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From Stephen Nolan to Uncle Hugo - Ulster celebrities share their experiences on being the only child

By Maureen Coleman

Published 10/04/2013

Yvette Shapiro
Yvette Shapiro
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 19th November 2012 - Picture by Jonathan Porter UTV presenter Yvette Shappiro pictured outside Clements coffee shop on Royal Avenue in Belfast City Centre.
Yvette Shapiro
Yvette Shapiro and daughter Cara during Runher
Cool FM DJ Pete Snodden with his parents.
Pete Snodden.
Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 16th September 2011 Mandatory Credit - Picture by Darren Kidd Pictured L-R are Pete Snodden, Ivana and Julia Snodden.
Hugo Duncan. Legendary Country star and Radio Ulster DJ, the Wee Man from Strabane.
Hugo Duncan
Singer and Radio Ulster presenter Hugo Duncan (56) is one of Northern Ireland's best-loved entertainers.
A bouncing baby Stephen Nolan.
Sunday Life's David O'Dornan interview with Stephen Nolan at BBC Broadcasting House. Pictures Mark McCormick 27/09/12
Stephen Nolan as a child. 'Always on the go'..
Stephen Nolan
A young Stephen Nolan.
Quizzed: Stephen Nolan was criticised by Gregory Campbell MLA
Stephen Nolan, back row second from left. Story by Ivan Little.
Stephen Nolan football card. Story by Ivan Little.
This undated handout reproduction photo made available by Maria Helena Bergoglio, shows Jorge Mario Bergoglio as a teenager, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio was elected pope March 13, 2013, making him the first pope ever from the Americas. Bergoglio, who was born in 1936, chose the name Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Bergoglio family photo)
Pope Francis I smiles to the waiting crowd from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica
In this undated photo courtesy of Sergio Rubin, family members of Argentine Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio pose for a portrait in an unknown location. Bergoglio's uncle Oscar Adrian Sivori, stands top left, mother Maria Regina Sivori stands top center, aunt Catalina Ester Sivori stands top right, uncle Vicente Francisco Sivori sits bottom left, grandfather Francisco Sivori Sturla sits second from left, grandmother Maria Gogna de Sivori, sitting second from right, and uncle Luis Juan Sivori, pose for a family portrait in an unknown location. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was named pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, making him the first pope ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sergio Rubin)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 19: Pope Francis attends his Inauguration Mass in St Peter's Square on March 19, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. The mass is being held in front of an expected crowd of up to one million pilgrims and faithful who have filled the square and the surrounding streets to see the former Cardinal of Buenos Aires officially take up his role as pontiff. Pope Francis' inauguration takes place in front of Cardinals and spiritual leaders as well as heads of state from around the world. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
In this picture taken in 1973 and released by journalist Sergio Rubin, then priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio, actual Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, posse for a picture. Bergoglio, who took the name of Pope Francis, was elected on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sergio Rubin, ho)
In this undated picture released by journalist Sergio Rubin, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, second from left in back row, poses for a picture with his family in an unknown location. Bergoglio, who took the name of Pope Francis, was elected on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Top row from left to right, his brother Alberto Horacio, Bergoglio, his brother Oscar Adrian and his sister Marta Regina. Bottom row from left to right, his sister Maria Elena, his mother Regina Maria Sivori and his father Mario Jose Bergoglio. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sergio Rubin, ho)
This early 1950's picture released by journalist Sergio Rubin, shows Jorge Mario Bergoglio, right, posing with unidentified schoolmates of a preparatory school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cardinal Bergoglio, who took the name of Pope Francis, was elected on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sergio Rubin, ho)
VATICAN Pope 57...Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)...I
This undated handout reproduction photo made available by Maria Helena Bergoglio, shows Jorge Mario Bergoglio, left, and his late brother Oscar, posing for a photo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio was elected pope March 13, 2013, making him the first pope ever from the Americas. Bergoglio, who was born in 1936, chose the name Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Bergoglio family photo)
In this undated photo courtesy of Sergio Rubin, Mario Jose Bergoglio, center, the father of Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio, not in picture, poses for a portrait with his father Juan Bergoglio, left, and his mother Magarita Vasallo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was named pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, making him the first pope ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sergio Rubin)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Taking off: Paddy Ashdown doing the high jump at Garth House School, Bangor in 1950
An Audience with Paddy Ashdown
Naomi Long: Alliance Party / Belfast Lord Mayor 2009. FAMILY PICTURES.
Naomi Long
Naomi Long: Alliance Party / Belfast Lord Mayor 2009. FAMILY PICTURES.
Naomi Long: Alliance Party / Belfast Lord Mayor 2009. FAMILY PICTURES.
Pat Convery replaces Naomi Long as lord mayor of Belfast
A young Rory McIlroy on holidays in Alcudia Spain.
That's my boy: Gerry McIlroy with three-year-old Rory
Rory McIlroy sporting a Nike cap aged 7
A portrait of Rory McIlroy in Holywood Colf Club in Co Down.
Rory McIlroy - golfer Rory is the man of the moment after having recently won the US open, his first major. Rory's win has gained him the position in the Official World Golf Ranking to a career high of number four.
Michael Bannon coaches a 10-year-old Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses for photographers with the championship trophy after the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Kiawah Island, S.C., Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland kisses the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 94th PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy smiles as he's unveiled as a new brand ambassador for Nike in Dubai on Monday
Young Alex Higgins front left.jpg
Alex Higgins
Young Alex Higgins front left.jpg
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend.
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. A familiar sights for snooker fans... Irish professional champion Alex Higgins wiping his cue with a towel during last night's title match against Dennis Taylor in the Ulster Hall. Higgins won the first session 7-2 in the 41 frame decider which is being presented by the 'Belfast Telegraph' and Kearney Promotions. (03/02/1978)
Alex Higgins. Snooker Legend. Oliver Reed and Alex Higgins. (December 1992)
Tommy McCaughran with Alex Higgins, George Best and Alex's father
Alex 'The Hurricane' Higgins.
Lara and Zoe Salmon
Zoe Salmon
Lara and Zoe Salmon
Zoe Salmon
Zoe Salmon
2010 Fate AwardsPictured Zoe Salmon
PACEMAKER BELFAST. Copy pics from the book about the early years of the life of Ian Paisley. 13/8/86.1197/86/bw14/11/2011 The Rev Ian Paisley has announced his retirement from preaching after 60 years. Mr Paisley who is 85 started way back in 1946
Pacamaker Archive BelfastRev Ian Paisley Wedding Day28-02-1991168-91-BW
PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/04/98 Rev Ian Paisley pictured on his weding day to wife Eileen Date unknown
Pictured in Crossgar on 17th March 1951 at the opening of the first Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster are L to R: Jack Gibson, George Hutton, Cecil Harvey, Rev Dr Ian Paisley, William Emerson, Rev George Stears (Minister Pro tem), James Morrison, George K Gibson, William Miscampbell and Hugh James Adams.
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. The early years of the life of the Rev Ian Paisley. 13/8/86.1197/86/bw
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness after being sworn in as ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembley, Stormont. May 8, 2007.
Ian Paisley has said he recovered quickly from pneumonia once he was released from hospital
Daniel O'Donnell
Young Daniel O'Donnel - what's that on top of the gate post?
Daniel O'Donnell: Irish Country Singer 1985
Daniel O'Donnell has said his 'greatest wish' is to appear on Coronation Street
Daniel O'Donnell: 'I have a very blessed life'
Jimmy Nesbitt and family during the Seventies
Jimmy Nesbitt - the cheeky grin being perfected at a young age
2. James Nesbitt
A young 14 year old Brendan Rodgers (circled) who played for Ballymena United (Northern Ireland) in the 1986 Milk Cup.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
A 14 year old Brendan Rodgers who played for Ballymena United (Northern Ireland) in the 1986 Milk Cup.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Liverpool Mamager Brendan Rodgers looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium on December 26, 2012, in Stoke-on-Trent, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Brendan Rodgers (circled) who played for Ballymena United (Northern Ireland) in the 1988 Milk Cup - sporting the shortest shorts in the team .... is Anfield in for a retro wardrobe makeover? PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers admits it will be difficult to land the players he wants in January
NADINE COYLE:Pop Stars Rival singer and member of girl band 'Girls Aloud',FRONT ROW SECOND FROM LEFT - THORNHILL COLLEGE YEAR BOOK 1996-97
Nadine Coyle
A bit grainy but there's no mistaking Nadine Coyle's smile at Thornhill College in 1996
Nadine Coyle
Nadine Coyle
Fresh-faced and with a remarkable career ahead of him - Van Morrison (second from left)
Angry Van Morrison approaches photographer Charles Cochroft, the only photgrapher to capture his arrival at Belfast International Airport. 30/6/1980
Van Morrison
Saddle up - a very young Gerry Adams
gerry adams
Gerry Adams
Darren Clarke back in 1985 as part of the Fred Daley Team
Darren Clarke back in 1985 as part of the Fred Daley Team
Darren Clarke 1985 in his Junior Ireland Blazer
Darren Clarke 1989
British Open Champion Darren Clarke at his local bar the Bayview Hotel with the Claret Jug
Darren Clarke back in 1985 as part of the Fred Daley Team
Darren Clarke
Eamonn Holmes, not quite in a party mood, at his fourth birthday party.
Eamonn Holmes:Tv Presenter/celebrating his fourth birthday at the family home on New Lodge Road
On ITV's Telethon in 1988. Eamonn stepped in at the last minute when original anchor Gerry Kelly, fell ill.
Eamonn Holmes
George Best pictured with other prefects at Lisnasharragh High School, Belfast, 1961. George is pictured second left, centre row.
George Best, centre, at Lisnasharragh High School in 1961.
FOOTBALL: GEORGE BEST. Football legend George Best with Eric McMordie - pictured in the Belfast Telegraph Sports dept-1961- before leaving to join Manchester Utd.
George Best
Liam Neeson ... can you spot the Ulster schoolboy who was destined for great things? Next picture solves the mystery.
Liam Neeson, pictured during his Ulster schooldays... centre of back row.
Liam Neeson
Hillsborough boys football team, 1970s. Vivan Campbell on bottom right
Vivian Campbell and Ricky Warwick of Thin Lizzy perform at the Best Buy Theater on March 25, 2011 in New York City.
Lembit Öpik, Liberal Democrats, as a schoolboy. Pictured in 1982 along with other Inst National Essay Winners. He attended Royal Belfast Academical Institution (1976-83).
Lembit Opik 2009.
Head girl Christine (17) at Bloomfield Collegiate School
Christine Bleakley
Schoolgirl Christine Bleakley Aged 6.
Christine Bleakley
Pamela Ballantine ... can you spot the Ulster schoolgirl who was destined to make her name on UTV? The mystery is solved later in this gallery.
Pamela Ballantine is pictured centre, front row, at Richmond Lodge School
Pamela Ballantine

With the number of single-child families on the increase, we ask four Northern Ireland celebrities to share their experiences of what it’s really like to grow up without any siblings

The number of one-child families in the UK is set to be in the majority within the next decade, according to a recent survey. Currently, nearly half of all families have just one child, an increase of almost 700,000 in 15 years.

But the Office for National Statistics believes this figure will rise in the next 10 years, citing childcare expenses and the cost of living as reasons for the decline in two or three children families.

In Northern Ireland, however, where families traditionally tend to be larger, the figure, is likely to be lower.

The Office for National Statistics said the conventional 2.4 children family was under pressure because of “the greater challenge of combining work with childcare with three or more children compared with one or two”.

Many families can no longer afford to have more than a single baby, with most mothers now having to go out to work to pay the bills.

In 1996 the ONS survey found that there were just over three million with a mother, father and one child — around 42% of all families with children.

Last year this had climbed to 3.7 million, or 47% of all families with children.

Some commentators have expressed concern that the deterioration of the traditional family may lead to a generation of “little emperors”, a phrase which originated in China, where the rule of one child for every couple is said to have produced millions of spoilt youngsters.

But leading family experts argue there is little proof of this.

Dr Terri Apter, of Cambridge University, said: “Though children do learn a great deal from siblings, and generally benefit from the co-operation and competition they practise on a daily basis among siblings, singletons also live in a world populated by other people, with whom they learn to

identify and with whom they have to compete and with whom they learn to share.”

We talk to four Northern Ireland celebrities about the perks and pitfalls of life as an only child.

Stephen Nolan (39), Radio Ulster and BBC presenter, grew up in Belfast with mum Audrey and his late father, Raymond. He says:

I’m very aware that as an only child, I got all the attention from my mum and dad. I remember when I was in my early to mid-teens, staying over at friends’ houses, meeting their parents and finding the whole concept of sharing that attention completely alien to me. I’d say that has followed me through to later life. I like to hold court, to be listened to. Mum tells a story of when I was a baby and this one night, I was shaking the cot, going ballistic. They’d always given in to me before but decided to let me scream and scream. So yeah, I like to be heard.

I do think being an only child and being used to that attention probably has influenced my career choice. I sit in a studio on my own, talking. I’ll give you an example, I did try co-presenting and I found that difficult. When I get a thought in my head, I like to drive it through. I prefer to do things my own way than as part of a team.

I was never a lonely child, though. Mum and Dad always made sure I went to Cubs or Beavers, so my schedule was always busy. I was always with them or around other people.

To be honest, if there’d been another child around, I think I would have probably been quite jealous. I would have hated coming down on Christmas morning with another kid there.

When I was very young mum told me I was lucky to be alive. She had lost two babies, one before and one after me, so I was always made to feel quite special. Maybe that’s why mum has done so much for me, has devoted every second of her life to me.

One of the downsides about being an only child, though, is that when you be

come the adult, you have to take responsibility for your parents yourself. That is a privilege. But if I’m away from home, which I will be four days a week, then I worry about mum. That’s when it would be nice to have a brother and sister.

Being an only child has made me very driven. The word I would probably use to describe myself is singular. That’s the way I approach life and I haven’t worked out if that’s a good or a bad thing. But when I get something in my head, I can be very blinkered. I think that’s a result of being an only child.

Losing my dad is another example of when I thought about what it would be like to have siblings. When he died, it was up to me, as the only son, to take responsibility and do the right thing. During his illness I think it might have been nice to have brothers and sisters around. It’s only dawning on me now that as a child, it was not important in my younger life, but as you get older, your priorities change. It might have been nice to have a brother or sister to be close to.

Pete Snodden (32), Cool FM presenter and DJ, is married to Julia and the couple have a two year old daughter, Ivana. He grew up in Bangor. He says:

I never really felt different from other children from bigger families as an only child. Growing up, it was just something I accepted, I didn’t know anything else, it was just my life. What you don’t have, you don’t miss, so it’s not something I questioned. I don’t think I ever asked my parents why I was an only child or if they would have another baby. It was the way things were and I was far from lonely.

I think being an only child actually strengthened my bond with my parents, if anything. I’ve always been close to them. And I always had friends who lived in my streets, the ones I’d run around with, play football with. When

I went to primary school and then secondary school, I had plenty of friends, many of whom I’m still close to. I may not have had siblings, but some of my friends are the closest things to brothers I could have.

And I have a brotherly bond with my dad Jackie. He was always into sport and we’d play football together and still play golf. It’s not like I don’t have anything in common with them. And I’m incredibly close to my mum as well. I know people who don’t get on that well with their parents or have little contact with them. I think that’s very sad.

Being an only child means you grow up a lot quicker too. I grew up in Bangor but went to Inst school. I used to travel up to Belfast by train at just 12 years of age, when there were soldiers around. But I loved it, that bit of independence. So I do think I was fairly mature for my age. My mum has always argued that I wasn’t a spoilt child. I was very well looked after, mind you. They would have given me the shirts off their backs. But I was certainly not a spoilt brat. I think I was very well brought up.

My mum and dad are 64 now and, of course, I think about the future. No-one wants to lose their parents. Thankfully both mine are very young at heart and I don’t see them as being in their mid-60s.

I know it is inevitable, though, that I will have to face losing them at some stage and I guess that will be the time when I miss having brothers and sisters to share my grief with. I try not to think about it too much, though.

In saying that, I have lots of cousins, aunts and uncles and, of course, a family of my own now. Our daughter Ivana is now two and Julia and I have talked about having a second child.

I think anyone who has children is very blessed. So yes, its definitely something we'd think about. And if it happens, that would be amazing.

Yvette Shapiro (47), former BBC journalist now UTV senior producer/presenter, is married to Michael and has a daughter, Cara (9). She says:

In a way it’s a real privilege being an only child. You get the full attention of your parents and more opportunities come your way, too. I think it can be a very positive thing growing up as an only child. That has been my experience anyway.

You tend to live inside your head quite a lot and learn to make your own entertainment. I enjoyed reading, art, anything that was creative really. I was an outgoing child, very friendly and not at all shy. I was also very independent.

It’s not always the case with only children, though. I’ve know some who can be too dependent on their parents and vice versa. Or parents who treat their only child like a little adult. I was never treated like that. I spent a lot of time in adult company and as a result, knew how to conduct myself around adults. I was brought up to be very respectful.

As a child I never asked why I had no brothers or sisters, I just accepted the fact. It was all I knew. I had friends who came from larger families with lots of siblings and could step in and out. It was great fun being with them, their homes were always boisterous and busy. But I wouldn’t have wished for that for myself.

I’ve seen a lot of competition between siblings, with some gaining a higher status within the family than others. You hear about the neglected middle child or the resented younger child, but I had nothing like that to deal with. I also had my own space, which was important to me.

I wasn’t spoiled, I was never allowed to be a ‘little emperor’ but I was showered with love and affection. I was never indulged though. Bad behaviour and rudeness would never have been tolerated.

I’m still very close to my mum Dorothy, which is maybe the legacy of being an only child. Funnily enough, mum was an only child, too. My daughter Cara has two grown-up step brothers, but in a way, she is like an only child. I see a lot of my childhood and characteristics in her. She is also very independent.

Also, as an only child you have no-one else to fight your corner, no back-up team or network. It toughens you up and makes you a self-starter. I was like that and so is Cara.

But it also makes you value friendships more and I always have to be wary to find opportunities for Cara to socialise and have fun with her friends. We do lots of things together but as

much as she loves being with her mum and dad, she lets us know, in no uncertain terms, when she wants to be off playing with other children.

To be honest, I’m not surprised more people are opting for one child families. It’s a combination of the economic climate and also that an increasing number of women are concentrating on their careers, marrying later and starting families later.

My mum is fit and healthy and she looks after Cara, which I think helps keep her young. I know we all have responsibility for our parents as they get older but it does not weigh heavily on my mind.

I do sometimes regret, though, that I didn’t have other children. Cara is always saying that she would love a wee sister, so I do feel a bit guilty. I never wanted a brother or sister, I was quite content as an only child. But Cara does feel the gap. She would love another partner-in-crime but fortunately she has a lot of friends.

Hugo Duncan (63), Radio Ulster presenter — aka the ‘Wee Man from Strabane’ — is married to Joan and they have one daughter, Suzanne, and four grandchildren, Jake (13), Katy Sue (11), Elly Mae (8) and Molly Jay (5). He says:

When I was growing up, I suppose I did wonder from time to time what it would be like to have brothers and sisters, but it wasn’t a conversation I ever had with my mum. I didn’t just come from a one-child family, I came from a one-parent family as well, there was just me and mum, and it’s just not something I ever questioned her about.

Sadly, when I got to that age of being a bit more inquisitive, mum passed away. But it wasn’t something I worried about. I was always on my own and was used to it. In ways it’s like being born without a limb. You never miss it if you didn’t have it to begin with. But of course there were times when I did wonder what it would be like to come from a larger family.

I might have been an only child but I was never lonely. Our house was an open house and we had great neighbours. There were always people just walking in and out the front door. At that time, your neighbours were more like your family. If anything happened mum, if she took sick, the neighbours would look after me.

If I said mum didn’t spoil me, I’d be lying. I was definitely spoiled. And I’d say I was probably a bit of a mummy’s boy. Because there was just the two of us we had a very close bond. When you are an only child all the love goes your way. However, you won’t be long in finding out that not everybody will treat you like that. When you go out into the big bad world you discover you’re not entitled to that level of love and attention.

When my mum died on April 16, 1970, it was very tough on me. That’s probably the one time I might have wished I had brothers and sisters to share the burden with. But I had just got married about two weeks beforehand, on April 2, so I had started a new life for myself and had something to live for or God knows where I would have ended up. Then my wife got pregnant and we had our daughter, Suzanne.

With my grandchildren I make sure to give them all the same amount of love and not to make any of them feel any

different. That’s something I watch out for all the time.

Coming from a single parent family I did wonder what it would be like to have a father as well. I also think that that made me more determined to get on and do well. Being an only child makes you want to succeed, but coming from a single parent family, especially back then, makes you want to prove yourself. It’s only been in recent years that I realise how tough things must have been for my mum and what she must have gone through.

Belfast Telegraph

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