to do some leadership training with our executive team.

“I’m not easily impressed by people, but I was only with her for 30 minutes and I came away with a spring in my step. She was just so different and made a real impact on me in such a short space of time. I remember coming back to the station and saying to my boss, we’ve got to sign her up, she’s amazing.

“So anyway, the Hunted conversation started in 2019. They’ve been having some conversation with me about doing it for a while, but I’ve just been really busy. When it came to actually doing it after lockdown, I always knew I was going to give the money away. It was just the question of who was I going to give it to.”

Giving back to the community

“When the time came, there no was no question about it. I knew straight away I was donating it to the Power of Women Campaign. Unfortunately, Jane was really poorly and sadly passed away before she knew I had agreed to the donation. She was a truly remarkable woman and I just love everything the campaign stands for.

“I lived on the Lakes Estate in Redcar and I certainly didn’t have a posh upbringing. That, combined with the fact that on a daily basis, in the police, we see kids and young girls missing from home, running away, in trouble, at risk of exploitation and I look and I think people just need to be given the chance and the opportunity.

“I’m from this background and I’ve done well for myself as a female growing up in Teesside. I want people to know that they can as well. Things are achievable when the right support and opportunities are there for people. And that’s exactly what the Power of Women Campaign is all about.

“I could have easily gone down the wrong path. I think my proving people wrong mentality made me go in the opposite direction. I think, if people don’t have that same sort of mindset or support and encouragement around them, then they’re in danger of falling down that deep dark hole and I want to help steer those people in another direction.”

Lisa Theaker’s long and successful career in the Police Force has not only seen her become a highly respected Assistant Chief Constable, but it’s allowed her to use her passion to help others, to make waves on the path to equal opportunities, to fight for justice and to raise awareness.

And the next stint in Lisa’s career allows her to continue doing just that.

How did Channel 4’s Hunted come about?

Hunted sees ordinary people go on the run from a team of expert ‘hunters’, led by none other than Lisa Theaker herself.

“It’s a funny story actually. One night, we were chatting about Hunted in our WhatsApp group. I hadn’t actually watched it before, but I knew what the concept was,” Lisa admits.

“I think I was on my second glass of Malbec,” she laughs.

“One of my friends who’s a Sergeant said she’d love to go on as a fugitive. I laughed and was like, ‘I could run that’.

Lisa Theaker

“So me being me, I decided to send them an email. When people say ‘life rewards action’ or ‘don’t just say something, do it’ – this was seriously one of those moments. What’s the worst that could happen?” she laughs.

“The next day they responded and genuinely that’s how it started. We had a few conversations but I was just too busy at the time. The following year, they came out to see me.

“The initial conversation was about me going on as the deputy. Again, me being me, I was like ‘no, I’m the chief or nothing’. It was genuinely just a bit of a laugh for me. Not for one minute did I think they would ring and say yes Channel 4 want you to be the chief.

“I couldn’t stop laughing thinking ‘oh gosh, what have I done?’. I wish I was joking, but that’s the story and the next minute I’m in the studio!

“I still think to myself, ‘how did this happen?’, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know. I’ve tried and failed at loads of things, but it makes you stronger and it makes you better. The failures are what you learn from.”

Balancing the police force and Hunted

“It’s a big commitment because I put my annual leave in to do it. I’m using my own time so that I’m not straying away from my work. But I’m motivated by the fact that I can help people and give my fee from the series to people who need it. Another charity I donated my fee to was The Chris Cave Foundation.

“The story behind it is that Chris Cave was sadly murdered. He went to my school, I was a few years older, but I knew him. We were from the same area growing up. A year before he was murdered, my Nana’s microwave set on fire and he went in and put it out for her. Obviously, having worked on homicide teams for six years and still running enquiries like that now, I see the impact that knife crime has on families.

It destroys lives. Theresa, Chris’s mam, set up the foundation and she now does a lot of work in schools on knife crime and the impact it has. I fully stand by and support what she’s doing, which is why I’m giving her my fee this time.

“I like to be able to give back to the community I grew up in. Helping out in any way I can is important to me. The thing that’s going to stop crime and change the world is prevention and that takes a long time.

“Donating the money to the foundation is allowing her to educate and prevent kids from walking around the streets carrying knives and help them to understand the implications of crime. The amount of knife crime is crazy. If we can impact on a few kids’ lives by targeting and educating them while they’re young, we can prevent assaults, murders and attacks.”

Working in TV

‘Is the show real?’ is something Lisa Theaker gets asked a lot. We all know a lot of TV shows are edited to look glamorous and over-dramatised, but something I’m desperate to know is do they use real police work to hunt the fugitives on the show or do they ‘secretly’ already know where they are hiding out?

“Let me tell you now, it’s real! All you see is a snippet of footage, we film for 12 hours per day. When I did the celebrity version it was 14 days for 12 hours per day but I think the biggest challenge for me was wearing heels for that length of time. I gave up after day two,” Lisa Theaker laughs.

“It’s made for TV purposes, but it’s real. We’re in a sweaty studio on the top floor of some building which I couldn’t tell you where it is. I was sweating and my feet were killing. Of course it’s edited and there’s obviously gaps in it, but trust me it’s not as glamorous as it looks.

“I’ve had a bit of backlash about the odd swear word, but that’s just me and my emotions. If we’re on a manhunt in the Cleveland Police and I’m running an incident room like that, that’s the emotion and passion you’d see.

“In those circumstances there are obviously lives at risk, whereas on Hunted, there isn’t, but the emotion you see is real. We get all of the information from proper investigation – we don’t get provided with it.

“The celebrity one is a bit more tongue-in-cheek, but in the main series there’s £100,000 up for grabs and everything has got to be done by the rules. Ofcom are there and there’s a lot of work that goes into it. It’s taken very seriously.”

Lisa Theaker

How does it work?

A huge fan of the show and fangirling slightly, I’m intrigued to find out how it all comes together.

“They are long 12 hour days and my hair, which usually lives in a bun on top of my head, is down – so throw in an extra hour to straighten it,” jokes Lisa Theaker.

“During the 14 days you can get a couple of days off, but I chose to work through. You get so involved, you don’t want to take time off. Effectively, I find myself thrown together with a bunch of people I don’t know, and I have to bring out all of their skills and strengths to ensure they work together in the best possible way.

“People from all walks of life are involved and each of them bring different skills and experience to the table. It isn’t like my day job where I have my same team day in and day out and we all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Not everybody is necessarily going to agree or get on, but we’ve built up a really good team. It’s unfamiliar territory. Everyone has an opinion and while I ultimately make the final decision, we have a good mix. It was good fun and great teamwork.”

Speaking to Lisa Theaker is a delight. I’m in awe of just how incredible she is. We have a good old chinwag and there’s plenty of laughing going on.

She has built her career on challenging stereotypes, helping others and following anything but the norm – a true inspiration to those who feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ to follow their passion.

Make sure to tune in to Channel 4 and watch Lisa Theaker in action!