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Gloria Hunniford: 'Like Philip, I've a verve for work. Not that it is all glamour but I do find energy for it'


As Prince Philip takes a back seat from his royal duties, veteran NI broadcaster Gloria Hunniford (76) tells reporter Una Brankin of her admiration for Her Majesty's loyal and colourful consort, and speaks of her own disregard for the official retirement age.

Gloria says:

I have the utmost respect for the Duke of Edinburgh. He's an incredible man. I was looking at the pictures of him at Lords on Thursday - he's so full of life, and vibrant.

I was lucky to get to interview him once for Good Evening Ulster when it was an hour-long programme, full of reports from out and about and so on. It was in the late 1970s and there were a lot of young people from Northern Ireland in for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

We were going over to film from the palace and I had the cheek to ask the PR if there was any chance of an interview with Prince Philip, as the young people of Northern Ireland were getting bad press, and I've never been one to take no for an answer.

The PR said she didn't like to ask but she did, and he said yes. We were actually led into the inner sanctum, the room where the Queen makes her Christmas broadcast. It was thrilling; it really was one of the highlights of my life.

I'd done my homework for the interview well - I knew the Duke was likely to bite my nose off if I wasn't properly prepared, but I had done all the preparation I could and it went very well.

I was lucky; he didn't tell me off and it was great to have him acknowledge the young people from Northern Ireland at the awards.

I could see the attraction the Queen had for him. Even at 95, all dressed up, he's a very handsome man. And to this day, he makes the Queen laugh. She always has a smile on her face when she's with him; you'll see that after some event when they are sitting and laughing in the car. It's lovely that they clearly enjoy each other's company and I think he's always had a zest for meeting people during his royal duties.

I've always had that zest for my work, too. I first stood on a stage to sing at six years old, which means that this year I'm celebrating 70 years in show business. And I want to continue broadcasting. I enjoy it; I have a verve for it, not that it's all glamorous. There's a lot of standing about in bad weather and travelling - sometimes I'm spending nine or 10 hours in a car. Yet somehow I find the energy; I'm rattling with vitamins. And I find broadcasting stimulating.

I have a Northern Ireland work ethic. I get hundreds of letters from young people asking for advice on how to get into broadcasting. I set out to be a singer originally and the fact is, I got in through a record I’d made. In 1969, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women in television, but Dan Gilbert, who took me on at the BBC, brought me into a newsroom full of men typing, on my first day, and told me to remember I was just as good as any of them. He put that in my head. He was ahead of his time.

I was sent out to report on the bullets, bombs and barricades.

The singing was a good extra string to my bow when I moved to England in 1982 and had to appear on things like the Des O’Connor show. But I came to love broadcasting much more. I get to learn something new and meet new people every day — why would I give that up?

I do Loose Women every third week, and Rip Off Britain is going really well. We’re doing Rip Off Holidays soon. I’m learning money-saving tips from the show all the time. I’ve changed my house insurance and electricity provider to save money.

People talk about ageism in broadcasting but us Rip Off Britain presenters have more credibility than twentysomethings.  We’ve been round the block.

I’m also busy with my late daughter Caron’s foundation and other cancer charities, too.

I’m very lucky in my career. I’ve interviewed so many wonderful Hollywood stars, from Charlton Heston to Audrey Hepburn to James Stewart. If someone had told me when I was young and going to one of the three picture houses in Portadown week in and week out that I’d get to have such opportunities, I’d never have believed it.

So, no — I’ve no plans to retire. As my doctor said when I asked him if he was still practising recently, retirement for me will be my wake.

John Campbell: Sound of band and roar of crowd still spur me on

It was on the last Friday in May 2009 that, with some reluctance, I took my leave of the Belfast Telegraph, where for over 30 years I had been privileged to form lasting friendships and derive considerable job satisfaction, initially as rugby correspondent and subsequently as GAA correspondent.

This, I thought then, would mark the first day of the rest of my life. And so it did indeed — the rest of my self-employed working life, that is.

It was on the following morning, while enjoying one of the few things in life I do well — drinking tea — that current group sports editor Jim Gracey contacted me with a request to furnish some additional information on an Ulster Championship match due to take place the following day, finishing his request with the immortal line: “Welcome to retirement, John.”

He was not to know, of course, that I probably hold the dubious distinction of being one of a very few people to have slipped away from their leaving “do” wearing another hat.

In my case, it was a full-throttle blast up the M1 to the Mellon Country Inn, Omagh to oversee my ongoing loss-making operations in the entertainment sphere.

My twin fascinations as a teenager were showbands and newspapers, with girls running a close third.

I never imagined that a fusion of my interests would prove to be a life-support machine for myself and my family, nor indeed was the prospect of meeting so many fascinating people, attending so many memorable matches in both sporting codes, finding myself at the hub of a transformation in musical and dancing tastes, or making the acquaintance of legends ever on my radar.

Today, the showbands have been replaced by a new generation of stars and my partner in KC Country, an 85-year-old Belfast cub named Trevor Kane, who brought both the Beatles and Rolling Stones to Belfast, and I host the likes of Nathan Carter, Derek Ryan, Lisa McHugh et al in the various hotel venues with which we are associated.

And while music of a different genre currently dominates, so, too, does a culture of professionalism thrive within the GAA — even though this sporting body’s greatest asset, the players themselves, must rigidly adhere to their amateur ethos.

Thirty years ago, I might well have traversed a couple of fields (maybe comprising an entire townland) on foot to beg the use of a telephone in order to get my copy through to the Telegraph, afterwards discreetly leaving “a few bob” for confectionery nourishment for the children of the household.

Today, match reports can be filed instantaneously, Press conferences and event launches are conducted with military precision, facilities are second to none for the most part, sponsorship is measured in millions of pounds — and I’m still as poor as ever.

Yet, work keeps me stimulated, provides me with challenges that are sometimes daunting, but rarely insurmountable and keeps me in contact with people for whom I have, for the most part, great respect and affection.

I take each day as it comes, spurred on by the sound of the band and the roar of the crowd.

Hopefully, the last waltz is still some way off.

John Simpson: Retiring at 65 should not always be compulsory

Typically, we can expect to live longer than our parents. Not everyone will live, like Prince Philip, into their mid-90s, but most of us will live beyond the notional retirement age of 65, or for some people the prospect of retirement at 60.

Without going into grim personal details, already in my years of so-called "early retirement", I am living over 10 years longer than my parents managed.

That describes a mix of problems and opportunities mainly linked to money and costs. When the old age pension was first introduced, the arithmetic showing what the pension would cost was based on the reasonable forecast that people receiving that pension might, on average, live for less than 10 further years. That forecast now needs to change.

First, it is more likely that the old age pension might be claimed for nearer, or more than, 20 years. Second, the cost of longer active lives drawing pensions has increased dramatically.

The National Insurance arithmetic that we have saved for that pension is very misleading. A better and more realistic approach to cope with our ability to live longer is that, for personal benefit and as a form of better personal planning, an unnecessary stepping back from the world of work at an inappropriate arbitrary age (say 60, or 65) is bad advice.

If we reach what might be described as pensionable age and continue to be capable of doing useful, paid employment, then there is a social, personal and moral duty to keep working.

The society we live in should not be asked (or expected) to carry an increasing cost (in taxes or lost output) for extra years of enforced non-active lifestyles.

Years ago, many of my contemporaries looked forward to retirement. Then, when it came, there were chances of greater leisure, more gardening and doing more of the things that occupy people with less to do.

Too often, but not always, life following retirement is less interesting, or even boring, and is faced with falling real household income.

If physically there is the ability to continue to earn income that helps the household finances and makes a useful contribution to other parts of the community, that should be welcome.

As an indication of personal motivation and a sense of social responsibility, there is a strong case where circumstances allow either to postpone, or to avoid, retirement.

Just keep on going if your employment can be continued, or find alternative employment, which uses your skills, or develops new skills, so that income is supplemented.

Retirement should not be compulsory when a predetermined age is reached. The preferred attitude should separate two different features.

One is the formula to access whatever pension is being accrued. The other is the physical and mental ability to retain paid employment, whether full or part-time.

As a community, nationally, the economics of pensions' policy demands that the age of entitlement to draw a pension should be raised as soon as can be arranged.

We must pay more to finance the cost of longer periods of drawing a pension. Then we must work for longer to avoid pension costs becoming even more unaffordable than they are now becoming.

Prince Philip has set a good example. The concept of formal, age-related retirement should be abandoned.

Of course, human frailties must be compensated when necessary. However, lifestyles must allow us to enjoy longer active lives, including better living standards through more years of earning a (better) living.

Retirement is not a word in my vocabulary?

  • John Simpson is one of Northern Ireland's leading economists

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