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Diona Doherty: 'I've a great relationship with my family... I've been so lucky that nobody has had any tragic illnesses or deaths'

Wise move: Diona Doherty decided against studying law to take up drama
Wise move: Diona Doherty decided against studying law to take up drama
Fun couple: Diona and Sean on their wedding day
TV gold: Diona Doherty alongside Marty Reid (Uncle Andy) in Give My Head Peace

In this week's interview, Rachel Dean talks to actress and comedian Diona Doherty (30), of Derry Girls and Soft Border Patrol fame. Diona lives in Craigavon with her husband Sean Hegarty, also a comedian, and she has three stepsons, James (15), Charlie (12) and Tom (10).

Q Tell us about your childhood.

A I grew up in Derry and it was just dad, mum, me and my brother, Darren. There's only two years between us.

We did grow up really close. We had friends that used to call us The Flintstones, not because there wasn't a floor in our car, but because we were a really close, wee family.

Our parents, Dee and Donna, would have taken us away on holidays. In my earlier years, we would have gone camping a lot in the likes of Sligo and Galway. Then, in my teens, we went on a few package holidays, mostly to the Canary Islands.

From a really young age, I was always a performer, but I can't say I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I just knew I wanted to perform.

I went through all the phases. I wanted to be a popstar at one point and I even auditioned for You're A Star on RTE when I was really underage. I think I was 13 and pretended to be older, but I didn't even get through. I wanted to be a TV presenter for a while as well. It wasn't really until my mid-teens that I decided "no, I want to be an actor".

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I would say I was quite a confident kid. I remember always singing songs in front of my family at Christmas.

I used to watch Sister, Sister and I would have recorded all the episodes on a VHS in our living room. And I remember getting up one Christmas and singing one of the songs that Tia (a character from the show) had sung at a talent contest. I must have been about eight or nine, and the song was all about a boy cheating on Tia and breaking her heart. My mum was like: "What are you singing about? You've no idea - you're nine!"

Q What are you most proud of?

A I think in this day and age, especially with the career I have, you're always thinking about the things you didn't achieve rather than the things you did, so it's hard to reflect on what you're proud of. But, I'm most proud of having a great relationship with my family. We spend a lot of time together when we can and we get along really well.

And also, when I was in P5, I came second runner-up in a competition with a poem called Mr Giraffe. It goes, "Mr Giraffe, you make me laugh/Your neck is so funny and long". I'm still talking about it 20-odd years later! You can see why I only got the runner-up.

Q The one regret you wish you could amend?

A I would have loved to have started taking my career a little more seriously in my teens. I didn't really until my early 20s and I think if I had started really pushing five years earlier, I might have achieved some things that I haven't achieved yet but would like to.

I've had to skip all those roles that I can't really play anymore - I can't play a teenager on TV anymore because I've passed that age.

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TV gold: Diona Doherty alongside Marty Reid (Uncle Andy) in Give My Head Peace

Q Any phobias?

A I don't have any phobias, but I do have a real irrational fear sometimes of the people I love dying.

Q The temptation you cannot resist?

A Pizza. I like spicy pizzas, so I would normally have jalapenos, onions, peppers, chilli flakes.

Q Your number one prized possession?

A My certificate for second runner-up in P5 for my poem Mr Giraffe.

Q The book that's most impacted your life?

A The one that's made me think the most is a book called Happy by Derren Brown. It's all about what makes people happy in the 21st century. It gives a real honest look at the things we use that are actually making us unhappy and we don't realise. I would definitely recommend reading it.

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

A I have a real sweet tooth, so, I would insist that every shop has a Pick 'n' Mix stand and that they're all priced in the same price guidelines as Poundland and not the cinemas. The cinema is so dear, whereas a full cup is a pound in Poundland!

Q What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A Bullying makes my blood boil. Also, children mocking other children for having ginger hair is something I will never understand. It's so weird.

Q Who has most influenced you in life?

A Growing up, I always looked up to my big brother. I always felt he was somebody who was always entirely himself and it took me a long time - until my mid or late 20s - to properly be my authentic self all the time. Darren was doing that from we were very young, and I find that very commendable.

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

A The first would have to be my husband because he's really great for doing the dishes. He doesn't even have to be asked - he just does it! I cook and he does the dishes, that's how we work.

I would also invite Julie Walters because she's iconic and really funny. She's someone I've always looked up to as a performer.

Then I would have my unborn child, who isn't dead or alive, but I wouldn't want to leave them out if they were - eventually - there!

Q The best piece of advice you ever received?

A It was actually from my daddy when I was in my late teens. There was a period of time when I was going to study law instead of drama because I genuinely thought I was going to be like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, wearing pencil skirts every day and getting to say, "You can't handle the truth!" I genuinely thought that's what my life would be.

I got all A*s in my GCSEs and As in my A-Levels, so it was like you should either be studying law or medicine. But my dad said, "You don't want to do that, you want to be an actor and you want to perform, so go and do drama". He talked me out of having a really good living and talked me into being this unemployed actor! There aren't many parents who would talk you out of doing law - he obviously wants bad Christmas presents! Really, I'm so thankful though, because he was right - this is more 'me'.

Q The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A I absolutely love interior design. I re-decorate my house a couple of times a year basically. I love decorating, upcycling and revamping.

I just finished my living room two days ago, and I also upcycled a caravan in the summer.

Q The poem that touches your heart?

A Mr Giraffe! In all seriousness, it was the first time I stood up on stage and performed something and somebody told me I was good enough.

It was the first validation I got. It's something I can look back on and smile.

Q The happiest moment of your life?

A The day after my wedding day, when it was all over! It's so much work.

I had a brilliant time, but there's a lot going on, isn't there? It's actually the next day when you're both alone together and counting your money and reading your cards, that you're all bizz.

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Fun couple: Diona and Sean on their wedding day

Q And the saddest?

A The same day - after my wedding day. When you realise you're a has-been and nobody cares anymore!

I've still got my mum, my dad, my brother and my in-laws. I've been really lucky - and I'm so happy - that nobody has had any tragic illnesses or deaths.

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

A Going to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012 because, one, that's where I met Sean and, two, it's when I really started to see live comedy.

And now I perform stand-up and write comedy as well. It was a real game-changer for me.

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

A I would like to lead a series or a movie in the next few years - I think I'm ready. You know when you're ready and I feel like I am now.

Q What's the philosophy you live by?

A Eat more, move less.

Q How do you want to be remembered?

A As that fun aunt, who always smelled like Prosecco!

Diona Doherty will perform alongside husband Sean Hegarty in The Baltic Princess, the first adult-only panto at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, from November 30-December 29. Visit www.waterfront.co.uk/what-s-on/the-baltic-princess

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