Candy Devine on her exciting new life Down Under
Almost 18 months after the popular radio presenter returned Down Under, she tells Ivan Little about her exciting new life and her joy at keeping in close contact with her old friends here
Candy Devine is proof that you just can’t keep a good woman down. Even Down Under. For the former Downtown Radio presenter, who returned to her native Australia after the death of her beloved husband Donald, is preparing for a remarkable new role in her ever-changing life ... as a student.
The effervescent star, who spent more than 40 years in Northern Ireland first as a singer before becoming a household name as a broadcaster, has also revealed that she’s coming back to her adopted home ... but not for good.
Candy is already starting to draw up her plans for her trip here even though it isn’t happening until next year. “I can hardly wait,” she says.
But before the sentimental journey comes another voyage, this one of discovery as Candy readies herself for the start of her studies in June on an Open University BA degree course in humanities, more than just a few decades after her last spell learning music.
This self-avowed mature OU student said of her latest sortie into academia: “It’s something I had been thinking about doing for some time now. So I decided to take the bull by the horns.”
OU officials have recommended that Candy should study for between 10 and 12 hours a week and among the subjects on her course are Australian history and creative writing.
She says: "When I asked about the time frame for completing the course, I was told 10 years. By then I'll be 86 so I guess I'll have to step up the pace before my brain shrinks altogether."
Just for good measure, Candy has also thrown herself into charity work, too, near her home in Brisbane.
She's now a member of one of Australia's biggest organisations, the View Club, who help to fund disadvantaged children through their education and give much-needed assistance to their families.
"It's a wonderful charity," says Candy. "And it's nice to be in a position to be able to give something back."
And as if all that wasn't enough - plus her familial duties as a mother and grandmother - Candy is still finding the time to develop her creative talents.
One of the first things she did after arriving back in Queensland was to enrol in an art class.
She's typically modest about her abilities with the paintbrush, but people with an eye for artistic talent have lauded the work of this larger than life lady who quite obviously has no time for wasting her time.
"Life is busy but boredom is not my style," said Candy, who first came to Northern Ireland in 1969 to sing in a cabaret club in Belfast, a booking arranged by the man she would later marry, Donald McLeod.
After they married in Dublin in 1970, they lived in the southern capital for five years before they moved north after Candy was recruited as one of the first presenters for the fledgling Downtown Radio station which went on air in March 1976.
And Candy was a popular fixture on Downtown until she decided to re-settle back in Oz's sunshine state in 2013. The death of her husband was the catalyst for Candy's move to Australia to be closer to two of her children who live there, Iain and Alastair.
It almost goes without saying that the loss of Donald has left a huge void in Candy's life and on her Facebook page she regularly posts old photographs of the two of them together with their children in Northern Ireland.
The anniversary of Donald's death was also marked on the social media site by Candy and by her friends in this part of the world.
Candy had arrived in Belfast knowing no one apart from Donald but she left two years ago with dozens of close pals and countless memories of her husband whose ashes she scattered in Enniskillen - apart from a tiny container full.
Candy raised four children in Belfast. Alastair McLeod is now a celebrity chef down under where he has become an instantly recognisable TV personality and best-selling writer, which is something of a role reversal from the old days in Northern Ireland where it was his mother who was the big star.
Candy is convinced her decision to move back to Australia was the correct one, adding: "I have no regrets about returning to my roots although I do miss my friends back there. Northern Ireland gave me 40 very happy years and will always be my other home."
Candy has pencilled in September 2016 for her first visit back to Northern Ireland. "And I'm already looking forward to it," says Candy, who keeps in touch with her family and friends here through social media. "That makes it easy and thank God for it as I am kept fully up-to-date with what is happening in that neck of the woods."
But Northern Ireland has also visited Candy in the shape of close friends like the Ellis and Crory families who made the long journey to Australia to see her.
"We were constantly on the go for three weeks," says Candy. "We travelled over 1,000 miles up to the far north to visit my birthplace in Cairns."
Candy was born Faye Guivarra, the daughter of a pioneering sugar cane farmer, and he and his wife resisted family pressure to keep her out of school to learn how to cook.
Instead they sent Faye to a boarding school and after four years there she went to Brisbane to complete her schooling before enrolling in the Queensland Conservatorium to study piano and cello.
Candy went on to teach music for a while but during a singing engagement she was spotted by a showbiz agent who signed her up for cabaret work and a career in television hosting a classical music series for ABC Television and a radio programme as well. Now that she's back in Australia, Candy has been re-discovering the wonders of the vast country. During her recent travels with her Northern Irish visitors, Candy took them for a "wonderful" day on the Great Barrier Reef.
"However, while all around me, men, women and children were getting into wetsuits, snorkels and goggles, I sat trying to look detached in my kaftan, sunhat and dark glasses - though I did do the submarine trip which gives you a great view of the coral beds," she laughs.
Given the number of Ulster people who have moved to Australia in recent years, it's probably hardly surprising that Candy has been spotted by exiles. "They're everywhere," she says, though she admits the occasional encounter still had her marvelling at the small world factor.
In Cairns, the head waiter of a hotel restaurant introduced himself as a one-time Downtown Radio fan.
"It turned out that he was Colin West, whose father Brian is a veteran of the bar scene in Northern Ireland," says Candy, whose friends travelled to Sydney to see in the New Year but she ended up in hospital. "It was nothing serious, just an infection."
But the hospital experience was an eye-opener for Candy because huge medical bills dropped through her letterbox. "They also nearly landed me back in hospital," she says. "Happily my insurance sorted it all out, but I mention it only as a warning to people coming to Australia from Northern Ireland to ensure they have the proper cover."
The health hiccup, as Candy calls it, meant that she had to miss the New Year festivities at Sydney Opera House. "A performance of the opera La Boheme and champagne on the promenade for the fireworks would have been a lovely way to see in 2015, but elbowing my way through six and a half million revellers was more than I could bear."
Candy has of late been seeing a consultant about difficulties with her knees. "I still have a way to go before he will consider surgery but I'm getting there.
"He wants me to lose half my body weight."
Throughout recent weeks, of course, Australia has been transfixed by the Cricket World Cup and, in particular, Ireland's exploits which came as something of a shock to rugby fan Candy.
"I didn't even know Ireland had a team.
"But all of Australia seemed to be behind them as they were seen as the underdogs. When they lost out on a place in the quarter-finals at the hands of Pakistan, there was much drowning of sorrows."
Recently Ireland was centrestage again on St Patrick's Day where in Brisbane the importance of the Irish to the building trade was underlined by the prominence given in the parade to three decorated cement mixers.
"My son Alastair was asked to do the catering for the Irish club in Brisbane and he said the craic was mighty. It was a three-day event. Nothing is done by halves over here."
And the same will undoubtedly apply as Alastair and his partner Ashleigh get married in June.
"I'm excited already and by June it will be fever pitch," says Candy, who has been exploring the possibility of returning to broadcasting in Brisbane and there have been a number of approaches.
But she says: "I'm still dragging my feet. It's finding the right station and the right programme. We are still talking."
But she says her late husband Donald would be pushing her towards affirmative action. "If he were still here he'd be saying 'stop procrastinating' but who knows?"
Last year Candy went back to her old school in Brisbane as guest speaker at a 40-dollar a head International Women's Day breakfast.
Her granddaughters, Bailie and Sasha, are both pupils at the same college so for Candy it was as if her life had come full circle.
In the promotional material for Candy's talk, school officials proudly ran a lengthy biography of their old girl and reminded parents that their guest was something of a celebrity in Ireland who had been inducted into broadcasting's hall of fame in 2012 and awarded an MBE for services to not only radio but also to the community.
But the biog also pointed out another string to Candy's bow as an actress who had made a film with actor Keith Michell, but more importantly perhaps had also appeared on the iconic Aussie TV series, Skippy.
From outback to the Palace
- Born Faye Guivarra in Cairns, Australia in 1938, Candy Devine grew up on a sugar cane farm and was educated in Brisbane
- Her parents ran a singing troupe called The Tropical Troubadors and she grew up performing and playing musical instruments
- She went on to study piano and cello at the Queensland Conservatorium before beginning a stage career in Sydney
- In 1969, Candy travelled to Ireland for a short working visit. She was booked into a cabaret slot in Dublin and married her booking agent, Donald McLeod, the next year
- They moved to Belfast in 1975 and Candy began her radio career at Downtown Radio in 1976. Initially unsure about stepping behind the mic, her first foray into radio lead to a 44-year career in Northern Ireland broadcasting
- Candy and Donald went on to have four children — Gordon, Iain, Fiona and Alistair — and lived happily together until his death in 2012
- Candy was awarded an MBE in 2014. She has now returned to her native Australia and lives in Brisbane