Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Wales' first minister's last year

Rhodri Morgan, Wales' outgoing first minister, has been filmed during his last year in office for a special programme on BBC One Wales by Gareth Jones.

BBC Wales cameras followed Rhodri Morgan for his final year as first minister

My first outing with the Welsh Labour leader, in September last year, was pure Rhodri.

There we were on a flight to Louisville, Kentucky for the prestigious Ryder Cup golf tournament.

From my seat in economy, I could see him up ahead, reading James Joyce's fiendishly difficult novel, Ulysses. And wearing the scruffiest pair of jeans I have ever seen in business class…

The man who's led the Welsh Assembly Government for nearly 10 years has no time for the modern obsession with image.

His advisers, though, would have loved him to have given it a bit more thought, especially when trying to boost Wales' standing abroad.

On arrival at Louisville airport, his battered old suitcase actually began to fall apart as his welcoming party helped him get it into the waiting limo.

There were other moments like that which illustrated the Rhodri Morgan package. It's a sometimes disconcerting disregard for what's expected of him, combined with a formidable focus on his twin passions: Welsh jobs and sport.

Rhodri Morgan celebrating his 70 birthday
Rhodri Morgan celebrated his 70th birthday in September

It seems to have worked. He's leaving office with popularity ratings that other politicians would kill for.

Both at home and abroad I watched him astound people with his grasp of economic detail or some obscure sporting statistic. His trip to Kentucky may have started badly, but at times he clearly impressed his hosts.

I filmed him telling Americans far more than they apparently knew about their own country.

In Washington last July, during the biggest overseas trade mission Wales has ever mounted, the first minister greeted many of the visiting Welsh delegates by first name.

He often knew what their company did and what deals they were there to do. And because of his famous lack of formality, they all felt comfortable approaching him for a quick word.

Over a year or so I was only able to record a tiny fraction of the hundreds of speeches, briefings and decisions that make up the demands of the job.

Rhodri Morgan often worked a 14-hour day and showed no signs of flagging. Not bad for someone who's now 70 and who had heart treatment two years ago.

His successor takes over from him this week. He will have a tough act to follow in terms of sheer intellectual energy and passion for promoting Wales. He should, however, be able to improve on the trousers and baggage.

Rhodri Morgan: Portrait of a First Minister is on BBC One Wales on Monday at 2235 GMT.

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