Carol Kirkwood on Louise Minchin leaving BBC Breakfast, on-air blunders and writing her first novel
Lauren Morris talks to Carol Kirkwood in this exclusive edition of The Big RT Interview.
Carol Kirkwood has just arrived home, made herself a cup of tea and finally had a chance to sit down when we speak over the phone on a Monday afternoon. With an early start on BBC Breakfast, where she's presented the weather for almost 25 years, followed by a busy afternoon reporting at Wimbledon, it's been a long working day for the broadcaster – although it doesn't show at all.
"I never actually get to see any tennis because I'm working, but you know, you soak up the atmosphere and it's fabulous," she says cheerfully.
Despite her hectic schedule, Kirkwood has found time over the past year to write her first novel – a romance titled Under a Greek Moon. Published by Harper Collins, the story follows Shauna Jackson, an Irish actor and Hollywood star, who returns to a Greek Island she visited as a teenager after becoming embroiled in a scandal.
"I didn't ever think I would be able to write a novel is the honest truth," she says. "I was approached about writing a book by a publishing agent. I met with him and he said, 'Would you like to do it? Do you think you can do it?' and I said, 'Well, I don't know because I've never tried.'"
Having loved essay writing whilst at school, the presenter took a pop at it, wanting to write about escapism, glamour, travel and the flashing lights of award ceremonies. "I thought, 'What kind of books would I like to read if I was sitting by a pool? Somewhere nice, hot and sunny on holiday?'" After a year of dictating chapters into her iPad, Under a Greek Moon was born.
"I must say, I've got a whole new respect for the publishing industry. I was so naive about it but wow, what an experience," she says. "Getting to know the characters, creating characters and developing the personalities – they become almost like friends to you."
Choosing to write about what she knew, Kirkwood took Shauna to places she'd visited before, from Los Angeles and Burbank, to Greece and the Mediterranean – however she insists that is where the similarities between her and her main character end. "I would love to say yes, but I'm not that successful," she says when I ask if she drew on her own experiences. "The book is not based on my life. The reason my main character is Irish is because I love an Irish accent.
"My other half and myself were going for a walk one day and he asked me the question, 'Who's your main character and where is she from?' and two Irish ladies walked past – this is how simple it is – and I said, 'she's Irish!" she laughs. "I'm a sucker for an Irish accent, it's so melodic."
As for whether she snuck any references to her day job into the novel, Kirkwood says that writing Under a Greek Moon was a total escape from all things weather – although she did include a small nod to her meteorology knowledge. "The only deliberate weather related thing in there is at Shona's husband Dan's funeral, when she looks up in the sky and she just wishes there was a cumulus cloud there because the sky is completely blue and the sun is beating down."
Weather presenting wasn't always a dream of Kirkwood's, but working at the BBC was. Aged 12, she wrote to Blue Peter ("it was one of two programmes we were allowed to watch as children") and asked what she had to do to be a presenter. "[Editor Biddy Baxter] replied and said, 'Get a degree in anything and then get back to us.'" After studying business at the Napier College of Commerce and Technology, that's exactly what she did and landed a job as a secretary at the BBC.
"Then I got married and left and still had a hankering to do it. There was a vacancy in television training... so I did that and loved it," she says. It wasn't until she secured an audition with The Weather Channel, however, that her forecasting career began. "I didn't want to be a weather presenter because I didn't know about it – my degree was in business. Anyway, long story short, I went along for an audition and took to it like a duck to water and I blooming well loved it."
She joined News 24 – now the BBC News channel – in 1998 and the rest is history. "I loved it. What I love about the weather is every day is different. Sometimes it's very annoying but it's different. We live in an island, the sea affects our weather and so it's fascinating, it's fascinating learning all about it and climate change and everything."
Unsurprisingly, being the face of the weather in the UK means Kirkwood is often asked by fans about the likelihood of rain. "I get asked a lot what the forecast is going to be or where my dresses are from. The classic one, I've said this quite a lot in interviews but it does happen. 'My friend is getting married next September, what's the weather going to be like?' I always say, 'Warm and close with a little son later'. It's just a little fun thing that you say."
"Sometimes when people meet you in the street they're always absolutely lovely and friendly. Sometimes you can get emails that are not lovely and friendly, blaming you for the fact that it rained at the weekend – but you know, if you've had an event that's been ruined, you can understand it, you just take it on the chin."
As for stand-out on-air moments from her (nearly) 25 years at the BBC, Kirkwood says: "How long have you got?", before talking about one of the funniest live TV moments to come out of 2020. "My most recent worse one was my dogging one. I'll never live that one down as long as I live. That hounds me, no pun intended."
Of course, the broadcaster is talking about her live weather report from London's Greenwich Park in August, in which she accidentally merged the words dog walkers and joggers. "The sun is beating down, we've seen lots of doggers," she says in the clip, as the camera pans across the park. "Not doggers of course, lots of dog walkers and joggers around here."
"That was awful and it came about so innocently," she says, cringing down the phone. "When I'm on location obviously I don't have an autocue, I never do. I don't even have a monitor on location so everything is done from memory and I use cue words to alert the gallery in Salford to know that I'm cueing the graphics.
"I rehearsed this with the cameraman a couple of times, and then I did it for real. 'It's absolutely beautiful, what a view. We've been watching the doggers all morning.' And then what's worse is that I said it again! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The security man was doubled over so if I look at him, I'm going to laugh. And then the person in my ear said, 'Graphics on!' and I thought, 'Uh oh, I'm in trouble.'"
Kirkwood apologised to her editor, who understood the blunder was obviously a mistake, however the clip soon went viral. "I was surprised because literally I was getting tweets and emails from Dubai, from Canada, from the States, from Australia, from New Zealand. It was like blimey O'Reilly, it was a slip of the tongue."
"The other one you have to watch out for is the Kent Coast and things like that," she adds.
Despite her long stint at the Beeb so far, Kirkwood has no plans to leave, contrary to some reports. "It's clickbait," she says on the rumours of her quitting. "Somebody sent [an article] to me, one of my friends, and they said, 'Is this true that you've been replaced?' But when you read it, I was replaced on Friday and Saturday because I don't work on a Friday and Saturday so it's just clickbait."
Someone who actually is leaving BBC Breakfast, however, is Louise Minchin, the show's longtime anchor, who announced in June that she was stepping down from the role. "Louise is one of my chums and it's lovely getting to work with her three days a week when she's in – I will definitely miss her. She's a big loss."
As for her replacement, Kirkwood offers up Sally Nugent for the role. "She fills in for Louise now anyway or Naga [Munchetty] but the decision of course, isn't mine. If it was, [I'd pick] Sally, I think. I love Sally."
Kirkwood has already completed what seems to be the BBC Breakfast right of passage – Strictly Come Dancing of course, with the broadcaster competing on the show's 2015 series alongside Pasha Kovalev. "I loved it, I'll never forget it, I'll never regret it but I still find it terrifying and I still don't know why. Strictly is an amazing programme and I can't praise it high enough or those that work on it highly enough.
"Some of my fellow competitors were amazing. [Call the Midwife star] Helen George, she was on in Week One doing a waltz and was grace and elegance personified. I remember Jeremy Vine and myself looking at each other and saying, 'Do you know what? We might as well just enjoy this experience because we're not going to win,'" she laughs.
As for what she makes of Anton Du Beke joining this year's judging panel, Kirkwood couldn't be more excited for him. "I think he'll be fabulous. Everyone for starters, loves Anton. Anton knows exactly what it's like on that dance floor and he knows how difficult or easy it is depending on your partner's abilities to train somebody to dance.
"I think he will be brilliant, a really fabulous addition to the judging panel. I'm delighted for him."
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Du Beke is just one of the celebrities who's given a glowing review of Under a Greek Moon, with Kirkwood revealing that she's now working on a sequel. "That I think will probably pretty much fill up my time. So I'm really happy and content with my lot.
"I completely understand how lucky and privileged I am to be doing what i'm doing – that sounds really sickly, doesn't it? But it's actually true and I just hope I can carry on with both careers running parallel with each other for some time yet."