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Weatherman Barra Best: the TV footage of me I wish I could delete from the archives

 

Perfect job: Barra Best
Perfect job: Barra Best
A scene from Sister Act
Barra Best with his sister Bronach
Barra Best with dad Aidan
Kylie Minogue
Rachel Dean

By Rachel Dean

In the latest interview of our most revealing series yet Rachel Dean talks to Barra Best (37), BBC Northern Ireland TV and weather presenter, who lives in Belfast.

Q. Tell us about your  childhood

A. My childhood was great. I grew up in west Belfast, just beside Clonard Monastery. It was just myself, my sister Bronach (now 33) and our parents.

My dad Aidan taught carpentry in different schemes around Belfast, then he went on to become a social worker. My mum Cathy always worked in catering.

My granny Kathleen moved to the top of our street when I was about eight or nine which was good because she was by herself and I used to go up and keep her company. Subsequently, I ended up moving in - I say it was to keep her company, but I also 'got away with murder' with my granny. I was spoilt rotten. Her house was only at the top of our street anyway, so it's not like I was moving a lifetime away from my parents.

I have great memories of going on family holidays. The usual - local holidays and the odd one to Blackpool in England. It was great and it has always stuck in my mind. I remember being very young and going to Blackpool and also to Butlin's in Mosney, Co Meath. As we got a bit older, we would go to the likes of the Canary Islands. Locally, we went to Newcastle and we had a caravan (like this one below) for a while in Ballycastle which we used to go to most weekends as well. Sadly, that's no more but you never know - maybe in the future I'll see about getting another caravan.

I had a lot of good friends growing up. I was part of a local youth club in Clonard and we used to do a lot of activities with them - water sports in Craigavon and Lough Neagh, that sort of thing.

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There was a local community radio station back in the mid-Nineties that I remember volunteering in. I was just answering phones, but I was always a little bit amazed about how everything in the media worked. Then I went to Edge Hill University, just outside Liverpool, to study Information Systems with Media and I returned to Belfast to work in a local IT company.

It wasn't until about a year and a half into that job that a friend rang to say she was going to do a Master's degree in journalism and I realised that was what I wanted to do. When I got off that call, I thought to myself 'I'd love to do something like that', so I took a year out of work and went and did it.

When I was a kid, I actually wanted to be a vet. I had almost every pet you could think of - gerbils, dogs, cats, hamsters and I even had a pet rat called Ben. Of course, I've gone down a completely different route now, but I love my job.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I'm proud of my achievements, and of putting in hard work to get to where I am now - what I would see as the best job in the world. I know that a lot of people would be terrified to go on live television or on the radio and, at the very start, I was too because I didn't know what to expect. But, as the years have gone by, I couldn't think of a job that I would swap mine for. I'm proud of that and the amount of support I've received from my family over the years.

When I first started working for the media, I worked on a radio station and I remember my dad teasing me, saying, 'Proud of you, son. You've got a great face for the radio'. So, you can imagine my delight when I got the opportunity to go on TV, just to say to him 'Not just a face for the radio now, dad!'

Barra in front of the cameras presenting a weather forecast
Barra in front of the cameras presenting a weather forecast

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. When I was studying away from home at university, I got a part-time job to support myself while I was over there.

Then my granny Kathleen took ill and was in hospital, so I flew back home to visit her. I had to take some time off work and I was sort of worried about losing the job because I needed it for the money.

My granny was in the hospital for quite a while and my mum suggested that I go back to Liverpool and work for a couple of days and come home again. So, I flew back on the Friday and while I was cleaning up the shop, I got the phone call to say my granny had passed away. In hindsight, I probably should have said 'it's just a part-time job in a corner shop, I could just get another one', so that I could have been there for my granny. I'm just glad that I got to see her before, at least.

That would be the only real regret I have.

Q. Do you have any phobias?

A. Spiders and moths. I hate them both. I'm not a big fan of anything with more than four legs or big hairy wings.

As I've got older, I've also developed a fear of heights. When I was young, I was never, ever afraid of heights - you would have found me with my friends, climbing up Divis and the Black Mountain with no issues.

But now, when it comes to heights, I do have a genuine fear. I think it's just me realising 'hang on, I really want to live', whereas when you're a kid you just bounced off the ground and you were fine.

Barra Best with mum Cathy
Barra Best with mum Cathy

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Travelling - I've had the travel bug for years now. Even when I'm a bit skint and someone says, 'what do you think of this cheeky weekend away, it's only £80 to the Canary Islands?' I'll reply, 'yeah, book it'. I try to be good and save, and then someone mentions somewhere I haven't been, and I book it. But I just think: you only live once, so why not see the world around you.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. I'm going to be a bit sentimental and say memories and life experience. I have great memories of growing up, going away and spending time with family and friends. I think life experience is so much more important than material items. I could say a car or a house, but they can change or you can get rid of them.

The only thing is, I have a lot of pictures - probably too many actually. No matter where I go, it's selfie galore. It's just one of those things - they give me something to look back at.

My mum grew up in a time where people didn't really have mobiles and not many people would have owned a camera, so I made a book for her 50th birthday, full of photographs from throughout her life. I scanned in all her black and white photos. When I saw the look of happiness when she saw all these photos together like that, I just thought 'I'm going to keep taking photographs'.

Q. The book that's most impacted your life?

A. I love sci-fi. A while ago, I discovered books by an author who writes under the pseudonym John Twelve Hawks. He's an author that apparently nobody has ever met - he has only agreed to a few interviews by satellite phone so his location can't be tracked. He basically lives off the grid.

He wrote a trilogy, beginning with the book The Traveler which is about people who live off the grid and the people who hunt them. It's the first book I've read and actually thought it was really good. It has two sequels, The Dark River and The Golden City. I would recommend them.

Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?

A. I wish I had the power to control the weather - I would give people the weather they wanted, every day. If I could, I would turn on the sunshine and the heat, then let the snow fall in the winter.

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. I get frustrated if a weather forecast doesn't go exactly to plan, especially as people rely on forecasts for planning outdoor events. Such is the nature of Irish weather that, at times, it can be difficult to pin down. However, I'm more than happy to take the credit when the weather is great and people are enjoying it.

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My parents. The support and encouragement they have provided me with throughout the years has influenced me greatly.

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. Whoopi Goldberg. She's my favourite actress and my all-time favourite movie is Sister Act - I know every word.

I would bring my favourite singer, Kylie Minogue, because she would be great craic. I've seen her in concert a few times and her songs always get me up on the dance floor. I would also love for a comedian to be there, so I'd go with Billy Connolly. He has never failed to make me laugh.

Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?

A. One of my teachers when I went to La Salle College in Belfast gave me some great advice when I was trying to decide if I should go across the water for university.

I was really panicking about it and he said to me, 'go, you're not that far away from home on a flight. If it doesn't work for you, you can leave, and you will be home in an hour'.

That sparked me on, and I went and accepted my offer to university.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. My love of sci-fi always splits opinions online, especially when I say that Star Trek is miles better, or, should I say, light years ahead of Star Wars - that always gets people going.

I will love Star Trek until the day I die - 'live long and prosper' and all that!

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. I'm not into poetry, I probably couldn't even name a poem. Going right back to my school days, I've always been much stronger in maths and science than in literature. Poetry didn't do anything for me whatsoever.

A song that means a lot to me is Spotlight by Jennifer Hudson. It's the song I sing in karaoke bars, anywhere I go, even though I'm not a great singer. I ruin the song every time, but it's a tradition now.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. When I got my first house in 2011. It was so time consuming and stressful and, when I first got it, the panic went right over me and I thought 'wait, what have I done?'.

But, at the same time, it was great because I had invested in something for myself. It wasn't a big fancy house by any stretch of the imagination, but it was mine. It made me happy.

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. When my granny Kathleen died. She had a stroke and was in hospital for a while and subsequently died from pneumococcal septicaemia. It's mainly the saddest because I wasn't able to be there.

I was close to my other granny too, my dad's mum Mary, but thankfully I was here to see her and be with my family when she passed. It was still sad, but I was surrounded by family, whereas when my granny Kathleen died, I was by myself in England and had to wait until I could get another flight home.

Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?

A. Nine years ago, when the opportunity arose for me to cover weather for nine months when someone was on maternity leave.

I'm a journalist by trade, and I still am, but I wanted to get some live television experience to build my confidence in it.

That's definitely the one opportunity that has made a big difference.

My first time reporting the weather, I was quite nervous - I was like a cardboard cut-out of myself with a moving mouth. I want to delete that footage from all the archives.

Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. In the past five years or so, I've got into presenting documentary series. We are currently shooting a new one, a working title, which is all about the River Bann. We're doing it from its source in the Mourne Mountains right through to the very end, along the north coast. Along the way, we are going to be meeting people who live and work on the Bann while having some good adventures along the way.

Years ago, I never thought I would get the opportunity to do this kind of work and I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to enjoy it or not. Thankfully, I love it, and it's the one thing that keeps me going alongside my job. I'd love to do more shows like this in the future.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. 'Feel the fear, do it anyway'. That's what I've done quite a few times - I've felt the fear on many occasions, but I do it anyway and it usually pays off.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. I'd like to be remembered for, hopefully, bringing some sunshine into people's lives. Also, as someone that people can connect with and are happy enough to chat with - and even take a selfie.

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