I'm A Celebrity star Martin Roberts reveals how his grandad rescued Titanic survivors
I'm A Celebrity... star Martin Roberts will open the Belfast Telegraph Holiday World Show this Friday. He tells Una Brankin how the experience helped him lose weight and improved his asthma - and reveals a personal reason for wanting to visit the Titanic Quarter.
The setting for this weekend's Belfast Telegraph Holiday World Show is of special significance to Martin Roberts, last seen weeping profusely in the jungle on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
The property and travel expert has been to Northern Ireland in the past with his Homes Under The Hammer series for the BBC, but his busy schedule prevented him from visiting Belfast's Titanic Quarter, which is the venue for the annual holiday extravaganza he's officially opening on Friday.
The celebrated centre dedicated to the doomed liner is a must-see for him on this trip considering he grew up hearing his seafaring grandfather's eyewitness accounts of the immediate aftermath of the Titanic's sinking in the North Atlantic.
"My grandfather on my father's side worked in the shipping industry in Liverpool and he was on one of the ships that was in the vicinity of the Titanic when it sank in 1912," he explains. "They helped rescue passengers in the lifeboats. I heard many stories about it, growing up, from my dad, who's 83 now. I was always fascinated by this ship so I was happy to be invited to the Titanic Exhibition Centre to cut the ribbon for the holiday show. I'm really looking forward to seeing it."
Viewers of ITV's top-rated travel show Wish You Were Here will remember the affable Martin (53) for his eight-year stint as a presenter. He was also the travel editor of Woman magazine for 15 years. As well as hosting Homes Under The Hammer, he writes a column for Practical Caravan magazine and has presented the CNN Travel News programme.
His latest project is a weekly property show on talkRADIO, which he broadcasts from a treehouse in his back garden in Bath. It's too windy for the treehouse today; he's on the line from the home he shares with his wife Kirsty and children Scott (9) and Megan (6).
Missing Scott's birthday was one of the causes of Martin's free-flowing tears in the Australian jungle.
Another was a confrontation with Danny Baker, when he accused the 59-year-old radio star of "gloating" over winning food tasks.
However, the biggest source of Martin's misery in the outback was actor Larry Lamb, who he accused of bullying by taunting him about his weight and trying to turn the rest of the celebrities against him.
"He didn't like me and I didn't enjoy the way he treated me," he recalls. "I don't think he was playing up for the cameras - I think the jungle puts you under pressure and you react in different ways to what you'd do normally.
"You can't walk away in there. You're pushed to the extreme. But he did apologise afterwards and it's water under the bridge now. I'm thankful for that, and people have been very supportive."
Interviewed in Australia after the series ended, the Lancashire-born broadcaster and author accused the former EastEnders actor of foul-mouthed abuse and calling him "a porker" (which Lamb denied), an insult that reawakened unwanted memories of endless taunting over his weight at school.
Putting the animosity to one side, he's pleased to have shed a spare tyre in the jungle, and, moreover, to having seen a huge improvement in his lifelong respiratory problems.
"I haven't got over the jungle yet, but in a good way - I'm definitely healthier for it," he says. "I lost a lot of weight. It was a big detox diet for me, with some group therapy sessions thrown in.
"I've had asthma since my school days but I haven't used my inhaler since I've been back - I don't quite understand it.
"I took some food supplements before I left, and synergy products that really helped, and I was away from my dogs. I'm allergic to them but live with it. In the jungle I just used the blue inhaler five or six times a day when I was wheezy and rattled through on that, but I haven't had to since. That's been life-changing."
His deep tan was given a head-start during a week-long stay ahead of his entry to the bush at the luxurious Palazzo Versace on Queensland's SeaWorld Drive, the five-star hotel that accommodates the celebrities before and after filming.
"I had no phone or computer, to start the whole psychological challenge, to put you out of your comfort zone," he explains.
"I was bored, of course; there was nothing to do but read by the pool, and I'm dark-skinned anyway. I've ended up with a beard, too. There were only single blades in the jungle and I didn't want to smash my face to smithereens. I quite like it and my wife likes it, so it's staying."
He admits to missing his family terribly in the jungle. As well as his phone, coffee, good food - and privacy. "I wasn't keen on the rice and beans. I did enjoy the outdoor experience and even the cold showers. The loo? That was interesting," he says.
"I'm not bothered by the lack of posh facilities but it was slightly surreal to be sitting there with just a hessian curtain between you and the place where Ola Jordan and Carol Vorderman and the rest of the girls were doing their hair."
I'm A Celebrity... stars are no strangers to Holiday World. Last year's exhibition was opened by reality star and presenter Ferne McCann, who came third in the 2015 series. But, in Martin, the organisers have booked someone who really knows what he's talking about when it comes to travel. He's also a UK and overseas property expert, appearing as an expert speaker on programmes such as BBC Breakfast, The Jeremy Vine Show and BBC Radio.
With terrorist attacks and Brexit causing havoc with the travel trade, overseas holidays need a hard sell these days. But Martin reckons there will always be demand for the traditional two weeks in the sun.
"Unfortunately, the exchange rate of the pound against the euro and the dollar is causing people to think twice about travelling, and there's been some interest going farther afield to avoid that, to places like Mexico, Costa Rica, Africa and the Far East," he says.
"Also, people are obviously a bit concerned about safety. Big hotspots like Turkey have been hit, so there has been a huge swing back to traditional destinations - Spanish resorts and staycations. There's also a big interest in holidaying at home and different parts of the UK and Ireland, and more outdoorsy holidays - getting back to nature, camping and caravanning.
"We had pretty nice weather last summer and people got outdoors more. But there will always be the desire to get away for two weeks in the sun - the Minorcas, Lanzarote, and the Greek islands don't seem to be too badly tarnished by the financial crisis in Athens."
Although he's an expert in the property market at home and abroad, Martin was one of the many investors to have been stung through the recession on the Continent. He has some high-powered specialist lawyers working for him to sort out the mess with the Spanish bank and developers in question, and very kindly offers to put me in touch with them for advice on a relative's tussle in Cyprus.
"It's good to see the Spanish holding the developers and banks liable for the chaos they caused for the people who bought their holiday homes or investment properties - me included. Many investors have been let down badly by developers, so the moves by Spain to address the problem look hopeful.
"It's a dismal minefield and a lot of people see it as such a bad part of their lives that they just want to forget about it and move on. Yes, it is a protected process, but you deserve to get back what you paid and there's light at the end of the tunnel - truth and justice will triumph. There are some very skilled UK-based lawyers working on it."
Although he might think twice about foreign property investment in the future, he wouldn't rule out another reality TV show. Just maybe not a return to the celebrity jungle.
"I enjoyed it, absolutely but no, I don't think I'd ever do it again," he concludes. "It would never be the same. Knowing what it's like, it would be difficult to go back to relive it, but never say never. As an experience, it's hard to top.
"I did the Big Brother Bit On The Side show before but I wouldn't want to be in that very intense environment in the house. I'm A Celebrity... is a big Hollywood-style production in every way, with about 800 people working on it. Big Brother's very different."
"But I'd love to do Strictly," he adds. "It has very high production values and they don't try to make you look silly intentionally. They try to make you look glamorous and it's good family entertainment; they don't set out to have people at each other's throats.
"I learned ballroom dancing when I was 15 to try to impress a German penpal girl at a party, but she arrived with her fiance. So I never got to dance with her. But I can dance!"
The world at your (itchy) feet... all you need to know about our annual travel extravaganza
Fresh from the I'm A Celebrity... jungle, Martin Roberts will be joined at Belfast Telegraph Holiday World by thousands of visitors exploring a world of holidays at home and abroad, all showcased in a single fun-filled venue. Value and variety will be key as people compare prices, check out destinations, get face-to-face advice from the experts and access great show-only and early-booking deals.
Every corner of the world will be represented; from holidays at home, family vacations and escapist weekends to high-end adventure or laid back luxury. It's all here, together with the ever-popular Caravan & Motorhome Show, the Oasis Travel Cruise Pavilion has its own lecture theatre, Clubworld Travel's Honeymoon & Weddings Destinations Pavilion, and even a dedicated focus on travel for the 50-plus age group.
It seems that Ulster people have particularly itchy feet, with many of us planning a couple of holidays each year, enjoying not only an annual family holiday but also city breaks, sporting getaways, and even the odd sneaky weekend close to home but away from routine.
There's all that and more at Holiday World, where Northern Ireland's favourite destinations will jostle for centre stage. Sales director Maureen Ledwith says: "We're delighted to welcome destinations such as the Algarve, Spain and the USA which, over the last quarter-of-a-century - and that's how long Holiday World Belfast has been going - have consistently been major players in the local marketplace.
"They, and other favourites, have constantly refreshed and fine-tuned their holiday options over the years to maintain and enhance their appeal, reminding us that no matter how often we visit, there's still plenty more to discover."
That theme of discovery is reflected at every stand and visitors will be delighted to find that, in 2017, it's about discovering value as well as revealing memorable locations.
For those who are Med-mad, Holiday World will showcase just about every country - lapping the shores of the Mediterranean, with vacations to suit both the cash-strapped and the minted. The wonderful islands of the Med will be very much to the fore; look out for Malta and Cyprus as they roll out the red carpet for potential visitors.
If 2017 is your year to jet off to somewhere super exotic, there's choice in plenty with intriguing India, marvellous Mexico (above), tempting Thailand and joyous Jamaica among the featured destinations.
As Maureen says: "With a world of travel opportunities under a single roof, there is simply no better place to choose your holiday and no better, or easier, way to compare prices. Even better, a trip to Holiday World Belfast will instantly get you into holiday mood and blow away the post-Christmas January blues."
Belfast Telegraph Holiday World takes place at Titanic Exhibition Centre on Queens Road in the Titanic Quarter, close to Titanic Belfast and just opposite the Titanic Studios, where the global hit fantasy series Game Of Thrones is filmed.
Holiday World will be open from 1-6pm on Friday, January 20 and from 11am-5.30pm on Saturday, January 21, and Sunday, January 22. Admission is £5 for adults, £4 for senior citizens and £3 for students. A special family ticket gives admission for two adults and up to four children for £10.
To find out more visit www.holidayworldshow.com.