Belfast Telegraph

'I've never been as content in life' - Radio Ulster's Lynette Fay on how turning 40 changed her thinking

BBC Radio Ulster presenter and passionate music fan Lynette Fay has already booked her seat for U2's Belfast concert later this year. She tells Stephanie Bell about her eclectic career and how she felt about reaching her 40th birthday

Lynette Fay was setting her alarm this week to make sure she was first in line when the box office opened for U2's second Belfast concert, due to take place this October.

A self-confessed U2 superfan, she has travelled thousands of miles to see her heroes live 15 times.

The popular BBC Radio Ulster presenter, who is known for her programmes on folk and country music, giggles like the schoolgirl she was when she first fell for drummer Larry Mullen as she talks about her hero today.

"To me, U2 is Larry's band. If I ever got the chance to meet him I think my legs would go from underneath me and I would faint," she says.

"He was the man on my bedroom walls growing up and I was 15 when I talked my dad into taking me to Dublin to see U2 in concert for the first time.

"They don't tour a lot so when they were in New York a few years ago I got tickets and went with my cousin. It was the best night ever. I also got tickets for that tour in Glasgow and I knew exactly where Larry would be standing and I was there in front of him with my camera.

"Those photos are among my most treasured possessions."

She did get to meet Bono by pure chance in a hotel bar in Dublin a couple of years ago and found herself doing the one thing she says she hates - asking for a picture with him which she proudly posted on social media.

"Normally I would never do that, but I have been such a big U2 fan all my life. I think if you see a celebrity you should leave them in peace, I hate that whole thing about getting your picture taken with them and putting it on social media, but when I saw Bono I knew I might never have that chance again. He was very gracious and really lovely."

An award-winning radio presenter, Lynette is known for giving local musicians a platform, showcasing up and coming talent on her weekly radio shows. Leaving the studio to go into local communities is another aspect of the job she loves.

Since starting with the BBC in 2001, she has presented every type of programme from current affairs to arts and sport.

Last year at the Celtic Media Festival she picked up the award for best Radio Music Programme (Live) for Blas Ceoil for a broadcast from the Millennium Forum in Londonderry.

She also presents The Lynette Fay Show on Saturdays from 6pm-8pm (feel good Saturday night tunes for all the family) and the Folk Club with Lynette Fay on Sundays from 7pm-9pm.

Lynette, who turned 40 last December, has been an avid listener of radio since she was a young child growing up in Dungannon.

She has one brother, Ciaran, and her parents Brenda and Raymond run an interiors business in their home town.

Now based in Belfast, she is a regular commuter down the M1 to visit her family.

Her childhood memories are mainly of visiting her Granny Fay and her cousins who remain close to her today.

And listening to the radio was another favourite pastime.

"I've always loved the radio. We had these old battered radios in the house and I always knew who was on what channel at what time," she says.

"I listened to Ian Dempsey and Tony Fenton on 2FM growing up and I was always taking part in competitions. The phone in those days was in the hall so everyone could hear you when you were talking. If the phone rang any night around 7pm I knew I had won a competition and I did win twice."

Lynette loved school and had planned for a career in law but, looking back, she says it was obvious how all the elements of a good broadcaster were already there.

"I really loved school. I enjoyed learning. I don't know if I was a nerd, I'm not sure about that but I did love it," she says.

"I've kept in touch with St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon since I left as they played such a big role in everything I am and have become. I think it is very important to acknowledge that and give credit where credit is due. I don't think teachers get the recognition they deserve and I was honoured to be invited to host their annual gala ball recently.

"The school has a new £27m state-of-the-art building opening in April which is amazing.

"Hindsight is a wonderful thing as when you look back all the pieces of the puzzle were there. I was captain of the debating team and I debated in Irish. I was in the school choir and a music group and any quiz teams or any public speaking events, I just threw myself into it all.

"Looking back you can see that a career in broadcasting was definitely on the cards."

In her teens, Lynette wanted to study law. She opted to do an arts degree with a law module but dropped it when she found it didn't interest her and instead studied politics and history. While studying in Galway she also secured a place for a year on a programme at the University of Edinburgh to study Scottish Gaelic and History.

She graduated with a BA International in Irish and History and a Masters in Applied Communications from the National University of Ireland in Galway.

"I don't know what made me ask the question about that scheme, but I got a place on the course and that year in Edinburgh was one of the best years of my life," she says.

"I fell in with a crowd from Magherafelt and our kitchen was like the United Nations as we had people from India, Canada, France, the Netherlands, all over, and I've kept in touch with some of them."

A fluent Irish speaker, throughout her university years she worked as a freelance reporter and presenter for Irish language programmes on BBC Radio Ulster and RTE.

She was also Irish language editor of the college newspaper and co-founded the Translation Office where she worked throughout her university career.

However, she says the seeds for her career in broadcasting were sown when she was just 16 and interviewed at school by a BBC reporter.

She was part of a school band called The Originals who were interviewed for BBC TV after winning the All Ireland Gael Linn youth arts festival competition Slogadh, in 1994 and 1996.

"There were four of us and we had a guitar, double bass, percussion and vocals," she says. "I was on vocals and we all did harmonies, and we did covers from people like Van Morrison and Brian Kennedy.

"I was 16 and I remember when the reporter was talking to us thinking 'I could do that' and I started to contribute to the BBC and RTE from then on.

"I became a sort of talking head, if there was something happening, they would call me."

On graduating she contacted the editor of the Irish language unit at the BBC and asked if she could come in for a month's work experience.

He agreed and during her work experience a job was advertised for a producer of Irish language programmes which she successfully applied for.

The Irish language and culture has been a big part of Lynette's life since she was at primary school.

She says: "I was introduced to Irish when I was nine by a teacher called Mrs McQuaid who only gave us maybe one word a day for some reason. I had an aptitude for it and she recognised it and she nurtured it.

"She helped me along and suggested that I go to the Gaeltacht where I went and started a whole new love affair with the language and discovered just how social a language it was.

"I just loved it, I loved everything about it and it was something that just happened, it was never by design. I went on a Tuesday night to this freezing wee room as a teenager to learn and it was far from cool." Blas Ceoil was the first programme she presented for the BBC and it has also won both gold and bronze PPI awards in the specialist music category.

It involved visiting music venues all over the country, bringing the production team and TV crew to the venues and right into the heart of local communities.

She worked on the show with Karen Kirby, who is now editor of the Irish language unit at BBC Northern Ireland, and Lynette still presents Blas Ceoil on Radio Ulster on Friday nights at 7pm.

Winning the award has been a highlight of her career. She says: "None of us do what we do to get awards but when they do come it is always really nice.

"At the Celtic Media Awards in May, John Toal was with me and when they announced I had won he gave me a hug and was genuinely so happy for me and that is one of those moments I will always cherish."

Outside of work she enjoys running and she also likes to read, watch films and spend time with her family.

"I joined a running group a year ago and we run at the weekends in Cavehill and along the lough shore," she says.

"I run with a great group of girls and we chat as we run instead of over a cup of coffee and a cake which is much more satisfying at the end of it.

"I also like getting in the car and just going and catching up with people. My best friend lives in Edinburgh and I plan to visit her soon and I also have a good friend in Galway and that's another trip to look forward to.

"I'm lucky that my work takes me away and, of course, I also visit Dungannon every week. Sometimes I feel like I live on the M1 I'm up and down it so often."

These days Lynette describes herself as a glass half full person. And she says that turning 40 in December has given her a greater appreciation of life.

"I think milestones do make you reflect on your life and your career and turning 40 changed my way of thinking," she says.

"I am a glass half full person, although I wasn't always like that. I think you need to grab every day and make the most out of it.

"I think we all have a wobble when we hit a milestone like that but honestly I have never been as content in my life. I am happy go lucky."

Her life is obviously full even though she hasn't found that special someone to share it with yet. She adds: "People say to me 'you are so busy with work', but it is not that at all. I just haven't met anyone that I have clicked with yet.

"Someone asked me recently did I have a five-year plan. I don't know. As for a partner and children, yes that would be great.

"It is what it is and I don't dwell on it. If it happens, it happens and if it doesn't then that's okay too. I have no idea what the stars have aligned for me. I just have to wait and see."

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