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Aideen Kennedy: 'My brother and sister died of cancer within six months of each other... my children have kept us going through tragedy'

 

On song: journalist Aideen Kennedy loves singing with her choral society
On song: journalist Aideen Kennedy loves singing with her choral society
Totally loved: Aideen’s cat Willow
Aideen’s sister Fiona
Aideen with her brother Dara (centre) and sister Fiona (far right) at their cousin Helen’s wedding. Also pictured is their cousin Roisin (second from right)
Aideen with daughter Eva
Aideen presenting on UTV Live
Dara who died at the age of 35
Rachel Dean

By Rachel Dean

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to journalist and former UTV news presenter Aideen Kennedy (41), who lives in Belfast with her children, Jacob (11) and Eva (6).

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. I grew up in Belfast. It was me, my parents - dad was an engineer and mum was a teacher - my big sister Fiona and my younger brother Dara.

Both Fiona and Dara have passed away in recent years - Fiona was 44 and Dara was just 35 - they were my best friends growing up. I had another brother, Rory, who was killed in a road accident when he was just one year old.

We talked about him all the time growing up.

My mum Maura and dad Noel are the strongest and loveliest people I know.

With my mum being a teacher and my dad originally from Argentina, the nature of our family has always had the kids at the forefront.

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We're just very people-orientated as a family.

We were a very close family and we did a lot together.

Our big thing was film, so we would go to the cinema and the West End an awful lot.

We weren't millionaires or anything - far from it - but it's something we enjoyed as whole family.

Every Monday night, Fiona, Dara and I would go to the cinema and have dinner together. If I had a big problem or anything was going on in my life, they would be the first people I would go to - but obviously now I can't do that.

I went to St Michael's Primary School on the Ravenhill Road.

A lot of my good friends and people I know are from that area, but a lot of my best friends are from west Belfast where I went to secondary school - St Dominic's Grammar School on the Falls Road.

All the girls in our family went to St Dominic's and my mum taught French and Spanish there, so I always knew I wanted to go there too.

I must have been a nightmare because my mum sent me out to everything - probably to get a bit of peace. I went to ballet classes, singing and drama, just so that I wouldn't be annoying her all weekend.

Looking back, I totally understand that now.

It was great though and I've done so many shows. I've been to the Opera House, I was part of the Group Theatre at the Ulster Hall and I've travelled all over Ireland with them. I absolutely loved it.

I've played hockey since I was 11 right up until now - although I'm not very good at it anymore. I played for St Dominic's, then I played for Ulster University and after that it was much more just games with friends because at that stage I had started with the St Agnes' Choral Society.

I started to edge more towards that and even though I loved them both, I really loved singing more than anything.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. My children, my mum and dad, my friends and my little rescue cat Willow.

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Totally loved: Aideen’s cat Willow

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. To anyone I have ever hurt, I would like to go back in time and say I'm sorry.

Q. And what about phobias? Do you have any?

A. Anything to do with cuts, bruises or broken bones. I cannot watch any type of medical programme.

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Countdown and the show's presenter Nick Hewer. I also love Susie Dent's origins of words and Rachel Riley because her mathematical ability constantly astounds me.

For me, comedy and drama are the best.

My favourites at the moment are Fleabag, Friday Night Dinner and Gogglebox - I especially love people's take on news.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. I am not really into possessions and I don't own anything expensive.

My brother Dara and sister Fiona died of cancer within six months of each other and they both got a very short time to live.

So, I would definitely say that photographs of them and my brother Rory mean a great deal to me.

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Aideen’s sister Fiona

Q. The book that's most impacted your life?

A. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James - it was a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

I love it because I was reading it when I was in hospital just before having my little girl.

Also, my sister Fiona and I loved Jane Austen and we would sit down every Saturday evening to watch the series of Pride and Prejudice on TV.

Q. If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?

A. There are a million things I would like to do to make life better but on a very superficial level, I would ban predictive text and Crocs.

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. Inequality, prejudice and any type of abuse against people or animals.

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Aideen presenting on UTV Live

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My mum and dad. They have been through so much having lost three of their children, but they refuse to let life overtake them.

They are funny, loving and supportive and enjoy everything life has to offer. They're champion bridge players. And while I don't massively approve of them going to play bridge all around the world because my nerves are shot when they are gallivanting, I really admire their attitude to life.

It's gone from them worrying about me having fun at university, to me worrying about them and saying, "No more bridge, no more travelling, go to bed!"

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive and why?

A. People with a good sense of humour always attract me.

So, first I would invite the actress Kathy Burke because I think that she's just so smart and funny and has such a brilliant career.

Then, actress Sharon Horgan because she is a great writer and is totally hilarious.

And Mo Mowlam because she's a political legend - she's intelligent and strong with a brilliant sense of humour.

Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?

A. The best piece of advice I have ever been given was from my dad. He always says it's important to be careful about what you say and do because it's like throwing a pebble into a pond. It reaches out and affects everyone around you. I don't know if I always stick to that but I try my best.

From my mum - treat others how you would like to be treated.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. Singing. I could sing all day and night. I am a member of St Agnes' Choral Society, which is a group of amazing people that are so talented (I am not unfortunately) but the atmosphere and the friendships and the kindness are second to none. It makes me so happy to be a part of that community.

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Aideen with daughter Eva

I'm trying to push my little girl into it, as long as she'd like to. At the moment, she does love singing and I'm like, "Yes, this is where you're going, this is what you're going to do!"

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. Seamus Heaney's Mid-Term Break. It reminds me of my brother Rory. The line, "I saw him for the first time in six weeks. Paler now, wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple" has always stuck with me. My mum said Rory just looked like an angel and you really wouldn't have known anything had happened, apart from the bruise.

I remember a teacher reading that poem out when I was in first or second year and it immediately made me think of him.

Q. The happiest moments of your life?

A. The birth of my two children. They're just so funny and bold and really, to be honest, they've kept us all going through all this tragedy.

They bring out the joy. They would talk about Dara and Fiona and they will say they know, "they're looking after us in heaven" - and then they get on with the next fun thing they want to do. And that's so lovely, that innocence.

Jacob's really sensible, but Eva's quite funny. She'll say things like, "To be candid mum, this is what I think of the current political situation" and I'm like "Oh my god, Eva, you're six, get up the stairs, I don't think so!" Then me and my mum are looking at each other laughing.

They remind me of my brother and sister all the time. They're the image of them. Certain things they say or the little gestures they make, I'm like, "Yep, that's definitely Fiona and Dara!"

The only thing is, when it comes to big moments like Christmas, Easter and birthdays, I just wish they could be here because I know they would love it. Neither of them had children and they were insane about my two.

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. The funerals of Dara and Fiona.

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Aideen with her brother Dara (centre) and sister Fiona (far right) at their cousin Helen’s wedding. Also pictured is their cousin Roisin (second from right)

Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?

A. There are too many to mention. One night I can never forget was when I was an intern in Washington DC and a group of us had dinner with Bill and Hilary Clinton and a group of female journalists from South Africa.

It was one of the most special moments of my life and I remember every single second of it.

Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. I have many ambitions career-wise but more so for the people around me who I love. I had to go through a lot before coming to the realisation that family and friends are everything.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. I think laughter is a great tonic. There are times when you just have to laugh, especially when life isn't going exactly the way you expected. I think you can bury your head in the sand - which I have done at times - or you can meet with people you love and talk about life. I love being around other people and hearing their thoughts and feelings about life.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. As someone who loved family and friends and cared about people around me, especially those who haven't had life easy.

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