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TV Interview: Early riser

As one of the presenters of Channel 4's new breakfast TV programme, RI:SE, Belfast-born Colin Murray gets up at four o'clock every morning and is at work by 5am. Neil Johnston talked to him about his hectic lifestyle and the prospects for the troubled show

IT'S just after 9 am at the studios of Channel 4 and Colin Murray is taking his make-up off. Murray, a likely lad from Belfast, is one of the seven presenters on C4's new breakfast show RI:SE.

So, as the great British public was just getting its feet under the desk, was his work done for the day?

"I wish!" he said, with some feeling.

"I have to go out now and film a sports piece at some football ground or other.

"These days, I work and I sleep and that's it. The show's been running for a few weeks now and in that time I don't think I've been awake in a taxi once.

"You take advantage of every break you get. I could sleep on a spike."

The demands of early morning television have brought about a dramatic change in life style for the ambitious, music loving 25-year-old who was more used to getting into his bed at 4am than getting out of it.

But don't be misled - he's loving every minute of the new regime.

Murray was born in Dundonald Hospital in 1977 and grew up on Belfast's tough Ballybeen estate.

He went to Regent House school in Newtownards and Dundonald High, and, on leaving the latter after GCSEs, he did a full time journalism course.

"My first love had always been music, and I think it must have been in the genes.

"When my mother was young she lived in Singapore and she ran away to try to get to the legendary Woodstock rock festival in 1969.

"My grandfather went after her and caught her at the airport. Otherwise she'd have made it to Woodstock and I could have ended up a flower child!

"Anyway, when I started training as a journalist, one of my jobs was to shadow a reporter covering the funerals after the Shankill bombing.

"That was enough to make me decide to go back to my main passion, which, of course, was music.

"I was an avid listener not a player. I hadn't the talent for that, although I am the world's greatest guitar holder!"

So he started writing about pop and rock bands, particularly for the Sunday People, a column which he still does ( and which won him the Entertainment Journalist of the Year award at this year's IPR Press awards).

In the mid 1990s, Murray lived in Canada for a while, working on a newspaper in Toronto, but he missed home and was back in Belfast in six months.

He continued his rock journalism, and was also involved in setting up a new music magazine called Blank, which was soon outselling its competitors in the province, not to mention NME.

"We wrote for people with a serious interest in the music, and not for those who wanted to know how many teeth Ronan Keating has. The tabloids would tell them all that sort of stuff. But we were proud of the fact that we never went down that road."

Blank eventually merged with another magazine and when Murray left he got his broadcasting break when he was invited to co-present Session, the weekly live music programme on BBC Radio One Northern Ireland.

And, with co-presenter Donna Legge, he still does that show one day a week, coming off air on RI:SE at 9am and getting a plane to Belfast at 11am.

"Thank goodness the Channel 4 studios are near Heathrow," he says.

He did other radio and television bits and pieces, and it was this experience which landed him the job on RI:SE.

He auditioned for the entertainment role on the show, but, ironically (in view of what happened in his early days in print journalism), he ended up doing the news slot.

"Back in Belfast it was the political and violence thing all the time," he says. "Here you get to cover lots of other issues, and you also get to slag off the England World Cup team on national television. How good is that!

"So I'm really enjoying it, and I say that despite the fact that I'm setting my alarm for four o'clock every morning. The taxi's at the door at 4.20, we get in at 5am, start work, have a quick shower, and we're on the air from 6.55 to 9am. My whole sleep pattern has been reversed."

Murray's six co-presenters on the programme, whose predecessor was the axed Big Breakfast Show, include anchor man Mark Durden-Smith, son of travel broadcaster Judith Chalmers, and the glamorous Kirsty Gallacher, daughter of former Ryder Cup golf captain Bernard Gallacher.

All of them are on one year contracts which does not give them much time to grab the nation's attention over the corn flakes, and the early ratings have not been very encouraging, having dipped well below an initial 250,000 viewers.

Amid reports that the team have been given until the end of the summer to pull things round, Murray remains upbeat.

"There were a few nerves in the early days, but we've got over that now and the team is working really well together. I think we're getting there."

All his colleagues are already romantically involved, but the eligible young gent from Ballybeen remains footloose and fancy free.

"Yes" he laughs. "Still single. Sure the kind of life I'm living now, no woman in the world would have me."

Belfast Telegraph