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Interview: Weather presenter Judith Ralston describes lockdown pressures including broadcasting, teaching and even writing a book

© Andrew CawleyBBC weather presenter, Judith Ralston, at her home
BBC weather presenter, Judith Ralston, at her home

Lockdown, if nothing else, has turned us into a nation of weather-watchers as we desperately scan the horizon for a break in the clouds and a chance of some fresh air.

But, as we have started taking the weather forecasts as gospel, there has been an increasing suspicion that some have been a little less accurate than we would have hoped as rain batters down from what was meant to be a blue sky.

But trying to keep track of the Scottish skies during lockdown presented a huge challenge – even for the professionals.

BBC Scotland weather presenter Judith Ralston said: “Weather models need a clear picture of what is going on in the world before moving on to produce forecasts and use all the available actual data from observations, radar and satellite pictures.

“But they also use wind and temperature data supplied by aircraft. And clearly with many planes grounded during lockdown, we were missing some useful data.”

Judith was on radio rather than the small screen for the first few months of pandemic life but like most of us she was snowed under, juggling working from home with the added responsibility of schooling nine-year-old twins Max and Georgia.

© Andrew Cawley
Judith Ralston talks about lockdown life with her family

“Our overall experience of lockdown was pretty trying,” the 52-year-old admits. “It was a busy few months with my husband Fraser and I both working, and working shifts.

“He was doing night shifts and I was getting up at 3.30am for a morning shift. I did the forecasts for radio and it has to be said trying to record when the kids were bickering in the next room wasn’t ideal.

“Adding home learning into the equation was just chaos. We tried our best, but I found the whole thing pretty stressful.

“We’d be trying to go through school work with the kids and they would just be sitting with their heads in their hands. I felt like I wasn’t able to give my kids enough.”

With Fraser working in meteorology, the Glasgow couple resorted to what they know best – geography. “Rather than battle with numbers and spelling, we worked best teaching the kids about the world,” she said.

“We would sit with a map and look at all the different countries and learn the capitals.

“I even resorted to baking to encourage the kids to learn measurements, but I’m hopeless in the kitchen so even that didn’t work out very well! We did a lot of circle time, mostly for me because I found it so frustrating trying to teach. I just didn’t have the patience.

“By the end of term, we were down to an hour or two a day if we were lucky. It was just too hard.”

With the kids back at school and eldest son Alex, who turned 18 during lockdown, off to university in Edinburgh, Judith is relishing her time back at the BBC’s Glasgow studios – and back on screen.

“People previously thought working from home was a bit of a skive, but now they’re realising it’s not,” she said. “You need to be focused but at home there are too many distractions.

© Andrew Cawley
Husband Fraser with son Alex and twins Max and Georgia

“I find I have to be ‘on it’ and that’s much harder when you’re not in the office. And it’s much better to be back to the routine and back with my audience.

“Having come into the TV business a lot older than most, I have found it very welcoming. I’ve been really surprised. I thought I would have been out of the door by now! But I feel like I have gelled with the viewers and that’s a huge part of the job.

“I don’t know if it’s me growing with them or them growing with me, but we have a great relationship.

“I think it’s because I’m just like them. They realise I’m just normal, just the same as them.

“It shows maybe someone my age still has something to offer.”

And she does. Lockdown also signalled a new venture for Judith, who joined forces with Fraser to write a children’s book. What’s The Weather, about clouds, climate and global warming, is due out early next year.

“I got a call from one of the big education publishers asking if I wanted to take on the project,” said Judith. “I thought it was a joke initially, one of my pals taking the mickey. But when I realised it was a genuine offer, I couldn’t say no.

“A book for kids would be right up my street. It started off just me doing it, but I am slow and pedantic like a cart horse.

© Andrew Cawley
Judith with son Alex

“I kept coming back to Fraser with help on the meteorology side and in the end he helped so much that I went back to the publisher and asked if we could make it a joint effort because I couldn’t take all the credit. It was chaotic, but fun. Who knows, maybe we’ll do a sequel.”

And Judith will be gracing our screens more this week, with an appearance on The Great Food Guys with old pal Dougie Vipond.

“I’ve known Dougie since we were kids. We studied together at RSAMD in the ’80s. He recently said he used to copy me in class,” she explained.

“It’s so funny when we see each other now because when I think back to our days as students, we never for a minute thought we would end up where we are.”

The mum of three, who was once a size 22, says a healthy diet, fitness and chilling with the kids helped her mental health during the pandemic. “One thing about lockdown is the way I have been able to chat to the kids more and bond with them,” she said. “We’ve always been close but I feel even closer to them. We’ve just had time together recently that we don’t usually have because of school and other commitments – and that has been of huge value to me. It has really given us time to connect.

Judith Ralston on air

“My youngest son has always been quite quiet, but I have really seen him open up and come out of his shell because we’ve had more time to spend together.

“And it’s been great to hang out with Alex before he flies the nest, which I’m excited about but also apprehensive. You spend all this time trying to protect your kids and then all of a sudden you have to let them go off and be an adult.

“He has been motivating me doing keep fit, spurring me on through the push-ups and sit-ups to get through the burn. I usually run but have been out due to injury for about 12 weeks, so he got me into HIIT sessions instead.

“I didn’t think they would work, but it is definitely keeping me sane. Fitness is my head space. I do it as much for my physical health as my mental health.”

Judith, who has previously spoken about the heartache of a series of miscarriages while trying to conceive, added: “I definitely think my kids keep me younger. They are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I always said to my husband if we had been a bit younger I would have tried for one more. But I don’t think any more are on the cards. To be honest I feel very blessed to have three.

“They bring me so much joy.”

As the nation welcomes Judith – and her array of dresses – back with open arms, she’s looking forward to showing off a new wardrobe of one-offs. “I’m not a great shopper at all. I don’t enjoy it,” she confessed.

“I have a friend who makes clothes for kids primarily. She gets nice fabrics in from Sweden and Germany and runs me up simple cut dresses that work really well on TV. To be honest I’m not that bothered about clothes or beauty. I haven’t been back to the hairdressers since lockdown.

“Everyone thinks I must dye my hair, but I never have. I have a wee bit of grey peeking out, but nothing I can’t cover up with a bit of mascara!”

With that she’s off to present another forecast and, despite the threat of wind and showers ahead, Judith hinted there could be more sunny spells to come. “We’ve had a fair bit of sun. The Scottish summer isn’t over just yet!”