Geoffrey Beattie's life has taken him on an astonishing trajectory from an impoverished childhood in Protestant working-class Belfast to a career as a world-renowned psychologist and TV celebrity.
But that journey has brought inevitable stresses and soul-searching as the highly intelligent boy who pored over his schoolbooks in a damp, dilapidated terraced house with an outside toilet transformed himself into the urbane, confident academic enjoying the spoils of material success in England.
That conflict is most apparent in the outworking of his relationship with his late mother Eileen, a clever, stoical, droll Ulsterwoman who didn't suffer fools and was especially adept at cutting her adult son down to size. It's a complex bond he examines in unflinching detail in his new book Selfless, an emotionally-charged memoir that charts the impact of his social mobility on himself and his family. "The tension was there right from the start," he says.
Like much of Beattie's work, it's also a validation of the merits of his Protestant upbringing, and he gets frustrated that other Protestants don't talk positively about their cultural hinterland. But of that more later.
Primarily this is the story of one family and a defining tragedy.
When Billy, the father he hero-worshipped, died suddenly at 51, and shortly afterwards his older brother Bill headed off to climb mountains around the world, Beattie, then 13, and his mother were left together in their little house in Legmore Street in Ligoniel in the north of the city. Both were grief-stricken and struggling to cope.
Beattie, who had passed his 11-Plus and won a place at Belfast Royal Academy, threw himself into schoolwork. His mother, meanwhile, clocked on at the mill, scraping a living and resentful that her son spent his evenings studying rather than chatting.
It was the start of something akin to a lifelong loyalty test between his mother and education.
"Losing dad was really tough. When he was alive, mum used to say 'I've never met a boy and his father so fond of each other'. There was no preparation for the 11-Plus at my primary school, St Mark's, but dad went to the education offices in town to get me past papers.
"My father was a motor mechanic and didn't understand the questions, but we'd go through them together. He encouraged me nonetheless. Later, when I started at Belfast Royal Academy, he'd ask me my Latin and I'd recite my verbs to him… he didn't understand a word of it but I loved that face smiling at me, so proud to have a son that clever.
"Dad was only 51, very slim, he never told me he was going into the hospital. He had an operation and was in a coma for a week before he died. I was doing exams and every afternoon on the Ligoniel bus I'd glance up at our house to see if the blinds had been pulled down to indicate a death in the family."
His father passed away in the Royal Victoria Hospital on a wet, cold night. Beattie was bereft and "closed down". He never shed a tear at the funeral but wept privately in the backyard. At night through the thin walls, he'd hear his mother sobbing.
"The day he died mum used this word 'orphan' and I instantly re-categorised myself. I knew my life had to change and the change was instantaneous."
Although the family had no money, up until then Beattie had "felt like a really spoilt boy". His father had made him a magnificent toy fort, and after he'd cranked into life an old Ford Popular in a scrapyard, they were one of the few families with a car.
Now, Beattie was aghast at how precarious their position was. "The day after the funeral I started cleaning up old paraffin heaters for neighbours. The first Saturday after the funeral a friend and I started a car washing business. I did anything I could to make money. I got mum to buy me a bag of marbles and soon I'd won thousands of them. I had a bin with about 4,000 marbles in it and boys would queue at the door to buy them. I had hundreds of threepenny bits in boxes.
"I've read that losing a father at a critical age is one of these key moments that drive you on in motivation. Later, I interviewed (former Manchester United manager) Alex Ferguson, a workaholic, and asked him who he was doing it all for. He said 'My dad, he never saw any of this success'. I loved this notion that you were trying to please someone who was watching you. That you were saying 'I'm doing this for you'.
"I knew we had no one to rely on. I was frantic for some sense of security and some control over my life. I studied harder. Mum would say 'you're not much company' because I'd be doing homework all the time. She couldn't understand the nature of the discipline but I knew that's what other pupils were doing at the Academy so that's what I had to do too.
Ironically Beattie's mother had been an academically gifted child too. At his primary school, the principal told him he was the smartest child to grace its classrooms since she had done so. "Yet mum left school at 14 to work in the mill. In a different social class, in a different decade, she'd have gone to university," says Beattie.
Like his father, she'd been delighted when Beattie passed his 11-Plus. Her only fear was that he "would become a wee snob".
Though a grammar school boy, Beattie still kept company with his "turn-of-the-road" pals, occasionally getting into skirmishes with Catholics. But in 1971 when three young off-duty Scottish soldiers were murdered at a beauty spot he'd visited with his father, he applied to universities in England, escaping Northern Ireland at the start of the Troubles.
As a student at Birmingham, he was acutely aware of his mother's sense of abandonment. Over the phone she'd sob reproachfully: "You always told me you wouldn't go, but as soon as you did your A-levels, you were off. I'm on my own."
When he was studying behaviourism in rats and told her humans were a lot like them, she retorted that she'd "never heard so much sh*te … Tell (your lecturer) that you are a Belfast man and a good wee Ulster Prod. You may have your faults, we all do, but one of them is not being a rat."
In a pitiful, painful encounter he used his "new undergraduate language" to try to analyse their relationship with her. "Why do you hate me?" she asked him tearfully.
A PhD in Cambridge followed, then a job as a lecturer but he couldn't shake off the guilt of leaving his mother in Belfast. The untimely death of his brother Bill in a climbing accident left her more forlorn than ever. "She loved Bill deeply and never got over it. When I was lecturing I'd ring mum every day. I knew she was lonely. But I was caught between competing pulls - the emotional pull of mum being on her own and the pull of the academic world which was incredibly competitive, and just like at BRA, I was going to be the best."
Beattie returned home as often as possible, lugging a hefty computer to write on. "It was my way of assuaging my guilt about work but she'd say 'what the hell are you doing with that?'" She'd visit him three times a year in England "but it would never be enough".
There'd be verbal sparring. His mum would jibe that he didn't have many friends. In a wonderful vignette, Beattie describes how at an event in Belfast she chatted to Beirut hostage Brian Keenan about his captivity. Afterwards she told her son: "I told him I knew what it was like. I said that I never got out either."
The most painful barbs were when she said that "if your father had been alive, he'd have been ashamed of you".
Beattie says: "Sometimes people say things not because they mean them but for the effect they will have. My mother was trying to get me to be different and had to use whatever linguistic weapons she had. She'd see boys who hadn't gone away, who saw their mothers more. From her point of view I was gallivanting across the water, ringing her with what sounded like a party in the background when in reality it was students laughing outside my office door."
Beattie, who worked on TV's Big Brother, is now Professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University, near Liverpool. The author of seminal works including We Are The People and Protestant Boy, he is that rare find: someone who proclaims the positives of his upbringing.
"Being an Ulster Protestant is a great thing to be proud of. I can't believe there are so many apologists, as if they have a sense of shame about their background. I've heard a little bit too much about that actually.
"It's almost as if to be a more cultured person you have to reject your Ulster Protestant background. But I've always tried to talk about what it meant to me, how critical it was - and still is - to me. It's part of who I am and I'm not going to deny it just in order to fit in more comfortably with people's stereotypes of the background I come from. I'm not going to name names but I can think of some quite well-known Ulster Protestants… why don't they ever say anything positive about their background experiences?"
Beattie says brutal portrayals of Ulster Protestants "are based on stereotypes or prototypes of people they recognise". Pointing to the number of US Presidents from Ulster Scots/Irish Scots stock, he continues: "It's a culture that has come in for a lot of criticism.
"It's as if there was a conflict going on and we were on the wrong side, almost like being an Afrikaner or a white person from Louisiana or Georgia. We were just working-class. We weren't exploiting anybody. Working-class Protestants and Catholics lived in the same streets, worked in the same mills."
The day after his mum's death, clearing out a kitchen cupboard, Beattie found an envelope stuffed with articles he'd written, including academic papers. In a cubbyhole were his old school books. "I was genuinely shocked, I thought she'd got rid of it all," he says.
Other things remain. The man whose childhood revolved around church - "twice on Sundays, Sunday School, Church Lads' brigade club - still prays each night. "It's my way of looking at what I've done in the day and if there is anything I shouldn't have done, asking forgiveness for it. I love this notion of an all-knowing God, someone who has seen everything."
He adds: "I'm trying to articulate the necessary stresses and strains of getting an education, coming out of a culture not used to academic work. I got on with it but I should have understood better how threatening that all was to mum. I was the only thing she had and she felt she could lose me, that I might become a snob and be ashamed of my background.
"But that early stuff is a huge part of me and I look back on it with enormous fondness. She lost something but I lost something too - that sense of community, of place, of connections. I've been on a journey ever since and I might just end up back where I started, the boy I always was."
Selfless: A Psychologist's Journey Through Identity and Social Class, Routledge, £18.99