The night that BBC presenter David Whiteley feared for his life

David Whiteley surfing off Cromer Pier. David Whiteley surfing off Cromer Pier.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
3:59 PM

His documentaries are billed as surprising real-life stories and hard-hitting current affairs but, reports ROWAN MANTELL, one of the biggest stories he covered came as a shock even to BBC presenter David Whiteley.

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Jackie and Steve Connelly talking to David Whiteley about Hemsby: The Village That's Falling into the Sea.Jackie and Steve Connelly talking to David Whiteley about Hemsby: The Village That's Falling into the Sea.

David Whiteley loves the sea. A keen surfer, he regularly wakes in the early hours to catch the best waves along the north Norfolk coast. But last winter, filming in Hemsby, he saw another side to the surf, and admits to being terrified as he reported to millions of viewers on the storm surge.

It was only by chance that he was in Hemsby with a camera crew that December night. He had been commissioned to present a piece for the One Show about the villagers’ campaign for sea defences. “When we heard the warnings about a storm surge we thought it might make an aside,” said David. “Even after I’d watched the lifeboat station go into the water I still kind of believed that people’s houses would be safe.”

But people across the country, and eventually around the world, watched in horror as the owners of a cliff-top chalet, who had been chatting to David minutes earlier, saw their home and most of their possessions toppling towards the sea.

In the course of his job, 37-year-old David has travelled the world and confronted some particularly unpleasant people on behalf of viewers, but his scariest moments came in his home county.

Volunteers clearing up after the floods at Hemsby. Photo: Bill SmithVolunteers clearing up after the floods at Hemsby. Photo: Bill Smith

“I was frightened that night, for myself and for everyone there. It was overwhelming,” he said.

David is speaking ahead of a new series of the BBC’s Inside Out – East, which begins on Monday. But as well as his work as a producer and presenter for the show, he is the voice of Saturday morning for BBC Radio Norfolk. On Saturdays, he wakes at 4.15am for the 6-9am breakfast show.

Sections include Whiteley’s Wives To Be, with some of the blushing brides of Norfolk getting a surprise call on their big day. David himself is married to fellow BBC Look East presenter Amelia Reynolds and the couple have two daughters, Annabel and Cleo, aged four and 18 months.

The family live in south Norfolk, and David and Amelia work their shifts around looking after the children. “Amelia’s parents are fantastic. We couldn’t survive without them” said David. “We also have a lovely lady who looks after the children three afternoons a week.” The latest series of Inside Out runs for nine weeks and David’s assignments include taking part in the Round Norfolk Relay and a look at how the storm surge literally changed the shape of our coastline.

David returns to Hemsby to see how the village is recovering.

“The ironic thing is that the couple we filmed as their house went over are actually better off. They got an insurance pay-out and moved away and he’s got a job now,” he said.

Tidal surges aside, he said: “The other times I get a little bit apprehensive are when I have to doorstep one of the bad guys for a story.”

It is the good guys he really loves working with. David has presented several awards ceremonies for the Eastern Daily Press – rewarding some of the most talented, caring, imaginative and hard-working people in the county.

“I like doing award ceremonies,” he said, “The Stars of Norfolk one is amazing. That’s so lovely because these are people who don’t usually get any kind of recognition.” On Monday, September 15, he will host the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2014, in association with the East of England Coop.

“I used to cook,” he said. “Now Amelia cooks more than I do, but my mash is legendary. I make it with butter and mustard, Colman’s of course, and crème fraiche, and salt and pepper, and I whisk it as well as mash it.”

He said he and Amelia share most aspects of family life, but he has not quite managed to persuade her of the joys of surfing.

Even the chance to try surfing in Bali, on their honeymoon, was not enough to transform her into a surfer, but David admitted: “I’m trying to get Annabel into it now. We got her a board for her birthday.”

2 comments

  • ...."The night that BBC presenter David Whiteley feared for his life"....Isn't it wonderful that some BBC reporters are prepared to put their life in danger so that we can actually watch coastal erosion in action from the comfort of our homes. Well done David, a brave survivor of the Great Norfolk Storm Surge of 6th December 2013

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    Rhombus

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

  • ....."saw their home and most of their possessions toppling towards the sea" Only 2 days warning of a 3m + storm surge and living on the edge of a cliff in a coastal erosion zone - yes is must have been a complete surprise.

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    Rhombus

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

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