Let it snow!

PUBLISHED: 09:18 17 February 2014

Alex Dolan. Pictures: Nick Clarke/Lee Harvey

Alex Dolan. Pictures: Nick Clarke/Lee Harvey

PSE

"I could never have imagined how perfect this job was for me until I started presenting the weather. It takes me back to my roots as a science teacher and I absolutely love it" says Alex Dolan.

Three years into her role at BBC Look East, where she also reports for the programme, Alex is in her element. “I came here in September 2010 not knowing anyone and only having been to Norwich once before when I was a teenager. But immediately I was made to feel as if I was part of a family - and I have absolutely fallen in love with Norwich. It is such a beautiful city and the people are lovely.”

Alex grew up in Cambridge, but certainly took the long way in her journey to Norfolk! As a child she had ambitions of becoming a vet, but went on to study marine biology at university in Newcastle, then trained to be a science teacher. “I had no idea how much I would love it; it really suited me,” she says. She worked in schools in Newcastle before moving to London to teach at Lady Margaret School in Parsons Green.

During this time Alex got to know Nigella Lawson’s first husband, the late journalist and writer John Diamond who died of throat cancer in 2001, aged 47. “I told John I was teaching a class about the lung and we had got on to the subject of smoking and cancer. He offered to come into the school, promising ‘I’ll put them off smoking for life’. At the time he was being filmed for a documentary, so the TV crew came along as well and the experience was life changing. The girls got so much out of it and John answered so many personal questions about living with cancer. I decided there and then that I wanted to work in television. John was a real inspiration and, a year later I decided to quit my job and go for it”

Through a contact from John, Alex got in touch with the editor of Tomorrow’s World and although she didn’t go on to fulfil her dream of presenting the show, it became the start of her television career.

“What followed was an incredible few years, working on dozens of shows all over the world, including California where I interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was governor,” says Alex. “Between TV jobs I would do supply teaching and met scores of kids who I felt were not getting the standard of education they deserved. That gave me an idea for an undercover programme.”

I approached Channel Four and in 2004 I eventually got a call to say that they would like me to film it for Dispatches.

“I spent the next nine months filming secretly in 16 schools in London and Leeds. The programme exposed some of the problems in state schools, including bad behaviour and the pressure on schools to perform well in league tables.”

On 7 July, 2005, the day that it was due to go out on Channel Four, Alex set off from her then home in London to travel to Leeds for a legal meeting. Finding there were problems with the Tube, she walked to Tavistock Square and was about to get on a bus instead.

“I was thinking of getting on the bus but for some reason I didn’t ...

I walked further up the road and suddenly it blew up” she recounts. “I wasn’t close enough to have been hit by the explosion but my instinct kicked in and I just remember running.”

The Dispatches programme was shown, sparking debate and gaining Alex the support of former chief inspector of schools Professor Chris Woodhead, for showing what was happening in some classrooms, including pupils threatening teachers with violence. But four years later, Alex was suspended from teaching for a year by the General Teaching Council after a tribunal said she had breached students’ trust.

“It does make me very sad that many of these problems are still going on in our schools today” she says.

Alex worked on a variety of TV projects and was a presenter on the children’s BBC wildlife series Roar. She was also involved in putting together a programme for the Discovery Channel and Channel Four in which a Boeing 727 was deliberately crashed in the desert to examine effects of impact on the plane and passengers. The project was dogged with delays and at one point the production team was laid off. For Alex it felt like time to come home. “I had had a great time doing the documentaries, but I was still hoping to move into news, and because I had grown up in Cambridge I had known Look East all my life.”

She met with the news editor who asked how she would feel about presenting the weather. “It wasn’t something I had ever considered, but with my science background and TV experience it made sense. I did some training with Jim Bacon, who is a master meteorologist and such a great teacher, and I was hooked!”

“Our weather is changing all the time and each day brings exciting new challenges, especially in live TV where things don’t always go to plan. I feel a great responsibility to present a clear and accurate forecast every day, especially during the winter months with all the hazards that brings. Weather has become part of my life now and combining it with news reporting at Look East is the best of both worlds. I really have found my niche here in Norwich.”

Alex’s Norfolk

“I love that we have everything on hand here in Norwich - Little Red Roaster for my coffee; Cinema City, which I adore; Thorns DIY shop and Jarrold’s; the UEA pool is a dream, and The Cottage Hair and Beauty is the perfect beauty pit stop.

“I love driving up to north Norfolk, and a perfect day is meeting a friend at Burnham Overy Staithe and having supper of sandwiches on the beach. Burnham and Holkham are wonderful and, for a birthday treat, the Gunton Arms is lovely.

“Although I don’t have a pet myself, I ‘borrow’ Lily the Westie from friends when they go on holiday and I just love looking after her and going for walks. She’s coming to stay in January and I can’t wait!

“I am not very serious about it, but I have done a couple of triathlons.

I enjoy putting myself through a challenge. So, The Norfolk Superhero is my goal - I am going to try to corral a colleague into joining me and I’ll make that my resolution for the New Year!”

Unexpected snowfalls

Alex Dolan may be able to forecast the weather, but she cannot make it snow - that bit of magic fell to Nick Clarke, of Norwich-based production company PSE, and photographer Lee Harvey. We took Alex to a beautiful spot in the Deanery garden at Norwich Cathedral for our photo-shoot, where Nick used a snow machine to create the wintery scene. Alex wears a Hobbs Maisie coat from Jarrold’s, Norwich.

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