Julie's sunny spells

RICHARD BATSON If anyone can conjure up some meteorological magic it must be a weathergirl-turned-panto fairy. Richard Batson spoke to Julie Reinger about her seasonal switch from warm fronts to magic wands.

RICHARD BATSON

As good fairies go, she looks like one of the best. Smile as sparkling as her glittery wand. Personality billowing bright as her wafting white dress.

And for Julie Reinger it is a childhood dream come true – as she rehearses for the role of Fairy Kindheart at Sheringham's Christmas pantomime.

“I never had a fairy outfit as a child,” she laments. “I remember my sister having a pink fairy cake, while I got hedgehogs and tugboats. So this is all my Christmasses come at once.”

But it is a three-week spell of stage stardom the BBC Look East weather presenter had not forecast.

And, although she is looking forward to her part in Beauty and the Beast, her excitement is tinged with some trepidation.

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That seems odd for an outwardly-confident young woman, who broadcasts live to half a million people each night.

Why is she apprehensive about playing to audiences of less than 200?

“In the studio you are talking to a box. Even though you know you are going out into people's homes, you can forget people are watching. In the theatre there is no escaping the audience. They are there in front of you. It is a smaller audience, but you are more aware they are there.”

Julie hopes some of her presenting skills can be used in the panto. Her ability to engage in chatty ad-libs with presenters Stewart White and Suzie Fowler-Watt may come in handy if she gets into trouble – even though the director has urged his cast stick to the script as much as possible!

“I can learn scripts. I don't use an Autocue for the weather. But it is easier when you have written it yourself.

“And although the key to being a good presenter is to be natural, there are some days when you have to put on a 'show' because you are not feeling at your best.”

Her stage experience is restricted to A-level drama studies – with roles that could not be farther from a fairy.

“I played ladies of the night, a man-hating sphinx, Lady Macbeth and did some lechery in Doctor Faustus. But every little girl wants to be a fairy.”

Her wish came true when she was approached by Sheringham Little Theatre, which is staging its first fully professional panto this year.

Artistic director Debbie Thompson said: “Julie visited the theatre for a carnival event and was very popular. Everybody loved her, not just the audience but all the theatre staff too!”

It means that Julie is combining her 'day job' with rehearsals – although the BBC has let her have time off during the demanding show schedule, which can involve three performances a day.

Those long days however are unlikely to bother a girl who used to get up at 4.30am to do a morning slot as a newsroom assistant at BBC Radio Nottingham before heading to her university lessons in broadcast journalism.

“I am used to hard work,” she says, but also confesses that she is not as confident as people might think.

Her early dreams of a career in television were ignited by the women on Blue Peter when she was a youngster growing up in Oxfordshire. The bright and breezy professionalism of Janet Ellis, Yvette Fielding and the late lamented Caron Keating inspired the young Julie.

“Although I was a hard-worker I did not have a lot of confidence. It was partly because I had a hard time at school, including some bullying. And at university the girls around me were glamorous, attractive and ambitious. I had a fixed brace, was not very trendy and felt insecure.”

But she was determined, and “made the most of opportunities that came my way”.

One of those, which she describes as her “big turning point” came when a tape of her doing the weather at Nottingham, to fill in for some maternity cover, found its way to Norwich.

Her career, and confidence, have taken off since she came to Look East in January 1999.

Julie's days involve preparing and updating forecasts in her office before heading to the studio for her live weather slots.

Standing in front of a regional map, she breezily clicks through the charts she had prepared earlier (Blue Peter take note), as she chats about the sun, cloud and frost. Working off monitors, with the 'gallery' talking in your earpiece, it is bit like rubbing your stomach with one hand, and patting your head with the other – all while looking in a mirror.

So when asked about the stereotype of 'dumb blonde weather presenters' she quickly assures there is “no such thing”.

Julie, who is 31 just after the panto ends in January, adds: “It is a real skill. Some people's lives, like farmers and fishermen, depend on the weather. They rely on you to be trustworthy and credible. You cannot have a lot of froth and stupidity but that doesn't mean it cannot be fun.”

Relaxing back in the office between broadcasts, which include teatime forecasts for Radio Norfolk too, the fairy dress hangs on the back of her door – an ever present reminder of the 'panto-monium' to come.

Stewart and Suzie pop in to confirm there has been a “bit of leg-pulling” since Julie landed the panto fairy role – and that she is likely to be told the weather is “behind you” in the coming weeks. But they are sure she will do well.

Stewart, who has appeared live on stage with the Nimmo Twins comedy duo assures her that it is “great to get the instant feedback of laughter from the audience – instead of the phone calls hours later”.

Julie, who proclaims to be a “bathroom singer”, has had some vocal coaching and is now learning her lines.

“I thought it would be a small role. But I am narrator, have to do a couple of songs – and sort out the naughty prince. I am sure I won't be so petrified once rehearsals and the first few performances are under way.”

Her mum and sister have vowed to be among the audiences – but Julie's big regret is that her granny, a big panto fan, died 18 months ago.

Her biggest fear is that her work colleagues will stage a block booking – but she has warned her “Look East family” that any undue heckling will be dealt with “through the power of my wand”. t

t Beauty and the Beast, Sheringham Little Theatre, December 13 to January 3. Information and tickets through the box office on 01263 822347.

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