Paul Hudson is the man many people turn to for their weather forecasts and it’s a job he wanted from an early age. Jayne Dawson reports.
It may be pushing it a bit to say that Paul Hudson was born a weatherman, but not by as much as you might think.
Let me present the facts. At the age of seven Paul watched in awe from his Keighley doorstep as a storm raged over Haworth Moor. Eventually his mum dragged him out of the rain and back inside, but – too late – the damage had been done. Paul was hooked on weather.
By the age of eight, he was running a fully-equipped weather station from his bedroom. Honestly he was. He had all the equipment: thermometer, hygrometer (for humidity), anemometer (for wind speed), and a copper rain gauge.
It didn’t have to be copper. In fact, a TV weatherman of the day had shown youngsters how to make the Fairy Liquid bottle version, but Paul didn’t hold with such amateurish nonsense. “I remember thinking that I wasn’t having any of that. I wanted the real thing.” It was only when he plunged a depth thermometer into his dad’s perfect lawn that an eyebrow was raised.
For the next 10 years – that’s 10 full years – he recorded the weather every single day. When he went on holiday his grandad, who lived close by, took on the job.
As well as that, every day at 6pm Paul would knock on the door of Edna next door and she would solemnly allow him entry to check her barometer. I’m guessing that, when he eventually got his own barometer, she missed him.
And he didn’t just record, he extrapolated: Paul drew graphs and bar charts, he predicted trends and patterns. Those statistics are in Keighley Library now, a prized, unbroken record of a decade of history.
There was no weather background in the family. Paul’s mum worked in the advertising department of the Keighley News newspaper, his father was a director of a textile company. With Paul, it simply arrived, fully formed. By the age of 11 he was on Calendar being interviewed by Richard Whiteley, and he had his own monthly weather column in the Keighley News.
He was a weather whizz-kid. For those around him, it was all a bit of a shock. Because being a bit of a geek is fine now but back then, in the 1980s, it wasn’t so fine. This was before the days of pop star turned professor Brian Cox, remember, and being passionate about science as opposed to music or football was just a bit ... weird.
In fact Paul, now 42, is still a geek. He talks with complete passion about weather and the science behind it. But he is a warm, gregarious, likeable geek, and better known as the Look North weatherman.
“I just knew I wanted to be a weather forecaster. I feel quite privileged about that because I have friends who more or less stumbled into a job, but it wasn’t like that for me. And I still love it, even after 20 years.”
You might think his life sounds pretty much perfect, but there was a day when it wasn’t. A day when everything could have ended.
Paul is a Bradford City fan and on May 11, 1985 he went along to the match with his uncle David and a friend. The three were standing at the back of the stand, all the better to move around and get a cup of tea, when they saw the first wisps of smoke a few feet away from them. They stayed where they were and watched with relaxed interest as people laughed about it.
But Paul stops being the cheeky chappie so well known to Look North viewers and tears well up as he remembers what happened next to his 14-year-old self.
“It all changed so fast. I looked up to the top of the stand and saw a thick curtain of black smoke. My uncle said we needed to get to the other side of the stand and we started to move. We passed some toilets and we talked about hiding in them, but then we didn’t. Later, 16 people were found dead in there.
“We passed an old man who was refusing to move because he was waiting for his change after buying a cup of tea. No one realised what was really happening. We slowly ground to a halt because by then there were a lot of people at the back trying to get out.
“We became split up and somehow I got down to the front and on to the pitch. I couldn’t find the others. I thought they were dead and they thought I was dead,” he says.
“It was 28 years ago but it has had a massive effect on me. I had nightmares, but I couldn’t talk about it for years.”
But at the same time that Paul was dealing with the aftermath of being in the stand where 56 people died and hundreds were injured, the rest of his life was completely on course. He gained a first class degree in geophysics and planetary physics, and began the job he had been destined for since the age of seven at the Meteorological Office.
After a few years he was seconded to the BBC, eventually became a BBC employee, and began to work with Look North television presenter Christa Ackroyd. During their time working together, Paul and Christa became something of a double act, but Christa recently left the BBC under controversial circumstances after a long, unexplained absence from the screen.
What Paul will say now is that he enjoyed working with her. “We worked together for 12 years, so I do miss that. I started to jokingly insult her on air and I think at first she probably wondered who this little upstart was, but it developed and she started to play along and enjoy it. We got on really well, and I wish her well.”
Viewers warm to Paul’s cheery on-air manner, but there is more to him than that. Away from the television screen, he writes about weather in a much more scientific way, and also hosts a one hour programme on the weather on Radio Leeds at midday every Sunday.
His blog has sometimes gained more attention than he expected. Once, he stepped into the global warming debate and questioned why we haven’t heard more about the fact that temperatures have stopped rising, have not risen for the last 15 years, in fact. The blog went as global as the topic with his article coming to the attention of the White House and appearing on the website of the American Republican party.
“I wasn’t expecting that, the reaction scared me a bit, to be honest.” So where does he stand on global warming? “I can’t pass an opinion but what I will say is that you cannot get away from the basic physics that if you put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the atmosphere will warm.
“The interesting thing is how the planet responds. It may respond in a way that counters global warming, meaning that the rise in temperatures may not be quite as extreme as some scientists are predicting.
“But nobody knows, it is a dangerous game. Basically, we are conducting an experiment on the planet.”
Paul loves to discuss the science like this, but his Look North viewers enjoy hearing about what’s going to happen the next day. Some do not realise that Paul is anything other than a weather presenter, something he has learned to live with – although he admits it can irritate him.
“Television has had to train weather presenters without a Met Office background because demand across all the channels is so high that there are not enough meteorologists out there. At one time there were only four, and they were megastars, but now there are around 60 on network and regional BBC programmes.”
But Paul is happy with his own career. He lives in Shadwell, Leeds, with his wife Nicola, a BBC journalist, and their two children, and says he isn’t looking for a move from his Look North job.
He had a wobble a few years ago when he considered taking a job with the Met Office working in Gibraltar as a senior forecaster but he decided against it, and is glad that he did because he likes living and working here.
One thing is certain – our British obsession with weather means Paul is never short of a chat. Every time he leaves his house he knows that someone will strike up a weather conversation, so it is lucky there is nothing he enjoys discussing more.
“My fan club, if I can call it that, has changed over the years. It used to be older ladies who wanted to mother me – but I’ve got a bit older myself now.
“But now there are young people interested in science too, it has definitely become cool. A teenager came up to me in a sandwich shop the other day and said he thought I was a very cool weatherman. That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago, because no young person would have admitted an interest.”
Finally, Paul is persuaded to leave readers with a long-term forecast. “We are in for a period where cold winters are more likely than not, though we are still more likely, statistically, to have a white Easter than a white Christmas.”
Cold fronts then, but for Paul life is generally sunny.
Paul Hudson: Weatherman
Paul went to the Brontë Middle School and Oakbank School in Keighley.
In 1992, he graduated with a first class honours degree in geophysics and planetary physics from Newcastle University.
He is honorary Mayor of Wetwang, in the Yorkshire Wolds, a post previously occupied by Richard Whiteley.
He has written several books on the climate including Storm Force: Britain’s Wildest Weather, with Ian McCaskill and Michael Fish.
His hobbies include sea fishing, golf, cricket and football.
His earliest memory of a weather forecast was listening to fellow Yorkshireman Bob Rust.