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How husband's death convinced Downtown star Candy to give up life on the radio to rediscover her Australian roots

Famous for her flowing kaftans and dulcet tones, Candy Devine packed up her Belfast home three years ago and returned to her native homeland. Now back on a six-week visit to her adopted country to see family and friends, she tells Karen Ireland why she left and what she misses most

Published 07/09/2016

Candy Devine back in Northern Ireland on a visit
Candy Devine back in Northern Ireland on a visit
Candy on her wedding day to Donald
The couple at home in Belfast
From left, Michael ‘Hendi’ Henderson, Bill Smyth, Big T, Candy Devine and Derek Marsden in Downtown Radio
A young Candy on the entertainment circuit
Candy Devine just before she left for Australia

Broadcaster Candy Devine (77) came to a crossroads in her life three years ago. She had lost her beloved husband Donald in 2012, was feeling ill herself and having to rely a great deal on friends and neighbours to look after her.

"I was in bed a lot of the time and friends were calling to make me cups of tea and bring me soup," she explains.

"I remembering thinking that this just wasn't right and that if I got really ill and ended up in a nursing home I would want my family to choose which one I would be staying in rather than my friends.

"Ultimately, I just felt a yearning to get back to where I had grown up, to where I had first studied music and where it had all began for me.

"So I made the decision to put the house in Belfast on the market and move over to Australia, where two of my sons, Iain and Alastair, and their families, live."

To her surprise, her home sold quickly - just three weeks after the for sale sign went up. Consequently it was all hands on deck to help her to get packed up and on her way.

"The move happened a lot quicker than I thought," explains Candy, who was still on the airwaves on Downtown Radio until she left for her new life.

"My son, Alastair, and daughter-in-law even flew in from Australia to help me pack.

"He was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get up into the attic to clear things out, so they landed over to give me a hand."

Chatting at the home of good pals Jill and George Ellis, with whom she is staying during her visit, Candy reflects on that tumultuous period.

"After Donald died I was very lonely," she admits. "We had been married for 46 years. Yes, I was surrounded by good friends and family, but it wasn't the same and I just couldn't settle."

The couple first met in 1948. Donald McLeod, a music promoter booked Candy, a talented singer and actress, to sing in Belfast at the Talk of the Town club.

"I remember before I went on stage I heard him say to a friend 'Doesn't that lady have a beautiful face?'," she recalls. "He was saying in a roundabout way that I had let my body go.

"I thought 'I'll show him', and the next time he saw me I had slimmed down to a size eight. That must have clinched it as he asked me out and started to wine and dine me."

Donald was determined to win Candy's heart, rattling off a steady supply of letters and making regular phone calls to Manchester, where she had based herself after moving from her native Australia.

The couple quickly became inseparable and Candy made the decision to move to Ireland. Of course, as she reveals, there was just one other tricky matter that needed to be dealt with - the fact that she was already engaged to a doctor in the US airforce.

"You can't help who you fall in love with and I had fallen for Mr McLeod and knew I wanted to be with him," she explains. "I had to write a Dear John letter to the doctor."

The happy couple married in Dublin in 1970, where they lived for five years. They then moved to Belfast, where Candy was one of the original line-up on Downtown Radio when it first hit the airwaves in March 1976.

"I was there from day one, along with people like Big T and Jean Paul Ballantine," she says. "I loved it from the word go - it was like a marriage made in heaven.

"And I was able to continue my singing career alongside it. Life was hectic, but it was good."

Donald and Candy became parents to Gordon (53), Iain (52), Fiona (50) and Alastair (46). Fiona still lives in Northern Ireland, while Gordon's home is in Thailand.

"We brought the children up here and I was working away at the same time," Candy says. "I did Downtown and all that came with that such as personal appearances and events."

The couple thoroughly enjoyed their busy social life, but tragedy struck in 2011 when Donald, then 80, was diagnosed with cancer.

Candy recalls: "Donald always said we had a revolving door on our house and it's true people were always coming and going - something we both loved.

"Then when Donald was diagnosed with throat cancer it was a huge shock and the start of a very difficult time. Donald fought very hard and when they operated we were told they had removed all of the tumour after surgery and that he would be fine.

"He was in remission when he took a hernia, which perforated his colon.

"He was then rushed to theatre and the consultant phoned me afterwards and said it had all gone well and they were really pleased with the operation.

"But just 24 hours later he was in intensive care, where he then passed away.

"It was a terrible time and I really didn't know if I was coming or going. I had always said that when I passed away I would like to be buried over in Australia, where my roots are, but I made a promise to all the children that I wouldn't make any firm decision until a year had passed after Donald's death. After 12 months I knew what I had to do and took the decision to move to Australia, which I always refer to as my other home.

"I put the house on the market and, as I said, it sold really quickly, so I went and stayed with good friends for a while until I was ready to make the big move Down Under."

Home for Candy now is a three bedroom bungalow in Brisbane on five acres of land which she shares with son Alastair's property.

Formerly a chef at Roscoff's in Belfast, Alastair is now well-known for his culinary skills in Australia.

In many ways, though, Candy's life is now very different to the one that she enjoyed in Northern Ireland, though her warm and engaging personality means that she has quickly made new pals.

"We have cows and chickens and horses and it is a great place to live," she explains. "Life for me now is as busy as I want it to be.

"I am taking an Open University degree course in humanities. I am also doing an art class and I have a great social life.

"I go to the theatre as much as possible as well. I have a great circle of friends there as well as over here.

"I try not to sit at home - if you do that, life just passes you by.

"I have a charmed life and I am very happy. I was also delighted that a year after I left Belfast I was awarded the MBE for services to broadcasting in the community.

"That was very special and I was extremely honoured to receive it from the Governor of Queensland.

"She said it was a real honour for her, too as it was the first time she had got to present such an award."

Understandably, while Candy is now closer to her two sons in Australia, she also misses her daughter and her family in Northern Ireland, although technology does make it a bit easier to keep in touch. Still, Candy freely admits: "The only thing is I would love to change would be to push Northern Ireland over beside Australia and then I could just skip between one and the other as my daughter and two of my four grandchildren are still in the province, along with many of my lifelong friends.

"But I have learned in life that you can't have everything and there is a peace about where I am at right now."

Anyone wishing to catch up with Candy during her six-week sojourn here will have to book their slot pretty quickly as her diary is already filling up.

Her friends, Jill and George Ellis, helped throw a welcome home bash for her a few days ago.

"We had a party at the weekend and almost 60 people were there," the former Downtown star explains.

"It was great to see everyone and I am really looking forward to the next few weeks and to catching up with lots of my friends and family.

"A lot of people have been over to visit me in Australia and I will always have the revolving door policy, which Donald talked about and was so proud of.

"I love being in Australia and I equally love being back here. My heart belongs in both places.

"It was hard to make that journey back to Northern Ireland without Donald by my side this time.

"I am sure that I looked like a little old lady in a funny dress travelling by myself, but I don't care what other people think.

"I know Donald would want me to keep going and would be delighted that I was back home in Northern Ireland seeing all our old friends and family."

Belfast Telegraph

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