Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

No host as sweet as Candy Devine

Happy memories: Candy Devine with husband Don
Happy memories: Candy Devine with husband Don

There was much consternation on Sunday Sequins – Radio Ulster's right-on religious affairs show – when it came to the paper review and a story about a famous Northern Ireland radio personality deciding to leave the country for good.

Could it be the increasingly in-demand Nolan? Had he finally abandoned the febrile atmosphere of Broadcasting House in Ormeau Avenue and headed to Blighty for good, taking his big suitcase of awards with him?

Actually no. In a strange way, it was an even greater sensation. For Candy Devine, an institution no less, is to take her leave of us.

Come the autumn, and after almost four decades here, Candy will depart these shores to return to her native Australia.

It's the natural order of things, I suppose – her beloved husband Don died last year and she has two sons Down Under whom she wishes to be nearer.

But it's a loss all the same. A beautiful singer and top cabaret act, Candy won an even greater army of fans when she became Downtown Radio's first signing in 1976. Back then, she was also the first visible black person in the culture of Northern Ireland, and probably the only one in all of Ireland who had a public role.

I discovered her properly in my student days in the 90s when her late-night show had acquired cult status. My flatmate and I would lie awake late into the night, our ears locked on the one tinny radio on the landing outside our rooms, listening to those desperate callers ringing Candy to discuss the bleakest of situations. Broken relationships, addictions, loneliness, despair ... whispering down phone lines right across the wee province, they all made their way to Candy's door

For all our worldly veneer, we were too young to know that much of life, so we'd eavesdrop on this strange and frightening world of heartache, always with the reassurance that at one's lowest ebb, there would still be one friend to turn to.

Candy's mellifluous, sometimes husky, tones floated out through the darkness, filling the void with warmth, intimacy and kindness, taking the edge off what could be a fairly nasty place to grow up. In many ways, that kind of companionship is what radio is still all about.

Is there anyone fulfilling that very specific role on radio here today? Sadly, I don't think so.

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