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Relatively Speaking: Alice McCullough and her father

By Audrey Watson

We ask personalities about the special family relationships in their lives.

Name: Alice McCullough

Age: 31

Occupation: Performance poet and stand-up comedian

 Relationship to Dugald: Daughter

My father and I have quite a bit in common. I share not only his stature, smile, and mass of curls, but also his love of books and passion for public speaking.

Both he and my mum, Linda, have always been very supportive of my creative streak. When I was three-years-old, I declared that I was "an artist", and they were both thrilled.

I was a very shy child who loved to draw and paint. It wasn't until I went to Bloomfield Collegiate Grammar School, in Belfast, that I became interested in drama and gained confidence.

Over the years, I've explored many aspects of the arts, and dabbled in painting, illustration, acting, directing and costume design. But now my attention is focused firmly on writing and performing my poems and stand-up comedy.

I have three sisters – an identical twin, Cathy, as well as my older sister Jenny, and younger sister Louise.

I have been going to poetry gigs since my early 20s and performing for more than eight years. Last year, I won the Belfast Book Festival Poetry Slam, and Quick-Fire Comedy Competition, which gave me a real confidence boost.

I'm really excited about my first ever one-woman show, called Alice Fresco. I'll be performing poems about burritos, Belfast, sex, fairytales, love and oppression.

My father is very confident, charismatic, and funny. He has come along to lots of my poetry readings and sometimes even treats the audience to a recitation himself.

Mum and dad are divorced and although I enjoy the hustle and bustle of Belfast, the house in Dundrum, which dad shares with his partner Joan, is a refuge for me when I need to get my head showered. It's a little farm with hens and ducks and is so idyllic and incredibly inspirational and therapeutic.

Name: Dugald McCullough

Age: 61

Occupation: Health and social care tutor, Open University

Relationship to Alice: Father

Alice has always been a one-off, which is paradoxical given she is an identical twin. She and Cathy were impossible to tell apart when they were small children. Her mother and I had to colour code their clothes to keep us right.

She was a quiet, thoughtful, child and was very artistic and creative, with a flair for writing and painting. However, her introverted nature would occasionally take a back seat to her eccentric imagination and desire to break the mould.

This sometimes got her into trouble, such as the day when, at five years old, she decided that she would wear trousers to school. In those days it was frowned upon for girls to wear anything but a skirt, but little Alice was very determined.

As children, both Alice and Cathy were great storytellers. As tiny tots they would sit on the hearth at their grandmother's house and regale the adults with stories and songs about foxes and rabbits, occasionally adding in a little dance for good measure.

As they grew older, they would record their own songs and silly radio shows on cassettes.

Alice's childhood drawings would have a distinctive look that was unique to her, and in the recent past, she has held exhibitions and sold work, but she has really taken to performance.

I know that performing and the creative arts professions don't always offer a steady and secure income and, like any father, I do worry. But I've always supported all my daughters to trust their own instincts. I couldn't say to Alice that it's more important to have economic security, than to live the life you want. I want all of my daughters to get by in the world and be successful financially, but the most important thing is to honour themselves and their own spirit.

I enjoy Alice's poetry, but I have to admit that some of her performances are a little unconventional for a father to be privy to.

For example, in her poem, Love, which won her the big slam, she talks very candidly about bedroom antics.

The shy little girl Alice that once was has given way to a very talented performer and I am very proud of her.

 

Standing up for the arts ...

* As artist-in-residence at this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Alice will spearhead a platform for performance poets, and take part in a number of events.

* Her one-woman show, Alice Fresco, runs from May 9-11.

* Alice is also the support act for Katherine Ryan (Mock the Week, QI) on May 5, and on May 8, she will host the launch of Red Pill – a new, alternative, stand-up poetry night set to showcase the new wave of spoken word talent emerging in Belfast. Headlining launch night will be world slam finalist Hollie McNish.

* The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival (CQAF) 2014, runs from May 1–11. Details at www.cqaf.com or tel: 028 9023 2403.

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