BBC Look North's Amanda Harper on colleagues, fashion and Leeds' resurgence as she marks 20 years in the studio

After 20 years with BBC Look North in Leeds, Amanda Harper feels she has grown up with the programme and her colleagues.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 9:42 am

She was in her late 20s when she arrived in Yorkshire in the autumn of 2001. Originally from Stockport, she had stints working in Liverpool and for ITN in London before deciding she wanted to settle in the north.

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Her move to Look North came several months after she had covered the Selby rail crash for ITN - Amanda was living in Huddersfield at the time and was on a train to a training event in London when she was contacted on her pager and told to alight and travel back north, while other passengers in the carriage were oblivious to the tragedy unfolding further up the line in the pre-social media age. Amanda ended up being one of the first journalists on the scene at Great Heck.

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Amanda Harper has been with BBC Look North since 2001

She moved into a shared house in Roundhay with three flatmates who became immediate friends, and today still lives in the north Leeds suburb with husband Jamie Coulson - Look North's health correspondent - and their daughters, aged seven and eight.

Amanda still remembers her first week in the Look North studio, which she spent shadowing other journalists before the opportunity to present a brief segment on Ian White's news bulletin came up.

"It was pre-recorded on a tape - I'd had my hair done, got it word perfect, and then the editor pressed rewind by mistake; so the 'live read' was played backwards!"

She soon settled in, and many of her long-serving Look North colleagues remain close friends to this day.

Amanda works with her husband Jamie Coulson - whom she got together with at a Christmas party

"It was the perfect time for me to take the job, as I had no ties and there was a group of young people who are now all growing old together. At Look North we all seem to stay forever - but now we've mostly got families and are more sensible!

"I did my first teatime Look North show with Harry Gration; he was a joy to work with, very supportive and taught me a lot, and he is hugely missed.

"I progressed from video journalism to presenting, I bought a flat and started to make roots for myself in Leeds. I met Jamie when I was doing early shifts - there were only three or four of us in at that time and I was usually quite grumpy. He was working for BBC Radio Leeds and at first I thought he was really posh as he always wore chinos! I wondered whether he was my type, but we ended up getting together at a Christmas party. I sometimes have to interview him on the sofa in the studio, which is strange as I'm often wondering if he's bought the dinner or if it's his turn to do bathtime!"

Highlights during the past 20 years have been press days at the Chelsea Flower Show, where she met Yorkshire entrants as well as celebrities such as Mary Berry and Felicity Kendal, and broadcasting the breakfast show live from the Great Yorkshire Show. She was often called in to cover Christmas performances and pantomimes, being dressed up as characters and even flown across the stage at one point. She has also interviewed Patrick Stewart and met Terry Wogan and Michael Palin.

She says she 'learned a lot' from the retired Harry Gration

"The job has changed dramatically, as we used to all have specific roles. Now, we are all expected to do everything. We are multi-skilled - I can film, edit, and use social media, we do our own autocues. I produce and present my own bulletins. The technology has changed a lot."

She is also optimistic about the future of the TV industry and her own role in it.

"There's never been a better time to follow your dreams, and we're suddenly seeing opportunities. At the moment, we're starting to produce a lot more digital shorts for social media, and I would like to learn more about that.

"If you fancy a go, we are really open to giving people opportunities. It's very refreshing as when I started out, I remember having to do a lot of banging on doors and the sharp elbows used to come out."

Amanda, pictured in a second-hand red dress, has gained a following for her vintage fashion

Amanda still gets recognised regularly - in Tesco, Roundhay Park and her yoga classes - and she has also enjoyed the positive side of social media, interacting with viewers and fans through her Instagram account, which is mainly dedicated to her passion for vintage fashion.

"To appear on camera I wear a lot of second-hand dresses - some of them I got for as little as £2.50 in charity shops. Women are always messaging to ask where I got my clothes from, and I'm now re-wearing fashion from 20 years ago that has come back around.

"On Instagram I do get a lot of men of a certain age leaving comments, but there's also a real vintage community on there."Amanda recently discovered an old school report which provided few clues as to where she would end up.

"It was quite surreal - it was 30 pages long and about 80 per cent of it said I had no confidence, was a quiet pupil and would remain in the background. It's quite bizarre where I've ended up working.

"Leeds is such an exciting place to be now. When I started out you felt you had to be in London to progress, but now the industry is really recognising the talent in the north."

Amanda Harper's favourite places in Yorkshire

Walks: "I spend a lot of time in Roundhay Park. We also love Bolton Abbey and Otley Chevin. My husband is a big walker and I have become more outdoorsy. In lockdown, we discovered all sorts of wonderful places a 10-minute drive away that we didn't know were there, walks in villages like Thorner and Scarcroft."

Eating and drinking: "We don't get out as much now but I love Preston's Bar and The Stew and Oyster in Oakwood - I often meet my mum friends there."

Sunday roast: "It's a 45-minute drive from us, but The Fleece at Holme, near Holmfirth, is amazing - the best Sunday roast."