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Stephen Clements: The former beer salesman turned DJ who counts Arlene Foster among his biggest fans

Q Radio presenter Stephen Clements is getting the attention of politicians and rival broadcasters alike with a witty blend of easy listening and craic in the morning. He tells Stephanie Bell why he gave up his job as a salesman to take to the airwaves.

Published 22/02/2016

Dream job: DJ Stephen Clements with his son Robbie
Dream job: DJ Stephen Clements with his son Robbie
Stephen Clements and daughter Poppy
Natasha and Stephen Clements
Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster

It is fast becoming the most talked about show on the Northern Ireland airwaves - one which even rival broadcaster Stephen Nolan has described as "the best stuff going out on radio at the moment".

Stephen Clements has been brightening our mornings and ensuring everyone gets a laugh on the way to work and school with his hilarious Q Radio breakfast show which he co-hosts with Cate Conway.

The off-beat show, which is all about having fun, is capturing the attention of an ever growing audience of all ages and from all walks of life - including quite an impressive celebrity following.

First Minister Arlene Foster, who is a fan, recently joined in the craic when she rang in introducing herself as Arlene from Fermanagh.

And Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has also confessed to tuning in during his drive from home in Londonderry to Stormont in the mornings.

A massive endorsement for Stephen was generous praise recently from rival Radio Ulster host Stephen Nolan who described him as "the most talented young man on Northern Ireland radio at the moment".

In an open-handed tribute Nolan graciously enthused about the show describing it as "hilarious", "laugh-out-loud funny" and "the most innovative radio" he had heard for some time.

It is all a bit surreal for the former beer salesman who took a big gamble five years ago when bored with his work life he walked away from a successful career in sales at the age of 37 to follow his dream of being on radio.

Stephen, now 42 and from Carrickfergus, is married to Natasha and has two children, Poppy (5) and Robbie (18 months).

"I always had a wee bit of a notion about doing radio when I was young but I had no idea how to get in the door. Growing up in a housing estate in Carrickfergus it seemed like a million miles away," he says.

"A few years ago I was at a sales meeting and I came out and just thought of how boring it was and questioned what I was doing with my life.

"I rang Citybeat and asked how I could go about getting a job and they told me to send a demo tape in. I recorded one and sent it in - and two weeks later I was on air."

Stephen went from never having been inside a radio station before to finding himself in the hot seat standing in for a regular presenter just two weeks after that impulsive phone call.

He continued to work part-time for the station for two years and was then offered a full-time post presenting his own show.

That opportunity came just after his daughter Poppy was born so leaving a full-time job with a good salary and company car was a massive gamble, but with the support of his wife Natasha he took the plunge. From the very start he made his mark with his fresh and novel approach where humour and banter were the hallmarks of his time on air.

"Without wanting to offend anyone I always thought local radio was a bit safe," he says.

"I grew up listening to Chris Evans and Terry Wogan and later Chris Moyles and we all grew up through the Troubles with this wicked sense of humour and most of us would be up for a laugh - I felt radio here was missing that.

"It was a big decision to take the job as we had just had Poppy and I had a good salary. I did it for the love of it and not for the money as you don't make a whole lot of money at first on radio.

"I wanted to do something I loved doing rather than wake up in the morning dreading going to work and being miserable all day."

Stephen hasn't looked back. A major talking point from his show is his hilarious Through the Window feature which was what prompted such high praise from Stephen Nolan recently.

The squeaky, high-pitched voice which is a take on the Through the Keyhole TV series is loved by adults and children alike and Stephen credits his wife Natasha for coming up with the idea.

"We were on holiday in Spain and talking about something similar which Chris Moyles did on his show," he says.

"He had a radio version of the show Catchphrase which he called Car Park Catchphrase which I thought was genius because the TV show is so visual and yet he was able to translate that to radio and it was very funny.

"My wife had the idea of doing a radio version of Through the Keyhole and it evolved from that to what it is now. It has had such a large response from listeners and has become part and parcel of their daily commute.

Stephen explains: "It has a bit of a 'Simpsonesque' approach to it, where when you watch the Simpsons adults will laugh at different bits to the kids and it is the same with Through the Window.

"Kids laugh at the funny voice and there are innuendos which go over their heads which the parents find funny.

"Everyone asks me about it and I am very proud of it."

He describes his show as "irreverent but funny" and his aim is to give people good music and a laugh.

Audience participation is a big part of that and Stephen says the funniest content comes from his listeners who he says never cease to surprise and "humble" him by the stories they ring in to share on air.

One such caller back in December of last year completely floored the usually unflappable presenter, as he recalls: "I just picked up the phone and said hello and this lady came on and introduced herself as Arlene from Fermanagh.

"I asked what her surname was and she said Foster and then I asked what she worked at and she said she was a politician.

"She had just been appointed First Minister and you could have knocked me over with a feather. She was brilliant and I have met her since and she said she loves the show and that it gives her a great laugh."

He was also surprised and honoured by Stephen Nolan's comments especially as the broadcaster is such a huge and highly respected figure in broadcasting.

"That has meant so much and not in a gushy lovey way but for someone like him, who I admire, to say that is just the biggest compliment I've had. I think money can't buy you that sort of PR," he says.

Stephen says there have been massive changes since the Q Network took over Citybeat a year ago and he credits those changes with the fact that his show has been gaining momentum over the last six months in particular.

"The new management team is very focused and driven and it is no coincidence that things have improved since they took over and I think it bodes really well for the future," he says.

He also pays tribute to his co-host Cate Conway who he describes as "just brilliant".

While he insists he doesn't take himself too seriously he makes no bones about the fact that his short-term ambition is to "see the show become number one in Northern Ireland".

With his newest number one fan Stephen Nolan famously laying claim to having the biggest show in the country it sounds like he is throwing down the gauntlet?

He laughs as he tactfully responds: "I think there is room for the two biggest shows in the country. They are very different shows; it would be like comparing apples to pears.

"Stephen's show is very topical and can be very serious where mine is a bit of popcorn in the morning."

Outside of work Stephen is a huge Manchester United fan and a devoted dad.

His early start for the breakfast show means he can spend the day looking after his two young children while his wife Natasha is at work.

Early bed times because of his early start mean there is not much time for any hobbies but Stephen is just thrilled to have a job which frees up so much of his time to spend with his young children.

"I am lucky to be able to be at home for the children because of the hours I work," he says.

"I can give you any information you need on any indoor padded play area in Northern Ireland because that's where I spend a lot of my time.

"I absolutely love it. I catch myself sometimes getting all gushy about Poppy and Robbie because I am so proud of them.

"Poppy is in primary one now and it is an amazing experience and everyone has gone through it, but I just can't help talking about her.

"She is very much used to the whole radio thing now and is just so cool about it already. I thought the embarrassment about my job wouldn't kick in until she was in her teens."

And he adds: "Spending time with adults is brilliant, but listening to the wisdom of a five-year-old keeps you very level-headed.

"Natasha and I try to get out to dinner once or twice a month, but with my early starts I usually don't have much time for a social life."

  • Q Radio Breakfast with Stephen and Cate, Mon-Fri, from 6am

Belfast Telegraph

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