BBC weatherman Tomasz became famous for his cheeky chappie demeanour
Tomasz Schafernaker was 28 years old and less than a year into his career as a national TV weatherman when he committed a gaffe of such proportions that it would have brought a premature end to the career of a lesser man.
While delivering a forecast on BBC One one day in February 2007, he said there would be rain in north-west Scotland and added – pointing to an area that took in the Outer Hebrides and the Western Isles – “mainly in nowheresville”.
The reaction was immediate and furious. Constituents contacted the SNP MP for the Western Isles, Angus MacNeil, to condemn Schafernaker’s comment, with one characterising it as “insulting, ignorant and self-satisfied”.
MacNeil weighed in on his own account and Archie Campbell, Labour councillor for North Uist, said he was “staggered” that anyone in such a position would talk about any part of the UK in those terms.
Schafernaker’s saving grace was that he apologised swiftly and profusely for his error of judgment. As he said in an interview three years later: “It was obviously a stupid mistake. It was mentioned in the Scottish parliament with politicians saying the Londoncentric BBC had insulted them. It is in fact a beautiful part of the country.
“There was an apology on the Today programme. It was a difficult time and I ate a lot of humble pie. I thought I would be put on to permanent night shifts!” In fact, not only did Schafernaker keep his job but – despite a few ups and downs, as we shall see – went on to become one of Auntie’s bestloved broadcasters.
And last week he was voted the Nation’s Favourite Weather Forecaster after a poll of 25,000 readers of Radio Times, beating BBC Breakfast’s Carol Kirkwood into second place. A clearly honoured Schafernaker, now 38, says: “I am delighted to have come first.
'Standing in front of the cameras and blabbing has never been a problem from day one'
Wasn’t expecting it. There were many big names and there are clearly a lot of favourites. I’m just one of them… big thank you!” It’s easy to see why he attracted such support. Over the years Schafernaker, who has Polish antecedents, has emerged as one of the most engaging presenters on our screens today.
He knows his areas of low pressure from his occluded fronts but imparts his data with such a smiley demeanour that he’s a pleasure to watch.
And then there’s the easy banter with his fellow presenters as they hand over to him or vice versa. O N THE downside, it’s an informal approach that is fraught with pitfalls and one which has resulted in the charismatic weatherman ending up under a cloud more than once. In the summer of 2009, during a broadcast on Radio 4 he made reference to a rain-sodden Glastonbury Festival.
But a phrase intended to be “muddy site” came out as “muddy s***e”.
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He could be heard giggling on and off for the remainder of the report. By now the young, god – looking weatherman was something of a minor celebrity and one media interview in particular attracted a certain amount of attention back at head office.
“He generated quite a warm front when he showed off his honed physique in the gay magazine Attitude, a notable first for the weather forecast fraternity,” wrote one interviewer this week. And the gaffes kept coming. One involved news anchor Simon McCoy during an 11am bulletin in 2010.
“Now we will have the weather forecast in a minute and of course it will be 100 per cent accurate and provide all the detail you can possibly want,” said McCoy. “I’ve just seen Tom Schafernaker preparing for it.” In the belief that he was off camera, Schafernaker raised his middle finger to McCoy in what was designed to be a humorous gesture of reproach.
Unfortunately the director had already cut to the forecaster, who instantly moved his hand to his face in a hopeless attempt to disguise his faux pas. A clip of his shocked and horrified facial expression as he did so has received more than 5.5 million hits on YouTube. Shortly afterwards he fell victim to one of the BBC’s periodic rationalisation exercises.
“There is a desire across the BBC to have fewer weather presenters,” said a spokesman for the Met Office.
“To improve consistency, four or five broadcast meteorologists will be moving to behind-the-scenes roles as weather duty managers. The changes will also result in the loss of some roles at the Weather Centre, but no decision has been made yet regarding job cuts.”
Sceptics immediately concluded that Schafernaker had committed one bloomer too many in the eyes of the high-ups. But by the beginning of 2013 he was back – and managed to maintain a gaffe-free record for almost three years before he returned to the headlines with a vengeance.
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Reading the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 at 5.20am on December 4, 2016, he got as far as “Mull of Kintyre to Cape Wrath southerly or southerly four or five… excuse me…” before he cut off, sounding as if he was on the verge of being sick.
It was the first time in 91 years that the Shipping Forecast had been interrupted and, as the BBC South-east Christmas party had taken place the night before, many people reached the obvious conclusion that the two events were somehow linked. But in an interview this week Schafernaker firmly put the rumours to bed. “I really do want to set the record straight in that regard,” he said.
“First, there was no BBC party. Second, I was standing in for a colleague who was taken ill with a stomach bug. “I ran to the studio, read the entire forecast and was then promptly ill with the same bug.
There was no big drama.” WITH the Radio Times award in the bag, Schafernaker’s future now looks assured. But he could easily have gone down a very different path if an aunt had not noticed an ad for a broadcast assistant at the BBC weather department when he was a young man.
At the time he was travelling in South-east Asia after graduating in meteorology from the University of Reading. So she submitted an application on his behalf. Within a year Schafernaker – born in Gdansk but educated at St John’s College, Southsea, Hampshire – was presenting the weather on screen.
“I think I was mature for my years,” he says. “I had grown up between two countries so I was quite independent and accustomed to dealing with new situations and new people.” He underwent further training at the Met Office college in Exeter before moving on to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire where part of his role was to brief pilots on flying conditions and turbulence. Returning to television in 2006, by the age of 26 he was appearing nationwide. And as he says: “Standing in front of the cameras and blabbing has never been a problem from day one.”