By Hamish Mackay in the Scottish Review
The Scottish Press Awards dinner led to a night of surprises for freelance journalist and broadcaster, Heather Dewar.
Heather won the coveted Journalist of the Year award. She also triumphed in the Sports News Writer of the Year category for a series of powerful investigations, including insight on the Cricket Scotland racism scandal.
Heather, who is a regular freelance contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, displayed the strength of her journalistic prowess by also taking the runner-up spots in the Sports Feature Writer of the Year, Interviewer of the Year and Nicola Barry Award categories.
Regarding the top award, Denise West, explained to the gathering of journalists and guests: ‘Heather Dewar was the unanimous choice for the judges who praised her sensitive, probing, and powerful writing. They were impressed too by her compelling reporting style and the engaging integrity of her interviews. A truly worthy winner of this year’s Journalist of the Year Award’.
However, hiding behind Heather’s outward exhilaration on the night, lies the still acutely painful memory of a very traumatic period only two years ago, when her career had taken such a downward spiral she had been forced to claim Universal Credit – the state benefit available if you are barely surviving on a low income or out of work.
In a very revealing interview, Heather told me: ‘Winning these two awards is, without doubt, the highlight of my career so far. On the night, I really wasn’t expecting to win a thing! I was absolutely delighted simply to have been nominated. It is such a huge, huge honour to win both these awards. I have an enormous amount of respect for my journalistic colleagues and fellow nominees – so to come home with the Journalist of the Year award, in particular, is just incredible. I really want to thank the judges for recognising the work I have delivered over the last year. It means so much to me after an especially difficult time’.
That especially difficult time arose when she was cast aside as a freelance broadcaster during the Covid-19 pandemic. She explains in often emotive language: ‘I fell through every crack imaginable and could only look on in envy at those fortunate enough to be furloughed. I had gone from a contracted position as the Women’s Sport Reporter with BBC Scotland to staring into the abyss of unemployment. No help. No support. Nothing. Things were not looking at all good. Not only did I have bills to pay, I was working in an industry which had no sign of returning any time soon.
‘I considered working in a local supermarket, driving a van – anything really to make some cash and to keep the wheels turning. Eventually, I took up a six-month contract with the Civil Service. My boss there was fantastic and the staff were awesome. However, I was clear from the start that this wasn’t likely to be a permanent fixture. Rather, it was something I needed to do – to steady me. Then out of the blue came a call from the Scottish Daily Mail. They tentatively asked if I would be interested in writing for them on women’s sport. Absolutely delighted, I jumped at the opportunity.’
Juggling home-schooling for her daughters Saskia (12) and Fara (7), along with the Civil Service job, Heather turned around copy in her lunch-break; interviewed at night or early morning; and grabbed every opportunity to write in between work calls.
She recalls: ‘It was a crazy, but fulfilling time. Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to work on some amazing stories, with some phenomenal individuals. I want to thank them for the trust they instilled in me to tell their stories. I want to thank the Scottish Daily Mail for allowing me the space to breathe. As a journalist, being able to give life to one’s work is really crucial. Some of the subjects I have covered recently have been particularly challenging and it has been simply superb to be able to do them justice with passion, honesty and care’.
Heather, who is a mentor with the Women in Journalism Scotland group, declares: ‘I hope that in some small way, my own story can now inspire young female journalists to keep on fighting when the going gets tough. I want them to have faith in what they do and in who they are. I want them to reach for the stars. To know their worth. To ignore those who try to put them down. To respect others at all times. With hard work and determination, we can beat our own paths to success’.