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From boats to votes ... the Trimbles on life and politics

As Daphne Trimble prepares to do election battle in Lagan Valley for the UUP, she talks to Karen Ireland about joining David in Westminster

At a time when many other couples their age are thinking about winding down and taking things a little slower, life has never been busier for Lord and Lady Trimble.

While David (65) is relishing his work in the House of Lords, Daphne (56) has decided she wants to have a role at Westminster in her own right as MP for Lagan Valley.

The seat is, of course, currently held by Jeffrey Donaldson, a former Trimble protege who famously absconded to the DUP at a critical time in the fall-out after the Belfast Agreement.

Naturally if Daphne could wrest the seat from Donaldson it would be a particularly sweet victory for the Trimbles.

Coupled with David’s recent return to prominence during the prolonged Hillsborough talks on policing and justice and his role as a bridge between the UUP and the Conservative Party leadership, the dynasty is far from dormant.

Daphne is emphatic. “We aren't quite ready to sail off into the sunset just yet,” she says, an allusion to their shared passion for navigating England’s canals in their barge.

But of that, more later. First, Daphne wants to discuss the forthcoming election, a subject she embraces with enthusiasm and excitement.

For someone who for years was a very visible support to her husband’s career and rise to high office as the first First Minister of Northern Ireland — a role at times not without considerable risk — she feels more than equipped to handle the rough and tumble of Ulster politics.

“I am more ready than I have ever been,” explains Daphne in her no nonsense, down to earth way.

“I feel I have been involved at some degree for all these years and now I want to be right there in the middle of things — helping to normalise politics in Northern Ireland.”

Daphne cut her political teeth running David’s constituency office in Upper Bann, so she is no stranger to the reality of day-to-day political representation.

She also brings her experience as a qualified solicitor — |she practised in the early days |of their marriage — to what |would certainly be a high profile career.

“What goes on in Westminster affects all of us here in Northern Ireland and I want to make sure local people are fairly represented and taken into consideration and that through me they would have a voice and a say in what goes on,” she says.

As a mum of four — Richard (27), Vicky (25), Nicholas (23) and Sarah (17) — she has formidable reserves of personal life experience to draw on. And with the youngest studying for A-Levels, she is ready to embark with a fresh energy on her new career.

“I've always been busy around the clock between family and work commitments,” explains Daphne, who like every working mother says she has tried full-time, part-time, split weeks and flexible hours in a bid to achieve the ideal home/work balance.

“I never did find the perfect solution if there even is such a thing,” she freely admits, striking a chord with many working mothers.

“But now with our youngest, Sarah, taking her A-Levels and hopefully about to head off to university the time felt right for a fresh challenge.”

The few years out of the limelight since her Nobel winning husband’s elevation to the peerage undoubtedly provided a welcome respite from the high pressure of politics. But it’s clear that was just a breathing space, not retirement, and Daphne is looking forward to being back in the public eye, somewhere she is completely at home.

With typical good humour she recalls one memorable moment from first time round. She was about to give birth to her youngest daughter, and this newspaper was determined to get the first photograph of proud parents and child.

“I was in labour and the paper kept phoning to see if Sarah had arrived as their deadline was approaching and they wanted the picture,” she remembers.

“It was hilarious. In the end Sarah kept everyone waiting and we missed the deadline and didn't make it into the paper until the following day.”

Daphne and David have been married for 32 years. They met when he was one of her lecturers at Queen’s University, Belfast, where she was studying law.

She jokes that everything was above board and nothing happened romantically between them until after she graduated. Only then, did David ask her out.

“Up until that point I just saw him as one of my lecturers ... albeit he was one of the nicer ones,” she points out.

We are chatting in their comfortable home and the living room that of a typical middle class home, piled high with books, CDs and a cabinet full of old LPs, which she says David, a huge Elvis fan, refuses to get rid of.

The couple share many interests, but perhaps the most unusual is their enthusiasm for mucking about on the river.

They are the proud owners of a 60ft narrow boat and love nothing better than a few days steering it along the English waterways. It is a pastime they took up in 2005, when David lost his Westminster seat.

Daphne explains: “When the children were younger we had holidayed in rented house boats, which is a massive leisure industry in England, and we found it a great experience and always talked about one day owning a boat of our own.

“That one day came when David lost his seat and we thought ‘Well if we are going to have time to do this, it's now or never’.”

Typically, though, with such a hectic lifestyle Daphne says time has never been on their side and those much-anticipated trips away have been rather limited.

“We get a few weekends during the year and maybe a couple of weeks in the summer and it isn't nearly as much as we would like,” she says.

“It is something we love to do. It is so relaxing. Really, it is a home from home and rather like being in a floating caravan.

“When we’re out on the boat it is the one time when we do chill out and just enjoy ourselves. David, of course, does most of the steering but I take my turn, too.”

Prior to deciding to run as the candidate for Lagan Valley, life for the Trimbles was already fast-paced, with David spending his working week in London, where he enjoys the challenges of the House of Lords.

“At least if I won the seat we would be in the same city and maybe get to see a bit more of each other,” says Daphne.

Plus, as well as working on her political career, Daphne also gives much of her time to her work with organisations such as the NI Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission and the NI Memorial Fund.

“All of these organisations are close to my heart and have helped me see what real people need and have given me an invaluable insight into the amount of work required to make this happen,” she says.

She is also the current chair of the Ulster Youth Orchestra, another of the couple’s shared passions.

Isn’t her schedule already rather packed without taking on further responsibilities and commitments?

Daphne thinks for a moment before answering: “Yes, life is incredibly busy and some may question why I would dream of taking anything else on.

“But I feel all the experience I have means I have a great deal to offer and I want to provide the voters with an alternative and the option to elect someone who is ready to take politics in Northern Ireland to the next level.

“I have a busy few months ahead as we get out there on the campaign trail and start canvassing but feedback has been very good and people have been very supportive.

“I have been very well received and, for me, meeting the people is what this is all about.”

So, will she be nervous the first time she is the one centre stage, waiting on the result of the count instead of cheering on loyally from the sidelines?

“Ask me that the following day,” she replies, albeit sounding very confident indeed.

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