BBC's John Simpson reveals love for Belfast and Morrison's music
BBC war correspondent John Simpson, who returned to Northern Ireland for a holiday last week, has called Belfast the most underrated big city in the UK.
Simpson also revealed that he went to a concert by Sir Van Morrison during the visit and laughed off suggestions that the Belfast singer was grumpy, and even allowed his wife to kiss him.
Award-winning journalist Simpson (73) was a regular visitor to Northern Ireland through the worst of the Troubles.
He said his time in Ireland was the "making of my professional career".
But the BBC's World Affairs editor, who has a house in the Dublin suberb of Dalkey, said his latest trip north was a "pure holiday".
He also said he had spent a "delightful few days" in Belfast, which he described as charming and attractive, adding that it had been totally transformed since the Troubles.
"It's the most underrated city in the UK," he said.
Simpson, who has covered wars all over the world and who was injured in a US 'friendly fire' attack in northern Iraq in April 2003, took to Twitter to praise the city and Ulster hospitality.
He also said he and his South African-born TV producer wife Dee Kruger had travelled to Newcastle to see Morrison in concert at the Slieve Donard Hotel.
Simpson posted a picture of him and Dee meeting Van before the show, which was attended by 350 fans from across the globe paying up to £300 a head.
Simpson, who has spoken in the past of his run-ins with the Rev Ian Paisley and of threats from republicans, was asked in a tweet if Morrison had managed to muster a smile for him and his wife.
Simpson replied: "Oh he did. And he let Dee kiss him."
Fellow BBC journalist Joe Lynam asked if Van had been grumpy but Simpson tweeted: "Not at all Joe - maybe he's mellowed like me."
He said he thought Van was a "nice guy", adding that he was "very shy, very intense and hugely intelligent".
As for the music, Simpson who once sparked a bomb alert in Londonderry by leaving a "suspicious" package of books on his car roof, said the gig by the "incomparable" singer had been "fantastic and unforgettable".
He also congratulated the hotel for hosting the concert and said his favourite songs were Brown Eyed Girl, Gloria and Days Like This.
Asked if he'd done any hiking in the Mourne Mountains, Simpson replied: "No time, alas. But we saw them when the clouds lifted."