'I'm amazed schools in Northern Ireland are segregated'
Scottish comic Wendy Wason, who is married to Ulster actor Stephen Hagan, on why she is taking part in a special concert in Belfast tonight in support of integrated education
Scottish comedian and actress Wendy Wason has become a regular visitor to Northern Ireland since she married local actor Stephen Hagan. Not only is she here on frequent family visits but local audiences have been enjoying her sharp humour on TV's The Blame Game.
This week though she is back for a very different reason - supporting the drive for more integrated education in Northern Ireland.
And the stunning brunette, who captured the heart of heartthrob actor Hagan at first sight, has fallen in love with her husband's homeland.
She will join a great line-up of local stars - mentalist David Meade and comics Tim McGarry, Colin Murphy and Neil Dougan, - for a unique gig in the Ulster Hall tonight in aid of the Integrated Education Fund.
Wendy, who was brought up a Scottish Catholic, and married Stephen, a Northern Irish Protestant, and is raising their children in multi-cultural central London, says she was shocked to discover that education here is still segregated.
Her father-in-law, well known local businessman James Hagan who runs property development company Hagan Homes, is a supporter of the Integrated Education Fund and it was through him that Wendy first heard about the work of the charity.
"My father-in-law supports the charity and I heard they were having a talk in London and I decided to go along," she says. "I was amazed to find in this day and age that children in Northern Ireland are educated in different schools according to their religion.
"I was also talking to Baroness Blood who was telling me how much children benefit from learning about each other's backgrounds and religions.
"In my children's school they have Muslims, Jewish people and all sorts of religions and they don't know the difference between Protestants and Catholics. I was happy to have this chance to support the charity as I really believe in what they are doing."
Straightaway she lightens the mood by pointing out that her husband is not, in fact, up for grabs as reported in a recent survey of Northern Ireland's most eligible bachelors.
"He's a married man," she laughs. "I think he was ninth on the list and Gary Lightbody, who I went to university with, was third, so maybe I need to upgrade."
Stephen, from Greenisland, is currently filming for the second series of the hit Sky drama Lucky Man, in which he stars as the brother of the main character played by our own Jimmy Nesbitt.
Last year in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph to mark the launch of the first series, Stephen didn't hold back when talking about his admiration and love for Wendy.
The couple met by pure chance in a pub in London when Stephen was going through a phase of being out of work.
They married shortly afterwards, in 2012, and have a son Riley (4) as well as two children from Wendy's first marriage, Isobella (14) and Max (12).
At the time Stephen told us: "I fell instantly in love with her. Wendy knows what she wants and we are always very honest with each other and we communicate with each other and she is beautiful and gorgeous as well which is a bonus."
Wendy is just as candid. She says: "I am 10 years older than Stephen and I was going through a divorce and working nights when we met and I just thought he would want nothing to do with me. He was a struggling young actor who hadn't worked in seven months and I felt sorry for him.
"We just hit it off and he is the nicest man in the world and his looks aren't even the best thing about him."
The couple work together as a team when it comes to juggling their careers with family life.
Wendy has just finished a long run at the Edinburgh Festival where she did 50 performances in a month.
This week she was home getting the kids ready for back to school and preparing Riley for his very first day in primary one next week.
"I've gone from performing non-stop in Edinburgh to sewing school labels on," she says. "Riley can't wait to do homework like his big brother and sister.
"For us it is about being present when we are at home with the kids. We have a no device rule on a Sunday when everything is switched off and we spend the day with the kids playing board games or getting out and doing something and having a laugh.
"When we are home we are 100% present and enjoying it and I think spending quality time with them is more important. There are people who are home all the time with their children and yet spend no time with them.
"In Edinburgh I worked flat out for the first week and then the children came down for the second week and we did some fun things together. When I finished we had four or five days in Spain together as a family.
"We are very lucky we have similar jobs and both of our lives can be hectic, but we go and do it and there is no point getting upset. We don't have a conventional life but we try and make it work as best we can and I'm really proud of how we make it work as a family."
As well as success as a stand-up comedian, Wendy is an established actress with roles in Coupling, the IT Crowd, Sherlock and working with everyone from Chris O'Dowd and Nicholas Lyndhurst to Johnny Depp and John Malkovich. In February 2014 she was nominated for best actress in Hollywood for British Hustle, the Toscars spoof.
While she has a film lined up for the New Year (although details as yet cannot be revealed), her comedy career has taken off.
Jimmy Carr has described her as "absolutely hysterical" and in a review The Sunday Times commented: "She's charming, clever and funny."
Wendy describes her humour as observational. "I tell stories about family life and day to day stuff and the darker side of motherhood, the things you would normally share with your closest friends," she says.
She is also soon to embark on a tour with her stand-up show called Tiny Me. Stephen meanwhile is filming for Lucky Man as well as being back in Northern Ireland to shoot Zoo, which is a true story set during World War Two in Belfast.
Wendy is naturally proud of his success. "Lucky Man has really taken off and it's brilliant. He gets on so well with Jimmy Nesbitt and I think they enjoy the banter together and have a good giggle on set," she says.
Northern Ireland has certainly found its way into Wendy's heart. She says: "We come over to Belfast a lot for family and I love it over there. We spent a week going round the North Coast and visiting Portstewart and that was wonderful.
"I love performing there as the audience's sense of humour is very like the Scottish sense of humour.
"The Blame Game is great and I love working with Tim McGarry and the team. I went to university with Gary Lightbody, who was with a band called Polar Bear at the time before he joined Snow Patrol. I hadn't seen him since and one night after the Blame Game I went into a pub with Tim McGarry and Gary was there which was really bizarre. It is amazing the connections, it seems that more and more things lead back to Northern Ireland.
"I'm really looking forward to doing the show on Saturday night. It should be a good night and hopefully people will have fun."
Tickets for Stand Up for Integrated Education,Ulster Hall, 8pm, cost £20. For more information go to www.ief.org.uk/events