DUP man Clarke was disappointed in Sir Elton John making a cheap jibe after I admitted I didn’t realise heterosexual people could get HIV. If he got a kick out of my honesty, then shame on him... but I still like some of his music’
The most probing interviews: Trevor Clarke, South Antrim DUP, on his run-in with a legend, his brother-in-law’s murder in theTeebane massacre and his strong faith.
Q You’re 50 and married to Linda (50), who works as an administrator in your Antrim office. You have three children, Rachel (22), a hairdresser, Adam (20), a printer and car salesman, and 15-year-old Emma, who’s doing her GCSEs. Where did you and Linda meet?
A We met in Ken’s car park in Ballymena. It would be the equivalent of what young people call ‘cruises’ today. I was helping out a mate who fancied Linda’s cousin, who was with Linda. There were four girls in their car. I got into the driver’s seat and pushed them into the middle and took them on a drive around Ballymena — three in the front, three in the back. That was in 1986. Our first date was at Dundonald Ice Bowl. We got married on June 29, 1990, and honeymooned for a week in Jersey.
Q Tell us about your parents, both of whom have passed away.
A My father, Johnston, died in 2005, aged 74, from bowel cancer. He had been in remission for six years, then it came back and he only survived eight weeks.
My mother’s name was Annabell, but everybody called her Nan. She died when she was 77. Mummy had asthma, which developed into COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). She had it on and off over the years. Mummy always suffered bad health. We thought she would’ve passed away sooner.
Their pictures are close to our back door, so I still see them every day. In a perverse sort of way, I was wishing them away because they were suffering. I was with them both when they died and I don’t think I shed a tear. However, I shed many afterwards.
Talking about it now is making me well up.
Q You’re the baby of the family. Can you tell us about your siblings?
A I have two sisters — Yvonne (60), who works in retail in England, and jewellery shop owner Jennifer (58) — and a brother Philip (54), who’s self-employed.
Q You live in Randalstown. Where did you grow up, and did you have a happy childhood?
A I was born in Magherafelt. My parents moved to Neilsbrook in Randalstown to be near British Enkalon when I was two-and-a-half. I lived there until I got married in 1990. My childhood was very family-orientated, visiting grandparents and going on the Liverpool boat to England every year to visit my aunts.
Q You went to Randalstown Central Primary School and Randalstown High School, before leaving school at 16. Briefly tell us about your career to date.
A I was a shop attendant in Hillview Filling Station for 18 months before going to work in Wellworths’ central stores in Antrim. I was a warehouse supervisor and I stayed there until I had an accident in August 1990, three months after I got married. Someone driving a forklift hit a desk I was working at in the warehouse and knocked me over, throwing me onto concrete. I injured my back. I received treatment as an outpatient, but then I was admitted to hospital for traction for a week and then I had to lay at home in bed for four weeks afterwards. I’ll never forget it. My back still gives me trouble.
In May the following year, I resigned and went back to the garage I started off in — Hillview/Murray’s of Randalstown — where I was involved in car sales and service. I left there on July 11, 2001, and became a self-employed car salesman. My son still does that. We trade under Clarke Motors. It was reasonably wound down until I lost my seat last year and then we started building it back up again.
Q You were elected to Antrim council in 2005, became an MLA in 2007 and were re-elected in 2011. You lost your seat in 2017, but you were co-opted by the DUP after Paul Girvan became an MP. What made you go into politics?
A Linda’s younger brother was murdered by the IRA in 1991, and it was coming up to his 10th anniversary. We went to see Rev Willie McCrea, who was the MP for South Antrim. While we have never come to a satisfactory outcome in that, I believe that the support he gave us as a family — and still does today — gave me the interest in what the DUP was doing. His actions gave me faith in the DUP. They were the only people doing anything to support families.
A North Antrim DUP member and friend of mine then suggested I join the local branch, which I did, and then I successfully ran for council in 2005.
Q How did you feel about losing your seat in 2017? Do you sometimes feel like a phoney, or that you don’t deserve to be an MLA because you were co-opted?
A We were sitting in a six-seat Assembly (constituency), reducing to five. It was always going to be an uphill struggle to retain three seats. That said, I was disappointed that I didn’t make it. I didn’t win the seat and I’m disappointed I didn’t win my seat in my own right, but at the same time there is a mechanism for the co-option.
If there had’ve been a by-election for that seat, given that we held 40% of our vote we would’ve won it, but it would’ve come at a great cost to the taxpayer. ‘Phoney’ is the wrong word. I fought a good election. I’m just not as internally enthusiastic about it given that I didn’t win it. It would’ve been nicer to win the seat. However, I am here now. People come to my office and respect that I’m here to try and help them.
Q In November 2016 you were criticised after you admitted that you didn’t realise heterosexual people could get HIV. Elton John was among those who hit out. Are you embarrassed about that?
A I’m absolutely not embarrassed. I got so much support from people and charities who wanted to raise awareness. Many others weren’t honest, and it’s easy for them to hide behind the fact that I was being honest.
One of the charities said 40% of the UK population believed the same as me before I learned differently, so this was about raising awareness. One of the charities said they couldn’t have bought the publicity they got after the comments that I made that day. I’m glad that’s the only way I’ve come to Elton John’s attention, but equally I’m disappointed in him. I know he’s done work to try and raise awareness for the charity, but for him to make a cheap jibe at me for honesty makes it difficult, I’m sure, for others. If Elton John got a kick from that, shame on him. But I still like some of his music.
Q Your brother-in-law, Nigel McKee, was murdered in the Teebane bombing 27 years ago. What happened? How has your family coped over the years?
A The evening that IRA attack happened — January 17, 1992 — I was at my mother’s house with my wife when she got a call around 6.30pm. She was told there was something wrong, that Nigel hadn’t got home. We went to Linda’s mother’s house outside Kells. Linda lived with her mother, Jean, and granny; her father had died whenever she was young. There was very little information coming through, so we were ringing hospitals once we found out that their van was involved.
About 10.30pm the police called to say Nigel was one of the eight men who lost their lives. He was 22. It’s something that never leaves us. Anniversaries are awful. We as a family will continue to press for justice.
Q Your daughter, Rachel, was injured during an armed robbery at Largy Road Filling Station in November 2014 when you were away on Assembly business. What happened?
A Rachel and a colleague were closing up near the end of the night when two men entered the shop with a machete and a suspected gun. The man with the machete chased Rachel, made her empty the till and she got three fingers cut. She had to go to A&E for treatment. She was traumatised by the incident and it still affects her today. For a long time she wouldn’t stay in the house in her own. The men were never caught.
Q How do you feel about the political stalemate? What about the recent agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein?
A It’s disappointing that Sinn Fein can hold Northern Ireland to ransom. I trust the party; there was no agreement.
Q Do you agree with taking a pay cut?
A If that is what the Secretary of State believes needs to be done and if that’s the will of the people, then so be it. I don’t think anyone will be happy about a pay cut. However, if they believe that that will change our opinions just to get back to work to get full pay, well then I think they’ll be deeply disappointed. I didn’t enter politics for money. I was making a reasonably good living before I came into politics. I’m a person of principle. This is not all about money.
Q What’s the most important piece of advice someone has ever given you?
A With me, what you see is what you get.
Q Do you believe in God? Do you have a strong faith?
A Yes. I’ve been a bad attendee since my minister left last year, but we’ve got a new minister installed, so I will be back at Second Randalstown Presbyterian after the Easter break as regular as ever.
Q What about death? Does it frighten you?
A I’m still too young to die and I don’t want to die, so it does. But at the same I believe in God and life after death.
Q How do you relax outside politics?
A We have a caravan in Portrush and spend weekends there during the summer. I help my son out in the business on Saturdays.
Q Which politician from the so-called ‘other side’ do you most admire?
A Mark H Durkan.
Q If you were in trouble who is the one person you would you turn to?
Q And who is your best Catholic friend?
A I’ve lots of friends from all denominations and can’t single anyone out because of their religious background.
Q Tell us about the best day of your life so far.
A It’s not one day it’s three — the days my children were born.
Q And what about the worst day of your life? What is the most traumatic thing that you’ve been through?
A The deaths of my parents and brother-in-law.
Q What’s your favourite place in the whole world? Why?
A England — Stoke, the Midlands, Ipswich.
Q What’s your favourite place in Northern Ireland?
A Fermanagh and the lakes.
Q What is your greatest achievement to date?
A Building the home that I live in today while being self-employed.
Q Do you have or have you ever had a nickname?
A Poppy Jnr. I’ve no idea why.
Q What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?
A Holding onto the handlebars of a freewheeling motorbike while trying to run alongside it. I thought I could run quicker, but it ended up dragging me along the ground on my knees.
Q Tell us something that readers might be surprised to learn about you?
A I played the flute in two pipe bands. I can still play the Sash.