Huw Edwards is one of the most recognisable faces in Britain.

For three decades he has been responsible for telling the most important stories facing Wales and the UK. Some of the biggest of all have come in the last two years. One even in the last few days (this interview ended when Edwards received an urgent call from his editor - an hour later he was on live TV presenting news of Prince Philip's death).

Invited into millions of UK homes each night his unmistakable delivery has become a trademark of trust and authority.

Meanwhile in the age of social media his dry wit has been given a wider platform, while causing the odd controversy it seems (Edwards was recently told to remove a picture of the Welsh flag by BBC bosses).

In an exclusive, wide ranging interview with WalesOnline he reveals how the industry has changed, his thoughts on Welsh identity and why he is very positive about the future.

WalesOnline: Hundreds of Welsh people on Twitter have changed their profile picture to your face after you were told to take down the picture of the Welsh flag. How did you feel about that reaction?

Huw Edwards: I was quite humbled really to be honest.

It wasn't the case that this was some kind of deliberate strategy to make a point. I'm probably going to offend some BBC colleagues by saying this but I wasn't actually thinking about that Breakfast news controversy - it was just a rugby weekend.

After I posted it and it got something like 26,000 likes, it's probably my most successful tweet ever and it was just a bit of fun really. I thought my Welsh friends would love it if I said that this is my backdrop to the ten o’clock news.

There are flags everywhere. Mark Drakeford has his flag up, Boris has got his two flags up. It was hardly a provocative statement.

I think the issue for the BBC was because they had made a fuss about the Breakfast thing, it would seem to be, how can I put it, unhelpful. That was the issue and I haven't given that any thought and maybe that's my fault. I just saw it as a bit of Welsh flag fun on a rugby weekend.

It had been accepted in good spirit and has had a great response. People have taken it as it was meant to be - a light-hearted thing.

The BBC were a bit sensitive about it and we know that. I am not in the business of upsetting my colleagues at the BBC either but when they said it may be actually helpful to defuse this thing if I took the tweet down I said “well I will do it but you need to realise that if I take the tweet down this is basic journalism, that it will become a bigger story”.

Sadly I wasn't able to convince my colleagues that that was the case.

So that's how it happened. It wasn't deliberate. it wasn't malicious. Of course when I saw people supporting it I was amazingly touched actually. The Welsh audience has been incredibly supportive.

You have spent three decades working in journalism. What are the biggest changes you have seen? Have the fundamentals of good journalism stayed the same?

In 1985 I was working as a stand-in reporter for BBC Wales. There was a small mining accident in the Amman Valley. Sorry I can't be more precise but it was in Carmarthenshire. I think there was a fatality.

Even though I went there late in the afternoon I couldn't actually broadcast the story until the next day because it was too late to take the tape, edit it, feed it from a transmitter or take it to Swansea to feed in from there. It wouldn't make the news in time. In 2006, 20 years later, I got out of a helicopter in Southern Iraq and within ten minutes I was broadcasting on the news channel live.

I can see what changes have been, I'm that old! I can't quite remember the days when they had to develop process film but they had just gone onto tape when I joined the BBC. So film was still around.

So I have gone from a world where news was 24 hours old before it arrived on those shows we had when we were kids like BBC Wales, Heddiw, Y Dydd or Report Wales. Today I can sit here talking to you and can flick a switch and be on the news channel in a few minutes.

It is very immediate. That has brought with it big advantages and disadvantages and the advantages I would say far outweigh the disadvantages.

One key change is there is a much more serious attempt to have a news service which is more reflective of the realities of society in all of its diversity. Not that narrow definition of what news should be, or just Westminster based or just London based or just based around certain types of people. There is a much bigger effort to make news more relevant to everyone and that is a big change as well. The editorial values around that have been transformed in the last 15 to 20 years.

Have any of the basics of journalism changed?

Fundamentally the business of journalism hasn't changed.

The point of the News at Ten is to give people 30 minutes of news that they are going to be interested in about what is happening in the world. Most of which is about people. It is about people and the way in which they exercise power. It is about people and the way that they respond to things. It is about people and the tragedies they suffer. It is about people and the amazing things they achieve.

The essence of journalism hasn't changed on a local, regional, national or international level.

It is to give people stories that they are interested in or, if I may say so without sounding pompous, stories that you think they should be interested in.

For example, there may be a really interesting story in the Middle East, that people should be looking at.

If we lead with a story from the Middle East, such as Syria or something that is a very difficult watch, I am hugely aware that many will not want to watch it either because it will be too harrowing or because their lives are busy with all kinds of stresses and strains and they don't want to deal with it. I don't blame them but it is our job as journalists to say “you should look at this because this is an interesting and important story”.

It is something that affects the world and it is something that the British government is involved in. It may be something that involves your money as a taxpayer so you should be interested in it.

Are there any stories which stand out to you as ones that have particularly affected you?

In the last few years, because I've been mainly studio based, which is quite different because you often watch the pieces for the first time with the audience, I try to view the pieces before they go out but often that is not possible.

There was a piece the other day that one of our camera people called Darren Conway had filmed in Syria. This is a good example of the changes in the industry because this guy is a cameraman who filmed, edited and voiced the piece.

Darren’s piece was about ten years on from a bomb attack on a school in Syria. He had gone back ten years on to talk to some of the people who survived.

We were originally going to lead the news that day with another piece on Covid. There had been some development and I can't remember exactly what it was but it was to do with vaccinations and the EU. It was a perfectly valid story to lead with.

But when I came into work we sat down at the desk and the editor said to me “can you have a look at the Darren Conway piece and tell me what you think”.

So I sat down and watched the peace and I was so shocked by it.

He was talking to people living with the result of horrific injuries and burns. It is quite unusual for us to run those pieces with that much graphic detail even at 10pm after the watershed. There were people with terrible skin injuries. There was one woman who was lying in a bed with facial burns - it was a terrible thing to see.

I said I thought this is one of the strongest pieces I've seen in a long time and I said we could lead with it.

We were nervous about the impact of the piece because it was very very difficult to watch. So I had to labour the point several times in the headlines and the main intro to the story saying it is a very powerful piece but please realise that it will upset you.

We had an amazing response and when I watched it again going out it really upset me actually because there was a guy in there who was terribly disfigured and was in tears as he talked very eloquently, saying he was a very good scientist and wanted to be an engineer or possibly a doctor and that his life has been destroyed.

How important is it to not let yourself become too visibly upset?

Of course you can get very caught up in the emotion of a story and I think you would be a pretty weird person if you didn't. I'm very suspicious of people who show no emotion with things like that. It's not normal to not have emotion around things like that. I don't care how much stiff upper lip you've got it's just not normal.

I remember interviewing people who are now in their 80s who lost kids in Aberfan. I did a 50th anniversary documentary of Aberfan in 2016. We took a different tack where we looked at the official enquiry.

The way that the National Coal Board were actually disgraceful in the way that they lied to the people and George Thomas, the Secretary of State for Wales, nicked money from a charitable fund in order to clear tips. It sickened me actually, it really sickened me.

To talk to some of these people now, who would have had kids who would be my age in their late 50s, how can you not be affected by that?

Of course you get caught up in things and yet It is not really my job to be blubbing over the news. You have to find a way of showing that you do care and that you do feel things but you can't allow yourself to emotionally grandstand, it's not the job.

If you show too much emotion you are making it all about yourself right?

Exactly right - you can't do that.

I don't want to start a row about anything because it would be wrong but the problem I have with some presenters, and I'm talking of people across the board here and especially with some of those programmes where they have much more airtime to fill, it often becomes about the presenter.

Because they have to talk about and respond to things, inevitably it becomes about the presenter and not about the story.

I know I am old fashioned and people will say “he is just a bore” but I don't think that is part of the job. It is not for people to know what I think. It's not for people to know how deeply I feel about things. I am there to present information and to help people understand.

My job when I cover the elections in May is to bring them the news and help them explain what is going on, such as why a particular result is important or interesting.

It is the same with the Syria story. It's not about “oh I have been terribly upset about the story” - absolutely not.

Does a lot of responsibility come for being a trusted and familiar person on the news?

You do hope that people trust you but the more trust you build up the more you have got to lose. It takes a long time to build it up and it is a very precious and fragile thing. I hope people trust me and I assume they do because I am still there! It's something you don't want to play around with.

People often goad me on social media saying “why don't you say what you think you coward” or “why don't you say Wales should be independent” or that “Brexit is a bad thing”. They are assuming they know what I think.

In opinion terms I'm a bit of a nonentity whereas in fact I've got very strong views about things but I am sorry that doesn't belong in a news studio.

We are not Fox News. I'm not coming on to say X is good and Y is bad that is not my job. I share information with people who are intelligent enough to make up their own minds about it. That is how it works, it doesn't work any other way.

Is it patronising to tell people how to feel about something?

Totally. You present as much information as you can and you analyse it with the help of people like Hugh Pym, Laura Kuenssberg or Katya Adler - people who are proper experts in their own field. So you have facts you're offering and then you have analysis on top, which I am trying to tease out of people.

People confuse analysis with opinion, which I find very irritating. If one of my colleagues said that in their professional opinion “X has been badly handled by Y”, whether that be the European Commission or the government for example, that is their professional opinion as an expert in the field. It is not their personal opinion and there is a difference.

People may find that difficult to understand but I often look at somebody I admire and I am critical of what they have done. That is not a paradox. That is perfectly allowed and a lot of people don't get that.

Have we lost our tolerances for shades of grey in society?

That goes back to the social media thing where we have allowed a situation where people can simply have their own prejudices fed back to them. Anything which challenges your own preconceptions and your own prejudices is now somehow biased.

I find that quite a difficult concept actually. So you have a bias about something and somebody challenges you about your bias and they are therefore biased? It is like a mad Hatter's tea party.

If you don't allow yourself to be open to arguments or fair challenge or rational challenge then there is no hope. There is actually no hope at all because you are closed to all arguments. We will become a deeply divided society where people won't listen to each other and I am sorry but that really depresses me.

Huw Edwards

Despite this, are you optimistic about the future in this country?

Definitely!

This is an easy one for me because I have five young adults as children I'm quite plugged into a different generation. I feel that most of the young people I meet in universities, schools and colleges have a much more healthy and open-minded view of what society is.

They mix with people in a way that is completely, in my experience, without friction based on background, religion or whatever.

My kids have been in very diverse schools and we live in a very diverse part of South London, though all of London is diverse to be fair.

I find that the young people I meet are open-minded. They have some ideals that I hope they will hold onto.

They don't accept that the political system is perfect and they are right. They don't accept that the political system delivers on lots of important things and they are right. They are far less deferential, and that is right.

Have you observed young people already making changes?

The whole thing about deference has been a stifling thing for society over many years. Even when I joined the BBC it was stifling because there was a deferential culture.

We talk about diversity these days and we talked about racism and bad attitudes to minorities but it was pretty bad actually joining the BBC as a Welsh person in London in 1984.

There was a sense that when I started there were some people who thought I shouldn't be there. I would get questions saying why aren't you in Cardiff? My answer was because “I'm here” but Scottish colleagues rarely got the same question. There were very few Welsh people around then.

Some people were welcoming don't get me wrong but I certainly took a long time to settle in. If I can be blunt it was only when it was clear that I could do the job and they could trust me to do things that their attitude changed.

The BBC is a much better place to work in now than it was then. Women were treated incredibly badly in the newsroom. There weren't very many women there. There were some editors and assistant editors but most of the women there were typists.

For me the young people who have joined us in the last 10-15 years have been a breath of fresh air.

They have changed the values, changed attitudes and changed working practices and they've made it plain they are not prepared to put up with some of the nonsense which was there before and they are colleagues I really value.

What is the main language spoken in the Edwards household?

For the most part English is the main language because my wife doesn't speak Welsh.

I was able to concentrate a lot of time on my eldest two children who have got a good level of understanding in Welsh but the others less so.

Three of my sons are linguists actually and I've got a daughter who is a linguist. Their facility to speak, pronounce and understand, it's quite good but what you won't get is a fluent conversation which obviously I regret, but at least they are far more conversant than they otherwise would have been.

They talk frequently to my mum who is back in Llanelli and they are very aware of the heritage of my dad and the fact he was such a big figure in Welsh language culture and are very proud of that. All his books are around the place.

To be honest it is a very sensitive issue but I think for me language is obviously a huge part of identity, it is not the only part. Lots of Welsh people have said to me “do you not consider me to be Welsh because I'm not a Welsh speaker?”. That really hurts me. I say to them “of course you are damn well Welsh”. Anybody who identifies as Welsh is Welsh. For me it doesn't matter whether you are a Welsh speaker or a non Welsh speaker, what matters to me is whether you are Welsh in spirit and in identity.

For me a big part of Welshness is to be inclusive not exclusive. Being a London Welshman, most of my fellow Welsh in London are not Welsh speakers and I have spent over 20-years preaching this, saying that we are all Welsh. Anybody who wants to learn Welsh to discover another part of Welshness will have my support and I would love you to do it.

But you can't say to my kids for example, who are supporting Wales in every sporting arena possible and are as Welsh positive as you can get, that they are not Welsh because they can't converse in Welsh, because that is totally wrong.

Would I like my five kids to be Welsh speakers? Of course I would. How practical would that be? Not very because I'm rarely at home and my wife doesn't speak Welsh. You would have to be a magician. I'm not making excuses I am just explaining why that happens and why lots of London Welsh homes are the same. It is not to do with people wanting to be less Welsh or turning their back on Welsh stuff. It is due to a practical reality.

Some people don't get that by the way and my message to them is to wake up and smell the coffee. People have different lives, families have different structures, people have different circumstances and if you can't understand that I can't help you.

But I would say this as well and this is quite important, it is important to be assertive if you think your culture is under threat. I do believe that.