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What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?

Published 06/08/2016

Tina McKenzie
Tina McKenzie
Tina McKenzie with NI21 leader Basil McCrea and Mr McCallister at the party conference
BBC veteran Walter Love
Walter Love in his younger days

That's the question Radio Ulster’s Vinny Hurrell has been posing to some well-known figures from business, politics and showbusiness on his Monday night show — and their responses have made for compelling listening. Una Brankin hears what veteran broadcaster Walter Love and businesswoman and former NI21 politician Tina McKenzie had to say.

Tina McKenzie is managing director of Staffline Group (Ireland), a recruitment and employment support business.  Married and with three children, she was also a candidate for NI21, a short-lived political party. She says:

My advice to myself at 25 would be: 'Be proud of where you are that point.' I was always striving to achieve more and was never satisfied. I didn't do particularly well at school and had to repeat my GCSEs. I've a few A-levels and I got through my degree by the skin of my teeth, but then I went into business and all of a sudden found the thing I was good at, my natural thing. By 25, I was managing two businesses in London and doing it quite well, and earning quite good money and having a great lifestyle. I wasn't totally fulfilled at all but at 25 I'd done a lot, but didn't think I had.

I had a vision of a happy life from looking around at my family and friends' parents, and you have this picture and you think if you have that, you'll be happy but you don't realise in early 20s that happiness is something that's very personal to you, and it's about the context and about the choices you make in life, and whether you own it.

I'd tell myself to chill out a bit and don't take yourself so seriously - I'm very sensitive. Don't let the compliments go to your head and the criticism go to your heart. I've always been very sensitive but that also means I have a high emotional IQ and I can read people and read a room, and hopefully be a good leader through that.

Every day you have to try and improve but I definitely 'feel' people. What people in Northern Ireland don't do is shout about themselves. I came back from London and people would be saying, 'Oh listen to you, talking all posh', and 'Look at you and that fancy car'. They put you back in your box.

But if you're not going to shout about how great you are, who is? We have to stop this culture of what we think is cocky. As I've got older, without being OTT, you have to appreciate who you are and what value you add, while still considering 'and here's the things I need to work on'.

I had the first of my three children at 29 and came back from London to be near family. I only took three months off after the birth - I regret that, even though my husband made a wonderful stay-at-home dad at the time. I took four months after my second child and six months after the last one. I realise now that the business world could have waited a bit longer and I didn't need to rush back and say yes to everything.

What I'd say is never ever judge any other woman's choices - we all make sacrifices whether we stay at home or go to work.

I don't think you can be taught to be driven. When you look at those who made it big, like Richard Branson or Alan Sugar, they all had it a bit tough. Those who have an easy life without many challenges don't push themselves too much. Those of us who've had a kicking can normally, if you're in the right frame of mind, pick yourself up and be stronger.

Of all jobs I've had, the tougher and worse the boss, the more I've learned. Even going into politics - and some in the business world told me I was crazy and that it has spectacularly failed - that was one of the worst and the best experiences for me. It was a horrible, negative time, with things in the papers you didn't say.

It was the most vulnerable time, very tough, but looking back, I'd still tell myself to do it. I'd like to think we (NI21) have got something to do with the fact we now have an opposition. I know some of the things I said going round the hustings, MEPs start to repeat. I think I had some influence. I achieved 11,000 votes within a year, never having been in politics. That's all right. But in the depths of the election when scandal was breaking everywhere, it probably felt like THE end of the world. But it never is. The worst things in life are when you lose people closest to you; not having your health.

My parents divorced when I was in my early teens. My advice to myself back then would be to understand that although they're your parents, they're just people and they make mistakes and they're not perfect. We all like to think of our parents as being amazing, and some of us are critical of them but then look back and realise, well, they were actually amazing.

My mum never had a career but she looked after seven children and did the best she could with very little. I look at that woman now, with all her grandchildren running in and out of house, and she's the wealthiest woman I known - she might not have the perfect house but her life is so rich it's unbelievable. I think when parents get divorced, it kills a dream in a child.

I took it tough - I wanted that Waltons' life as a child and although we might think we don't deserve it, everybody does, even parents.

Walter Love (81) is one of Radio Ulster's best-known broadcasters. A widower, he lives near Downpatrick. He says:

It was the beginning of the Swinging Sixties when I was 25. I was in the Beeb as a studio manager for two years, then I started to read the news when they were short of staff in the summer and I became a staff announcer in 1960.

The word 'personality' wasn't used too much in those days.

The year 1960 was the beginning of major changes in the BBC - it had been looking back all the time to the 1930s which was regarded as the 'golden age of radio' then - not much was going on in the 1940s.

There was more respect for authority. What Stephen Nolan does now? He'd have been out of the door immediately 50 years ago! The BBC spoke AT people then. They speak WITH with people now.

In my spare time back then I would have been playing tennis in Belmont in east Belfast most weekends - though not on Sundays, it was a very different world then - and I hung around with group of good mates. I met my wife Mary in 1966 and we had a typical Ulster courtship of 18 years and didn't get married until 1984.

I think I'd a very cavalier attitude to money in those days. I never had a lot but enough to live reasonably comfortably. I was fabulous at spending but very bad at saving. The girl I met taught me - she was very good with money. My advice would be to think about the future, money-wise. Back then though it was easier than now - you could stick money away and get a reasonable amount of interest in days gone by.

I probably was a workaholic. I don't want the BBC to know this but I never regarded it as work. I enjoy coming in and being with people, and in the 1950s, there was a wonderful atmosphere, almost like being in a club or social society.

We maybe had a lot more time on our hands then and I had a lovely knack of playing practical jokes all the time. I'd pull peoples' legs and you had to watch out as someone was always out to get you back. You can't do it any more or you'd be out of the door.

People might say I wasn't very ambitious. I was happy doing what I was doing at the time. Things came my way very often. I suppose they came my laid-back way is how I'd describe it.

When I joined the BBC, I'd always been interested in turntables and microphones and records, and to get the job with the BBC after being a penniless accountancy student for five years opened up the world to me.

I have great regard for the BBC. I went to Regent House Grammar in Newtownards but I always say my education came from BBC Radio. I learned about music, theatre and drama, all from the BBC.

I've never regretted not going into accountancy. I wasn't good at it - I couldn't count for a start. I had a couple of uncles in Dublin who were partners in an accountancy firm and the plan was that I would qualify and go and join them. But I'm probably in the Guinness Book of Records for having failed the intermediate exam six years in a row. I'd never have made an accountant.

My wife and I were both independent characters and we lived our lives. Looking back, I probably wouldn't have waited so long to get married, however. My wife died five years ago after 28 years of marriage; we'd known each other for 46 years altogether - it goes in a flash and you wonder why it happened so quickly. I don't really give advice to people but I do talk to them. I think people need to make their own minds up.

How did I cope with losing her? I have something in common with Dame Joan Collins. I read that she said she was born with the happy gene and I think I was, too. Life isn't always happy and things happen, and you have to deal with them. I try and am able to draw a line in sand and say, 'I'm here now; what do I do?' I'd never give advice to anyone bereaved - I think people need to make their own minds up - but I'd share my experience and what I did, and maybe it would rub off.

What's helped me is having a focus and interest. I grew up as one of seven children. There are now three of us left. I'm the oldest. I have a sister in Vancouver and a brother in Sydney, Australia. We're much closer now than we ever were growing up, so I go out to Canada quite often and Australia. It's a wonderful focus, looking forward to something in six months' time.

My wife was head of art at a secondary school in Ballyclare and many a time we discussed [art] and she said 'I must give you some lessons', but in 46 years, we never got around to it. Then, two years after she died, I found some of her watercolours and started to use them, and found I was fascinated. I joined a local art group and I get huge pleasure now painting landscapes and doing pencil sketches.

It's a great focus. I might start a painting at 7pm and the next thing it's after midnight. As time goes on, I think that has certainly helped.

Belfast Telegraph

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