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Pamela Ballantine: Mum's death was such a shock... she was on her way home from a safari when she collapsed in the airport

The Big Ask

Pamela Ballantine at the UTV offices on August 22nd 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Pamela Ballantine at the UTV offices on August 22nd 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Lady in red: Pamela Ballantine
Family ties: Pamela with sister Susie
Pamela Ballantine, 1982
Strong bond: Pamela with her much-missed mother Edna

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to the UTV broadcaster Pamela Ballantine (60), who lives in Belfast.

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. I had a fairly normal childhood. I grew up in Belfast. My dad, Bob Rolston, was a businessman and my mum, Edna, was a nurse before they got married, and then she gave up nursing to be a full-time housewife and mum.

I have a big brother called Peter and a wee sister called Susie.

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Pamela Ballantine with her brother Peter

We had a holiday bungalow in Ballyhalbert and we spent every weekend and every holiday there from I was about five until I was about 15.

I have so many happy memories from down there.

You just threw on your swimming costume and shorts and went down to the beach and then, later on, you came home and you were hungry.

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It was the height of the Troubles in Belfast, but we never experienced any of it. We were down in the country playing, out on our bikes, swimming or helping the local farmer with his farm.

With my brother being just a year older than me, I was a total tomboy. I would make up numbers in football, cricket or rugby teams.

There were trees to be climbed, rocks to be climbed, seas to be jumped into and boats to be sailed. I was never a 'girly girl'. I think it started off as me copying Pete, but my family would probably say that it nearly turned itself around and I was more of a ringleader - but I find that hard to believe!

Susie is five and a half years younger and, when we were kids, I thought she was a pain.

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Family ties: Pamela with sister Susie

She wanted to do everything I was doing, so I would basically run into the house and jump out the window and run away as fast as I could so she couldn't catch up. Now, we're best buddies.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I'm most proud of the fact that I have good friends, good family and I've been able to keep those relationships. I've got friends from my schooldays and even though we may not talk for months, we can pick up the phone and continue as normal.

I'm also proud that I've been able to keep my head down and my feet on the ground. I started work when I was 19 and I'm still working now.

It's very much the way I was brought up by my mum and dad - if you wanted money, you had to work for it.

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Pamela Ballantine as a teenager

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I know this sounds like a cliche and maybe a little boring, but I don't do regrets.

There are obviously things that I would possibly have done differently given the chance, but I'm a great believer in 'things happen for a reason'. If you mess up, you apologise, learn from it and move on.

I don't think regrets help anybody.

It's like anger, you get angry at things that you can't change, and the only person who suffers from it is you.

Q. Do you have any phobias?

A. Spiders. And earwigs. I'm pretty good with anything else. I was away on holiday recently and had a little bit of an overrun of cockroaches, which I was able to dispatch. It's amazing how those creatures can move so quickly when they're being chased with a large brush.

With earwigs, I just don't understand their purpose in life. They are disgusting. I don't know what they do or why they're here, but I'm sure they do something for the eco-system.

Bizarrely, I had concussion a few years ago and there was a spider walking across the floor, and I bent down, picked it up and put it out the window.

Twenty minutes later, I completely freaked out because I remembered I was afraid of spiders!

Q. The temptation that you cannot resist?

A. I don't know if this counts as a temptation, but I can't really leave the house if the place is kind of untidy. Even if I'm running late, I have to make the bed and tidy up. I start something then I go, 'Why did you start that? You don't have time'.

When I'm trying to keep an eye on my weight, I do try to be good and avoid going to what's known as the Drawer of Happiness - a drawer in my kitchen that's full of crisps and stuff like that. I don't have a sweet tooth, I'm more of a savoury person, so I love crisps and cheese, things like that. I love Tayto Cheese and Onion.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. Items of jewellery that my mum has given me. Mum died just over two and a half years ago, so I have a lot of her jewellery. Stuff she gave me over the years as presents - she was very generous that way - and things that have a story and a history mean the most.

Many years ago, she gave me a pair of earrings, which was one of the first presents that dad gave her whenever they got together in the 1950s. They are really lovely drop diamond earrings and I just love them.

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Suzie and Pamela Ballentine. Picture by David Fitzgerald

Q. The book that has most impacted your life?

A. I do love reading. There's one that I've always loved, and I went to see the movie recently which was all right - the book is much better. It's The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It's the dog Enzo's autobiography and he loves Formula 1 racing. So, if you love dogs and you love motorsport, you'll love The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Don't do what a friend of mine did when I recommended it to her, though. She read it on a plane, bawled her lamps out and made a big show of herself!

Q. If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?

A. I would like to get Stormont up and running and sort Brexit out. I hate this unknown. It's the impact of what happening on the ground that our MLAs don't seem to be grasping - that their lack of anything is causing problems.

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Pamela Ballantine,1990's

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. There are a few things that make my blood boil. Firstly, I don't understand intolerance, like bigotry and racism.

Also, employers who give promotions to employees to get them out of the way. In some walks of life, there are people who are absolutely useless at their job, and because the boss can't get rid of them they promote them out of the way. Then, that gives them more power.

I do have a little bit of road rage, too. You'd be driving along quite happily on a country road, then you see some buck eejit flying past you to overtake on a corner without any thought of what's coming in the other direction or what their actions could cause for somebody else on the road.

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My dad. He started work in the early 1930s before the war as a teaboy in Cantrell & Cochrane and retired as chairman. Dad was a grafter, and his work ethic was instilled in me at an early age. You know, if you wanted something, you had to work for it - it wasn't just handed to you on a plate.

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. For something like this, you want people who you think would be good fun on a night out.

I always think Graham Norton would be great craic. I'm a big fan of his show. Somebody like Judi Dench would be a hoot. I think she's a phenomenal actress, and she comes across as such a lovely, sound person.

I'm a lover of watching sport, particularly motor racing. So, I'll throw Mark Webber in there for a bit of eye candy!

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Lady in red: Pamela Ballantine

Q. What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?

A. All parental wisdom. I was taught to treat everybody the same, whether it's Her Majesty The Queen or somebody you just happen to bump into on the street.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I'm into rock music. I love the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Metallica, Whitesnake, Alice Cooper, the list goes on ...

I remember being at a Def Leppard concert, years and years ago, and this girl beside me kept turning to look at me.

She finally asked, "Do you have a sister?" and I said, "Yeah" and she said, "Is her name Pamela?" and I replied, "No, my name's Pamela" and she goes, "For f*** sake, you're a closet rocker!"

So, I think that people are a wee bit surprised by my musical taste!

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. I have a book that my granny gave me in the early 1960s, it's called The Golden Treasury of Poetry. Every now and then, I just go to it and have a wee read through.

I like a lot of the fables and people like Wordsworth and Robert Louis Stevenson.

I remember at school having to do Christina Rossetti poems and I thought they were wet. Things like The Legend of Hiawatha are more my cup of tea.

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Pamela Ballantine, 2000

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. I think it's more the sense of achievement when you've done something that you've really put your mind to.

My brother and sister were both sporty, and I wasn't. So, when I swam from Strangford to Portaferry for a triathlon - and everyone said, "You'll never do that!" - and I landed on the shore, it was a great feeling. It was something that other people doubted I could achieve, and even I had my doubts.

There's a photograph of me coming across the finish line of a cycle race in South Africa and I look like I've won the thing, but I was actually like four hours behind the guy who had won!

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. When mum and dad died. My dad died over 20 years ago - he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a few weeks later.

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Strong bond: Pamela with her much-missed mother Edna

My mum died very suddenly in October, two, almost three, years ago. She was 84, making her way home from a 10-day African safari with my aunt, and she collapsed in the City airport. She never regained consciousness and died a few days later.

It was totally unexpected. She was doing what she called a 'ski' holiday, which meant "spending kids' inheritance". She just loved travelling the world. I had actually just landed in Spain to go to the World Rally Championship and I got a call from my sister to come home. That's how unexpected it was.

Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?

A. Getting my first job in Downtown Radio as a secretary. It marked the start of my career in the media. Downtown was very much in its infancy, so everybody worked in every department. I eventually got asked to fill in for newsreading slots and that was just the start of it. Then, they gave me a programme to do at 5 o'clock in the morning, which was great getting up at half three every day...

Q. What's the one ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. I don't ever want to get bored. I love what I do and I love the people I get to meet. I couldn't imagine ever not working.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. If you're happy with your life and your choices, and you've got your family and friends around you, then you're a rich person.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. Although I may not have made a difference, I certainly might have - hopefully - enhanced some lives somewhere.

On this Friday's UTV Life at 8pm, Pamela will be chatting to Peaky Blinders actor Packy Lee, Game of Thrones star Conleth Hill and funnyman Conor Grimes

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