Pamela the Ultimate party girl
Ahead of the launch of her new social diary in the Belfast Telegraph tomorrow, Pamela Ballantine talks to Maureen Coleman about her work, love and living her life to the max
She's dined with royalty, partied with the stars and celebrated St Patrick's Day at the White House as a guest of Hillary Clinton's. So who better to launch the Belfast Telegraph's new society diary than popular presenter and UTV ambassador Pamela Ballantine?
From this Thursday, the veteran of local television and well-known social butterfly will be bringing you, the readers, all the gossip and behind-the-scene goings on from the most glamorous and exclusive showbiz parties, charity bashes and awards ceremonies taking place across Northern Ireland.
It's a new challenge for the 51-year-old television host, who hit the headlines recently when it was revealed she had been let go by UTV after 27 years with the company, although she will continue to work at Havelock House on a freelance contract.
But with her typical upbeat approach to life, Pamela says she isn't letting the decision get her down, and is feeling quite optimistic about her future.
“I’m the type of person who’s always needed a kick up the backside and this is just what I needed,” she says, in her usual cheery manner.
“I left on good terms with UTV and as a freelance, it means new doors will open for me. I’m just back from holidays and I’m looking forward to a new life and new challenges.
“I’ve always had a positive outlook on life. The way I see things is that my glass is half full and not half empty. And really, why would I complain? There are a lot of people in the world much worse off than me. I see light at the end of the tunnel and I’m going to make the most of these new opportunities.”
Pamela was also buoyed by the messages of support from well-wishers, shocked and sorry to hear the news.
“Everyone has been so kind to me, which really helped as well,” she says. “I got so many lovely messages, emails and comments on Facebook, and it’s nice to know that so many people are supporting me.”
As well as carrying on her role as UTV ambassador and freelance continuity announcer, Pamela has just taken part in a new advertising campaign for Tayto, with a number of other local celebrities including her former UTV Life co-host Frank Mitchell.
“I had to wear an evening dress and yellow socks,” she laughs. “As you can imagine, it looks lovely.”
And her new Belfast Telegraph column will also keep her busy — although she insists she is not as much of a party girl as she used to be.
“Yes, it’s true, I do enjoy a glass of wine or a gin and tonic and I’ve always liked getting out and about, so this new column should be right up my street,” she says.
“I’ll be writing about the great and good of Northern Ireland society. But it won’t be a clubbing and pubbing thing, more like table quizzes and charity events, such as the Absolutely the Business bash which I presented with the lovely Keith Duffy and last weekend’s Fate Awards.
“I’m still a party girl, I still think it’s in me, it’s just that these days, I’m a bit slower. I tend to pick and choose what I go to.
“It comes from being more settled in my life now, so I’m not running around as much as I used to. I don’t go out every weekend looking for a party, not the way I used to.”
This more settled phase in her rather hectic life is due to meeting her partner, businessman Alan Graham.
Adrenaline junkie Pamela, who admits to having a passion for fast cars, met Alan through a shared love of rallying and they immediately clicked. But despite knowing each other for years, they only really got together in 2007.
Pamela, who was married before to former Cool FM boss John Paul Ballantine (now the husband of UTV’s Tina Campbell), is reluctant to be drawn on future plans with Alan, but says she is happy with him and that they complement each other.
“In many ways Alan and I are very similar,” she says.
“When we got together everything just fell into place. He has a great sense of humour, is very laid back and is good fun. He’s not the jealous type and is happy for me to do my thing, which is important to me.”
Given her positive outlook and have-a-go attitude to life, it’s not surprising that most of Pamela’s friends are younger than herself.
“People I know who are the same age as me tend to be married with children, so I have a lot of younger friends,” she says.
“But that’s great, it keeps me young too.
“I feel younger than I am and I look after myself. I eat healthily, drink four pints of water a day to keep hydrated and exercise too. I enjoy walking, cycling and Pilates. I live on my own and always cook, I never eat ready meals.”
Though many of her contemporaries have children, Pamela says she has no regrets about not being a mum.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” she says. “My own mother once said to me that I would have no-one to look after me when I’m old. I have nephews and a niece and I reckon there’ll be plenty of other people around me, so I won’t worry just yet.”
According to the Belfast woman, who began her career as a secretary at Downtown Radio, she’ll still be going strong in 50 years time.
“There’s a history of longetivity in my family,” she says.
“My aunty Kathleen is still going at 96 and another relative, whose 100th birthday party was in New York, lived to be 103. She lived on her own and drank a Manhattan cocktail every night.
“When aunty Kathleen was in her 80s she was told her cholesterol was too high and to make some changes in her lifestyle. But she said ‘what’s the point of doing that now?’. Anyway, having a positive atttitude to life is half the battle.”
It’s this fearless, have-a-go approach that has won her many admirers among local television viewers over the years. Although she rules out ever taking part in a bungee jump — “I’ve heard far too many horror stories” — and she’s reluctant to try her hand at something she feels she’d not be good at, Pamela has been known to throw herself into many gruelling challenges.
“I’ve canoed, cycled, swam from Portaferry to Strangford, raced cars, so I think I probably am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, though it’s a bit ridiculous at this age,” she says.
“One of the riskiest things I did was horse racing some 10 years ago at Down Royal. We were raising money for a charity that helps a man who had broken his neck coming off a horse. I had five weeks to learn to do it and of course, I ended up breaking a bone in my back. But it was an experience.
“I dare say I’ll still be taking on the odd risky challenge when I’m older. You’ll see me taking part in the zimmer frame race or a motability scooter race down Donegall Square.”
Her down-to-earth nature and bubbly personality has also made her popular with viewers. Unlike some celebrities, Pamela is happy to chat to people who make themselves known to her or or strike up conversations with her when she’s out and about, working or socialising.
“I think it’s lovely when people come up to say hello,” she says. “I consider myself very lucky and I’m grateful for the wonderful opportunities I’ve had, so why wouldn’t I be nice to people?”
Despite having attended a somewhat posh “finishing school” in England, Pamela says she was brought up to treat everybody with the same respect.
“I never wanted to go to university and my parents didn’t know what else to do with me so they sent me to Evendine Court College of Home Econmics for Young Ladies,” she says.
“It wasn’t really a finishing school as such, but I think it does surprise people when they hear about it.
“It was the best thing I could have done. There were 70 girls there that I’d never met before so it gave me confidence to talk to people.
“I was brought up to believe that everyone is the same and should be treated as such, whether it’s the Queen or the people she is meeting.
“I was at a lunch event with Prince Phillip recently, as you do, and there were children there from the Shankill Road in Belfast. For me, it was as important to talk to them about why they were there as it was to talk to him.”
After landing her job at Downtown, Pamela moved to the BBC for a brief spell with Radio Ulster. But a personality clash with a manager left her unhappy and on the hunt for a new position. UTV had just advertised for a continuty announcer and Pamela was snapped up by Havelock House. She settled in well and soon found herself presenting a number of shows, including, more recently, lifestyle show UTV Life, which was axed early last year.
Looking back over her 27-year career at UTV Pamela says there have been many highlights.
“I’ll always be really thankful that people had faith in my abilities and that made me have faith in myself,” she says.
“There were just so many wonderful experiences, being invited to the White House by Hillary Clinton was brilliant. I met her at a function here where I was acting as Master of Ceremonies and she told me she liked my voice. Next thing I was at the White House, celebrating St Patrick’s Day. That was something else.
“Meeting Daniel Craig was another memorable occasion. He had just been announced as the new James Bond and it’s the one and only time I’ve ever been tongue-tied.”
There have been a few lows as well, of course, but Pamela is not dwelling on these.
“I have had some incredible opportunities and I think I’ve made the most of the lucky breaks that have come my way,” she says.
“I’m feeling good about the future and looking forward to new challenges.
“And I’m still going to be on the television, you’re not getting rid of me just yet.”