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Julie has a good news story

Published 11/06/2016

Close-knit: Julie with her daughter Nora
Close-knit: Julie with her daughter Nora
Julie McCullough in the BBC studios
Julie McCullough and daughter Nora

BBC reporter Julie McCullough is going to be a mum again. She tells Stephanie Bell how a curiosity for people led to her career and how she juggles work with her idyllic home life in the Mourne Mountains.

BBC reporter Julie McCullough, who is currently enjoying her presenting debut on Good Morning Ulster, has just broken the joyous news that she is going to be a mum again.

The popular journalist is over the moon to be expecting her second child in October and has only just told colleagues at Broadcasting House.

Since becoming a mum to Nora, who is just 21 months old, Julie has been enjoying the best of both worlds, job sharing with colleague Maggie Taggart so that she can continue the career she loves while also spending quality time at home as a mum.

The 40-year-old, who was brought up in the beautiful Mourne countryside, still lives in Annalong with her husband Robin McBride (45), a carpenter who she has known since she was a schoolgirl.

The couple only started dating in their 20s, but Julie describes Robin as her "childhood sweetheart".

The cut and thrust of TV news reporting is a world away from her quiet home life, where down time is spent walking in the Mourne Mountains and the local beaches, but again for Julie it is the ideal balance.

She thrives on her career and has a particular passion for human interest and investigative stories, with many of her pieces for Newsline going on to be made into documentaries.

When her husband found an old memorial stone in a river in the Mournes in 2009 Julie had to get to the bottom it and she 'left no stone unturned' until she had uncovered the moving human interest story behind it. It involved a 20-year-old soldier from Belfast, who was an officer in the First World War and who was killed in battle.

Her report led to her finding his family and flying them to the spot where he was shot in Belgium.

It became a much talked about documentary, which people still comment on today.

Julie adopted the same single-minded approach to becoming a BBC reporter as she now brings to her stories.

She was only 16 when she experienced "the buzz" of the busy BBC newsroom for the first time, as a student on work experience.

She decided then and there that she was going to work in the BBC and everything she has done since has been carefully planned to make her dream come true.

Julie grew up in the countryside as the oldest of five children. Her mum Olive stayed at home to raise Julie and her three sisters and brother, while her dad Campbell runs a car repair business in Annalong.

She says: "We lived out in the country close to the Moune Mountains and it was lovely. I had a very nice childhood growing up beside a river in the countryside.

"Interestingly enough here is a huge age gap between me and my sisters. I am 20 years older than my youngest sister and 18 years older than the second youngest.

"Mum stayed at home to look after us and it is great because she is now a granny to little Nora who she minds when I work and Nora just loves her granny."

Even though it is quite a long commute to work in Belfast every day, there was no question of Julie ever leaving the area where she grew up.

She says she knew very early on that she wanted to be a journalist and believes it was a natural career as she was always curious about people.

The BBC was her main goal and she is now one of our best known and respected TV reporters.

She says: "There is old video footage of me at home aged around 13 interviewing mum and dad using a hair brush as a microphone.

"I was always nosey and wanting to find out about people and what they were up to. When I was 16 I went into the BBC on work experience and I knew then I really wanted to work in the BBC.

"It was just so exciting to be in the news room. Belfast seemed so glamorous to me having lived out in he country and also going into the BBC's great imposing building.

"We had very few channels then and I would have watched the BBC. It just seemed to me to be an amazing place to work."

She studied at Queen's University for a degree in English and Politics and then took time out to teach in Egypt before returning home and starting her romance with Robyn.

She also put her mind to getting her foot in the door of the BBC, where for a number of years she carried out numerous jobs, including runner and administration, before landing her prime role as a news reporter.

She says: "At the time there was a Community Service Volunteers scheme in the BBC for young people getting into work and I applied and got a placement.

"I got to work in Children in Need and in the newsroom, just watching and learning to begin with.

"I would have had to take scripts down to the studio and meet and greet guests and do some administration work."

When the scheme finished she successfully applied for another placement and got a job as news room's secretary - getting ever closer to her dream job.

"It was a busy time politically and I got to meet a lot of political figures. Even though I wasn't reporting I felt very close to everything.

"I then decided to do a post graduate diploma in newspaper journalism at the University of Ulster and I was studying and doing shifts in the BBC at the same time.

"There was a placement as part of that course and even though it was newspaper journalism course I was so determined to do it while working in the BBC that the course director let me."

Around the time she was due to graduate, a post for a Broadcast Assistant for radio news and current affairs was advertised by the BBC which she successfully applied for.

With a staff job secured she was on her way.

"It was just a matter for me of taking every opportunity I could get to learn. I then applied for the job of Broadcast Journalist on radio and TV and then as a reporter, where I am now."

As a BBC Newsline reporter she has covered many significant events in Northern Ireland, but it is the human interest stories which she really got her teeth into that stand out most for her, in particular the story of the fallen solider.

She says: "When my husband found the stone in a river I just had to find out where it came from and I had no idea the emotion of the story that we would uncover.

"It was so tragic. He was Robert Kelly Pollin from Belfast and he was so young, just 20 years old. As an officer he had to lead his troops into battle and he was shot dead in Belgium and his remains had never been recovered."

Before his death the young solider had been training to become a solicitor in his father's firm in Belfast.

Julie traced two of his great nephews and his aunts and she brought them to Belgium, where he had been killed and where the stone was left to be placed on permanent display.

The poignant journey was recorded for a BBC Newsline special called The Soldier and the Stone.

"I learnt so much about the First World War doing that story and it makes you really think about the impact of it. People still come up to me and talk about it and remember it."

Another big story for Julie was interviewing the nephew of the Northern Ireland man who was a driver for JFK.

She says: "He was the driver's only living relative and it was amazing to talk to him and see his old photographs and hear the stories his uncle told him.

"That was a worldwide story and there was also a Northern Ireland connection, which I find there usually is."

Julie is now experiencing her first job as a radio presenter, standing in during summer leave for the Good Morning Ulster team.

It is a very early start with the alarm going off at 3.45am and going into work to co-present a busy live two-and-a-half hour news show means she has to have her wits about her first thing in the morning.

She laughs as she says: "I'm not really an early morning person, but the advantage of living so far away from work is that the long drive in helps me to shake off the morning huff. I am in pretty good form by the time I arrive in Belfast.

"It is nice to get up when everyone is still in bed and have the house to myself to have a cup of tea and watch the news.

"When the opportunity came up I just thought why not give it a go. It is completely different and a different way of working, but I am learning new skills and I am really enjoying it.

"Everyone on the team has been really lovely and welcoming. It is fast paced and there is pressure, but the fact that there is two of us means you can enjoy a wee bit of banter with your colleagues. It is so different for me, but I am learning all the time."

In an era when more women are building careers before having their families, Julie fits right in as a modern career mum. She adores being a mother and is overjoyed to be expecting her second child, but readily confesses that she couldn't contemplate giving up her career.

She says: "I left having a family quite late and although it wasn't planned, I suppose part of that was because I was focused on my career.

"I've no regrets about that and I had a great time up until the birth of our daughter. I worked on some great stories and had lovely holidays with my husband. I think it just got to the point when we both felt we were ready to welcome a little person into our lives.

"I love my time at home with Nora and I wouldn't change it for the world - obviously because I am now having another one.

"On the days I am working my mum looks after Nora and she just loves spending time with her granny and granddad, they are so good to her.

"I couldn't imagine giving up my work completely. I do really love and look forward to having those few days in work, I really do. It is lovely to be with adults and to be able to use your brain in different ways.

"Even if I won the lottery tomorrow I don't think I could give up work, I would have to do something. I think for women who have worked it is hard. My mum's generation was a bit different because they didn't work and so they didn't know what they were missing."

Being from a small village and being on TV has not interfered with the quiet life she enjoys with her family in Annalong as locals, who must take pride in her success, don't treat her any differently because of her celebrity.

She says: "Everyone knows me around my town and they might comment if they hear me on the radio that I was up early, but being from a small community it doesn't make any difference that I am on TV.

"You do find sometimes when you are out and about that people think they know you and they will speak to you like they know you, but they can't place you."

Quality family time is spent walking the Mournes, although she says doesn't like mountain climbing. She loves the Silent Valley and walking on her local beaches and she also gets the buzz of city life for half of her week.

She adds: "I'm lucky to live in such a scenic part of the world and also get to enjoy my career. I do have the best of both worlds ."

Belfast Telegraph

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