Profile: Huw Edwards

IT TAKES a big man to lead the Beeb's coverage of the big events, and these days Huw Edwards is that man. Whether it's the D-Day celebrations, Trooping the Colour, the State Opening of Parliament, Songs of Praise, the Summer Olympics, the Queen Mother's funeral, Barack Obama's inauguration or the general election results programme, the Welshman seems to be ubiquitous.

If that impressive roll-call of credits isn't enough to prove that the 49-year-old News At Ten television journalist has become the BBC's go-to man, the recent decision of Mark Byford, the Corporation executive in charge of the Royal Wedding coverage, to give Edwards the lead role presenting this week's nuptials at Westminster Abbey has undoubtedly confirmed him as The Man. With an expected global audience of around two billion, events don't come much bigger. Edwards certainly has made no secret of the fact that he believes he is up to the job. Indeed, he thinks that he is less "cold" than predecessors such as Trevor McDonald, Nicholas Witchell, Peter Sissons and Michael Buerk; less a traditional monotone BBC type than a man from outside the London beltway who has the self-confidence to be comfortable in his own skin.

"We get very able guys working here, but somehow lots of them find it difficult to translate excitement into good viewing on screen," says Edwards of the BBC. "It's not that they're not able. It's not that they are not understanding the subject they are doing. But it takes a bit of charisma and personality to force that through.

"We are in the business of connecting with audiences and you need to make an effort. The stories are often very good and stand in their own right but it needs somebody to pitch them at an audience and it needs somebody to explain them. The ones that do it well have the big personalities and can perform. And I don't mind using the word 'perform'. You have to perform."

Performing was for many years at the heart of how Edwards saw his future. As a young boy growing up just outside Llanelli and playing the organ in chapel every Sunday, he dreamed of becoming a concert pianist (he still hankers after presenting the Proms). He happily admits that a love of being up in front of people is part of the appeal of presenting not just News At Ten, with its audience of more than four million, but the huge set-piece outside broadcasts.

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Instead of performing onstage as a pianist, the man now laughingly referred to as Aunty's answer to George Clooney (after he lost two stone shortly after starting at News At Ten in 1999, one woman from Milton Keynes asked him to read the news in a pair of sawn-off denim shorts that were slightly too short for him) instead immersed himself in "showbusiness for ugly people".He worked his way up from an unpaid job at Swansea Sound to become the BBC's chief political correspondent at Westminster for 14 years. A self-confessed "very swotty" pupil while at Llanelli Grammar School (which is also Michael Howard's alma mater), Edwards edited the school magazine and was bright enough to get a first in French from University College Cardiff.

But it was politics that really grabbed his attention as a 13-year-old. A large part of the reason for his early fascination stemmed from his father, Hywel Teifi Edwards, who was primarily a noted academic but also a politician, writer and broadcaster who acted as an agent for a Plaid Cymru candidate in 1974. A professor of Welsh literature at University College Swansea, Edwards' father had a formidable mind and a forceful personality that didn't suffer fools lightly. Edwards retains huge pride in his father, calling him an "intellectual aggressor" who rarely pulled his punches.

If Edwards inherited his father's ability to be irascible on occasion (although he protests that "I'm not often stroppy, I'm normally quite cuddly"), he also inherited his love of politics, stuffing envelopes, filling out all of the Welsh election results and memorising vast tracts of names (a skill which he retains and which will hold him in good stead at the Royal Wedding, when many of the details will only be released to him 24 hours before the event).

That interest in politics, which was also encouraged by his teacher mother, "broadened into a fascination with general news and television's treatment of it", he says. "In 1976 Anna Ford started reading News At Ten and I was transfixed by her, not in any mawkish, vulgar way. I just thought she was brilliant at her job. I loved ITN News; I didn't like the BBC News. I thought that was a bit old-fashioned. I became a bit of a news junkie. I knew all the presenters."

The other driving force in his life has been his Welshness. A native speaker for whom Welsh is "my first language, the language I mostly count and dream in", he bristles on the subject of his accent and homeland. He once called the Mirror columnist Sue Carroll "a poisonous old trout (because] she thought it was a huge joke to say Welsh people were arsonists and sheep-shaggers", and he oozes disdain for countrymen who try to moderate their accent.

The politician he most admires is David Lloyd George "for being proudly Welsh and still getting to the top", while Sunday mornings are spent at the Welsh Chapel in Clapham, and he talks in Welsh to the five children he has with former BBC political producer Vicky Flind. They understand, but answer in English.

Some of the work Edwards is most proud of is his moonlighting for BBC Wales, in particular the historical themes such as his history of Welsh and documentary on Owain Glyn Dwr.Yet Edwards is aware that the Royal Wedding will dwarf anything that has come before, and, as meticulous and professional as ever, has gone into swotty overdrive. His research includes having watched the five-hour tape of Charles and Diana's wedding four times. This, and what he sees as a conversational and chatty style, will be the two main planks of his commentary technique.

"It's a bank holiday, people will want to enjoy the day and the coverage has to be part of that enjoyment," he says. "So in the hours leading up to the service we will want it to be very accessible, pretty chatty and informal. But when we approach what is a religious service at the Abbey, that's got to be done in a much more dignified way. So we're trying to combine the two tones. Striking that balance between informality and formality is really the most difficult job I have."

Facts of life

One of his favourite books is Monica by Saunders Lewis because "it was a scandalous sensation when it was published in the 1930s with its treatment of sex and lust - a revolutionary book which is still a powerful read today".

He is a huge fan of comics Ryan Davies and Dame Edna Everage, right.

A French-speaking Francophile, his favourite city is Paris.

His favourite film is Doctor Zhivago, which he's watched 20 times. Julie Christie and Julia Roberts are his perfect women.

Edwards loves classical music in general and Mozart in particular (his favourite is The Magic Flute) but he is also friends with Chris Moyles and enjoys "the latest chart stuff".

He was switched on to snooker as a boy because Llanelli's Terry Griffiths was his all-time hero. He also likes skiing.