AS the BBC’s new voice of Formula One, Jonathan Legard is following in the footsteps of a genuine broadcasting legend – but he’s determined to do things his own way.
The 47-year-old knows there will only ever be one Murray Walker, and he has absolutely no intention of copying the veteran commentator’s famously exuberant style when he makes his TV debut at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
“I could never be Murray Walker,” said Radio 5 Live stalwart Legard, who grew up in Chester and began his broadcasting career in the city in the 1980s.
“I’m Jonathan Legard, I’ve got to be myself. It’s the same in radio, the same in life. Be yourself. You stand or fall by it.”
Legard, who was Radio 5 Live’s motor racing correspondent from 1997 until 2004, is making a return to the high-octane world of F1 after spending the last five years working as the station’s football correspondent.
He joins the likes of Martin Brundle, David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan and Jake Humphrey in an exciting new team assembled by the Beeb, which is back as the UK’s F1 broadcaster 12 years after losing the rights to rivals ITV.
James Allen was ITV’s choice as lead commentator following Walker’s retirement in 2001 – but now it’s Legard’s turn.
He is acutely aware many millions of Britons will be glued to their TV screens in the early hours of Sunday to see Lewis Hamilton begin the defence of his world title – so the pressure to get it right is on.
“It’s a big challenge,” admitted the father-of-three. “I had a great time when I did it for BBC Radio Five Live and this was an opportunity which was too good to pass up.
“I’m really excited by it. It’s a new audience, it’s a new challenge, a new skill.”
F1 won over thousands – maybe millions – of new fans last year following Hamilton’s nail-biting maiden world title victory in Brazil, when he grabbed glory by overtaking on the final bend of the final lap of the final race of the season. Hamilton’s McLaren has been off the pace in testing this year, with teams like Williams and Brawn GP – featuring Britain’s Jenson Button – surprisingly to the fore.
Things are hotting up nicely and the tension is building for Sunday’s curtain-raiser at Albert Park, Melbourne.
Legard said: “There were more than 12.5 million people watching the final race in Brazil last year, so our challenge at the Beeb now is to try to hook in as many of those again on a Sunday morning and a Sunday afternoon.
“And we hope that the new regulations make it even more entertaining and more dramatic.”
Although born in Cardiff, Legard grew up a Cestrian after moving here in 1966. He attended the Firs School before continuing his education at a private school in Shrewsbury. A love for Chester FC blossomed in the early 1970s and Legard has been a keen follower of the club ever since.
“I’ve seen two games this season – goals for nil, goals against nine,” he grumbles.
Legard’s first ever commentary was for Chester-based hospital station Radio Lion in 1986, when he covered a match between Chester and Southend.
His work for the Chester Talking Newspaper, Viper TV at the Countess of Chester Hospital and Radio Lion led to a job with BBC Radio Merseyside, and from there Legard joined Radio 5 in 1990. He now lives in west London with wife Kate and their three children – Piers, 10, Arabella, seven, and Crispin, six.
The Legard clan will be wishing dad all the best this weekend – and the man himself just can’t wait to get that mic in his hand.
“I’ve visited teams, spoken to lots of people, watched a lot of races, done dummy commentaries, and it’s been good to see old friends,” he said.
“That’s all well and good, but I’ve got to do the job now – and it’s all for real...”
The Australian Grand Prix will be live on BBC One on Sunday, with coverage beginning at 6am.
The race starts at 7am. Highlights 1pm-3pm.