Hazel Irvine climbing Ben Lomond with her dad (Photo: Hazel Irvine)
Hazel Irvine climbing Ben Lomond with her dad (Photo: Hazel Irvine)

TV’s Hazel Irvine has always been a good sport

Since the 1980s, Hazel Irvine has been one of Scotland’s favourite sports broadcasters.

Whether on Friday nights with Scotsport Extra Time with Jim White, on Scotsport itself, and then covering national sports events with the BBC, Hazel has been at the heart of UK sport for over 30 years.

She told Scottish Field about her love of sport, and how she became a regular on our screens.

To say I was a sports nut is probably an understatement. I was born in St Andrews, the ‘hame’ of golf and all that. When I was four I moved to Cardross, a little village near Helensburgh. That’s where I grew up. Cardross is an absolutely beautiful village. It’s a lot bigger now than when I was four, but it’s a great place to bring up children.

Cardross has a wonderful golf course, which I joined at a very young age. My dad and my brother were both keen golfers, so I got the bug quite early – I was about nine or ten. So my summer holidays basically consisted of two rounds a day – every day. So my mum knew exactly where I was… most of the time. There was also a tennis club and a bowling green – it was quite a sporty little village when I think about it.

Living in Cardross, it was only a short walk around the back of Dumbarton, or over Blackhill, and we were in the Trossachs. Our family were great caravanners and campers and we spent a huge amount of our time there as kids. We would go hillwalking, or climbing – my father was very much an outdoor guy and he instilled in us a great love of the outdoors.

We would all go as a family, and there are some great pictures of us climbing the Cobbler, and we went up Ben Lomond umpteen times. We were one of those families that had to get to the top of anything we visited, whether it was a church or a hill, so that’s where my love of hillwalking and climbing came from.

Hazel Irvine climbing Ben Lomond with her dad (Photo: Hazel Irvine)

My love of sport was also nurtured at school. I was at primary school in Cardross but my high school was Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh. We used to take the train to school every morning, which I loved. It was a really big school with a huge catchment area. At secondary I was lucky enough to have some really enthusiastic teachers.

The most influential were probably my music and PE teachers. The sports department was my second home really, and I owe them a great deal for nurturing my already apparent love of sport. I did everything: hockey, gymnastics, trampolining and athletics. I also swam four days a week for the Helensburgh Swimming Club; the rest of the time I played golf.

But whatever I did there were always teachers willing to give up their time to make sure it happened, whether it was a lunchtime club or hockey on a Saturday morning. These experiences were the most formative parts of my growing up and I hate to think that kids today may not have those opportunities.

I went to university in St Andrews and studied history of art. Golf was my thing and I represented the university on a number of occasions; I also gained my colours in athletics and netball. And at the end of the season I would spend six weeks playing golf. Back then it was something like thirty-five pounds to play the five courses, it was brilliant.

Although I loved sport, I didn’t see a career in it for me. I really wanted to get into the media, specifically television. I went to Russell Galbraith, who was head of sport at STV, and he asked me what it was I wanted to do in television. When I said I wasn’t sure he looked at my CV and said it was pretty obvious that it was sport.

And when I thought about it I had been a sports journalist since I was twelve – I always wrote up the Hermitage Academy hockey team match reports for the school magazine and local newspaper. I did the same thing at university as well. STV didn’t have a position for me then but I realised that sports journalism was what I wanted to do.

I started as a production assistant at Radio Clyde, which involved me making tea and being a general dogsbody. I also got to interview people no-one else wanted to, which gave me a great grounding. Ten months into the job I contacted Russell again; my timing was perfect because Sally McNair was about to go on maternity leave, so I was offered a screen test. I must have done something right because I got the job on Scotsport.

Hazel Irvine, at home on the golf course (Photo: Angus Blackburn)

That was November 1987. The following February ITV Sport was auditioning for a presenter for the 1988 Olympics. It helped that at the audition I was asked to commentate on Allan Wells’ 100 metre victory at the 1980 Olympics. Allan was my hero and I had watched the race so many times I knew it inside out, so commentating was easy. I also got to speak to Allan in the green room afterwards, which was such a thrill.

When I started my job, my university friends would come over and we’d do some mountaineering. There were about five or six of us who for a good four or five years would get away every other weekend. Come rain, hail or shine we’d climb all over the place; we bagged a few Munros in that time, but we weren’t serious baggers. Though we did get in some terrible scrapes – we got lost, all that stuff – we all lived to tell the tales.

Of all the places in Scotland we visited, our favourite place was the area around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. I know the area so well; I’ve climbed the hills around there goodness knows how many times, or just gone for a nice Sunday walk. And there’s also that wonderful bit on the road towards Drymen where you come up the hill and suddenly the whole of to go up Dumgoyne Hill all the time as well.

One of my best friends, Anne, and I used to go walking all the time. One time we climbed Ben Vorlich, or the peak of the seabag as we call it. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, absolutely fantastic. As we followed the path up we came to a point where we could just see boulders.

Hazel Irvine presenting golf at St Andrews

What we didn’t know was that if you scramble over the boulders you come to a shoulder that takes you to the top. Instead, we turned left and suddenly ended up on a really precipitous ledge. We couldn’t go down, or turn back – we gave ourselves a real fright; but the sense of exhilaration we felt when we did reach the top was incredible.

I’ve also spent a bit of time on the loch itself; either fishing with my brother or up and down it numerous times on boats. The whole area is pretty special to me because I’ve seen it in so many settings and through every season; I love the contrast, the changes in the light.

I don’t have a favourite season as such but I remember about fifteen years ago when we had that bitterly cold winter, when it was consistently about minus 10 for a week. A friend of ours who is a very experienced ice climber took us up to the shoulder of Ben Lomond; we got the crampons on and had great fun ice climbing – it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done; it was so still and magical.

We always ate well when we visited the Trossachs, whether it was a bacon sandwich on the way back from a climb, or a meal in one of the many restaurants. However, I always say that the best meal you can have is a cheese sandwich at the top of a Munro. I also say that the worst meal you can have is also a cheese sandwich at the top of a Munro! Helensburgh happens to have the best Italian restaurant I have ever eaten in: Mira Mare – definitely the best in the west.

Living in London, it’s the accessibility of Scotland that I miss the most; to be able to go out and clear your head. I used to live in Bearsden and when work got really intense we’d take a walk up to the Queen’s View; we’d walk down via the cliffs and back to the top in a loop, all the time with the loch stretching in front of you. It was a really lovely thing to do.

This feature was originally published in 2012.