Hymnwriter Keith Getty has spent 20 years at the top of his game along with singer wife Kristyn. But for now, the Northern Ireland-born couple, who are usually based in America, have taken a step back from their fast-paced lives.
"We've been at home now for months, and we're really loving the experience," says Keith (46). "We have a home in the countryside near the north coast and we're in touching distance to all the beaches, so it's really been incredible. We hit a different beach most days, and the kids are really enjoying the experience."
Along with daughters Eliza (9), Charlotte (6), Gracie, (5) and two-year-old Tali, the musicians made the decision to relocate to their native Northern Ireland for a break back in September - and just recently decided to extend their stay until the summer.
"We have got a wonderful home tutor for the girls," says Keith, who grew up in Lisburn. "She's actually an American who married an Irish guy, and the girls love her.
"We have an apartment on the property too, where my sister is, and she does sports with the children and takes them to the beach. I do an hour every morning after breakfast teaching them music too, and I've really loved that.
"The girls go to a great school in America and we've recently been told that if we went back at this point they would be doing their lessons on Zoom from home, so it made sense to carry on with what we're doing and stay here. We really enjoyed it, slowing down and the simple things in life."
And having had such an extended stay, Keith says he's fallen back in love with the place he grew up in.
"I'm enjoying so much the beauty of Ireland and the qualities of the people here," he says. "You forget when you grow up here and then move away to somewhere that offers you all these opportunities, you forget that the place you were from was so beautiful and has such extraordinary qualities.
"Coming back now it's like I've fallen in love with Ireland again, and all the heritage we've got, even realising that so many of the greatest hymns of the world came from these small counties in the north of Ireland.
"There are hymns inscribed on national walls in China that came from here, hymns that took missionaries to the ends of the earth. It's an amazing place, and it's wonderful to be back."
But with big work plans for 2021 and beyond, Keith says the family, who reached audiences of millions around the world with online singalongs during the course of the pandemic, does intend to return to the States in July.
"Next year will be 20 years since I wrote the hymn In Christ Alone," he says. "So we have a lot of plans to mark that, running for a year from September, with an album and a book to mark 20 years of our hymns. Celebrating our journey, we'll be releasing another album with some of the great hymns of Ireland and America, pairing up with some world class bluegrass and country artists."
Keith's strong Christian faith is also at the front of his mind, and he says it's helped him deal with the enormity of events through the course of the last year.
"Philosophically speaking, we're extremely grateful to be alive and healthy," he says. "But that could all end tomorrow, and we're very much aware of just how seriously many people have suffered through all this.
"I believe Christianity grows in times of poverty, persecution and plague, and speaks louder and with more compassion and hope. To me as a Christian, it is a chance to show some light and love and joy, in the nicest possible way, to offer some hope when things are difficult."
Last year was a rollercoaster for all of us - but for Holly Hamilton, pregnancy news at the height of the pandemic gave her something positive to think about.
And as her January due date approaches at a rate of knots, the BBC sports presenter says she's as ready for motherhood as she'll ever be.
"It was such a bizarre year in so many ways," says Holly (35). "At this point I really have very little expectation of what normal is anymore, so I suppose this might as well be normal now.
"I was so busy the whole year with work and everything going on, being pregnant has been a brilliant distraction and something exciting to look forward to."
Recalling the unusual timing of finding out she was going to be a mum, Holly explains that Radio Ulster star husband Connor Phillips was across the Irish Sea from their home in Manchester when she took her test.
"We weren't actually together when I found out," she says. "It was back around April when things were really difficult, right in the depths of the lockdown and Connor was back in Belfast.
"At the start we thought we'd be apart for a couple of weeks, but in the end we didn't see each other for eight weeks because of all the restrictions.
"It was during that time I found out I was pregnant. I wanted to tell him in person, but I didn't have a clue when I'd see him again so in the end I tried to make a bit of an event of it with a sort of FaceTime date.
"We did the whole thing, you cook a meal where you are and I'll do the same here, and I even got dressed up and put some make-up on.
"He knew I was acting a bit odd, and then when I asked if he thought he'd have any plans in January, he started talking about how we'd maybe get away on a skiing holiday if everything had calmed down."
But of course, the star, originally from Greyabbey, Co Down, told her husband she didn't think a ski holiday would work out - and showed him her positive pregnancy test.
"His face was a picture," she recalls. "It was brilliant. And it was such amazing news to lift us a bit from all the doom and gloom. It's been such a difficult time for everyone but this news has been so lovely for everyone to focus on. Not only will the baby be our first, but my parents will become grandparents for the first time, my siblings will be an aunt and uncle for the first time, and everyone's just giddy with excitement about it all. Ours will be the fourth grandchild in Connor's family too, and his whole side of the family can't wait for the new arrival."
After spending the duration of Holly's pregnancy travelling back and forth between Northern Ireland and England, the pair will settle for a time in their property in Co Down when the baby arrives.
"Covid has a big part to play in the decision," says Holly. "After heading to our place in Holywood for Christmas, the plan is for the baby to be born in Northern Ireland.
"I want my mum and dad and Connor's family to be part of his or her life, and with the restrictions coming in and out of place at the minute it could be months otherwise before they'd meet the baby. I haven't lived in Northern Ireland for maybe seven years, so it will be a big change.
"But if this pandemic has done anything it's shown everyone how important family is, and being close to mine when the baby comes will be great."
And while she has no fixed end date for her maternity leave, Holly describes herself as a workaholic, and says she knows big changes are coming in 2021.
"I find the notion of not working very daunting," she says. "But people keep saying these things can change very much when the baby comes, so I'm not committing to anything specific in terms of timings.
"I'm a workaholic so I have no doubt it will be a big adjustment, but the one thing I've been told - a lot - is that there will be plenty of work to do!"
She’s right at the heart of one of Northern Ireland’s most successful TV series ever, and Tara Lynne O’Neill is proud as punch of her role as Ma Mary in Channel 4’s Derry Girls.
Last year, like so many projects across her industry, filming for series three of the comedy hit was put on hold, as were other projects close to her heart.
“I was doing Shirley Valentine in the Lyric right up until everything kicked off. It ended up being the last show there because it ended on the Sunday way back when in March and the lights went off on the Tuesday,” she says.
“It was such a mad time because the pandemic was just kicking off and everyone was just starting to get frightened about what was coming next. What we didn’t know then was that the lights would stay out for so long.”
With filming paused for Derry Girls, Tara Lynne is excited for the day the “incredible” cast can get back together.
“It was disappointing that everything was put on hold, but it’s only paused and the great thing about the Derry Girls fans is that they’re just begging for the new episodes. They really love it, so they’re not annoyed about the delay,” the actress tells me.
“Everyone completely understands that this year has thrown a spanner in the works for so many projects, so we’ll just hang on and get it right when we can.
“I’m really excited to see everybody. We’ve kept in touch on the phone and Zoom and things like that, but it’ll be great to get back in the room together.”
In spite of everyone’s enthusiasm about getting back on set, it’s much easier said than done.
“At this point, I’ve no idea of the timings. The main thing is getting a schedule together, which is harder than you’d think,” Tara Lynne says.
“There are 11 in the core cast, which is actually quite big, and the challenge is trying to get us all available at the same time.”
Tara Lynne admits that she hasn’t even seen the new script yet.
“Lisa McGee is an amazing writer. The script will be amazing, I’ve no doubt, but she wouldn’t tell me anyway because she’d only worry that I’d tell everyone,” the 44-year-old explains.
While Tara Lynne has enjoyed great success as an actor, with years working on stage and a role in EastEnders, Derry Girls has most definitely been a highlight.
“It’s a real privilege to be a part of it,” says the star, who grew up in west Belfast. “It’s global because we’re there on Netflix. There are people around the world watching it.
“I’d never been involved in something like that before and it’s great. We’ve just got a brilliant feeling within the cast and everyone loves it.
“I think it’s put Northern Ireland on the map in a different way than some of the other things shot here.
“Game of Thrones and all the big ones are amazing and they’ve done amazing things for the industry, but Derry Girls is actually set here, with our people. Who would have thought it would translate to families away over in Mexico? But it does.”
The first play Tara Lynne wrote solo was due to run at the Lyric in the autumn but was pushed back.
“I was a bit gutted, but it’s only been postponed. It’s called Rough Girls. (The title was) inspired by a line by Oscar Wilde — ‘Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but is hardly suitable for delicate boys’,” she says.
“The play is about this amazing, rule-breaking time in women’s football in Northern Ireland 100 years ago.
“I really want the play to be performed live because it will mean 11 women on stage, which isn’t something that happens all that often.”
After a year that we’d all like to forget, Tara Lynne has nothing but admiration for the people who worked to keep others safe through the course of the pandemic.
“Everybody has faced challenges in different ways, but the people I feel like I notice a lot are the care workers going in and out of houses all the time,” she says.
“It must be such a stressful job. From personal experience with both of my parents before they passed away, I know how essential they (carers) are. They became part of the family and I really appreciate the work they do. Hopefully things will get better for all of us now as we head into 2021.”
Radio presenter Frank Mitchell has big changes coming his way in 2021 after his announcement that he was leaving UTV after 34 years at the broadcaster.
“Well, there was a golden opportunity that came up right across ITV and anyone could apply,” he says.
“I decided to go for it because for a long time I’ve been doing both jobs every day. As great fun as it is, it means I’m working from 8am until 7pm at night, so they’re long days.
“They’ve been curtailed slightly in the last while because of Covid, but when the opportunity came up to take a bit of a step back, I decided to go for it.
“March 31 is my final day and, coincidentally, that will be 34 years to the day since I started. I’m serious when I say that it’s gone by in a whizz, but time flies when you’re enjoying yourself.”
With plans to carry on with his daily phone-in show at U105, the presenter will only be taking his foot off the gas a little bit.
“I’ll be carrying on with the radio show, which means I’ll be working every day up until lunchtime. That means finishing at lunchtime, which means an incredible amount of free time compared to what I’m used to,” he says.
“I’m looking forward to doing the things I really enjoy outside of work, like hill-walking and getting out in the garden. I’ve worked more or less solidly since I was 17, and even though it’s not ever been hard work because I’ve enjoyed it so much, it’s incredibly time-consuming.
“I think after everything we’ve all been through in the last year, taking that step to get a bit more work-life balance is a sensible move to make.”
Looking back at the challenges of 2020, the presenter (57) admits he struggled at times, even though his work allowed him to carry on with relative normality.
“Obviously, it was one of the worst years of our lives. I’m old enough to have lived through the Troubles and there were many years that were peppered with hurt and loss for a lot of people, but in 2020 there was no way to escape from it. I found it an incredibly frustrating time,” he says.
“I know that I’ve been blessed to be in a job that has needed to be done through the course of it.
“I’ve been lucky in that capacity when you think of the people who were furloughed and those that lost their jobs. I’ve got huge sympathy for what they went through.
“It’s hard to find any positives, other than the brilliance of the NHS. Those people deserve the utmost praise, as well as the people working in the general essential services, like the shopkeepers.”
He’s also full of praise for the young: “I have immense admiration for teenagers and people in their 20s.
“They gave up their social lives for us all. I know that as time has gone on more of them have maybe gone a bit to the wayside, but the majority have been carrying on with that sacrifice.
“I’m not sure if I’d have been as disciplined as a teenager or in my early 20s as I am as an adult.”
Like many people, Frank, who lives outside Belfast, hasn’t been able to have as much contact with his elderly family members as he usually would.
“My mum will be 90 on her next birthday. Every time I visit her, every time for years since I’ve been tall enough to do it, I’d put an arm around her and kiss the top of her head, but I haven’t done that since St Patrick’s Day,” he says.
“In fact, I haven’t touched her at all during all that time. I haven’t held her hand or touched her head and that’s quite frustrating.”
“I’d absolutely hate to think the rest of our lives would be like that. It’s a small sacrifice compared to what some people have gone through because my mum is still healthy and she’s in the house and not a home. She’s fine and she’s still got full, 100% capacity, but that imposed distance is difficult.”
With the rollout of the vaccine, the dad-of-one is hopeful things will take a brighter turn as 2021 continues.
“On the radio programme, I often can’t believe the number of people who object to the vaccine,” he says.
“I understand the people who feel nervous about it and want to ask some questions, but for this lobby who actively work against it, I practically beg them on a daily basis not to do that.
“I’d take the vaccine right now if I could to make a start in lifting the shackles a bit.
“I long to be back on a stage compering at an event, to be introducing acts who are entertainers. It would be fabulous to be back in front of an audience or to be interviewing at pageants or funfairs, things I’ve not been able to do since last February.
“I want to get over to Newcastle upon Tyne as well to see my daughter Laura’s house and I want to get back regularly to Donegal. There are all these things to be done and places to be discovered.
“I think, eventually, there’s bound to be some form of fabulous buzz, festivals to celebrate the success of the vaccine with open-air entertainment and our town centres buzzing again.
“I’m desperate to see fans back watching the football too, Gaelic, soccer, all of it.
“It will be bittersweet for the people who have lost someone in all of this, but I’m hoping for something better this year.
“I’ve loved my time at UTV, but one thing I’ve learned more and more is that time is precious.
“Even if something is a total pleasure, like the job I’ve had there, after health, time is the most precious thing you’ve got, so I’m going to enjoy some more of it.”
She’s been a reassuring face throughout the course of the pandemic, covering every twist and turn during the most extraordinary year of news in living memory. Now, as she looks ahead to 2021, BBC Newsline presenter Tara Mills is feeling cautious about what the future holds.
“I’m quite measured about what’s coming next. I’m feeling quite measured about the vaccine because, in all honesty, I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” the mother of two says.
“On a personal level, I deeply want my parents to get the vaccine so I know they’re protected. It’s lovely for the people who are able to get it quickly, the people in care homes, the particularly vulnerable, the over-80s and others who need it.
“But I’m still feeling cautious. I have a niece on the front line who has worked on a Covid ward, so like lots of people there’s still that concern.
“Of course, I’m mindful of the people who have lost loved ones this year. That grief doesn’t go away because the vaccine is coming down the track.”
One particular interviewee from the past 12 months stands out in the presenter’s mind.
“Speaking to some people just brings the reality of a situation home. For me in 2020, that person was Rhonda Tait, who lost her mum to Covid. They were such a close family and what happened was devastating. What happened really got under my skin and that story is one I’ll never forget,” she says.
“Rhonda had that incredible inner strength to speak out about what was a tragic and traumatic situation because she wanted to get the message out there that this thing was real. Hundreds of thousands of people watched the advert she was in, so she did an incredible thing.”
As well as continuing to cover the pandemic and all other aspects of the news on BBC Newsline and Radio Ulster this year, Tara and Evening Extra co-host Declan Harvey, will be presenting a new podcast called Year ’21 to mark 100 years since Partition and the creation of Northern Ireland.
“It’s a fascinating period to look at. The idea is really driven by our curiosity about how we got to the world we live in today,” Tara says.
“Of course, that period is bitterly contested, but we want to take people on a journey of discovery to find out the stories of the people, places and events that happened across 1921 and setting that in the context of events that happened many years before and after.
“We’re also asking what it is about 1921 that resonates so much. I think even five years ago it might not have had that feeling of relevance, but of course we’ve gone through such a period of flux ourselves recently that perhaps we can relate a bit more.
“It will be really interesting. It’s easy for someone of my generation to imagine everything that happens here stems from the Troubles, but the truth is a lot of it goes much further back — probably a lot further back than 1921, let’s be fair — but it’s an interesting time to examine.
“We feel very lucky to be able to embark on a year-long project like this. It’s very unusual for journalists who are used to daily news.
“It’s very exciting and what I love about podcasts is that you can choose a time to listen, whether that’s out walking the dog or doing the ironing.
“Hopefully, people will take 15 minutes out of their week to tune in and join the conversation.”