She faces a 120-mile commute to and from her hectic BBC job every day, but presenter Sarah Travers tells Audrey Watson how she still manages to put her young family first
Combining family life with a 120-mile round trip to work four days a week is a tall order for any woman but Newsline presenter Sarah Travers takes it all in her stride.
While most of us are still fast asleep, the mum-of-two is on the road, driving from her Portstewart home to the BBC studios in Belfast where, as well as keeping us up-to-date with what's happening across the province, she also fronts the weekly Family Focus segment of the programme on Thursday evenings.
“I've been doing it for so long now [almost 11 years] it's second nature,” says Sarah of the early starts.
“My husband Stephen is wonderful. He works mostly from home and does a lot of the picking up and dropping off. And my parents who live nearby help out as well, plus I have a childminder, so I'm incredibly lucky to have a fantastic support network.
“Also, as Stephen is a brilliant cook I never have to worry about what to make for tea. Sometimes it's like Ready Steady Cook in our house — I suggest a few ingredients and he puts them together and comes up with something wonderful, whereas I would need step-by-step instructions,” she laughs.
Like a lot of women Sarah, who began her career freelancing for Radio Foyle in 1995, admits to suffering plenty of ‘working mum guilt' while balancing family life with a demanding career.
“I had my son Jack when I was just starting out at the BBC and it was very difficult. When I look back I don't know how I coped. But you do what you have to do at the time and I'm sure many working mums feel the same way.
“After my daughter Evie Rose was born six years ago, I was back on air when she was only three-and-a-half months old and I found that a real struggle. I felt very bad because I knew I would never get that time back. But knowing that the two of them were happy and well looked after helped a lot.
“It's interesting because now Jack is 12, I can talk to him about it and he gives me very positive feedback. I've asked him if he wished I had been there more and was like other mums who were able to be at all the school functions etc, and he said that, while he did on one hand, he's also very proud of me and happy that I do what I do.
“When the children were younger they weren't interested at all in my job or impressed by the fact that I was on TV but now they're both quite excited by it and love to coming in to the BBC and seeing what I do.
“Jack has already expressed an interest in becoming a camera man and Evie has been in the studio, sitting in the newsreader's chair and shuffling papers.
“Living so far away from Belfast has its disadvantages but I had such a wonderful childhood growing up in Portstewart and playing outside and on the beach that I really wanted the same for my own children.
“However, outside of work, it's strictly family time. We're not big on going out although we love eating in nice restaurants, but the kids always come too.”
And when Sarah and Stephen went on honeymoon after getting married earlier this year, Jack, Evie and the entire family went along as well.
“We had a two-week honeymoon ‘en famille' in Donegal,” she laughs. “Jack, Evie, my mum and dad, my sister and her husband and their little girl came too. Though Stephen and I did manage to get a weekend away, just the two of us, later on in the summer.”
The couple have been together for 14 years and Sarah reveals that when she first met Stephen, who is a journalist and lecturer at the Causeway Institute and also an acclaimed author (Monkey Man, The Christmas Club with a new book Darling Sweetheart out later this month ), the pair didn't see eye to eye.
Sarah says: “I met Stephen when I was at Radio Foyle and he was a producer with the station. We didn't get on at all and only got together when we stopped working together.
“This year just felt like the right time to get married. We always knew that it was something we wanted to do at some stage.
“There has been illness in both our families recently. My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which was a big blow as he was only 62. I always wanted my dad to give me away, so that brought things forward and we decided it was the right time to get everybody together and have a nice big party with the children and all our relations and friends.”
When it comes to her career, Sarah, who attended Dominican College in Portstewart before gaining a degree in Broadcast Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, credits her parents and particularly her mum for her success.
“Mum and dad were very hard-working people from a working-class background [Sarah's grandfather set up the Sperrin Textiles factory in Coleraine] and really supported and encouraged myself and my sister [who is now a haematologist working in Glasgow] to do well.
“Mum was always very keen that we would not be just housewives and that we would also have careers.
“I was the first Travers to go to university and while studying worked as a runner on the breakfast show on BBC Radio Nottingham. I also put out the late news on Central TV. My course was very hands-on and I was always working away, which was great as I earned a few pennies at the same time as learning the trade.
“It was mum who just before my finals decided it was time I started looking for a proper job and spotted an advert in the local paper from BBC Radio Foyle for their freelance register.
“At that stage, I hadn't considered returning home and was quite happy doing bits and bobs in the East Midlands where I had built up some great contacts, but I came back for the interview anyway and got lucky.
“The station manager at the time followed up the interview with a phone call asking if I would be interested in presenting as they had a gap in their schedule for a Sunday round-table discussion programme.
“There was no way I could turn down an opportunity like that, so that was me back home, working away. And, of course, that's where I met Stephen.
“When I look back now, I marvel at how fortunate I was because I know it doesn't happen like that for everybody.
“All that support wasn't wasted. Mum had a grand plan,” she laughs. “And she got me back home too.”
After its summer break, Family Focus is now back in its Thursday night Newsline slot and Sarah admits that coming up with topics that are different and relevant to families across Northern Ireland every week can sometimes be a challenge.
“Family Focus has been going for six years and it can be quite difficult to come up with something new, but I love it — it's an exciting challenge. And we get tremendous input and feedback from viewers.
“I feel very privileged to be able to see how other people live their lives and the difficulties and constraints they face, particularly families with disabilities.
“For a short period of time you get a glimpse into other people's everyday lives and it's very humbling.
“So many people I've met have come through so much and are still fighting the system to get what they need and deserve.
“One of the stories that really affected me was little Erin Nicks from Whitecross, Co Armagh, who in 2005, at only eight months old needed a life-saving liver transplant that, thankfully, she eventually got.
“I often think of her and I know she's had a few setbacks since then and subsequently underwent another transplant in 2007.
“That family's whole life was put on hold and thrown into turmoil while they waited for a suitable organ and when people ask me how I juggle things, compared to what the Nicks family have gone through, my life isn't difficult at all.”