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NI-born Emmy winning TV director John FD Northover on working with chef Gordon Ramsay, being his late mum’s carer and his new career in furniture

The award-winning television executive from Co Down tells Stephanie Bell about looking after his mother following her dementia diagnosis and how buying a new home laid the foundations for his latest venture

John FD Northover
John FD Northover
Some items in his range of high-end home furniture

By Stephanie Bell

Name a TV star or hit show from the past 30 years and chances are that local man John FD Northover played a part in its success. Now in a dramatic twist of his own, the Bafta and Emmy award winning director, writer and producer has turned his talents to a completely new line of business - furniture design.

By Northover is a contemporary high-end range of furnishings launched by John just last month and already there is interest from three major hotel chains.

While an entirely new direction for the Holywood man, he is not expecting to leave his TV work behind any time soon.

John's CV reads like a who's who of popular television over the past 30 years.

Although rooted in entertainment and comedy, he has worked extensively in factual productions, lifestyle and also covered live events.

He has worked on everything from Have I Got News For You and If I Ruled The World to The Dame Edna Treatment, Whose Line is it Anyway?, Harry Hill's Shark Infested Custard and factual shows such as Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic, Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live, The F Word and Paul and Nick's Big Food Trip.

Born and bred in Holywood, Co Down, the 60-year-old has spent most of his career in Manchester and London, returning home 10 years ago.

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Regarded within the TV industry as one of the UK and Ireland's most innovative and experienced directors, he has had a hand in helping devise some of our most popular shows.

In 2015, John was awarded the Emmy for best director of a live or recorded live programme for a song production he directed from Belfast's Grand Opera House.

He was also nominated for a Bafta for his work on Have I Got News for You and went on to win the coveted Bafta Children's Award for SMTV with Ant and Dec in 2000.

John FD Northover behind the camera at work
John FD Northover behind the camera at work

Yet of all the many exciting projects he has worked on and the fascinating people and celebrities he has met, it was caring for his elderly mum when she developed dementia six years ago that John says has had the biggest impact on him.

And despite his successful star-studded career, he also sees it as the single biggest achievement of his life.

He says: "My mother had dementia for four years and I was her main carer. My sister, who lives an hour-and-a-half away, would come down at the weekends to take over. I've no family or partner and after being away from home for 17 years, I felt it was time for me to step up.

"People used to stop me in the street and say how hard it must be but while, yes it was challenging, it was also joyful and I learnt from it how to live in the moment.

"I used to be always chasing the next series or award or the next project, but when someone has dementia it forces you to learn how to be in the moment.

"I had no time to myself as mum would call me all the time and for four years I slept no more than around three hours a night.

John's late mother Stella
John's late mother Stella

"When you don't have time for yourself it is important to find even 10 minutes of something positive to do.

"A friend of mine who used to be engaged to Stevie Wonder and whose brother was killed in Los Angeles suggested that I read a book on creative visualisation, which at first I thought was a load of old nonsense.

"Then I thought I would try it and I now I do it for 45 minutes every morning. It's a combination of mindfulness and meditation with positive affirmations.

"There is no negativity in my life now. You never know when your life will change and now I say 'yes' to everything which is part of being in the moment."

John lost his mum Stella, who was a drama teacher right up until the age of 83, on April 9, 2017. She was 91.

His father Joe, who was an engineer in Shorts, passed away in 1989 aged 61. John is very close to his sister, Stella-Jo, who is vice principal of Coleraine College. He describes her as "amazing".

Some items in his range of high-end home furniture
Some items in his range of high-end home furniture

His new outlook on living in the moment inadvertently led him to experiment with furniture design and also pen his first novel, which he hopes to publish later this year.

It was after he bought a new home in Holywood last year and struggled to find furniture he liked for it that he decided to design some pieces himself.

He approached a local interior design shop with his drawings and asked if they could get the pieces made.

The shop was so impressed by his designs that they suggested he go into business and sell them.

He explains: "I thought about it for about a week and then I decided, why not? I designed three banquettes (padded footstools) which are really beautiful and are locally made and very adaptable and cutting edge.

"I thought I would get them made and see what happens.

"I have a website which is ready to be launched and in the meantime I've been promoting them through Facebook and Instagram.

"They will be made to order in Northern Ireland and there are three big hotel chains looking at our range, which is very exciting. I expect it will be a trickle of orders and interest at first and I'm just going to wait and see how it goes."

Drawing on his experiences of growing up in Northern Ireland during the 70s and 80s, John has also penned a novel, called A Ribbon Binds Them, which he aims to publish this year.

It tells the story of two childhood friends who are reunited after years by a tragedy when one of their husbands disappears and it launches them on a joint quest through the 80s cabaret scene to find him.

John enjoyed a happy childhood. He was a pupil at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood and went on to study for a joint honours degree in English and French at Queen's University. He is a licentiate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and an associate of the London College of Music.

He started his career in TV as an announcer for BBC NI and then landed a job in Manchester as a trainee producer on television.

He spent three years there and through a happy coincidence was working on a show in London when someone suggested he contact Hat Trick Productions about a new show called Have I Got News for You.

He says: "Had I not been doing that odd job in London, which was pulled because of litigation, I would never have got my break with Hat Trick and my career could have been very different.

"I did nine series of Have I Got News for You and went on to do Room 101 and the Clive Anderson Show."

Of the many stars he has worked with over the years, Gordon Ramsay stands out as one of his favourites along with Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage), Joan Rivers and Harry Hill.

He says: "I love people with a bit of devilment in them and I like people who are grafters and put the work in.

"Maybe that's because I was born in Northern Ireland and had a good work ethic instilled in me. I'm not a big fan of people who coast.

"Eamonn Holmes and Gloria Hunniford are two people who also put the work in.

"I think you need to learn from every person you work with and every job you do and then opportunities will open for you. My advice to anyone going into TV is to do the work and if you keep grafting and apply yourself, success will come to you."

As well as his strong work ethic, John remains grounded, another admirable trait associated with being from this part of the world.

He has won the biggest awards in the business, but to him his success is not measured by the gongs on his mantelpiece. "I think success is what people say about you when you are not there," he says. "Awards are great and having money and a fast car is great but - and maybe it's my age - I think success is what you leave behind of yourself and to me love is more important."

Still single, he says he just hasn't met the right one although he still lives in hope.

He says: "I would be a nightmare to live with. I fold all my towels a certain way and I only have white towels.

"I like the things I like. The right person hasn't come a long yet but who knows what might happen. I'm still single but it's good."

While working on ideas for developing his own furniture range, John is as busy as ever with his TV work.

He has just finished directing a three-night live show in Dublin for RTE and will spend the rest of this month teaching at a multi-camera music director's course in Galway, followed by two broadcasts from Cork Observatory to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in July called The Day We Landed on the Moon.

In between he will be launching his new furniture business and his novel.

He adds: "The furniture range is a new direction and life is changing, but the one thing I'm most proud of is looking after someone with dementia and, while it was tough, it was also the most rewarding thing I have ever done."

To find out more about John's furniture range email bynorthover@hotmail.com

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