The passions of Nick Owen
PUBLISHED: 15:04 02 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:34 20 February 2013
He was king of the breakfast TV sofa, has interviewed icons of the age, and is now the avuncular anchor of BBC Midlands Today. Nick Owen opens up to Jane Haynes
Bertie Owen would have given a gentle smile of satisfaction to hear son Nick unhesitatingly recite his favourite eight lines from A.E.Housmans A Shropshire Lad.
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows;
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Isnt that just beautiful? The sense of yearning and the image he paints are just incredibly moving, enthuses ardent fan Nick Owen.
Nick, anchor at BBC Midlands Today for nearly 16 years, carries a little piece of Housman with him everywhere he goes.
His pocket-sized edition of A Shropshire Lad, now slightly worse for wear, has been his constant companion, as it was to his father before him.
Its not simply the words within that he so obviously cherishes. Its also a physical manifestation of the bond between son and father that he continues to cleave to.
Bertie Owen died four years ago and, as I chat to Nick in the pleasant surroundings of a country hotel, his presence is all about us.
It was Bertie, says Nick, who introduced him to the passions that have sustained throughout his life: Housmans poems, Luton Town Football Club (of which Nick is a lifelong supporter and now chairman), cricket, the classics, music and the importance of family. It was Bertie, too, who encouraged his son to sometimes take a risk and to follow his heart.
Says Nick: We were very close, he was my hero. I went to his school (Shrewsbury School), I went on to study the same subject as him at university (Classics), he instilled my love of football and cricket, he loved music, though not necessarily of the same genre as me, and I think from him I learned that if it was worth doing something then you should give it your all.
He adds: I used to speak to him every day, no matter where I was, and he was a great supporter of mine. We had lots of things in common and simply enjoyed each others company. Sometimes, if I was struggling for a word or phrase for a bulletin, Id ring to ask my father. My mum Esme told me how he loved those calls and, if he couldnt immediately help, he would go scurrying off to look in encyclopedias or pull out a thesaurus or a dictionary.
Nick, now 65 but looking remarkably lean and youthful, has lived what he describes modestly as a lucky life.
After a stint in local newspapers he got a job as a reporter for the Birmingham Post, later switching to local radio, working as a producer, news and sports reporter for what was then BBC Birmingham.
Five years learning the ropes as a broadcaster opened the door to a new opportunity when, in the summer of 1978, he was headhunted to be a sports reporter at ATV.
It was at ATV where he first crossed paths with Anne Diamond. Their careers and fortunes were soon inextricably linked.
In the early 1980s, plans were being hatched to introduce breakfast TV to a slightly suspicious nation. Nick was invited to be part of the TV-am team, as a sports presenter. It meant abandoning the steady gig in the Midlands that he was enjoying, but he decided the risk was worth taking.
He had no idea that his bit part would soon develop into the leading man role.
From its first broadcast in 1983, Good Morning Britain with TV-am, led by the famous five of Michael Parkinson, David Frost, Angela Rippon, Anna Ford and Robert Kee, was roundly panned for being too highbrow and earnest.
Says Nick: One critic said it was like being served up prawn cocktail for breakfast just wrong. What people really wanted was more of a boy and girl next door, fun start to their day.
The executive team asked me to step up to be their main presenter and asked who I wanted to work with. I immediately recommended Anne. It was to be an incredible experience for us both.
The pair fronted Good Morning Britain on TV-am together for nearly four years, seeing ratings rise consistently. On a daily basis he was brushing shoulders with the likes of Sophia Loren, Elton John, Bob Hope, Joanna Lumley and the leading politicians and sports stars of the day.
But in 1986 Nick returned to his first love, sport, as main presenter for ITV Sport. He presented the Olympics and the 1990 World Cup before returning to the sofa to host Good Morning with Anne and Nick, this time on BBC One.
So many people I meet say they grew up with us. We were there at the start of the day for millions of people. I met Ed Milliband the other day and he said he grew up watching me.
My job has meant I have been privileged to interview some of the biggest personalities in the world. At Midlands Today I continue to have the privilege of being allowed into peoples lives.
The interview I most treasure was with Eric Morecambe he was an amazing personality, so full of life, and he completely fulfilled my expectations.
Despite being in the public eye so long, you would be hard pressed to find critical press coverage about Nick.
On breakfast telly, he was the cuddly nice guy in a natty jumper, prone to terrible puns, utterly honest and trustworthy. Its an image that has followed him throughout his career. He is a safe pair of hands; we know hes on our side and is rooting for the good guy.
Youre unlikely to see Nick pummelling an interviewee in the style of Jeremy Paxman, no matter how loathsome the subject or how tough the questions.
In Aesops Fable the sun and wind are fighting to show their supremacy over a man in a coat. The wind, howling furiously, succeeds in making the man pull his coat more tightly around him; the sun gets him to loosen up and relax. Its vital to ask the right questions but I dont think its necessary to do so aggressively.
Despite the gentle image, Nick has in his time confronted and been part of the biggest stories of the age: the IRA bombings and their legacy, the kidnap of estate agent Stephanie Slater, and he was first to interview Princess Michael over revelations that her father was a member of Hitlers SS. He has met seven prime ministers and members of the royal family including Princess Diana. He is a journalist first and presenter second, and is obviously proud of the huge contribution he has made to the national zeitgeist.
His best pals include Midlands personalities that shaped the 70s and 80s, like comedian Jasper Carrott, Roy Wood from Wizzard, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Bev Bevan of The Move.
They have helped sustain him through a challenging recent few years. He lost his beloved father in 2008. Bertie contracted MRSA in hospital after breaking his hip in a fall, leading to a protracted hospital stay and various operations which eventually proved too much for the 93-year-old.
A year later Nicks 32-year marriage, to Jill, ended. It was a mutual decision but that doesnt mean its not been incredibly difficult.
Says Nick: There are still sad, poignant and difficult times but it is possible to emerge out the other side.
Nick is now in a relationship with Vicki Beevers, a financial advisor, who he describes as wonderful, warm and kind.
He is very close to mum Esme and his four children, Andy, Tim, Chris and Jenny, all of them grown up and living independently. Hes also a granddad twice over.
He is also content at Midlands Today, coming up to 16 years at the helm. I cant imagine doing anything else but, having said that, nothing is certain my contract is renewed year by year, so who knows?
Whatever the future holds for Nick Owen, you can be sure a tiny book of Midlands poetry by A. E. Housman, a Luton Town scarf and loving memories of his father Bertie will travel with him.