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Home Life Weekend

How our mothers helped us to the very top

On the eve of Mothers' Day three Northern Ireland women tell Linda Stewart how their mums have played a pivotal role in their lives and developing careers

By Linda Stewart

BBC newsreader Tara Mills is married to BBC cameraman Danny and has two children, Daniel (10) and Aimee (9). Her mum Pat is a retired PA and her dad Richard is a retired teacher. Tara's sister Pamela is a drama and English teacher and her late brother Richard was a press photographer for The Times. She says:

I can just imagine my mum rolling her eyes when she reads this, but she is amazing. She worked full time when I was growing up and set an example to me about hard work that has always motivated me throughout school, university and work.

It's only now that I have children myself that I realise how difficult it is to try to juggle everything. She did it without ever complaining.

A lot of my friends worry about working and missing out on time with children, but I couldn't be closer to my mum and I'm so proud of how hard she worked for us. I never once felt disadvantaged by that - quite the opposite.

My mum and dad were strict by today's standards but they were always fair. If there were any disagreements between my brother, sister and me we would always be encouraged to negotiate and try to sort it out and never let bad feelings linger.

She has always been incredibly thoughtful. She puts so much effort into birthdays and Christmas, making the whole day special. When I lived in Glasgow after university she'd send me a local paper every Friday and write letters. That sounds strange now but that was before the internet and email. It was a lovely link from home and I loved it when she came over to visit. She did that with my brother too and sent him Tayto Cheese and Onion crisps on a regular basis.

My mum is really funny and we have a lot of family sayings about things she has said and done over the years. I remember going on my first school trip in P7 to Cabra Towers and when I arrived she'd secretly hidden all these treats in my case.

We've always been close and after my daughter was born she came over every single day to help me with my son who was just over 18 months. I honestly don't know how I would have coped through those early weeks without her. She's still helping me out. My children adore her and she's the best granny, too. Granny and Grandad do a lot of looking after the children.

I see her every week and we always have Sunday dinner together. The best times nowadays are actually when we go on an all too rare trip away together.

My mum, sister Pamela and I love nothing more than a weekend away to recharge the batteries. We've been to Bath a couple of times. We've also been to New York and Cyprus on family holidays when we were all together. Those trips hold very special memories for all of us.

I moved house recently and we're looking forward to spending more time together now the weather is getting better.

We've always been a very close family but we're easily pleased - with the pace of life these days there's nothing quite like pressing pause and sitting chatting and catching up on what we've been up to. That is if my children ever let us get a word in edgeways."

Pat Mills says:

I was born in Belfast and after training in secretarial school I worked in the NI Civil Service. When I married, my husband and I moved to Enniskillen where I continued with office work in a motor garage. We moved back to Belfast in 1967 and again I worked in the office of a large insurance company as PA to the manager.

Tara was the third of our three children and was born in Belfast. She was a model daughter. She worked hard at her studies throughout her childhood. She was interested in drama and ballroom dancing - hobbies which she pursued with vigour.

Tara qualified for grammar school and attended Richmond Lodge/Victoria College. She always studied hard and got a place at the Ulster University at Jordanstown where she attained her BA degree in Politics & Political Science. Post Graduation she attended a course in journalism.

During her time at senior school and at university, she got part-time work in a large clothing store in Belfast where she rose to the role of supervisor.

After some voluntary work at Belfast Community Radio and a full-time reporter's post with the Bangor Spectator, she attained a post in Glasgow with Radio Clyde. Judging from reports we received from her various line-managers in all her posts, we had no doubt that Tara would succeed in anything she undertook.

As a family we have always been very close with all members supporting and encouraging each other. Now that Tara has two delightful children of her own I am able to support her with obvious "granny-duties" which facilitate her shift patterns.

Our relationship is rock-solid. As a family we meet every Sunday for a family dinner and take turns as hostesses with rotation between Tara, her sister Pamela and myself.

Obviously with age our relationship has developed from mother/daughter to become a solid friendship.

With retirement from a working life I have much more time to devote to our extended family and am thus in a position to support her interests.

We are in daily contact and often meet up for coffee or a shopping spree. Anniversaries like Christmas, Easter and, of course, birthdays are important family occasions in all our lives. We have also had full family holidays in the US, France and naturally Northern Ireland."

Style blogger and Victoria Square marketing assistant Gemma Louise Bond (25) lives with her mum Angela McClurg (59), Specsavers manager, in Newtownabbey. They say Gemma's granny, retired home help Mary McClurg (78), has been another parent to Gemma. She says:

By day, I'm a marketing assistant at Victoria Square - by night, I blog as That Belfast Girl and I sing in Belfast Community Gospel Choir. I'd always wanted to be a teacher and I went to Queen's University, Belfast, where I did an undergraduate degree in politics and then a PGCE at Queen's in history and politics - so I am a qualified teacher who doesn't teach. After my PGCE I did a Masters in advertising and communication at the Ulster University.

My mum had me when she was 24, but by the time she was 26 she was a single parent.

In the Nineties when I was at primary school, I was the only child in the class who had separated parents - so it's always just been me and my mum.

It was only when I was older that I appreciated how much my mum had to sacrifice to get me to where I am now. She worked in retail all my life and is now a manager at Specsavers - she has a real passion for it.

She really loves older people - she's so caring. And she is really passionate about the danger of glaucoma and screening for it, which is really random.

She's probably quite like myself. When she's at home with me, we are quite quiet, but if she's at work or I am at work or out with family, we are really outgoing and bubbly.

We really enjoy doing normal things, like going shopping and going for lunch. When I was 18 she took me to Las Vegas to see Bette Midler and for my 21st birthday we went to New York.

Going to Las Vegas was amazing and I have so many good memories of that trip. It was one of those things you couldn't do until you are older.

When I was younger I probably spent a lot of time with my grandmother because my mum worked so hard when I was growing up. At one point she had two jobs.

My grandmother is a huge part of both our lives.

She has been like another parent to me as I was growing up and a huge support to both of us. I wouldn't have been able to go to grammar school if it hadn't been for her.

When I was 19, I was about to go into my second year at Queen's and I was waiting to get a hip replacement, so I was really anxious. I had a slipped femur which is really common in kids who grow really quickly. Between 14 and 19 my hip basically died.

After I had the hip operation, I had a pretty tough time with anxiety and depression. It was pretty bad time, as you can imagine it would be if you got a hip replacement at 19.

I started to blog to keep my mind busy. I'd always been the friend that everybody came to for beauty advice and fashion advice, and I thought I would do this for two months. I would write about what I was buying and what I had been up to.

During my recuperation blogging turned out to be very therapeutic. I felt a bit lost. While all my friends were out partying and raking I was cooped up at home alone. I was feeling a bit out of it and not really like I was 19 and should be enjoying myself. I was able to stay at home and focus on the blog. As it turned out, if I didn't have the blog I wouldn't be doing what I do now.

Mum and I would be very bat and ball. There have been points where I have been sick and Mum had to do everything and there were points when she has been sick and I had to do everything.

When you have that sort of bat and ball relationship you really appreciate what someone does for you because you can see it at first hand.

The amount she's had to sacrifice and the amount of work she has had to do has been incredible."

'During the past election she kept all my staff fed and watered'

East Londonderry Independent MLA and former Justice Minister Claire Sugden (30) lives in Castlerock with her fiance, college lecturer Andrew Anderson (34). She speaks to her mum Elizabeth (65) on the phone every day. She says:

My mum has always looked after children - as well as her own family, she was a childminder for a number of years. She is a very motherly type of figure, always in the house tidying and baking. She's just a wonderful person and she's always been my traditional mummy.

She always likes to be helping out and doing things. She complains about it, but in a nice way - she has so much energy.

I moved in with my fiance coming up to three years ago, but it's always nice to go home and be looked after. My mum runs and makes a sandwich and a cup of tea when I arrive at the house.

During the election she kept my campaign staff fed and watered - she would make buns for them. At Christmas we would go to the post office every year and she would make mince pies and shortbread for the postmen. You are talking about 100 buns every time.

She likes to do nice things, as all mummies do. We speak to each other every day. Any nice wee thing I see, I get it for her.

We don't get to go out very often - if we do it usually would be a day trip up to Belfast or a visit to the Merchant Hotel in the city.

Mum is my biggest fan. She campaigned for me tirelessly before and after the elections.

I don't know if any of us thought I would become a politician when I was growing up. I was interested in politics, but it was only when I began working for Independent Unionist MLA David McClarty that the idea of it becoming my career took root.

I worked for him for six years before he passed away and then I was thrown in at the deep end. He had left my name with the electoral register (as a replacement MLA for his seat) and I only found that out after his death. I spent two years working in that role before standing for election.

My family have been very good. If they have been overwhelmed by it they haven't shown it - they have been very supportive.

My sister's husband was paralysed in a motorcycle accident last year. I became Justice Minister within a week and it was a tough time for the family. My profile was raised and the accident attracted a lot of media interest.

For me it was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life. It wasn't anything that I was expecting - for two years I had been working hard as an MLA and the focus was on getting elected again to serve my constituency. You don't stand as an MLA expecting to be Justice Minister. The press attention when I was appointed was quite difficult and it wasn't something I was used to.

My parents have seen me on TV a lot more often than when I was just an ordinary MLA. They've enjoyed the experience. It's always a nice thing to hear lovely things about your daughter, although people don't always say nice things and that can be difficult to adjust to as well. But they understand the role and they know what comes with it."

Elizabeth says:

Claire is the baby of the family - we have Eleanor, Andrea, Caroline, William and Claire. She was a very, very quiet child, very good at school and always top of the class, even in primary school. She always did her homework - very, very good, we had no bother with her.

She was very good at school and mixed with everybody. She was an avid reader and enjoyed finding out about a wide range of things - you couldn't argue with her.

We are very proud of her and of what she's achieved. She always liked politics and she went in to see David McClarty and asked if she could come in after school to do work in his office. David was a very good mentor to her and she enjoyed working for him.

We didn't think that David was going to pass away so quickly. He must have made arrangements that when he went she should take over from him. Everybody says to us 'she helps the people, she's for everybody and she gets the things done'. That is the kind of person she is. She would have always argued and she wouldn't have taken no for an answer.

I don't know what will happen if the parties form a new government at Stormont. I think Claire would like to finish the job, which she was good at. Whatever she wants us to do, we do. Her father is in her office today answering the phone and taking names while she's doing something else. When he was out canvassing, he was going to give someone a leaflet and that lady said 'don't give me a leaflet - I'm already voting for her'.

Since Claire has been Justice Minister we wouldn't see her as much - she's even working on Sundays. But we understand too that she's busy and that is her job. We back her very much - we wouldn't interfere and we understand if we can't see her.

If we did go up to visit her and she was busy, we simply say 'well, we'll see you later'.

She seemed to be able to do the two jobs of constituency MLA and Justice Minister. She's very level headed. I don't really ask much about her work - we wouldn't really want to delve into the things she is doing. But what people are saying is that she has helped them with problems and that she was doing something positive.

She coping fine. I know she loves the job and it's what she's always wanted to do."

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