BBC presenter Justin Leigh on life in Cornwall
PUBLISHED: 12:34 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 12:56 14 October 2020
Cornish-born BBC Spotlight presenter Justin Leigh talks about living, working and holidaying in Cornwall, his home county.
There's a common misconception about BBC Spotlight's presenter Justin Leigh. Many people think that he starts work at 6.30pm when the show goes on air and then knocks off just before 7pm when it finishes. The truth is, of course, very different
Justin started work from an early age in Chacewater, where he was born. 'My dad had a butcher's shop there and I can remember sitting in his van as he drove around delivering meat to people, he recalls. The other place I loved spending time in when I was a child was St Just, where my aunt and uncle lived. My uncle worked in a boatyard, so I have this slightly rose-tinted memory of endless sunny summers playing on boats along the River Fal. I am sure it must have rained sometimes,' he adds.
Justin was eight when he first noticed how much fun the presenters of ITV Westward, and later TSW, seemed to be having and decided that he wanted to become a broadcaster. It was a childhood ambition from which he never wavered. At 17 he approached people at BBC Radio Cornwall in Truro, where he was told to come back when he had gained a bit of experience. He joined Truro Hospital Radio and within months was trained up and given his own Saturday night music programme. 'It was a bit strange because while all my friends were going to the pub, I was sitting in a room playing music and broadcasting live to patients. But I was determined to get the experience.'
Soon he had enough of a tape reel to impress bosses at Radio Cornwall and freelance work led to his own Sunday afternoon rock show, which he did in addition to his hospital show. After finishing his A Levels, he became a sales assistant in Marks & Spencer in Truro, so he had enough to live on. 'I was only getting £7.50 for that one show each week on Radio Cornwall and it involved quite a lot of research and going to gigs and doing interviews during the week. But it was great fun.'
Within two years Justin had built up enough freelance work on the radio to leave Marks & Spencer. In time he went from taking over the Saturday sports programme from Duncan Warren one of my childhood heroes to getting the big weekday breakfast show. He would have been quite happy to stay like that, but his bosses at the BBC had other plans. He was transferred to Plymouth for five weeks training as a reporter on the daily television news programme Spotlight. But he admits that reporting was never his strong point, 'I prefer broadcasting live,' so he soon returned to his comfort zone on the radio.
However, the BBC bosses liked what they saw and urged him to apply for a reporters job coming up on the programme. Even then Justin resisted. 'I'd just bought a house in Cornwall and was quite settled. I had no desire to be on television at all,' he says, so instead he agreed to a short-term contract in Plymouth. He was soon being trained in news reading and presenting. The rest, as they say, is history.
So how wrong are people who assume its just a half-hour stint on camera each day? 'Very wrong,' laughs Justin. 'Not many people realise that not only do Victoria and I [Victoria Graham is Justin's co-presenter] read the news but we write the scripts too. We are even responsible for a lot of the graphics we use and every day we choose the picture for the lunchtime headlines at 1.15pm and 1.30pm, and then prepare the pictures for screen, writing the captions to go with them.
'After a short lunch break at 3pm we have a meeting to decide which stories will feature on the show and in which order, then Victoria and I write a trailer, which we have to record at 3.30pm for broadcast on the afternoon BBC radio shows. Then it's a case of preparing for the 6.30pm show, researching stories if I have to interview an MP or Chief Executive, for example, and finalising scripts.
'We go into the studio at 6pm to rehearse and make sure we get camera shots right. I also write a daily e-mail to tell subscribers what is coming up on the show, explains Justin. Our working day is officially 11am-7pm but we can get called in early if a big story breaks'.
Wanting to become a broadcaster was Justins childhood ambition from which he never wavered.In addition to this is the charity work. He is now Honorary President of Truro Hospital Radio (now CHBN) and also finds time to support the countys hospices. My mother died of cancer a few years ago and I will never forget what a brilliant job the people at St Julias Hospice did for her, he explains. Other recent community projects include a years presidency of the Devonshire Association They didnt seem to mind that I am a Cornishman born and bred, he smiles as well as becoming president of the Tamar Valley Male Voice Choir.
'There's a long-running joke at Spotlight that I rarely go out of the county when I am on holiday, but then why would you? We have some of the best beaches in the country here and I love nothing more than to spend a day on the beach, reading the newspaper and going swimming.'
Justin cites Towan beach on the north Cornwall coast as one of his favourites: My ultimate favourite would have to be the beaches on St Martin's in the Isles of Scilly (pictured). 'On a clear day, the pure white sandy beaches are like something from a different world. I love the pace of life there.'
Justin's latest hobby currently takes up a lot of his spare time. 'There was this stretch of disused lane by my house and a couple of years ago I finally managed to persuade the Duchy of Cornwall to sell it to me. I laid some lawn down, created some borders and now I am in the process of planting it up. I've already grown cucumbers and some tomatoes.
'It's taken me by surprise how into it I have become, seeing how much water different plants need and discovering new things to grow,' he enthuses.