There has been a lot of discussion this week about the fact that Huw Edwards has been chosen to anchor the BBC’s coverage of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April.
Having worked with both of them on the BBC’s coverage of many state events, the decision was not a surprise to me.
While David Dimbleby was the presenter of the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002, Huw Edwards has been the presenter of choice for all major state events since then:
- The Festival of Remembrance
- Trooping the Colour
- State Opening of Parliament
- D Day Commemorations
- Commemorations to mark VE Day
- The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s Diamond Wedding Anniversary
- The Funeral of Pope John Paul II and Papal Visit to the UK this year of Pope Benedict XVI
- The Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008
The list goes on. So he’s hardly a newcomer.
David Dimbley remains the face of the BBC’s election coverage and anchors the Remembrance Sunday programme every November, but in terms of state events, that’s it.
I’ve worked with each of them many times. They’re both excellent presenters, both extremely professional to work with – as well as being good fun.
David Dimbleby would have done a brilliant job of presenting the wedding, but he’s 72 now. I’m not being ageist when I point this out, but the BBC has to think of the future and develop new talent.
In recent years, Gavin Esler, George Alagiah and Sophie Raworth have all present live state events, and done a good job. They’re all experienced and excelllent presenters.
But presenting and commentating on a programme such as the Royal Wedding is not the same as presenting the news. It’s far far harder as it’s largely unscripted – and completely unpredictable.
Essentially the presenter has a script which tells him what’s happening at what point, plus meticulous research notes from the production team, but it is up to him or her to find the right words. It’s a skill that a live events presenter needs time to develop over several different events. Because if a programme that might last several hours, that’s quite a big task.
As I know well, truly anything can happen during these programmes. A few years ago I produced a programme to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade. It was a service at Westminster Abbey attended by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the entire cabinet, and it was presented by George Alagiah, in his first live events role.
During the service there was a major protest, just yards from the Queen. Fortunately nobody was hurt and the protester was bundled out, but while it was going on, none of us knew what the outcome would be. As a presenter, dealing with that live on air while remaining calm, without pre-judging or speculating, when you really don’t know what is going on, is a real challenge.
Fortunately we’d anticipated there might be problems and had prepared our strategy, so we all came through ok.
But it illustrates the point that the BBC is right to allow new talent the opportunity to present smaller live events, as how else will they be able to gain the experience to cope with the big ones when the time comes.
So well done Huw. Hope to see you there!