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You're my hero: Arlene Foster chose Maud Kells, the Queen and Margaret Thatcher... now local celebrities tell us who inspired them

Published 28/05/2016

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster with Maud Kells
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster with Maud Kells
Margaret Thatcher
the Queen
Top broadcaster: Richard Dimbleby
Gerry Anderson
Proud daughter: Beth Robinson from Templeton and Robinson
Czech hero: Vaclav Havel

Energy, commitment, belief, collaboration, ambition. These are just a few of the words First Minister Arlene Foster used this week to describe one of her heroes.

Mrs Foster was paying tribute to one of a trio of women she finds truly inspiring: Maud Kells.

Maud (75) has devoted more than 50 years of her life to missionary work in the Congo - and even refused to let being shot by bandits prevent her from continuing her vocation.

Mrs Foster, who was giving the Holkeri Lecture at Queen's University, also includes the Queen among her inspirations, calling her a "towering presence" - even at the age of 90.

Margaret Thatcher makes up the last of the trio - a "formidable woman who thrived in a man's world".

But the First Minister also paid tribute to the "quiet heroes", who are often unrecognised by the wider public; people who give up their valuable time to work in organisations like the Brownies and the Girl Guides.

Clearly, Arlene Foster is not unique in having heroes.

Kerry McKittrick asks 7 well-known people about who has inspired them.

Paul Clark (62) presents UTV Live. He lives in Belfast with his wife, Carol, and sons Peter (28) and David (26). He says:

This is a very easy question for me to answer, because my hero from childhood was a broadcaster - Richard Dimbleby.

He died in 1965, but I can remember him presenting Panorama and I remember him commentating on the funeral of Winston Churchill.

I was always interested in speech and broadcasting, but it was listening to Richard Dimbleby that made me realise that this was what I wanted to do.

Of course, I never met him, but I took great interest in his life - for example, his Second World War commentary. He was also at Belsen, just after the camp was liberated in 1945.

The lovely thing, though, is that I had the opportunity to tell his son, David, just how much his father meant to me.

Not many people have the opportunity to do that, but I met David at a Royal Television Society function in London.

I was able to tell him just how much of an influence Richard had on both my career choices and the values I bring to my job every day.

I was only 11 when Richard died, but I remember his funeral. He was such a towering figure in broadcasting around the world, so it was a big event.

More recently, I've been on a faith journey, so my other hero would be Jesus Christ.

I appreciate that it might not chime with a wider audience, but I've tried to bring with me the values that Jesus espoused when he walked the earth."

Mark Patterson (47) lives in Londonderry and presents Lunchtime with Mark Patterson each weekday on BBC Radio Foyle. He says:

For me, there are a couple of heroes who really stand out — Gerry Anderson is one and Seamus Heaney is another.

I was very lucky in that I got to work with Gerry every day for years. I was a young fellow managing a YMCA, but I came into Radio Foyle to do bits and pieces and Gerry would listen to them. I couldn’t believe it.

This was the guy whose radio show got me through my final exams. Everyone worshipped him. And the next thing I knew, I was working in the same building as him.

He was always very generous, particularly as I was still a bit wet behind the ears. He would sit me down and tell me what was good and bad about what I was doing and help me to think about the industry I was starting to work in. I was very lucky to get to know him.

Gerry talked about the importance of language and he always made me think about how I said things.

He told me that it didn’t matter if you were on Radio 1, the World Service, or Radio Foyle: if you connect with your audience as a DJ, then you should never, ever, take it for granted. That’s something that’s always stuck with me.

Seamus Heaney was also a huge influence in my life. I met him a couple of times, but any time I was in his company, I was so nervous, because of the regard I had for him.

I interviewed him a couple of times and both interviews were awful. I tried to tell a joke, but he didn’t get the joke. I wished the ground would swallow me up.

Academics will see an other-worldly connection to his work, but, for me, Seamus was always in our world and we knew what he was talking about.

For me, his poems are like signposts for life. His books, I feel, are like the Arc of the Covenant, because inside you find such sacred items. They’re some of the most precious things I own.”

Kim Lenaghan (54) is a presenter for BBC Radio Ulster and lives in Belfast. She says:

I’m so interested in food, I think the person who has inspired me the most is Elizabeth David. She was a food writer and she was the person who introduced the concept of a Mediterranean diet.

She came from a very respectable, middle-class family and went off to Paris to study art, before running off to Greece with her married lover.

She spent time in Greece, France and Italy around the time of the Second World War and came back to England with experience of wonderful food.

It was a time of rationing in England and food was very bland. She brought out her first book and it was all about olive oil, Parmenides cheese, basil and Parma ham. She was the first person who brought the idea of this kind of thing to the UK.

I first discovered her when I was at university. I collect cookbooks and I found one of her books in a second-hand bookshop.

That book inspired me so much — in the 1980s in Belfast, we still weren’t eating interesting food.

Exotic food back then was spaghetti bolognese.

She really brought everything to life for me — even though the book had no colour illustrations. It was all very simple food and all about letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

I’ve always tried to stick with the way she cooked and the way she travelled. At times, when I haven’t had very much money, I would have eaten beans on toast for six days in a row, but on the seventh I would have a really nice steak.

I have lots of heroes, but Elizabeth David is very clearly my food hero. She has really been an inspiration for me.”

Mike Nesbitt MLA (58) is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. He lives in Belfast with wife, broadcaster Lynda Bryans, and their two sons, PJ (21) and Christopher (19). He says:

Two names come to mind for me when talking of those who have been an inspiration.

Mary Peters is the first one. She won her Olympic gold medal in 1972 when I was an aspiring athlete — I was running for Irish Schools at the time.

I can remember going to the Queen’s PE Centre for an indoor meeting around that time and Mary showed up after having won her medal. It was an extraordinary thing, but she was so down-to-earth. The wonderful thing about Mary is that she has remained a wonderful ambassador for sport and for Northern Ireland.

The fact that she’s still involved in athletics so long after her success shows how well-respected and inspirational she remains after all these years.

The second person is another athlete — Mike Gibson. People from Northern Ireland always talk about George Best — and rightly so — but Gibson was born just a couple of miles away from Best. He’s a rugby player and even the All Blacks said he was the best player of his generation.

The ethos of sport has been an important one for me. I went to the Irish Athletics Championships when I was 16 and I bombed. It wasn’t that others were better than me, it was because I just didn’t have my head around it.

There are days when you wake up and you just can’t be bothered, but sport teaches you to get up and get on with it.”

Beth Robinson (59) is a director and co-founder of Templeton Robinson estate agents. She lives in Belfast with her husband, David. She says:

My mum was called Joan Wilson and she was the chairman of Marriage Guidance, which is now known as Relate. She also ran the Pregnancy Advisory Service on the Lisburn Road for 25 years.

That could be very difficult, as she would have people picketing outside her office every day. When I was a child, I would be teased because my answer to everything was ‘my mummy says...’

My mum worked so very hard and was a wonderful counsellor and made a lot of friends through her work. She also got an OBE for her services to Relate.

There are many inspirational women today in business and public life. Another favourite role model of mine has been Karren Brady from The Apprentice.

She has had a hugely demanding and successful career, but has managed her work-life balance to perfection, which is something many of us strive to get right.

I heard her speak at a function about 10 years ago and I was just as impressed with her in real life. She’s a very down to earth person.”

Claire Hanna (35) is SDLP MLA for South Belfast, where she lives with her husband, Donal, and their children, Eimear (3) and Aideen (1). She says:

I have three heroes that I think of as inspirational. Firstly, the Humes — John and Pat — simply because they were so forward-thinking and consistent in their message; they didn’t think about the next six months, but the next decade.

They wrote the whole framework to the solution for here, which almost everyone gets now. It took a long time for people to come onboard with it and they kept the faith.

My next hero is Vaclav Havel. He started off as a Czech artist, who went on to become the president of the Czech Republic.

He was a lifelong opponent of communism and totalitarianism and used his playwriting and satire to get that message across and was in and out of jail because of it. He was just a great European.

Finally, I want to choose my Auntie Mary. She hasn’t been dealt the easiest hand in life, but approaches everything in the most fun way possible.

She’s the funniest, sparkiest person and every time I see her, or speak to her, I come away a lot more positive about everything.”

Elvena Graham (52) is a leading businesswoman and chair of the Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall who lives in Belfast. She says:

If I’m looking for the qualities I admire in people, I’m looking for people who are fair, determined, caring, challenging and encouraging.

The person who springs to mind who fits all of those things is my mother. Her name is Molly and, although she raised me while my father officially ran the family business, people always knew who was pulling the strings in the background. My mother was always very grounded and that has always kept me the same way.

Someone I worked with and always looked up to was a man called Will McKee, who passed away a few years ago.

I met Will on a train to Dublin and he became both a friend and mentor to me. He was very successful in his own right and was always challenging me. He always had time for anyone who wanted it from him.

I’ve done judging on things like the Belfast Telegraph Woman Of The Year Awards and you see so many unsung heroes — those you don’t know and never hear about, but who have done fantastic work in the local community.

Heroes don’t always make the headlines.”

Belfast Telegraph

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