'I was seven years old when my dad died of cardiomyopathy. He was born with it but it wasn't diagnosed until they found a leaking valve... I learned I have the same condition and now I just feel happy to be healthy'
In this week's interview, Rachel Dean talks to artist Aly Harte (36) who lives in Belfast with her husband Michael and their three sons, Elijah (10), Tobias (8) and Abraham (3)
Q. Tell us about your childhood.
A. I had a very outdoorsy and active childhood. I grew up in Boardmills, just outside Lisburn, with my mum Ella and my brother Richard, who is three years older than me. I guess my childhood was tainted a little bit by grief because my daddy, John, died when I was just seven years old. He died of cardiomyopathy - he was born with it, but it wasn't diagnosed until they found he had a leaking valve. He had been waiting for a heart transplant when he died.
I have to say, though, I still had a very fun, very whimsical, lovely childhood - and I did enjoy my childhood. We went camping in Portballintrae a lot and I loved it. I think I always had a creative side, but it wasn't until I left Ballynahinch High School that I truly realised it. I was certainly always drawing from a very young age and I was very much interested in pencils and colour.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. My 13 years of marriage and my three children. I've got all boys and it can be a bit manic at times, but in a good way. I've been building my career since my first son was born. I guess that's another thing I'm proud of - the fact that I've built a career from nothing.
Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?
A. I try not to regret anything but if I had to amend one thing, I probably would have studied my degree or my masters in fine art abroad. But at the same time, if I had studied abroad, I wouldn't have the same life I have now.
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Q. Any phobias?
A. Spiders and heights - but I try not to share this with my kids because I don't want them to be afraid of these things too.
Q. The temptation you cannot resist?
A. At the minute, I am obsessed with hot chocolate. It's a daily occurrence. There's something about hot chocolate with marshmallows that makes a great winter warmer. It's so good - and it takes all the cravings away when you're craving something sweet.
Q. Your number one prized possession?
A. My Bible, which is actually on an app on my phone now. Everything is digital now.
Q. The book that's most impacted your life?
A. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. From a creative point of view, it's beautifully written, but it's also about art and it really revived my painting. I read it a year ago and it's really impacted the last year for me.
Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?
A. I would wipe out poverty and racism. On Christmas Day I went to the International Meeting Point on the Lisburn Road with my mum and my husband to serve dinner to people who maybe don't have someone to go to or don't have a home.
Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A. I don't get that angry often, but my two younger boys have a habit of missing the toilet bowl when they go to the bathroom, so at the minute, I'd have to say that!
Q. Who has most influenced you in life?
A. My exceptional mum, Ella. She raised us on her own and she never, ever complained. She has had a real impact on my life - I think she's magical.
Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A. My first choice would obviously be my dad because I'd love to have the chance to catch up with him over a glass of red wine. And I'd ask him for some self-employment advice because he was self-employed too.
Then I'd bring Neil Shawcross, an artist, who was also my tutor in university. I'd love to talk to him about art.
And Trevor Noah, a comedian. I would want him there for the laughs. I also just read his book, Born a Crime, which is about his childhood in South Africa, and I'd like to talk to him about that.
Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?
A. Live and let live. In business and in life, you start to realise that everyone is fighting their own battles, so no matter how annoyed you get at people, you never know what they're going through - just let it go.
Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A. This might come as a surprise, but I love American lorries. I always thought I wanted to be a lorry driver and that I'd travel the world as a lorry driver. I don't know where this love came from - my dad was a mechanic, so maybe it was him. I'll probably never own a lorry, but maybe I'll get a four-by-four one day. That's the dream, to own a big Defender of some sort.
Q. The poem that touches your heart?
A. You're by Sylvia Plath is one of my favourite poems. I read it while at grammar school - it was around the time my uncle died, I had just moved to the Friends' School in Lisburn and started to write. My teacher Mrs Black saw something in my own writing, and I was very inspired by Sylvia Plath.
Q. The happiest moment of your life?
A. Right now. I feel that now in my life is definitely the happiest I've ever been. I'm kind of working on gratitude and being thankful for the less happy moments as well.
I'm so grateful for my career, the kids and Michael and I'm just so thankful to be alive. I was diagnosed with the same heart defect as my dad, and it's monitored annually, so I suppose now I just feel even more happy to be healthy.
Q. And the saddest?
A. When my cousin Avril died over a year ago. She was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away just seven months later. That was hard and very sad. Our dads were brothers and they had both died, so we were very close.
Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?
A. I started at Ballynahinch High School feeling like a failure because I didn't pass my 11-plus, but I left it feeling like I could conquer anything. At that age, it was hard to think I was already falling short but, when I went to school, everything just blossomed. I developed my love for art at school and realised that I was creative.
I learnt that you can be friends with people from all walks of life, no matter what religion. I learnt confidence and how to be my authentic self.
High school really nurtured me, so I would say that made a big difference in my life and who I am.
Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?
A My legacy of helping others. I'm always telling people that social media and things like that are fleeting and you don't want to get caught in the race of it all - I want to be in this for the long game.
Q. What's the philosophy you live by?
A. That would be 'better never quits'.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. As a talented artist with a generous heart.
Aly Harte's latest exhibition, Placing Importance on the Everyday, is at the Sunburst Gallery, Ards Arts Centre, Town Hall, Conway Square, Newtownards, until January 25. The show comprises 12 original artworks featuring women who represent the pattern of Aly's daily life and family, from mothers of her children's schoolfriends to women she encounters at the gym, women whom she has known since childhood and self-employed mums building businesses, just like herself (and her self portrait is included too). Each of the women in the portraits is a mother with her own personal struggle and story. See details of Aly's exciting fundraising campaign in aid of The Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stuff-a-bus