Sara Blizzard brings sunshine to weather forecasts
Getting up at 3am to go to work is enough to bring a deep depression on many people. But not Sara Blizzard – she has a sunny outlook whenever she comes into our living rooms presenting the weather on BBC Television.
This month marks the 23rd anniversary of Sarah’s East Midlands Today debut. She breezed onto our screens with her elfin looks and appears hardly any different now. She still enjoys telling everyone whether they need to get out their sun cream or their sou’wester.
What you may not know is that she was a shy child who didn’t want to be in the spotlight. But she overcame her shyness to have a successful radio and television career, being at the helm of the cable TV equivalent of Crimewatch before turning her sunny disposition to presenting the weather.
Do people in the street have a go at her if she gets the weather wrong?
“We always say it’s not an exact science but there are days when the forecast has gone one way and by the afternoon I might be out with the dogs and I’m like ‘this isn’t doing what we said it was going to do!’
“You’re very much aware of that because you don’t want to be giving people not quite the right forecast. I think they pull your leg more than have a go.”
She recalls one incident on a day that should have been dry when there was an unexpected shower.
“A farmer was putting very expensive fertiliser on his fields and that one shower just happened to be over where he was. I’ve never forgotten that because I didn’t appreciate it at the time but the cost that goes into what they do and all their hard work – it wasn’t really our fault, it was just nature doing its thing.
“People are more likely to pull your leg rather than say you’ve ruined my life or ruined my day out.”
Sara Louise Blizzard was born on 17th August 1970 in Coventry. Her father Kelvin was a sheetmetal worker and a welder, making engines for Rolls-Royce. Her mother Gladys, nicknamed Robbie, worked in advertising in London. After meeting Kelvin she moved to the Midlands and joined the NHS.
They did not urge Sara to follow a particular career. Her mother’s main concern was the large classes at the nearest comprehensive school, so only child Sara went to the independent Pattison College – a stage school.
“Mum thought it might bring me out of my shell. It was full-time education with dancing in between. We were on the go all the time. It was definitely a different way of having an education but I think it gave me a background for presenting.
“I never wanted to go on stage because I don’t think I’d have remembered the lines, believe it or not. I can remember the weather but I can’t remember a script onstage.”
While at school she appeared in a few professional shows including Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which toured to Coventry.
Sara did not go to university. Her broadcasting career began on hospital radio at Walsgrave General. She had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer when he was only 18.
“The one thing he really loved was people coming onto the ward and taking his requests. And I thought ‘what a nice thing to do.’ I applied to be a volunteer.”
She was accepted and was given her own show, Sentimental Sunday, playing easy-listening music and people’s requests.
Another volunteer knew the boss of Coventry’s commercial station Mercia FM and told him about Sara.
“There weren’t many women in radio at the time and he offered me a job on the air. It was in the middle of the night – it was five hours long from midnight onwards.
“It was a killer shift but it’s amazing how many people are up for whatever reason in the night. You were their companion whether they were ill or working, so it was an interesting five hours.”
When Mercia FM was bought out, the new owners moved Sara along the M69 and came up with the idea of having three people doing the Leicester Sound breakfast show, called Two Guys And A Girl. That was because her fellow presenters were both called Guy.
After three years the station was sold again. But every cloud has a silver lining and Sara got wind that L!VE TV, the new cable channel headed by media heavyweights Kelvin MacKenzie and Nick Ferrari, was looking for staff.
Sara threw caution to the wind and became part of the news team, being assigned to the north west.
“I was given Liverpool and two days’ notice to pack my bags. It was quite a shock to the system but I did it. I ended up living in hotels for a couple of weeks until I could find somewhere to live. I have to say Liverpool was the best two years of my life.”
She recalls her first job for L!VE TV in 1997, a bomb scare at Aintree when an IRA bomb threat forced the evacuation of the racecourse and the Grand National was postponed for two days.
“I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing. The boss at the time said ‘can you go down there, even if you’re only at the front gates, and get the reaction from the people as they’re coming out.’
“This chap walked past me, quite smartly dressed and I asked him for his thoughts. It turned out to be (racehorse trainer) Jenny Pitman’s son Mark. He was actually working for Sky as a presenter and gave me a really good interview live on air.
“That was one of those very lucky moments in broadcasting. I’ll never forget that day because it really was a baptism of fire.”
One of the programmes Sara worked on was Merseybeat, with Merseyside Police giving her “incredible” access to the force and their work.
“Their thinking, not wanting to offend people, was the audience who might watch cable TV were more likely to be able to identify an E-Fit than somebody watching the BBC.”
Crime was rife in Liverpool in those days but Sara stayed there despite her father’s concern for her safety.
When L!VE TV ran out of money Sara returned to the East Midlands. The BBC gave her a screen test and she could have read the news or become a weather presenter. She opted for the weather because it would get her out of the office more.
The job has changed tremendously since she started. Initially weather presenters did not work on radio. Sara would go as far as Skegness to film occasional stories for the evening programme.
Since then a regional team of weather presenters has been built up and they look after radio stations from Cumbria to Hereford. Sara can do as many as 37 radio broadcasts in a ten-hour shift as well as being heard across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
She appears on television across those two counties and also in the West Midlands and the north west, having to prepare on-screen graphics and being at the whim of the director.
“You have the odd moment when you can hear in your ear that things aren’t going quite right. We’re classed as a buffer in the weather team, so we either absorb time or we lose time depending on how the show’s gone. It’s quite an adrenalin rush. As long as you achieve it, you come off feeling quite proud of yourself.”
Sara is preparing to move house although she’ll remain in the East Midlands. She’s looking for somewhere to take her menagerie of a horse, two miniature Shetland ponies, two nine-year-old Cocker Spaniels, two ducks and two chickens.
She would like to have her own smallholding although the price of land may mean that will be impossible. “It’s a dream that’s still there in the background,” she says.
She would also like to travel more and has always wanted to experience New York. She cared for her parents for ten years until her father died two years ago. Then along came Covid, so travel plans were again put on hold.
Being a carer meant Sara has not been in a relationship for some time. And her shift pattern might also put off some suitors: “they’ve got to be very patient for someone who gets up at three o’clock in the morning.”
Sara Blizzard has in some ways had a stormy career. But she’s been hailed for her talents wherever she’s been. And her fans will be hoping that the sun won’t be setting on her cheery forecasts any time soon.
This article originally appeared in Country Images magazine