Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Hewer's shrewd business brain has Belfast roots

Nick Hewer looks at family records
Nick Hewer looks at family records

THE Apprentice's Nick Hewer is enjoying quite the Indian summer after a successful career in PR.

The avuncular 69-year-old says that when he's in England he feels a bit Irish, and when he's in Ireland he feels a bit English.

Just a bit?

His instalment of the genealogy series was a head-spinning gallop through two of the most turbulent periods in the history of these islands.

First to Dublin, where Nick met up with a cousin on the Irish side of the family – the Jamisons – which gave us our first thrilling glimpse of that odd, screwed-up little face he likes to do in Lord Sugar's board room.

We learned of grandpa Ozzy from Belfast, a natty dresser and a Catholic who caused outrage by marrying a Presbyterian, Jeanie Smith, in St Malachy's on Alfred Street.

Auntie Annie Smith, a spinster who Nick chortlingly recalls refusing to kiss on account of her heavy beard, was a witness at the wedding.

"She probably got a smack when she got home," said Nick with a wry smile.

The tone was set for the first half of the programme, as the star-crossed lovers' tale created a neat little prism through which to tell a potted history of early 20th century Ireland – the Ulster Covenant, the Easter Rising, partition, the lot.

Ozzy was a businessman and a Home Rule politician, a moderate nationalist councillor who represented the Falls while denouncing Sinn Fein as "a noxious weed".

Later, he was appointed High Sheriff of Belfast, second only in importance to the Lord Mayor.

"A Catholic in Belfast in the Twenties, in high office. A dangerous thing to be," mused Nick.

Clearly shrewd in both business and politics (the genetic legacy to Nick was spelled out), he was later seen photographed at the opening of his Dublin factory, standing next to Sean Lemass – the Irish Minister for Industry whose party he detested.

As for the English side of the family, we were whisked back 12 generations to Wiltshire during the reign of Charles I.

Nick's ancestor Roger Nott was a "rotter" and a "scoundrel", we were told, who managed to cheat his dying relatives out of land which they themselves had been given by Charles, in lieu of his debts – 17th century nouveau riche.

The tale focused on Edward Nott, Nick's grandfather times 10, and his quite extraordinary life during which he fought long and hard for the Royalists, before being captured by the Parliamentarians, stripped of all his assets (including that land), leaving him destitute and reliant on a massive loan to survive before – hurrah! – the death of Cromwell, the return of the monarchy and a massive house in the country, 10 miles from where Nick grew up.

Two extraordinary men – one a pragmatist, one an idealist – but both battling their way through testing times and eventually coming up smelling of roses.

Not unlike Mr Hewer.

CHRIS JONES

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