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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 18:02 GMT
The real Huw Edwards

By Lucy Wallis
BBC News Online

"You don't want to let people down, but at the same time, I want to do it in my own way. I don't want to be a clone of Sissons or Buerk."

Huw Edwards, is determined to stamp his own identity on the BBC's Ten O'Clock News.

Huw, who is married with five children, describes himself as "pretty chuffed" about being selected as the presenter following Michael Buerk's decision to retire from the programme in September 2002.

"Swot"

As the anchorman for the corporation's flagship news programme, he has come a long way from the small, studious boy growing up in a close-knit community in Llangennech, near Llanelli.

"As a child, I was a swot."

"I wanted to be a virtuoso concert pianist."

But there came a point at the age of 14 to 15-years-old when Huw realised he would never be as good at playing the piano as he'd like to be and decided to become an academic instead.

Early mistakes

After graduating with a first class honours degree in French from the University of Wales in Cardiff, Huw almost stumbled into journalism by chance after a friend recommended he try his hand at presenting on commercial radio station, Swansea Sound.

He admits his initial bargaining tool was that he could read the news in English and Welsh, so the station got what he calls "two for the price of one".

It was here that he saw an advert for the BBC News trainee scheme, which gave him his first step on the BBC ladder in 1984.

For Huw, this was a great training ground and the time to make some fairly spectacular mistakes.

"I had to produce programmes, cut packages together, interview people and I did all of those things quite badly."

Controversy

But he learnt very early on that it was vital to have good writing skills, something that he claims the BBC was, rightly, very passionate about when he joined the corporation. He isn't always that complimentary about standards at the BBC in the 1980s.

"The BBC I joined was an institution of huge respect in the sense that everyone wanted to work for it."

"I can't pretend it was a very efficient machine and I think that today's BBC is much better in many ways."

The best years

In 1986, Huw became BBC Wales's parliamentary correspondent and in 1988 was appointed TV News political correspondent.

Over the next 13 years, he covered most of this century's major political stories including the downfall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990.

He also covered the John Major years 1990-1997 - where, according to Huw, there was "a crisis every week" - and the rise of New Labour.

"If there was a time to be a political correspondent it was these years.

"The best thing about the job was knowing you were there when something important was happening."

One of the stories Huw found particularly difficult to report was the death of the Labour Party Leader, John Smith, who died from a heart attack in May 1994.

In July of the same year, Tony Blair was elected leader and the way was left open for the radical reforms of the party that would make Labour electable in 1997.

Deep sadness

Huw felt saddened that such a promising leader's life had been cut short.

"I was very choked having to report John Smith's death. I was upset when he died. You think you won't be."

Huw's passion for politics remains as strong as ever and he confesses to feeling envious sometimes of the BBC's Political Editor, Andrew Marr, claiming if Andrew won the lottery, he would seriously consider a return to political reporting.

In May 1999, Huw became a household name when he took up the position of presenter on BBC One's Six O'Clock News.

In time honoured tradition, things didn't always go without a few technical hitches.

Nail-biting

On 20 June 2000, as Huw was preparing for the bulletin, a massive power cut struck West London.

"I was told; 'don't worry, the BBC has three generators on standby so there is absolutely no question that the network news would go off air'," he adds.

"When I got into the studio, I could barely walk in to it, it was so dark in there."

The studio had been placed on emergency lighting as the three backup generators had packed up.

With the Six O'Clock News bulletin imminent, only five minutes of backup power left and the time, 5.50pm, it proved a nail biting programme for Huw.

Halfway through the programme, the worst happened for Huw.

"I disappeared from every screen in the country."

It made the front page of the tabloids the next day. This was the first time the BBC news had been taken off air for any reason, and Huw admits it was not a great record to be involved with.

A day to remember

Life could also get dangerous for a Six O'Clock News presenter.

On the first anniversary of 11 September, the Six presented a special programme from the rooftop of a hotel overlooking Ground Zero in New York.

Without shelter from neighbouring buildings and freak 70 mph winds, Huw managed to present the bulletin with one hand gripped to a support rail and his suit lapels taped down with masking tape:

"I was almost blown off the top several times."

The inspiration for taping down his lapels was none other than David Dimbleby, who had used the same location to present a live special during the afternoon of the anniversary.

According to Huw, David looked like he was being "blow dried in a Knightsbridge salon".

Naked ambition

So what next for Huw, who has presented everything from Songs of Praise and classical music programmes to Newsnight, Panorama and Breakfast News.

A chance to slow down?

"You go through your career hungry and ambitious. I want to focus on what I've got more, but I'm still hungry and ambitious."

Not that much has changed, then, about the studious boy from Llanelli.

Photographs by Phil Coomes

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