WORDS: MICHAEL MCGEARY
PICTURES: MARTIN WALKER
She’s dined with the Queen, interviewed some of the biggest names in show business and counts Ant and Dec among her friends, but Pam Royle remains very much a North Yorkshire girl at heart.
For 35 years, effervescent Pam has been the face of Tyne Tees Television, presenting a wide range of programmes and bringing thousands of daily news bulletins into our homes.
And while she’s loved just about every minute of her career so far, watersports fanatic Pam is the first to admit that combining a high-profile media role with bringing up a family hasn’t always been plain sailing.
“There was a period when juggling everything was just so hard,” she told me when we met in one of the sumptuous suites at the five-star Rockliffe Hall Hotel, not far from her home near Darlington.
“Philippa, our first child, was born just hours after I came off air. I told Frostie, my co-presenter, that I had a bit of backache after we came off air at 6.30pm.
“By 9pm I was in Darlington Memorial Hospital and Pip was born in the early hours of the morning.
“I went back to work when she was five-weeks-old and again when our son Lawrence was eight-weeks-old. At that time I was self-employed, so if I didn’t work I didn’t get paid – and we needed the money!
“My husband, Mike, is a surveyor and his base was at home, which helped, but Philippa went to full-time nursery at the age of three-and-a-half and I would drop her off and drive up the A1 in floods of tears.
“Mums and dads have to juggle work and children and it’s so hard to get that balance right. I’ve always said to anyone expecting a baby, ‘Take as much time as you can with your child – you never get that precious time back.’”
Born in Leicester, Pam spent her early years in South Africa – she vividly remembers the car being chased by a buffalo in Kruger National Park – until her father’s work brought the family to Guisborough when she was three.
At the age of seven she moved to a house her dad designed in Carlton in Cleveland, where she enjoyed an idyllic upbringing.
“I would wander up the hills with friends and my mother wouldn’t know where I was and in those days it didn’t seem to be a concern, we’d be out all day and it felt safe,” she says.
After briefly working in advertising sales at the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough and then in the library at the Royal Naval College in Devon, where she had her first brush with royalty when student Prince Andrew popped in to borrow a book, Pam studied English at Newcastle University.
By the time she graduated she was engaged to Mike, who she met in a North Yorkshire pub when they were both 18.
But that didn’t stop her applying for a job teaching in a Hong Kong girls’ school. “Mike’s always been very generous in supporting me in whatever I’ve wanted to do,” she says.
It was while she was in the Far East that she got her big TV break, although it came almost by chance.
“I was involved in the Hong Kong Stage Club and another member read the news on TVB Pearl at weekends,” she recalls. “They wanted to know if anyone would audition to stand in for him while he was on holiday and I got the job.”
Although she had never aimed for a TV career, looking back it seems to have been her destiny. Before going abroad she even got down to the final four out of thousands for a primetime role on That’s Life.
“Esther Rantzen said, ‘I like you because your face crumples when you smile!’” Pam recalls.
She was also auditioned by Tyne Tees after asking if they needed researchers. They clearly liked what they saw – when popular weather girl Wincey Willis left for the fledgling TV-am, they called to ask if Pam was interested in replacing her. It was a thrilling time to be joining the station.
“Those were the days when Tyne Tees made all kinds of programmes, including, of course, The Tube,” she recalls.
“There would be artists and rock stars lining the corridors and the atmosphere was electric. One day I went into the wardrobe department and saw a beautiful silver jacket on a mannequin and decided to try it on.
“I was standing in front of the mirror admiring it when I heard footsteps outside and quickly put it back, just in time for Paul Young to walk in looking for his jacket! I’d always liked him but I didn’t know what to say and just muttered something and dashed out!”
Pam enjoyed her new job but after just 18 months was devastated to be told her contract wasn’t being renewed because of cutbacks. With no journalism training, she had been unable to join the union, making her an easy target for station bosses. Mike had unwavering confidence in his wife’s talents, however.
“Unbeknown to me, he sent my showreel to ITN and I got a phone call saying they were looking for a weather and travel correspondent for a satellite TV channel broadcasting throughout Europe.”
Once again that meant the couple had to part and for three years Pam lived in London, undergoing ITN’s graduate training scheme and reading the LWT news at weekends.
“Then Tyne Tees called to say they wanted me back as a co-presenter alongside Paul Frost. I initially turned them down, but when they came back a second time I agreed. I just wanted to come home. London’s great but it’s not like home, not like the North East.”
That was in 1989 and Pam has been a fixture at Tyne Tees ever since, with former Gazette reporter “Frostie” being the first of her many on-screen “husbands”.
“He was such a character and a brilliant journalist and also a brilliant performer and the viewers loved him,” she says.
He was followed in 1994 by Stuart McNeil – “a very strong journalist and a smashing person” and then Andrew Friend – “a joy to work with and so quick-witted”.
She already knew BBC “rival” Mike Neville and his wife Pam socially – they were the “other” Mike and Pam – and in the late-1990s the North East broadcasting legend, who sadly died in 2017, switched sides and joined her in the City Road studios, where they enjoyed a hugely successful decade together.
She has now spent a similar amount of time paired with Ian Payne, a “generous and supportive” copresenter.
Although she believes passionately that women should be paid the same as their male counterparts,
Pam – who has been her union’s “Mother of Chapel”, the media equivalent of a shop steward, for about 20 years – has never felt discriminated against because of her gender.
“I actually think the media wasn’t a bad place to be as a woman,” she says. “The gender pay gap wasn’t something we even thought about – it didn’t dawn on me that there might be one!”
Now the children are grown up – Philippa, 27, is a lawyer, and Lawrence, 24, an assistant farm manager on a 2,500-acre estate – she and Mike love walking and the whole family enjoy outdoor pursuits including jet skiing, power-boating and water skiing at Hartlepool Marina.
She is passionate about her charity work and is a longstanding patron of Great North Air Ambulance, North East Ladies’ Day, the Sunshine Fund and wheelchair curling team Northern ICE, and worked closely with the Salvation Army for many years.
She is also a County Durham Deputy Lieutenant, carrying out duties on behalf of the Queen. It’s little wonder she recently took the decision to cut down her workload to four days a week.
But viewers can be reassured that the region’s favourite newsreader has no intention of leaving their screens any time soon.