Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

‘Uncle Ed’s funeral was a reminder to me that at its heart news is all about people and their stories’

BBC journalist Rachel Horne was caught in the limelight last year when Bishop Edward Daly died. She talks to Linda Stewart about growing up in Fermanagh and her career in London

By Linda Stewart

One of the surreal occasions in Rachel Horne's life took place on the day last year when her family laid their uncle Edward to rest. The BBC journalist tells me that to them he was just their uncle who would come to Fermanagh for dinner or go on holiday with them.

To the rest of the world he was Bishop Edward Daly, the clergyman who has taken his place in history after being captured in the iconic image waving a handkerchief over one of the victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre.

"It was really humbling to go to Derry and see how loved he was by the city and how much people had taken him into their hearts," she says.

But Rachel admits that growing up, she did have some sense of her uncle's role.

"He would come to us at the weekends and have dinner. And one night I was getting into bed and I switched on my little pink radio to listen to Radio Ulster - I was a news junkie even then - and the reports were coming through about the Greysteel attack," she says.

"They said Derry and I thought 'that's where Uncle Ed works - maybe I should go and tell them'. So I went downstairs and said 'You should listen to the radio' and they switched it on. And in five minutes he was away off up the road."

Rachel has been a BBC journalist ever since leaving university, best known for Newsround and now the business bulletins on the BBC News Channel, but she admits it was a strange experience to see the news from the other side at Bishop Daly's funeral.

"The thing that struck me that day was what it felt like to be the subject of the news rather than making it," she says.

"I'm so used to being on one side of the camera, telling the story - so to walk to the cathedral and see all the TV crews set up, cameras filming us as 'the family' and reporters milling around asking - very sympathetically - for interviews, getting a text from a friend at work to say he could see me sitting at the end of a pew in the News Channel headlines - it was a reminder that at its heart, news is about people and their stories, and that as a journalist my ultimate responsibility is to respect that, as it was respected for us that day," she says.

Rachel has worked for the BBC ever since leaving Cambridge University, including three and a half fondly remembered years on CBBC's Newsround before moving into business reporting on a variety of programmes.

But in the background, she is rearing sons Thomas (7), Barnaby (6) and Dara (4) in her Buckinghamshire home with her husband, comedian Alex Horne.

"I'd just like to enjoy where I am at the minute. I feel that when you are in your 20s there are lots of opportunities, lots of ambition and lots of double shifts," she says.

"But I took a year off when I had my first child, I took a year with my second and then I took two years with the third and then I only worked two days a week up until Christmas when I started doing three days.

"I feel like I've just got the balance now. That's enough time at home to enjoy the boys, yet I'm in work enough that I'm a part of it. It's difficult to get that balance."

The family live outside the M25, but at the last stop of the Metropolitan Line - ideal for commuting into London.

"The kids' primary school is surrounded by green fields, just as my primary school in Fermanagh was," Rachel says.

She describes her childhood in Co Fermanagh as "pretty idyllic".

"I grew up in the countryside in Lisnaskea on the shores of Lough Erne, opposite the Hare Krishna island," she says.

"I had a very happy childhood. I remember roaming the lake shores with my brother in the summer holidays with our two dogs."

Rachel grew up the youngest of three - her sister Suanne (43) is now a lecturer at Plymouth University and her brother Edward (38) is a radiologist in Antrim Area Hospital.

Both their parents were lawyers. Rachel's father Terry Gibson was one of the first Catholics in Northern Ireland to be appointed to the judiciary, which meant a slightly unusual childhood.

"He was more of a County Court Judge, but at the same time he was at one stage offered a promotion to move to Belfast and do more of the bigger cases," Rachel says.

"We had a family conference and decided it was not the decision for the family.

"It would have meant more police protection and that sort of thing, given what was happening in Northern Ireland at that point.

"We had bulletproof glass in the windows of the house and Dad would have had police protection at certain times. Sometimes, you would look up from the TV and there would be a soldier outside the window - they would come and have a wee check out of everything.

"But to me it was normal because it was like that ever since I was born and I never really noticed, to be honest. Nothing ever changed for me because it was always like that," she recalls.

Rachel mentions one memorable occasion when they heard a strange noise from the phone.

"We picked up the phone and the lines were dead and Dad had been told that if that ever happened, it could potentially mean there was a problem," she says.

Rachel went up with her father to his bedroom where he hauled out the huge radio that was used for contacting the security services in an emergency and he called through on it.

"As they asked was the family okay, the battery went dead, so he couldn't answer.

"We sat round the kitchen table and they told us something was going to happen now. And within a couple of minutes there were police cars driving up the driveway, a helicopter came in over the lake and landed in the field behind the house.

"The house was surrounded by police and Army and someone was waving a white handkerchief. And the dogs were jumping all over the soldiers and barking.

"It turned out dad had forgotten to charge the radio," she says.

"But it was okay - it was always just the way it was. No one ever passed any remarks."

Rachel went to St Ronan's PS in Lisnaskea and then Mount Lourdes in Enniskillen.

"I loved it, I made wonderful friends who I'm still in touch with, and apart from the blinding green blouse, I have great memories - the school ski trip to Bulgaria, the debate team, making a metal detector for technology GCSE which thankfully worked until five minutes after the examiner inspected it, some really engaging teachers who cared and went the extra mile," she says.

"The education I received there, not just in the classroom, helped me get to where I am today,.

"I was probably quite precocious, but my mum said I used to hide behind her skirts.

 I think as the youngest, you can be quietly confident. You watch and learn from everyone around you.

"I was quite outdoorsy - I used to go to Gortatole Outdoor Centre. You would stay in this leaky green canvas tent, you wouldn't wash your clothes for a week, but it was the best week of the year.

"Then I became a summer camp leader in summer after A-levels. It was so great for leadership and encouraging young people.

"I did a gap year, went to Vietnam and taught English for six months. Then I went to Corrymeela for six months as a volunteer."

Rachel studied law at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, but found the vocational side didn't appeal to her. She switched to a law and theology degree after first year.

"Law was very vocational and I didn't want to do that. I was a bit of a hippy at the time! I enjoyed the theory rather than the process - things like 'can computers sin', the Holocaust, New Testament Greek."

Rachel enjoyed her college days, becoming president of the Junior Common Room (JCR), captaining the college ladies rugby team, joining the college pool team - "I was always quite good between pint 1 and pint 2".

"I wrote a couple of articles for the university newspaper. I'd always enjoyed writing and I thought about journalism," she says.

She went on to study for a postgrad in Broadcast Journalism at City University and was called for an interview for a post on Newsround after sending her showreel.

"By the Christmas after I finished my post-grad, I had a job at Newsround as a reporter, which was fantastic," she says.

Rachel focused on the showbiz news, which was a heady mix of chart reporting, music and movie premieres, including interviewing the likes of Westlife and Reese Witherspoon and covering the Shrek premiere at Cannes.

"You'd be standing on the red carpet so much it almost stops being impressive. You've got to wear thick socks or your toes get cold," she advises.

That time in Newsround stood her in good stead for her later career covering the jargon-heavy business beat.

"How do you explain a missing child or a terror attack to a nine-year-old ? A mini person who is curious about the wider world, but who still takes a teddy to bed - where do you draw the line between telling them the truth and taking away their childhood?" she asks.

"Making news for children made me question every word spoken, every image used. I remember the morning of the Madrid train bombing standing in an edit suite with my producer, our runner and the director who we had called in as an extra set of eyes - we each took a quarter of the screen and watched the footage coming in.

"Our job was to make sure we didn't accidentally broadcast any victims or body parts," she says.

"Jargon was not allowed. It made me realise that there were so many concepts and acronyms that I thought I knew - but try and explain them to a nine-year- old and you realise just how little you understand what you're talking about."

Rachel moved into presenting business bulletins on the News Channel, 60 seconds on BBC3, the 7 o'clock news on the Radio 2 bulletins, the business slot on drivetime on Radio 2, the Money Programme and Working Lunch.

"If you'd asked me when I was 10 if I was interested in China's GDP, I would have looked at you, but now I do find it interesting," she says.

"Since the financial crisis and Northern Rock, business news has become a much more everyday part of people's lives and people need more information. It's my job to show people why it's relevant and how the figures work. It's explaining really what's behind the figures."

Rachel met her husband Alex at university where they studied in the same college.

"I saw him in Freshers Week and two years later he came to his senses and we got together at the end of second year," she says.

"We would have got together for exams and study periods, sitting in the library passing each other notes - it was very old-fashioned!

"He was doing comedy at university and kept doing it afterwards and started to make some money. He's been doing it ever since.

"Alex has just been nominated for a BAFTA. It's for Taskmaster on Dave and they are nominated in the comedy and comedy entertainment programme section.

"He came up with the concept for the show, is in it and produces it. I'm enormously proud of him and also very excited about going to the BAFTAs and getting a goody bag!".

However, Rachel says she can't see them working together. "I don't know how we would sort out the childcare! I wouldn't say no, but I don't see it. I just like to enjoy where I am at the minute," she says.

Rachel says she always thought she would go back to Northern Ireland - but it wasn't to be.

"I always hoped to go back and do the local news at BBC NI, but with Alex's job he would have had to travel to London for a couple of days a week and we just don't want that. It's not practical. We didn't want a situation where he would be away a couple of days a week. We've just been to Portugal for a week with both my parents and everybody is coming to us next month.

"We try to meet up as much as we can. It gets hard with the kids, with schools and clubs and birthday parties, all that sort of thing - but we see them every six or eight weeks."

Rachel says her hobbies include reading - she's in a book group - but with three boys, her main pastime is sitting down for five minutes.

"Chesham reminds me a bit of home - it's surrounded by green fields and you can't walk down the high street without being stopped by at least three people you know. This week we have just got a part-time nanny for the first time and I think it's going to make life so much easier. Before we had the boys, I used to go to all of Alex's gigs - now I'm more likely to watch him on TV. I'm so proud of all that he's achieved - he's worked hard and is a genuinely good, kind person, and of course I think he's hilarious."

Rachel says she doesn't really have any regrets in life.

"I always want to make sure I make enough time for family.

"I guess not going back to Northern Ireland is... not a regret because I love what I am doing, but I am sad that we can't be in Northern Ireland," she says.

"But spending time with family and friends is the most important thing.

"Three days a week works well and gives me the adrenalin from work.

"I love using that part of my brain but I love stepping away, being mum and being with the kids."

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