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What's the best way for Peter Robinson to cope with going from a high-powered job to time out?

For most of his adult life the First Minister has been a high profile politician, from the dark days of the Troubles through to the intense negotiations that have come with cementing peace in Northern Ireland. Now with his decision to step away, a new lifestyle awaits, which could prove rather challenging too...

By Helen Carson

Published 20/11/2015

Peter Robinson reveals his plans to retire to the Belfast Telegraph
Peter Robinson reveals his plans to retire to the Belfast Telegraph
The DUP holding a Press conference at Stormont
Kate Smith
Kate Smith on UTV

Having served as a politician here for more than four decades Peter Robinson has announced that he has had enough and will be stepping down from his roles as First Minister and DUP leader.

It's unclear yet how Mr Robinson (66) intends to spend his new-found freedom but like many busy people before him, it may prove tricky adapting to a change of pace.

While the First Minister denied that he was stepping down for health reasons, he admitted that the rigours of politics meant that he rarely got a good night's sleep.

We ask four people once used to the limelight what advice they would give to Mr Robinson.

Kate Smith (50s), a former UTV broadcaster, lives in North Down with her restaurateur husband, Michael Deane (52), and their adopted son, Marco (15). She says:

When I left UTV in 2006, I went from working to the clock to having a more flexible life. Initially when I left, I took a month off as Marco was at primary school at the time. I had already gone part-time, so I had one foot out of the door anyway. I felt that my time was so stretched and we had decided that Marco would not suffer because of work.

My contract at UTV was due to run out at Christmas, so I just slid out the door without any fuss. It was great the first month to be able to do school runs and be there for Marco, but once the novelty wore off I decided to do a year-long Life In Business course - something just for me.

I also did some motivational speaking and MC work at corporate events as I still had some profile from my UTV days. I had picked up some business skills from my broadcasting career and found myself drawn into Deanes. As it is a family business, it is 24/7 and I will be there when needed, but I am very, very happy that my time is so flexible now. I am very lucky to be in this position.

Michael and I have set times during the week to have meetings and talk to our staff. When I was working in TV, I had to watch the clock and think, 'Where do I have to be' all the time - now I don't have to be there on the dot. I don't get a lot of spare time, but when I do, it is spent in the gym, where I do pilates and a bit of running. I have a set of golf clubs and they are in pristine condition - I keep putting it off because of the weather.

When it comes to the First Minister, I don't think Peter Robinson will ever not be interested in politics.

I feel the same way about news, there is never a day goes by that I don't watch the news or read a newspaper - it is in my blood.

I cannot see Peter Robinson not loving politics, he is too youthful a man with an active brain - I cannot imagine him putting his feet up yet. He will do something else, perhaps after-dinner speaking, and develop other interests which are linked to his career.

Don Anderson is a former BBC television journalist from Northern Ireland who, working from London, broadcast to up to nine million viewers. He lives in Newtownards with wife Rosemary and they have two grown-up children, Kiera and Arran who are both married with children. He writes:

Peter Robinson has endured over three decades of journalists describing what he’s done or doing, often personally annoyingly, then guessing his future, probably even more annoyingly. Those days are coming to an end, but not yet.

Becoming a recognisable face is initially beguiling but drawbacks soon become obvious. The line between what is private and what is public will have been drawn by you at the outset, but that line is infuriatingly then re-drawn repeatedly by watchers. Here are some ideas to redress the balance in retirement.

You can’t leave behind your well-known visage in the First Ministerial cloakroom, so it would be nice if your face could be temporarily rendered unrecognisable by an on-call make-up artist, provided by a grateful province as part of your retirement package. But I can testify from my TV days that taking the stuff off is wearisome and messy. Instead, negotiate a decoy double, perhaps the one that you may have already been using during testing times. There’s a good precedent in Field Marshal Montgomery, whose family hailed from Donegal. During the Second World War his double bounced around the Med to confuse the enemy. In retirement, causing even more confusion is expected and very enjoyable.

There are decoy limitations. Your hobby of music-making is a matter of public record and you may harbour ambitions to fill a venue in the Cathedral Quarter. Be advised — do not use the double for this. He may sing out of tune, forget the words and enlarge your repertoire to include songs like Sean South of Garryowen. Use disguising make-up here, and, if part of a duet, avoid the stage name Chuckle Brothers.

You’ll need other pastimes. You will have spent a major part of your life on what’s known as the rubber chicken circuit — rounds of dull unadventurous official meals, business dinners and hotel lunches. So did I. I then taught myself to cook. Do likewise and the prospect of crab-stuffed lobster tail followed by vanilla poached pears in a peach sauce is yours, or perhaps just a Belfast bap with ketchup and bacon. (Discount the food alarmist muttering about bacon — an Ulster political life easily eclipses the threat from bacon). And if you learn to cook, learning to shop goes with it.

Cooking and travel go together. You have travelled the world, but I venture from my own experience that you will have seen too little. Always whisked from airport to meeting, seeing famous buildings only from the inside, unable to try that 300ft water slide because landing dishevelled on your posterior was vetoed by the PR people. My own extensive business travel was often similarly trammelled. Retirement travel will allow that water slide, painting in Tuscany, yodelling in the Grand Canyon, bungee jumping in New Zealand, snowballing in Antarctica, Koi fishing in China, bog snorkelling in Tyrone.

You will need to take up a sport. Try mine, which is sailing. Northern Ireland has some of the finest coastal sailing waters of these islands, to say nothing of its lakes. Sailing will suit you admirably because of the anonymity. First it is not a spectator sport.

Few will see what you do on the water except those sharing your boat, and you can choose your company. Furthermore our climate will ensure that you are always wearing a jacket with a hood, even in the height of summer. As the criminal fraternity know, it’s hard to recognise anyone in a hood.

Finally do not be tempted by your former life. Do not return to being an estate agent.”

Denis Murray (64) is a retired journalist who lives in Belfast with his wife Joyce. They have four grown-up children and one grandson. He says:

I became BBC Northern Ireland’s political correspondent in 1984 and then in 1988 I became the Ireland correspondent. I did that for 20 years before retiring in 2008.

I was only 58 when I retired — I could have worked until I was 65 but was offered a voluntary redundancy package and decided to take it. I made the decision after two of my closest friends at work — my producer and my cameraman — told me that my story was over and it was time to let someone else have a go at it.

I would hate to admit that I was burned out and wouldn’t have at the time, but looking back I can see that I was probably close to it. The job was almost 24/7 and you can’t work like that for nearly 20 years and not lose your edge. These days if I do a four-hour day I’ll be asleep on the sofa before 7.30pm. Back then I used to be able to do four back-to-back 18-hour days, take the weekend off and then bounce back into it.

I didn’t plan my retirement at all — I knew I needed a break but I could have been much more proactive. I was so tired I didn’t want to do anything in particular anyway.

I didn’t do very much for a long while. I messed with the computer and did a bit of gardening. The thing I did most was cooking as my job hadn’t left me time to develop hobbies so the only one I really had was cooking. I enjoyed making the evening dinner — a nice lamb tagine because I had the time to do it. I don’t go on that many holidays.

I didn’t miss the hassle of being up at six in the morning and still being at work at 10.30 at night but I did miss the camaraderie of the job. There’s nothing better than a small team working if everyone gets along and my colleagues and I turned out some really good stuff. Going through a difficult week with a small team will result in you being friends for life. I’m still in touch with a cameramen I worked with for only a week.

One of the things I’ve done since I retired and that I enjoyed the most was a three-part TV series for BBC Northern Ireland called From Our Ireland Correspondent. It was made by an independent production company and was about my experiences. I’m used to working in television but that was a very rewarding programme to make. I had never worked in long-form programmes before and the whole process from commissioning to broadcast took about 18 months. It was enormously rewarding as were a couple of Radio 4 documentaries that I’ve done too.

What I would love to do now is what Gerry Kelly does — a couple of programmes a week on the radio would be brilliant. You just don’t have the energy at 64 that you did at 40!

Retirement is a lovely break, particularly if you’ve worked really hard. It’s nice to sit back and I love reading — one thing I really appreciate is my Kindle. One thing I never do is watch Jeremy Kyle.

I would be surprised if Peter Robinson wasn’t headed for the House of Lords at some point but I understand that he is prepared to dedicate himself to charitable causes once he retires.

If I was to say anything useful to someone who was about to retire it would be to plan it. Have your next venture or business lined up. Peter has clearly been planning this — it’s something I wish I had done, but didn’t.”

Ellvena Graham (52), who lives in Co Down, was formerly head of the Ulster Bank, which she left in May this year. She is now chairman of the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) in the Republic of Ireland as well as chairing a number of advisory groups. She says:

When I was heading up the bank, I was working five days a week and all the nights, too. Although I left my job there in May, I don’t feel my life is not busy, because it is. Being the chairman of an electricity supplier is a very responsible role. However, now my time is a lot more flexible than it had been previously. I have more time for my family and friends, there is no doubt about that.

Deciding to leave a busy job is not something you can do easily, it has to be planned well in advance. This year, I was able to take a month off for a holiday and I could never have done that before.

My time off was spent with my brothers and all my nieces and nephews.

I am a keen dancer and love ballroom and Latin American, which I have gotten back into in recent months and I go every week now.

I don’t think a busy person, such as Peter Robinson, can go from having such a demanding job to doing nothing — it should be phased down rather than just stopping.

He has been running a country, so he can basically do anything he wants to now.

His leadership, negotiating and collaborative skills are transferable to any future venture. I am quite sure he has been planning his departure and has given a lot of thought to what he wants to do in the future.”

Belfast Telegraph

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