From arias to isobars, how a devastating vocal collapse gave Scotland our favourite weather presenter, Edinburgh's Judith Ralston

Come rain or shine, you can rely on Edinburgh's Judith Ralston to keep you right when it comes to the weather.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 6:34 pm
Judith Ralston, BBC weather presenter.

Brought up in the Shandon, Trinity and the Joppa areas of the Capital, the 52-year-old has become BBC Scotland's Queen of the Isobars, regularly popping up on radio and television.

However, as a child it was on a career in music that Judith set her sights, writes Liam Rudden.

It was while attending St Cuthbert's Primary that Judith's love of music first surfaced.

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Judith Ralton at St Cuthbert's, where she discovered her love of music

"The best thing about my interest in music came through a normal primary school education," she says, explaining, "This very dapper teacher came and tested us when we were six. Those who were musical were allowed to start violin lessons but we already had a very healthy music class at primary. We all sang in harmony and if you are musical, that is just the best way to learn. I just loved it."

Her talent was spotted early, but it would be a trip to the Playhouse that would cement her desire to explore the world of opera.

She explains, "At St Cuthbert's, the headmistress Miss Dunn used to sit at the piano and warble her way through hymns... I’d mimic her and when I was 10 a teacher heard me and said, 'You sound like an opera singer.' That was the moment I knew I wanted to perform, not acting, but something to do with singing. However, my epiphany happened at 15, when I saw my first opera at the Playhouse."

By now a pupil at St Augustine's, that opera was Scottish Opera’s La Boheme, Judith watched spellbound from “the gods”..

Judith Ralston's first publicity shot as an opera singer

She takes up the story, "My house mistress, Monica Davidson, very much encouraged me and would buy extra tickets for concerts at the Festival and bring me along. Up to that point I'd been playing the oboe, violin and had taken piano lessons and even played the tuba, so I knew I wanted to become a musician but when the curtain opened, it was like, 'There I am, that's me!' I saw myself on that stage. It was so clear in my head that was where I belonged."

Going on to study music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where she now lives, Judith first sang professionally as a student, when fate brought her full circle. "The first time I sang professionally was with Scottish Opera and one of my very first jobs was singing in the same La Boheme production I’d seen at school. I was a chorister and it was at the Playhouse."

Later she would sing excerpts from Carmen at the Queen's Hall but her opera career was cruelly cut short when her voice "collapsed" at the age of 28. "It was a bit like when an athlete has a muscle strain they can't come back from, that was exactly what happened to me," she says.

With a burgeoning international career ahead of her, the loss was devastating.

"I felt like I'd gone round the world to get help, Germany London, Canada, but it was back in Edinburgh I discovered the Edinburgh Voice Clinic and Professor Arnold Moran and Dr Colin Watson who knew from personal experience how it felt to lose your identity but I still took a good few years to come to terms with it."

It was a journalist friend who suggested Judith might try using her voice in a different way, by doing radio, and in no time she was presenting the traffic and travel slots on radio stations like Forth, Tay and Clyde,

"That was terrific learning curve, then the BBC needed someone to help on the travel desk, that's how I started at the BBC, then the girl who presented the weather went on leave and they needed someone to read the forecast... that was how it all started."

Through weather forecasting the mother of three - her children are the sunshine in her life, she says proudly - met husband Fraser, a meteorologist.

"He would brief me over the phone then when we met at a meal a while later it was almost love at first sight. We just knew."

Over the years, Judith has learned much of the science behind forecasting but admits while she knows her subject now, she could never have studied it.

She laughs, "I keep in touch with one of my old maths teachers from St Augustine’s, Joe Smith, and we have a real laugh because, as he said to me, 'You're a credit to the science and maths departments of St Augustine’s...' because I didn't turn up for my Maths exam and failed my only science subject – the two subjects you need for meteorology are maths and physics."

Like many weather presenters before her, Judith has developed a cult-like degree of celebrity and has even appeared in a pop video - you can see her in Edinburgh band James Brown is Annie's promo for Five Up High. She has also guested on Scot Squad, seeking the help of PCs Jack McLaren and Sarah Fletcher, and with her husband Fraser, has written a children's book, What's The Weather.

"It was a huge honour to be asked to do Scot Squad, that and being in The Broons are the two pinnacles of my career," she says.

Judith also proved very popular with one fan as she discovered when comedian Marc Jennings tweeted: 'Ma da had to sleep on the couch last night because ma maw found out he'd googled the BBC Scotland weather woman.'

"That was so funny, afterwards I did the Radio Scotland panel show Breaking the News with Marc and he said it was all true," she laughs”

So, what would her 26 year old self have said if told she'd be a famous weather presenter now?

"She'd have said, 'Oh no, no, no! I'll be singing Mahler in Germany'," she beams, "I would never have believed it but it is the best job. It's been a real journey. I'm very privileged to have had two careers and to be working for the BBC on the radio programme I used to listen to and on Reporting Scotland, which all my family used watch.

"My eldest is studying at Edinburgh University now and when I come through to see him, my heart lifts. It's like I'm home and there's always a bit of a tear in my eye. It was such a great place to grow up, from playing in the old back railway at Shandon to the beach at Joppa, there was so much freedom."

What’s The Weather, by Fraser & Judith Ralston, is available here

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