Nicholas Owen meets BBC Radio 2's Sally 'Traffic'
One of Radio 2’s best-loved broadcasters, Sally ‘Traffic’ has been keeping listeners informed of problems on the roads for more than a decade. But did you know that she often has to brave the traffic jams herself, travelling to the BBC studios in London from her home near Woking? Nicholas Owen went to meet her
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2011
Photos by Andy Newbold
Famous voices belonging to some famous faces dart in and out of studios as Sally ‘Traffic’ prepares for her afternoon’s work. Chris Tarrant says a cheery hello to her, while Jeremy Vine is anxious to get her views on the new Hindhead Tunnel now making life easier for many motorists who use the A3.
In fact, Sally Boazman, to use her proper name, is one of the most listened-to broadcasters in the land. Most weekdays, she is on Radio 2 giving out the traffic news – something she takes a highly personal interest in herself, since she drives to the Central London studios from her home near Woking. “By the time I get to Friday, I’m absolutely knackered!” admits Sally. “The roads get worse and worse as the week goes by. By Friday, the traffic on the motorways is simply dreadful!”
Back in the studio, she sits alongside Radio 2’s presenters, giving regular updates on where the jams and accidents are. It has brought her a huge following, especially among lorry drivers – or ‘truckers’ as they are often known nowadays – who obviously depend on reliable news about where they can expect delays. She does it in a friendly and informative way, good enough, in fact, to have won her an Outstanding Achievement Award from the UK Trucking Industry.
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Roots in Croydon It’s certainly all a long way from where Sally started out – at stage school in Croydon – following in the footsteps of her late father Bill Boazman. In his 40s, he left behind an Army career and became a professional actor, appearing in several films and West End plays. “We’re all show-offs in my family,” laughs Sally.
As acting parts became tricky for her to find, she moved into current affairs in television and radio before getting her first taste of studying traffic conditions when she joined the staff of AA Roadwatch.
Various BBC jobs followed before she arrived at Radio 2 in 1998 as the station’s first designated travel reporter. It was the DJ Steve Wright who christened her “Sally Traffic”, a nickname that has stuck. “I was cross about it at the time,” she recalls. “I thought it sounded really naff. Now it’s become a brand name.”
She talks fondly about all the presenters she has worked with. The list is the cream of radio broadcasting: people like Chris Evans, Simon Mayo, Ken Bruce, Ed Stewart… the list goes on. One old colleague, Johnny Walker, particularly stands out. “We had a great seven years together,” says Sally. “We had a very special relationship. We just seemed to spark off each other so well.”
Friends in high places And special relationships are what she has achieved with her legion of lorry driving fans too. Many freight drivers not only listen to Sally, but call in as well. In return, she regularly appears as a guest at ‘Truckfests’ around the country.
“All these truckers getting together, they can be very competitive, polishing their hubcaps, and so on,” she laughs. “It’s great for me to meet them. They give me such useful information; it’s good to be able to say thank you. For most truckers out on the road, it’s a lonely life. Listening to me, they’ve got a bit of a mate with them.”
The day I join her at Radio 2, just across a street from the BBC’s Broadcasting House headquarters, there is a practical demonstration of how important her own sources can be. Lots of traffic news comes from the police and bodies such as the Highways Agency, but her callers also chip in with up-to-the-minute tips, which can help other road users.
As Sally sits in her small office roughing out her scripts, she listens to her voicemail. The first message is typical: “Hi Sally. I’m John. I’m on the M1. There’s a wide load moving northwards near junction 11. It’s taking up two lanes.” Having collected as much information as she can, Sally spends the next few hours slipping in and out of the studio where Radio 2’s shows are going out live.
Surrey on foot When she does reach the end of her tiring week, she is off to her home near Woking where she is a single mother to her 23-year-old musician son Harry. Once there, she says she particularly enjoys walking in the lovely Surrey countryside or a spot of shopping.
“There are lots of fantastic walks around,” she says. “I love discovering new places I didn’t realise were there... hidden farms and hidden woods. There’s lots of great pubs around too. Where I am, you‘re not too many miles away from London, yet you are also in the heart of the countryside.
“Then I love Guildford for shopping, and walking down the High Street, seeing the Surrey Hills in the distance.”
As for eating out, her favourite spot is the Foxhills restaurant at the sprawling Manor House leisure resort at Ottershaw, close to where she lives.
Meanwhile, back at Radio 2, her working life remains hectic, and is not confined to broadcasting and meeting up with her trucking fans either. Not many people can claim to have opened a new road, but Sally did, cutting the ribbon for an important link to Dover docks. “I was hoping they might call it Sally Traffic Boulevard; I’m afraid they didn’t,” she laughs. “I love new challenges; never knowing what’s round the next corner.”
She still hits the stage now and again with a one-woman show and is also an accomplished writer. The Sally Traffic Handbook was published in 2007, a useful guide to coping behind the wheel and ‘full of fun, facts and frolics’, as the publicity for it explained.
Motorway mayhem The lady herself is certainly full of fun, whether at the microphone or away from it. And she knows her subject matter. “I know almost all the junction numbers on all the motorways,” she laughs. “Where have you passed today? Leatherhead? Junction 9 on the M25. Unless you drive yourself, I don’t think you can do the job properly. A couple of local radio stations have traffic reporters who don’t drive. I think that’s silly.”
She admits that she has a favourite bit of highway – and a stretch she loathes. “I love the M40; it hardly ever gets too crowded,” says Sally. “However, I live just off junction 11 of the M25, and those three years of roadworks near Heathrow were a nightmare. The western section of the M25, from Berkshire into Surrey, is one of the busiest roads of all.
“You know, the most frustrating thing of all is that I am on the radio all afternoon warning about queues somewhere, and often get into the car to go home and drive straight into one!”
You can catch Sally Boazman most weekdays on BBC Radio 2 (88-91FM).