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Wild weather and wardrobe headaches ... just another Hogmanay for Jackie Bird

AS the days on the calendar dwindle away, so looms another Hogmanay.

While many of us prepare to batten down the hatches armed with copious amounts of alcohol, Jackie Bird is getting ready to man her post on Princes Street in Edinburgh.

Bird leading the countdown on BBC Scotland's Hogmanay Live and smooching with Phil Cunningham at the bells is as much a part of the fixtures and fittings at New Year as shortbread and a wee dram.

This year will see her host a line-up that includes Deacon Blue, Heidi Talbot, Roddy Hart and Biffy Clyro, coverage of the Fireball Ceremony in Stonehaven and a message from Rab C Nesbitt.

The 51-year-old TV presenter has garnered a raft of colourful tales over the 15 years she has graced our screens on New Year's Eve, from leaking castle roofs and wardrobe malfunctions to Hogmanay being cancelled altogether.

Malevolent weather is a recurring theme on her blooper reel, not least in 1999 when she was dispatched to Muckle Flugga - the most northerly point in the UK - to capture the final sunset of the old year. "It was blowing a gale," she said. "You couldn't see the end of your nose never mind a sunset. There was an RAF base and I had two servicemen, flat on their bellies, holding my feet down in case I was blown away, with another two holding on to the cameraman as I tried to broadcast."

The following year came a wardrobe malfunction of epic proportions that prompted more than a few eyes on stalks in Scottish living rooms. "It was alarmingly plunging," she confirmed. "It was one of those misjudgments where it looked better off screen than on - and it certainly did look a sight on."

On another occasion gales blasted as she presented from Edinburgh Castle. "The wind blew slates off the roof and it started leaking," she said. "There was water dripping beside sound desks and we were skiting all over the place."

Unsurprisingly, Bird has become adept at what she calls the "old swan thing" where the feet are paddling like crazy but on the surface appear to be gliding serenely. "Obviously, inside you are churning, but you aren't paid to show it's chaos around you," she said.

Last year, it came down to the wire as to whether Bird would present the show at all. In November 2012, she had to undergo emergency surgery after collapsing with stomach pain thought to be appendicitis. It later transpired she was suffering from a twisted bowel, a rare and painful condition, which saw her come perilously close to death.

As she recuperated, Bird made fronting BBC's Hogmanay Live a key target on her road to recovery. "Much to the chagrin of the bosses who were thinking about the insurance," she laughed. "Because if I toppled over on Princes Street, they would have been done for many thousands."

Bird is candid when asked whether being faced with her mortality has altered her outlook. "It's a good question and one I've asked of many people myself," she said. "You imagine they have this epiphany and think: 'I'm going to be Mother Teresa, I'm never going to shout at my children again.'

"And you know what? You do think that way when you are just coming out of it, then, within a month, you are the same old grumpy bugger. You do sweat the small stuff again - even though you promised yourself you won't."

In contrast to Hogmanay, January 1 tends to be a far more low-key affair for Bird who, she says, "looks like I've been dug up" after her late-night broadcast.

"By the time I get home, have a drink, then look at the clock, it's 4am or 5am," she said. "I like to go for a nice walk on New Year's Day then my mum and dad come over with the steak pie."

She is looking forward to a "demanding but exhilarating" year that includes the Commonwealth Games, the First World War centenary, the Ryder Cup and the independence referendum.

Bird hosted BBC Scotland's White Paper coverage in November but refuses to nail her own colours to the mast when it comes to independence. "Everywhere I go [people do ask], but you can't say and you don't," she said.

She is back on steadier ground talking about her current obsession: the First World War. Much of her free time has been devoted to researching the topic and Bird is planning to visit war graves early in 2014. "I'm spending every waking moment reading about it because I think we have to do this justice," she said.

But first there are the perils of another Hogmanay to navigate. Bird, who is married to investment fund manager Robin Weir, admits that in 16 years as a couple they have rarely been together at the bells. "I have spent more New Years slobbering over Phil Cunningham than I have my husband," she mused. "The poor guy - he must dread it."

Hogmanay Live is on BBC One Scotland, Tuesday, 11.45pm

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