For most people the last day of the year is generally a time to wind down, to contemplate the year that’s past and look ahead to one hell of a hangover.
However, for around 100 of us at BBC Scotland, the final days of the year see us incarcerated in a studio amid frantic activity, putting the finishing touches to Hogmanay Live, our flagship end-of-year televised party.
As a news journalist – I present our nightly programme, Reporting Scotland, – I’m used to deadlines. But whereas the news is generally something the audience sets their watch to…
Hogmanay Live is something viewers set their year to. If you get it wrong and miss the midnight hour, “the bells”, as poor old Robbie Coltrane once did during a presenting stint, you’re not allowed to forget it in a hurry.
I’ve been presenting the show for the past four years, ever since I was plucked from hypothermia after reporting from Shetland during the BBC’s 24-hour millennium extravaganza.
Then, as our small team battled gales and a wind chill of minus 10, there was a resonance in that I’d agreed to front the UK’s most northerly outpost for the “exposure”.
Strangely enough, the weather is to have a starring role in this year’s show, which is going network for the first time in five years.
Late on Wednesday evening the dress rehearsal is in full swing. It’s a complicated show with five bands – including Liberty X – and a live audience, as well as outside broadcasts from Edinburgh Castle ramparts and the famous Princess Street party.
Timings are set to the nano-second for the aforementioned reasons, but it seems Alison Black, our normally laidback producer, is strangely distracted.
With an hour to go before broadcast, it emerges that high winds have blown down one of our outside broadcast scanners, leaving our communications in disarray; the world famous fireworks have been cancelled, as has the Hogmanay street bash, leaving 100,000 souls in search of a party.
Urgent rejigging follows. Alison’s background is also in news and at times like this it comes in handy. Our live inserts move subtly from entertainment to info-tainment. I’d like to think most viewers don’t really notice the shift, whereas those looking forward to the Edinburgh fireworks and the street party are kept informed.
Amid it all my co-presenter, Monarch of the Glen’s Hamish Clark, and I manage not to talk over the bells and the show goes well. The aftershow party goes on until breakfast, but by 3am I’m home, sober and attempting to peel off false eyelashes without removing an eyelid.
Although it’s an honour to present Hogmanay Live, frankly it’s also a risk.
In Scotland the show is an institution.
The viewing figures are huge and everyone has a view on the format. A couple of years ago I wore an outfit certain echelons of the press thought unflattering and I was – as they say here – given pelters.
Believe me, Saddam Hussein has had more favourable press cuttings. So on New Year’s morning I pick up the newspapers in trepidation only to find some poor policeman is getting it in the neck for taking the decision to cancel the Edinburgh street party.
At least they liked his outfit.
Back to the day job. Fancy dressing rooms and “runners” to get me coffee are fading memories. After the Reporting Scotland lunchtime bulletin the home affairs correspondent informs me I look “rough”, and I know I’m back in the newsroom. I do feel lousy.
The furore over the cancelling of the Edinburgh Hogmanay has died down and appropriately enough in the wake of the festive season, we’re leading on a huge Executive initiative to halt growing childhood obesity.
During the evening programme I’m due to interview our political correspondent on accusations of sloppy accounting in the Scottish Parliament but, with minutes to go, a better story comes in. The police have batoncharged the Executive’s much publicised plans to tackle tearaways, so I interview him on that instead.
Late shift. A 2pm start means I use the morning to start to get to grips with my radio show, Choice Cuts. It’s a pick-of-the-week style programme for Radio Scotland. We start to pull it together midweek and record on Friday afternoon.
I really enjoy it as it’s a chance to do some writing. My role as a news presenter doesn’t really offer the opportunity to create from scratch. Of course you have a certain control over the style of the lead-ins and the interviews and are expected to chip in editorially, but much of it is written by the reporters.
Get kicked out of the newsroom at 10.45pm after boring colleagues with how ill I feel. Go home to a hot-toddy and the end of Newsnight.