The accent may be a strange hybrid of Texas and Norfolk, but Chris Bell, forecaster with Weatherquest at the UEA, has been a popular voice on the air waves and on TV - reporter DAVID BALE met him
PUBLISHED: 09:34 05 November 2012
First things first - the accent is Texan, although when he goes back home they think it’s English, and over here, it has been labelled everything from Canadian, Scottish and Irish, to Cornish.
Chris Bell, a director and forecaster with Weatherquest at the UEA, only has to open his mouth for people in Norfolk to recognise him.
He said: “I don’t get recognised on the street but if I’m in a taxi, the driver will say ‘You’re the chap off the telly’, as soon as I open my mouth.
“When I go back to Texas no-one thinks I’m from Texas any more. And every time I’m on TV in Norwich somebody asks on Twitter where I’m from. I have been called an Australian, Canadian, Irish, Scottish and even Cornish.”
He’s been a constant on the television and radio for a long time, but as reported last week, his stint on the radio, at least, has come to an end, after the BBC dropped Weatherquest’s contract to present the weather on BBC Radio Norfolk.
Weather bulletins for BBC Radio Norfolk now come from a team of presenters based in its London weather hub.
But Mr Bell could be back on TV, even if it’s just when the regular forecasters on Look East are on holiday.
And fans of Weatherquest can get the same information they used to get by clicking on to a podcast on the website, which is updated with the local weather twice a day.
The 34-year-old was born and raised in Vidor, a town with about 12.000 inhabitants, about 80 miles from Houston.
“From the time I was four or five years old I wanted to be a weatherman,” he said.
“Even as a small child I would watch the weather out of the window. At primary school I would stand up in front of everyone and give a weather forecast in assembly.”
He studied climatology or long range weather in Louisiana and, as an under-graduate, he was given the opportunity to come the UEA in Norwich, to study meteorology or short range weather.
When he came to Norwich in 1999 one of the first people he met was his future wife-to-be, Amanda, who was in one of the dormitories that have since been pulled down.
“She was across the hallway from me and I met here in my first week,” he said.
After getting together they returned to the US and spent four years living there, but she won out when they had to decide where to settle permanently and they sold up and returned to the UK, renting a place in Norwich.
He worked for Virgin records in Norwich for about six months, and then, after begging to be taken on, joined Weatherquest in 2005 as a forecaster. His wife’s now a primary school teacher in Reepham.
He started weather forecasting on TV about one and a half years ago and has been on the radio about six years.
It’s harder being a weather forecaster on TV than being a newsreader, he said.
“All the newsreaders have autocue, but all the weather is ad-libbed, and because they put the weather at the end of the show, you never know how long you will have. If there’s something big on the news your slot will probably get cut by about 20 or 30 seconds.
“That means you have to make it fit and that’s the most difficult part of the job. So you can never feel that confident, even though, as you can tell, I’m a talker and I have no problem filling the time.”
While he has no funny anecdotes about working with Stewart White and the team at Look East, he said that there was a good deal of banter between them.
“On Thursday night Look East does barometer night, and Stewart White always wants to get that in, but we can’t always if there’s some big news story, so it’s a bit of a joke between us.”
A self-confessed weather geek he has a weather station in his back garden and has, in the past, been a storm chaser. “Some of my buddies are storm chasing Superstorm Sandy,” he added.
He also likes to play golf and loves north Norfolk, especially Wells-next-the-sea, where his dogs can stretch their legs on the beach.
And, now he thinks of it, Texas and Norfolk do have a lot in common, he said.
“Outside the big cities there’s an agricultural feel in Texas, and a slower pace of life compared to the north-east of the US. And that’s what they say about Norfolk, about people coming here for a slower pace of life.”
He said the main difference between Americans and English was that people over here are left to their own business, but in Texas everyone wants to know everything about their neighbours, what cars they have and what jobs they do.
“It’s a lot to do with status in Texas and a lot depends on the value of stuff. But in Norfolk you do a better job of leaving people to their own business.
“Also, I can meet an American on a train and within three days know everything about that person, but in England people are more private. You guys don’t open up details of your life so much. You can be finding out about a person in England forever.”
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