Tina Campbell and Marc Mallett are like brother and sister on and off screen. They tell Audrey Watson why they make such a great TV pairing
UTV's Tina Campbell and Marc Mallett are fast becoming a regular television double-act. While working together on discussion programme Late & Live, the pair made such a good team they were the obvious choice to front the station's new Thursday night magazine programme, The Seven Thirty Show.
Presented by Tina and with Marc as roving reporter, the half-hour broadcast features culture, lifestyle, arts, entertainment and celebrity from across Northern Ireland.
“We really do get on the best. Marc is like my little brother,” laughs Tina. “We had a great time on Late & Live and I was delighted when I heard we would be working together again.
“And the response has been really positive,” she adds. “We come in each morning and viewers have emailed story ideas from all over the Province. It's great that people are getting involved with the programme — that's exactly what we hoped for.”
Having joined UTV only 18 months ago, Marc is still a relative new-boy to television, but he's fast becoming a familiar face to viewers.
“It's very surreal,” he says. “People are starting to come up to me in the weirdest of places, such as in the chippie when I'm ordering a fish supper,” he laughs. “I don't mind being approached at all because they are always so nice.”
Chatting to the pair it's clear their onscreen rapport is genuine and the conversation is full of jokes and good-natured teasing, especially when mum-of-three Tina, who is married to former head of music at Cool FM and Downtown John ‘Jippo’ Paul Ballantine, reveals that it's a strict routine and military-like organisation that allows her to combine a high-profile career and motherhood.
“She leaves all that organisation behind as soon as she comes in through the door at UTV,” quips Marc. “I don't have OCD, but I do like a bit of boundary between our desks and Tina's is like an explosion! And as for her notes — you would need a degree in Tina Campbellism to understand them,” he laughs.
“That's not true,” protests Tina, who has been with UTV for 15 years. “But no, I'm very lucky in that I only work three days a week, though even with that it's not easy. I have to have a strict routine — lunches made the night before, the kids’ clothes laid out, things like that.
“Jippo owns and runs a radio station in Alicante and although he has to spend one week a month in Spain, the rest of the time he works from home, which is great.”
Asked if there is any competition between the pair, Marc replies: “The only time there would be any rivalry would be if I did Strictly and Tina did Dancing on Ice. We'd both love to do those,” he laughs.
Prior to joining UTV, Marc (31) worked at Citybeat for 10 years, the last four of which he spent as news editor, but he reveals that had it not been for broadcast journalist Peter Sissons, his career might have been very different.
“I was born and grew up in north Belfast and went to Cabin College and then Campbell,” he says. “I've always been really into music, playing the piano and brass instruments and I studied music for my GCSEs. I was offered a scholarship to the School of Music, but never followed it through. As a young boy, I dreamed of taking over from Peter Sissons. I was a big fan and he inspired me to choose journalism as a career.
“After my exams, I decided to chase this mad dream of working in the media and went to Belfast Institute to do a course. After that, I worked voluntarily on hospital radio at the Royal Victoria and just hammered on the door of Citybeat, telling them that I would even make the tea, until they let me in. At the start, I worked voluntarily as most people who are serious about a career in the media have to do, before getting a paid job as a reporter.”
For Bangor-born Tina (38) journalism runs in the family and despite initially toying with the idea of becoming a primary school teacher, she decided to follow the Campbell tradition — with a little encouragement from Eamonn Holmes.
“My dad, Sam, who sadly died three years ago, my uncle and my grandad all worked for the Belfast Telegraph. Dad was a compositor, grandad was a reader and my uncle is the photographer Roy Smyth. My bother Gavin works in the media as well — in promotions at Downtown and Cool FM.
“When I was doing my A-Levels, I got a summer job at Downtown Radio, copy-taking, making the coffee and stuff like that. In those days they had big summer roadshows featuring Eamonn Holmes, Ronan Kelly, Ivan Martin, John Daly and all the big broadcasting names. I got talking to Eamonn and he asked me what I wanted to do. He advised that I get a degree first (which I did at Queen's) and then do the NCTJ course in journalism. He was really supportive.”
And Tina agrees with Marc that it takes a lot of determination and hard work (sometimes for no pay) to get a break.
“I first came to UTV for work experience while I was doing the journalism course and after that finished, I did a lot of work voluntarily at various places and worked as a freelance taking every paid-shift I could get.
“I remember working round the clock at the start. Getting up at four in the morning at home in Bangor to work on Good Morning Ulster and then rushing round to UTV to do a continuity shift, then going to my granny's in Belfast to sleep for an hour or two before coming back in the evening to read the news. It's takes a heck of a lot of hard work to get into the industry and you need to be really dedicated.”
Unlike Tina, none of Marc's family works in the media. “My mum, Denise, is a medical secretary at the Ulster Hospital.”
“So is my mum Myrtle!” exclaims Tina. “And my brother also went to Campbell — we've so much in common.”
“I've two younger sisters and they are not in the media either — they use it as a chance to wind me up, telling me that all I do for a living is read an autocue. But they know that this is something I've always wanted to do and the whole family has been really supportive.”
He may be the UTV new-boy, but Marc has certainly clocked up plenty of star encounters, both at the TV station and at Citybeat.
“I spent an amazing hour and a half with Sir Bob Geldof, who was fantastic. He started off being grumpy, but soon softened up. As expected, the air turned blue and I had to say, ‘Bob, this is for radio, if you can't answer the questions without cursing, I'm going to have to go back and bleep everything out'. Immediately, he started behaving himself and turned out to be a real joy and great fun.
“I also interviewed the former Labour Party leader Lord Kinnock, who was so nice, you could have asked him about anything.”
Tina's highlights include chatting to the princess of pop, Kylie Minogue.
“She was so lovely. She arrived off the plane in Belfast with no make-up on or anything and I approached her on the spot and asked her to do an interview for television there and then. Not many stars would agree to that.
“And I had a brilliant day covering the Mills/McCartney wedding for UTV Life. It was the first time that I had done a piece live into the studio and the whole media frenzy was unbelievable. I remember thinking, ‘this is a great job’.
“Not everyone is nice, though. Although very beautiful, Dynasty star Kate O'Mara was scary and so scathing about Joan Collins. Also, she seemed to look down her nose at me.”
When not hard at work, Tina, who lives on the Ards peninsula, spends all her time with Jippo and children Charlotte (9), Sophie (6) and Ben (2). But should the opportunity to do Strictly ever arise, she's determined to be well-prepared. “I really love dancing and have just started going back to classes at the Alan Clark studio — I'm trying to persuade Marc to come with me,” she laughs.
And although he may not have children, Marc who lives in Belfast with his partner, also has three little ones to look after.
“Yes, I've three young Shih Tzu dogs and I love them to bits,” he says. “I go home to feed them at lunchtime. I grew up with dogs and when I was living in an apartment that's what I really missed, so once I got a house, I had a dog before I even bought a sofa.”
He is also busy working with the Alzheimer's Society, developing the Mont Blanc Challenge Campaign which aims to raise £50,000 through a series of fundraising events and a gruelling mountain climb in 2010.
“My granny Bernie Reid, who was a well-known singer in her day — she was the Northern Irish version of Dame Vera Lynn — sadly died from the disease and my family and I want to raise awareness and also raise money to improve the level of care and support offered to people suffering from dementia.”
As well as family coincidences, Marc and Tina also share a passion for music, movies and books, with Marc citing Maria Carey, Star Wars and anything by Sam Bourne as his favourite singer, movie and writer. For Tina it's Terms of Endearment, Wuthering Heights and everything from Neil Diamond to Pixie Lott to Andrew Lloyd Weber as her film, book and music choices.
However, when it comes to their favourite place for a holiday in Northern Ireland, it's like talking to telepathic twins.
“I love the Fermanagh Lakes,” says Tina. “I'll see you there,” laughs Marc.
Maybe in a previous life, these two really were brother and sister.
The Seven Thirty Show, Thursdays UTV, 7.30pm