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Me and my first car: How NI stars got into right gear

With young people here getting the keys to their first car at Christmas, Alison Fleming catches up with five well-known NI personalities who talk fondly about their first set of wheels

William Humphrey (50), DUP MLA for north Belfast, lives in Woodvale. He says:

My first car was an 1989 white Seat Ibiza which I bought at the time for about £2,500.

I passed my test when I was 23 and remember worrying about what it was going to cost to insure the car because I lived in north Belfast - it was about £800 at the time.

I bought the car from Agnew Autoexchange in Ladas Drive, east Belfast, and didn't have any ambitious trips lined up - I just wanted to get home in one piece as it was the first time I had driven alone and was very nervous.

It was a great feeling to pass my test and own my own car because of the sense of freedom it gives you.

The roads of Ulster are your oyster but I was just glad to get home in one piece for my first outing. At the time I was working in the chemical industry and was office-based so I drove the Seat for about four years, before I was given a company Volvo to drive.

My dad, Willie, bought the Seat and it was a great wee car which ran well and never gave us any trouble.

I spotted it several years later in east Belfast after my dad had sold it. I remember the registration number because it was my first car and have very fond memories of it.

Once I got my confidence up driving I took the car everywhere - up the north coast, the Ards peninsula and Co Fermanagh.

I even went to the site of the Boyne one year in it.

The Seat at that time had a Porsche engine so it was - and is - the nearest I have ever come to driving a Porsche.

The picture I have of myself with the Seat is in my old street with the terraced house which are no longer there.

You can see me in an Eighties retro Northern Ireland shirt - and it is me, believe it or not."

BBC presenter Lynette Fay (40) is from Dungannon. She says:

My first car was a wee blue Rover that I got off my mum - I can't remember what model it was.

I got it after I passed my test when I was 26, and up until then I wasn't really bothered about driving. I'd been to university in Galway and didn't need a car as I had a bike, then I went to Edinburgh and I didn't need one there either.

I just got so used to travel on buses and I was happy enough to use public transport.

My dad taught me how to drive very well, and when it came to doing my test it was rocky, but there was such a look of relief on his face that day. I think he'd had enough.

I was 26 and had been living in Belfast for three years when I got the car, and working at the BBC. Everyone always talked about Bangor and Carrickfergus, and being from the west of Northern Ireland I had no idea where these places where or what they were like.

So, I took myself off to Carrickfergus first, and then Bangor to see what the fuss was about, so I was able to tick them off my list of places to see. To say I was underwhelmed was an understatement.

They weren't what I was expecting, but I do remember going out to Whitehead and thinking it was beautiful. The car changed my life completely and 14 years later I'm never out of the car.

Last week I went to call round friends everywhere from Armagh to Derry, deepest darkest Tyrone, up the Mournes and across to Donegal and then Dublin. I drive everywhere now."

Broadcaster Pamela Ballantine (58), from Belfast, hosts UTV Life, Friday 8pm. She says:

I was 18 when I passed my test, after I took lessons while I was at school in England. It meant I could only have the lessons at night and it was winter, with the school halfway up a mountain - so I'm brilliant at hill starts.

My first car was a second-hand Mini Clubman and its reg was DIW 1239, which I bought myself in my early twenties when I started working at Downtown.

A lot of my friends had been bought cars by their parents and I was feeling hard done by until my parents pointed out that until I could afford to run a car there was no point in having one.

It was a tomato soup red colour and I called it Stanley after Stanley Baxter, Baxters tomato soup. I can't remember how much it cost but I remember trying to insure it which was almost the same price as the car.

Before I bought it I had lost my licence for speeding in the days before the points system, and I was done for doing 60mph on a dual carriageway with a 40mph limit.

The magistrate was making an example of young speeders at the time, so I lost my licence for three months and was fined £50.

It was fantastic to have my own car because up until then I'd had to borrow mum's, and I used to drive the guys at Downtown if they were going out, and they'd give me their cars to take home for the weekend because they wouldn't be able to drive them.

I drove everywhere in my Mini, up and down to Dublin and to horse shows across Northern Ireland, but they had a bad reputation, and a lot of problems.

The first day I drove into Downtown, all proud of myself, I parked the car and the exhaust promptly fell off.

Any time it rained, Minis had a habit of stopping, so I remember breaking down in numerous places and me having to knock on people's doors to get someone to come and help me."

Q Radio Breakfast Show co-host host Stephen Clements (45), from Carrickfergus, is married to Natasha and they have two children, Poppy (7) and Robbie (3). He says:

Iwas 17 when I passed my test, after my dad taught me in one day. He took me up to Duncrue Industrial Estate, bought every single Sunday newspaper and sat and read them all and let me learn myself.

Every time I looked down at the gear stick, he'd slap me on the bottom of the chin. I'd never driven a car before in my life, but I drove home from Duncrue via the back roads, up by Knockagh to Carrickfergus, and then took my mum out, then passed my test a couple of months later.

My first car was a Mini, but not one of the trendy ones. It was really old-fashioned and was white with a black roof which cost me £500. I think I was about 22 when I bought it from a guy in Lurgan after seeing an ad in Autotrader.

This was back in the days when you would have just rocked up with a bag of cash and they handed you the keys. I remember driving it home, and I could see my friend who had driven me down to collect the car laughing at me.

I'm over six foot, and he said me driving the Mini was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. It wasn't until years later when I was getting my next car and I followed him down in the Mini that I realised what he was laughing about because men just look ridiculous in them.

It was the coolest wee car though. It had a fold-back roof, but when it rained heavily it leaked so you had to have a cloth to mop up the rain when it came in.

I also kept a blanket because it was so cold in the morning, and the engine took ages to heat up.

You felt like Rockefeller, as it was rare for anyone to have their own car. There was no such thing as credit at that age so you had to save up and buy it.

No one had nice cars, and one of my mates at school had saved up to buy a royal blue Lada, and whenever it rusted he touched it up with household paint.

The reason I changed the Mini was because I was doing quite well in my job selling conservatories, but before I sold it I used to go up and down to Dublin three times a week in the Mini with no issues at all.

I eventually gave it to mum, who christened it Marvin."

U105 Breakfast Show host Maurice Jay (49) lives in Holywood and has two sons Evan (10) and Riley (9). He says:

I passed my test when I was 19 after a few lessons with an instructor. I passed first time, but there was no theory test back then which definitely helped.

My first car was a blue Mini which cost £400 which I bought just before I passed my test. I'd just started to DJ so I saved up for it, and I think it cost three or four wage packets.

I got it from the classifieds in the Belfast Telegraph and painted it purple on the inside, because that would have been at the height of my purple fixation with Prince.

I got a spray can of purple paint and sprayed all the interior metal, but about five or six months after getting it I reversed into a Ford Escort which cost another £400 to fix.

I drove up and down to the Ice Bowl where I was DJing at the time, and Studio B - basically just running around going to work. It meant a saving of about £70 a week in taxis, and the car was basically a record case on wheels as I had to haul three or four boxes of records around to each DJ gig.

It wasn't until a few years later and my next car that I felt like a driver and taking myself off to places - the Mini was very much a means to an end."

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