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BBC Journalist Holly Hamilton: I was handed a rifle and I was then told to go for it

Greyabbey journalist Holly Hamilton tells Stephanie Bell how she has been living the dream interviewing future Olympic stars and getting to try out some unusual sports.

Sports mad Northern Ireland journalist Holly Hamilton has been living the dream during the Olympics, travelling the length and breadth of Britain, reporting on the Games with BBC Breakfast.

The Greyabbey girl has been part of the team at the UK's most watched morning show for two years as a roving reporter covering everything from serious news to offbeat human interest stories and - as often as she can - anything sports related.

At just 30 and a familiar face on network TV she has achieved incredible success as a broadcast journalist.

Like most of our home grown media stars, she takes it very much in her stride and says she is just grateful for the opportunities that have come her way.

Based in Salford and living in Manchester, she is dating well-known Northern Ireland DJ Connor Phillips, who she met while working on Downtown and Cool FM before joining BBC Breakfast.

Both young, talented and ambitious, they made the move to England together and Connor is now presenting a daily sports show on City Radio in Liverpool. Holly says she has achieved her own personal career high with her recent Olympics coverage, when she got the chance to try her hand at a number of new sports as she travelled the country visiting the home towns of Team GB athletes: "I just wish the Olympics could last all year, it has been amazing to be part of it.

"I've been travelling round the country to the places where our sports stars grew up, meeting their families and friends and speaking to the up and coming Olympic stars of the future and it has been a really exciting story to be covering.

"Sport is something that I am naturally drawn to and when there is a sports story I am always happy to put my hand up and volunteer. Covering the Olympics has allowed me to try new things and offered me new opportunities I would never have had. I've played rugby, shot an air rifle, done gymnastics - although I don't know how successfully - and it has been amazing.

"I mean, who would expect someone to hand them a rifle on live TV and say go for it.

"I never thought I would ever shoot a gun.

"It has been such good fun and a real privilege to meet the stars of the future, who are so talented.

"They are all so positive and so sure they are going to be at the Olympics in 2020.

"I think it will be amazing to be able to look back at the next Olympics and say I interviewed them. You just can't help but get caught up in it all."

Holly's career has seen her cover world events including the inaugural visit of Barack Obama to Belfast, co-ordinating packages from the G8 summit when the world leaders came together in Enniskillen and also while working at home she was part of the Cool FM/Downtown team nominated for "News Team of the Year" at the 2013 Bauer Awards.

She has also interviewed some of our finest homegrown talent - Snow Patrol, Ronan Keating, Kian Egan, James Nesbitt - as well as stars such as Russell Brand, Billy Connolly and politicians David Cameron and Alex Salmond.

Despite all these big names, her career highlight so far happened just a few days ago when she got to interview one of her personal sporting heroes.

She says: "Of everything I have done so far, interviewing Kelly Holmes the other day has to be the best. That was so surreal.

She was about to do a bike ride through London, so I only had a few minutes with her and I couldn't believe that I was actually talking to Kelly Holmes.

"I have to admit that I was a little star struck, she is so brilliant."

Her enthusiasm for the job comes through very naturally on TV and has endeared her to millions of viewers.

Her star has risen quite dramatically in the media since she graduated from Dundee University.

Holly grew up in Greyabbey and decided as a child she wanted a career in the media after accompanying her journalist mum Kim to work in her local newspaper.

She said: "I remember watching mum do interviews and thought it was all very exciting and I was probably only 11 when I decided I wanted to be a journalist."

Her dad David is a farmer and she has an older brother David (32), who is a lawyer in New York and younger sister Sarah-Joy (24), who is a nurse in Dundee.

Holly studied at Regents House Grammar School before going to Dundee University, where she graduated with a Masters in Politics.

She began her broadcasting career in Scotland with Tay FM, where she honed her skills as a writer, producer and presenter.

This got her noticed by Scotland's biggest TV news source, STV, where she worked her way from reporter to front their flagship news programme Scotland Tonight, with four million regular viewers, at the age of 26.

She said: "I love Scotland and when I worked there I got to travel so much. I was all over the place from Glasgow to Aberdeen and Edinburgh and I covered a lot of miles when I was there.

"I could be on my way to Aberdeen one day and get a call telling me to go to Glasgow.

"I travelled all over Scotland. It was great and I loved it.

"I have such a soft spot for Scotland, I went to university there and my sister lives there and I got my first job there and I still go back a lot and still have friends there."

She left Scotland to return to Northern Ireland to take up the role of Morning News Editor with Cool Fm and Downtown, where she met her now partner of two years Connor Phillips, who was a presenter on the breakfast show.

She laughs now when looks back at their initial meetings and reveals that it wasn't exactly love at first sight.

She says: "I had done work experience in Cool Fm and Downtown and thought it would be brilliant to work there, so when the opportunity came up it was like fulfilling a childhood dream.

"It felt really odd at first because Connor and Gareth (Stewart) had been together so long and I felt like I had just been plonked into the middle of them and that they hated me.

"It wasn't love at first sight, as I had to work with him. It wasn't until I was leaving and got the job offer in England that we got together.

"I remember wondering if I should go to Manchester and Connor encouraged me and it's great because we have the same ambition and drive.

"The job offer was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Connor had wanted to work in England for some time and had been going over and doing bits and pieces of freelancing and he followed me after a couple of months

"It is good that we are in the same industry and are both from Northern Ireland. It means we can coordinate going home to see family and friends and being together none of us will ever lose our accents."

Two years on and she and Connor have carved a nice life for themselves in England where they have made new friends and spend their time outside of work, socialising with their friends and hosting family.

Even two years on Holly says she still finds it dreamlike that she is working on one of the biggest network news programmes in the country.

"It does seem a bit surreal to me still to be on a national programme but I try not to think about it too much," she says.

"When I am doing a report I just think of it as talking to someone from home and try to forget that there are millions of people watching.

"Its been incredible and we do have moments every so often when we all laugh at the thought that we are in charge of a national TV programme, it is quite surreal," Holly adds.

Long gone are the days when regional accents were unheard of on the BBC and Holly's soft but distinct local brogue has been a huge hit with viewers.

Her Twitter feed attracts a stream of compliments on her accent. She is very proud of her roots and takes the chance to promote the province at any opportunity she gets.

"I'm the only Northern Irish accent in the office. I don't ever want to lose my accent; in fact it's quite the opposite," she says.

"I'm making a career out of it. It was harder doing the regional news in Scotland where viewers don't expect to hear an accent that isn't local but I get lots of feedback about my voice and there is so much positivity about it.

"I'm quite passionate about flying the flag for Northern Ireland and I'm always suggesting stories that we could cover at home and that we should be sending a crew there."

She tries to get home at least once a month to see her family who she says have been hugely supportive of her career.

After two years she feels settled in Manchester where playing her beloved hockey has helped her become part of the local community.

"I love Manchester. It is such a central place to be and so handy for getting flights home to see mum and dad and get a good feed. I try to get home as often as I can, usually once a month," she says.

"I love my sport and I play hockey for Manchester Moss Park.

"I just think it is so easy to let your sport go when you leave university and I didn't want to do that as it is such a huge part of my life.

"It is also a good way to make friends especially when you move to a new area," Holly adds.

While an instantly recognisable face on TV, Holly says life outside of work is very much out of the spotlight.

She doesn't move in celebrity circles and even after two years with BBC Breakfast finds herself a bit in awe of her famous colleagues.

"I do forget sometimes where I am and I would look at Carol (Kirkwood) who does the weather and think how huge a star she is," she says.

Despite the glamour that comes with her job, she still very much has her feet on the ground and feels blessed to be doing something she loves.

"At the end of the day it is just a job like any other job. You get up and you go to work and then you go home and relax and enjoy a nice meal and a glass of wine," she says.

"I can't imagine doing anything else."

After the frantic pace of covering the Olympics Holly was enjoying a well earned break from work this week.

Covering the Olympics has reaffirmed her love of sports reporting and she hopes to do more of it in the future.

She adds: "Right now I am where I want to be and I don't look too far ahead. I am enjoying a couple of days off and feel as if I have been sleep deprived for a month but it has made me realise that I do want to branch out and do a lot more sport.

"I am quite passionate about it and hopefully when I go back I will look at doing more sports coverage."

Belfast Telegraph


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