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The Week: Sunshine Suzanne is still smiling.

Byline: BY ROZ LAWS SCREEN TEAM: Suzanne Virdee with BBC colleagues Nick Owen and Ed Doolan FAMILIAR FACE: Suzanne snapped by husband Andy CITY STYLE: Suzanne reads the BBC breakfast news watched by Dermot Murnaghan and Natasha Kaplinksy GLAMOUR: fashion model

PARTNERS: Suzanne and photographer husband Andy Fox SOLEMN: Suzanne reports on Princess Diana's funeral

ON screen she is the epitome of cool, calm professionalism. When Suzanne Virdee reads the news, no-one would realise quite what a tough time she's been going through.

It is tricky enough to juggle two jobs - reading the national BBC Breakfast news bulletins two days a week and then racing back to Birmingham to present Midlands Today.

But while doing that she has also been desperately concerned about her parents, who have both been hit by crises at the same time.

Just as someone very close to her mother died, her father underwent open-heart surgery for a double by-pass.

Suzanne's domestic situation is complicated by the fact her parents, who never married, have been separated for 15 years and do not talk to each other. Cynthia lives in Warwickshire while Indian-born property investor Tommy Virdee is in Worcestershire.

'It's easiest if I don't say anything about one parent to the other,' says Suzanne, a former Sunday Mercury reporter. 'Though I will tell them if the other is ill.

'My dad recently felt a tightening of his chest and shortage of breath while at the gym. He went to the doctor who told him he'd need surgery. When they opened him up he actually needed a double heart by-pass.

'So it has been really hard. While I was going back and forth to London I was obviously worried about him, and about my mum who was grieving. But thankfully Dad is feeling fine now and Mum has been really strong.

'They are both really supportive of me. Mum is an alternative therapist and will come round with her massage table, saying 'You're looking tired, let me give you an aromatherapy massage'. It's brilliant!'

Midlands viewers were surprised when, at the beginning of the month, they looked up from their cornflakes to see a familiar face. There was 'our Suzanne' reading the breakfast news bulletins alongside the likes of Dermot Murnaghan and Natasha Kaplinsky.

Did this mean she had left Midlands Today? Dozens of worried fans e-mailed the BBC to find out.

Thankfully she is only filling in - for now. Contracted to work every Thursday and Friday in October, she has already been asked back for more days before Christmas. So what if she were offered a full-time job in London?

'I really don't think that's going to happen,' says Suzanne. 'They have Moira Stuart as the usual breakfast newsreader.

'If I did get a job offer, I would be very flattered and have to consider it seriously. It would be a massive step for me. I'm very happy at Midlands Today - I love working with Nick Owen, who's become a great friend, and I love where I live. We moved out to a new estate in Redditch where we know all our neighbours. You can see a field with cows from the bathroom window!

'But I'm really pleased they looked beyond the London newsroom to find someone to fill in. It came about when I sent a cheeky e-mail to the editor of BBC Breakfast, saying 'I notice you have different people reading the news and I'd like to be considered'. He asked for a showreel, then after a week I e-mailed to ask if he'd had a chance to watch it.

'He said he was busy and my tape was on a pile, which didn't sound hopeful. But then I got an e-mail asking if I could do certain dates.

'I've been working Monday and Tuesdays here, then going down to London on Wednesday. I do BBC Breakfast on Thursdays and Fridays, then catch the 10.40am train back to Birmingham, have a quick snooze, go home for a shower and then I'm back at work on Midlands Today on Friday afternoon.

'It is exhausting but it's also a massive adrenaline rush. I didn't feel at all tired after my first bulletin, even though I couldn't get to sleep the night before and had puffy eyes!

'At least I could stumble out of bed at 3.30am and not have to worry about my hair and make-up, as they do that in the studio. That's one of the major differences between London and Birmingham, and the fact that they sent a car to my hotel, which is rather fabulous!

'On my first day I was worried I would get lost at Television Centre. At the Mailbox in Birmingham I can see the studio from my desk, but the route from the London newsroom to the studio involves lots of frightening corridors!

'It all happens so fast, there's no time to get nervous. It's a very slick operation. I was wondering how to pronounce a news item about Chechnyan rebels in Russia, so I rang the BBC World Service who could answer my query at 4.30am.

'I have been delighted by the response from viewers. I got lots of e-mails saying 'It's great to see you on Breakfast but you're not leaving the Midlands, are you?'.

'My in-laws live in Rotherham, Yorkshire, so it was their first opportunity to watch me live. They sent me a sweet text saying 'Well done, we'll try to watch tomorrow but we're not sure if we can get up at 6am again!'.'

Suzanne celebrated her wedding anniversary just last week, after nine years with photographer Andy Fox. They met thanks to Birmingham round-the-world lone yachtswoman Lisa Clayton, when they were both working for the Mercury's sister paper, the Evening Mail.

'I was writing daily reports about Lisa's record attempt for nine months. I got to know her parents really well, especially during one worrying time when they didn't hear from her for 48 hours.

'I travelled down to Dartmouth with Andy to cover her return. She was supposed to arrive on the Monday, but she was becalmed and didn't actually get in until Friday. It was June 1995 and one of the hottest weeks on record, so Andy and I got great tans and got to know each other rather well!

'Lisa's parents were delighted for us and it was only fitting they came to our wedding.'

Another memorable moment in Suzanne's career was covering Princess Diana's funeral, standing outside Westminster Abbey with the crowds.

'It was an incredible day - I will never forget it. We all stood there from 3am to 11am. Nobody grumbled and there was no pushing. When the coffin went past you could hear a pin drop.'

WHO ARE YOU?

NAME: Suzanne Virdee

AGE: 35

SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Suzanne is married to freelance photographer Andrew Fox, who took the main photograph, above.

FANCY THAT: She always wanted to be a journalist, running home from junior school to catch Leonard Parkin on the news. At eight she wrote her own newspaper - including fashion and horoscopes - and sold it to friends and family for 10p. She began her career at 18 on the Solihull Times.

AND ANOTHER THING: Suzanne has around 80 pairs of shoes, some going back to the 1980s that she can't bear to throw away. Her favourite pairs are four-inch-high leopardskins - 'I adore looking at them but don't have many occasions to wear them - and Amanda Wakeley silk diamante slingbacks, reduced from pounds 280 in the sale.'
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 30, 2005
Words:1252
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