Local newsman Alastair Stewart admits for the first time in a very long time, he has some time on his hands.
The former television anchor-man retired from ITV News in January this year, following a ‘misjudgment’ on social media. Until his retirement, he was the longest-serving male newsreader on British television, having worked in both local and national news for over 40 years.
His departure from the channel was met with great sadness – not only from broadcasting colleagues – but also from his wider followers too. Public statements of support issued by the charities Alastair has supported for decades underlined his long-standing kindness and commitment.
“I’m 67 so was retired officially anyway,” he says. “My only regret is that I’d like to be covering the Corona Virus epidemic what is no-doubt the biggest news story of our era. It’s a very challenging time to be a broadcaster at the moment – and the people that are doing that job have a tremendous social responsibility to do it well.”
Over his four decades in front of the camera, Stewart has covered his fair share of big stories. He recorded one of the last interviews with Lord Mountbatten before he was assassinated by the IRA in 1979, provided live coverage of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster as the details of the tragedy unfolded in 1986 and anchored live from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. There are few big names he has not interviewed.
“Mick Jagger is probably a rare exception,” he says. “I’ve been a fan of The Rolling Stones all my life but am yet to meet Mick. Jagger is extremely bright and one of the great lyricists of our time. I’d compare him with the great poet Auden in the way that he’s commented on the political and social agenda through song.”
Home in his Hampshire farm near Alton and Alastair is enjoying a much more leisurely pace of life. “I don’t miss the long days and the commute,” he says. “On the ten o’clock news shift, I’d get home after midnight each night. The only bonus of the journey was being able to catch up with all the newspapers on the way in to London on the train.”
There was no question of a move to London. “I’m lucky to live in a beautiful county with great access to Winchester which I have great affection for,” he says. “One of the best things about the city is that it respects its remarkable heritage and history where it needs to and also boasts a fine theatre and a good, independent cinema. For me it is a model city.
“I was delighted to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Winchester in 2011. I was rejected from Cambridge for ‘lacking academic maturity’, so the doctorate was a rather wonderful turn of events!”
Retirement from ITV brought with it the inevitable challenge of what to do next. “Doing what I was doing was all-encompassing,” says Alastair. “I didn’t really have any hobbies outside listening to music and reading. Inevitably, I’d read books and newspapers that related to my day job. I had to sit back and think what next?
“I’m incredibly lucky that the farm gives me a daily focus. We have horses, donkeys and chickens and they all need looking after. It all started when my wife Sally and I had the children. We’d been lucky enough to have horses in our own lives and wanted the kids to get the most of the great outdoors in the same way that we had.
“When the children were younger, we’d spend hours and hours at the weekends watching them compete, whilst drinking terrible cups of coffee in the rain. But the pleasure riding has given our family as a whole is unmeasurable. I’m blessed that we all have a shared passion for horses and watching the kids ride – even as adults – gives me a huge amount of pleasure – even though I’m no longer riding myself.”
Family is clearly at the heart of Alastair’s life. His son Freddie runs a livery in nearby Fair Oak. Oscar is a professional showjumper while daughter Clemmie is a headteacher. Alex writes for sporting web site Tifo Football.
“The boys are still in their twenties and with us a lot of the time,” says Alastair. “Part of that is down to having a Mum who is an extraordinarily good cook. I’m yet to find anyone who can rival her roast potatoes.”
He’s also actively involved in charity work. “Sally and I feel extremely blessed to have four happy and fit children. Supporting charities that help young people and their families is a way to give something back,” he says. “I’ve been a patron of Treloar’s which offers education to disabled children since the late Seventies and am also a patron of Naomi House & Jack’s Place which provides care for children with life-limiting conditions.
“Sally is a patron of Home-Start Winchester which links people who have parenting experience with local parents who need some help. I’m a national patron. If we can support parents when they need our help then we’re also supporting the children in those families too.”
Alastair’s charity work goes well beyond the local causes that are close to his heart. Somehow or other, he’s also found time for Kids for Kids which helps villages in Darfur and Brooke which cares for working horses and donkeys. His OBE in 2006 for services to broadcasting and charity was justly deserved.
And he’s clearly content with his lot. That’s all the more evident when I ask him if retirement will provide him with an opportunity to set off on the road on a Harley or fulfil another long-held ambition for adventure?
“It wouldn’t be by motorbike,” he says with a laugh. “My transport has always been very utilitarian. Sally has a Landrover and I have no idea what model my VW is now – it’s small and useful – and that’s my only requirement from a car.
“If I won the pools, I suppose I wouldn’t mind an old Aston Martin or a Jaguar E-type to poodle around in though. I’ve never been a Ferrari type of guy. I’m quite happy for now to be counting my blessings in Hampshire.”