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Rachel Dean's Big Ask: Best Home Cook star Suzie Arbuthnot on falling in love with her husband when they were still in school


Recipe for success: Suzie Arbuthnot in her Lisburn home

Recipe for success: Suzie Arbuthnot in her Lisburn home

Stephen Hamilton

Suzie as a child with her family

Suzie as a child with her family

Suzie with her children Zander and Odelia at home

Suzie with her children Zander and Odelia at home

Stephen Hamilton

Suzie with husband Steven and the kids

Suzie with husband Steven and the kids

Suzie as a child with her mum Celia

Suzie as a child with her mum Celia

Recipe for success: Suzie Arbuthnot in her Lisburn home

In this week's interview, Rachel Dean talks to accountant and the winner of BBC's Best Home Cook Suzie Arbuthnot (36). She lives in Lisburn with husband Steven, a teacher, and their two children, Zander (5) and Odelia (2)

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. My parents, Celia and Peter, moved to the Ballymacash area in Lisburn in 1980 and I was born in 1983.

I have three sisters and one brother. Angela is the eldest - she's a pharmacist and lives in Hong Kong. Then there's Winnie who is a fashion designer and lives in Luxembourg.

And then Veronica, who is a physiotherapist and lives in Northern Ireland. My younger brother Timothy is an architect, who lives in Lisburn.

I went to Ballymacash Primary School and then because my big sisters got into Wallace High School, my mum didn't want to do a million drop-offs, so then we all went to Wallace. I was in Wallace Prep then from primary three.

Growing up pretty much consisted of just helping out in the family takeaway at the weekends.


Suzie as a child with her family

Suzie as a child with her family

Suzie as a child with her family

I loved to try things out and if I wanted to do something, my mum would allow me. If I didn't like something, then I would have just stopped anyway.

I played badminton and tennis and I swam for Ulster and Irish schools right up until the age of 15.

The year before I was to start fourth year, my mum told me it was time to stop because she felt it was overtaking my schoolwork. I was swimming every single day if not twice a day.

I also played the violin, the piano and I sang in a choir. I actually have grade five in violin and piano.

I was meant to do grade six in both of them at GCSE but that was the same year my mum passed away and I sort of just lost my interest in that.

I was only 16 and she died really suddenly on a plane on the way home from Hong Kong. It was really shocking and sad. It was kind of like, "Oh, this has happened and I have to just be the mummy now," because I was the eldest one left at home with my younger brother, who is a year-and-a-half younger than me.

My sisters were all away in England for university or working in Scotland. I had to grow up really quickly from then and pretty much be a home cook and be the mummy.

It was a bit strange - my life absolutely changed from that moment.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. My little family - my husband Steven and our two children Zander and Odelia. Just that I've even been able to have a family and be married.


Suzie with her children Zander and Odelia at home

Suzie with her children Zander and Odelia at home

Stephen Hamilton

Suzie with her children Zander and Odelia at home

For me that's really the point of life - to be able to have a happy, healthy family. Odelia reminds me so much of me with my mum because I was so attached to my mum - she's my wee carbon copy.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. We weren't really a lovey-dovey type of family and we weren't real huggers or anything, but I wish I had got the chance to say, "I love you mum" to my mum before she got on the flight that she ultimately passed away on.

I got to speak to her before just before she got on the plane and she said, "See you in the morning" and then obviously I didn't get to see her in the morning. I've always held that regret.

Q. What about phobias? Do you have any?

A. Spiders. I have a complete phobia of spiders. My sisters made me watch Arachnophobia when I was seven and I was petrified by it.

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Food! I just love food in general.

It's tough to even say what my favourite meal would be because it just depends on the mood, but at the moment I would probably say seafood.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. It would have to be my oven. I can't really live without that. It was new last year because that's when I sort of treated myself and we're obviously still paying it off! It's just one of those things - having a good oven makes such a difference to your cooking experience.

Q. The book that's most impacted your life?

A. The Diary of a Young Girl (or The Diary of Anne Frank) which I read when I was about 13. That was just something else. I remember thinking, "Oh my goodness, this poor girl. This is real." Then I was able to visit the museum in Amsterdam years later and it was like, "She did this, she was actually here." It was really eerie to think that they had to live like that, and it easily could have been us.

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

A. I would rather have a superpower than any sort of political power or authority, so I would either be able to teleport wherever I wanted or have a time turner, like the one from Harry Potter. I would love more time and be able to do more things that I normally can.

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

A. Litter bugs. I cannot stand litter bugs!

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My mum, just with her work ethic and her cooking - and she was so kind, too. She helped the community in so many different ways with even being a local translator for the people in Lisburn. She'd go with them to doctors' and dental appointments and literally translate for them. She made friends with these people and helped them. She was completely selfless and I absolutely try to incorporate a selfless way of living into my own life.


Suzie as a child with her mum Celia

Suzie as a child with her mum Celia

Suzie as a child with her mum Celia

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

A. My first guest would obviously have to be my mum. I would love to speak to her another time. I would love to cook with her again. In the year before she passed away, my sisters were all away and I spent a lot of time with my mum.

We went to lots of restaurants and stuff and we made the dishes that we really liked. It was just lovely and I got to learn so much more from her in that last year. Then, I would have liked to have met Nelson Mandela because of everything he stood for and everything he did for his country. I just think he was amazing, so I would invite him too.

Then, Michael Buble for a bit of light-hearted fun. And if he's not got great chat, I could just make him sing!

Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?

A. Never give up. It took me eight years to get my chartered accountancy, but I never gave up, and the thing is I still had a life.

I was able to have my family, have my children and just enjoy life. I don't regret a moment of it at all. I can just settle down and enjoy it all now.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I really like to sing. I have grade 8 in classical singing and also musical theatre.

I was always in choirs throughout school, then I was part of the Belfast Philharmonic for two years and now I'm in a local choir called Lisburn Harmony Ladies Choir, which is amazing.

I love singing. Between that and cooking, they're great ways to relieve stress and they're hobbies that I love to do.

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. I Carry Your Heart With Me by EE Cummings, which is a really sweet poem. It reminds me of my mum.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. Getting married to my childhood sweetheart - I've been with Steven since I was in upper sixth in school and now we're in our 30s. We got married on July 9, 2012.


Suzie with husband Steven and the kids

Suzie with husband Steven and the kids

Suzie with husband Steven and the kids

Q. And the saddest?

A. Losing my mum on February 8, 2000. I got a phone call in the middle of the night from one of my sisters to tell me and now I really don't like getting calls in the middle of the night.

She had deep vein thrombosis and they just couldn't save her.

There were three sets of aunties and uncles there and my dad was there on the plane with her too.

It was such a shock to everyone.

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

A. Personally, it would obviously be my mum passing away. That was pretty pivotal to me growing up and making different decisions in my life. She was a big part of my life and it did change quite a lot for me.

Career-wise, it took me forever to decide to actually become an accountant. I was never starting out to be one and I refused even at university to go down that route.

Even with all my modules - I did economics and management - and careers advice people saying, "You should really look at accountancy" I was still saying, "No, I don't want to be a boring accountant."

And then at 25, I decided to become an accountant and I was quite old to start accountancy as a graduate.

It took me eight years from then to get it and I don't regret one moment of it because it opened so many doors for me in my career.

And it really is a brilliant profession to have, to be a chartered accountant.

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

A. Definitely the cooking. It's the one thing that I always wanted to do. When I was 16, before my mum passed away, I really wanted to go into cookery school. I'd filled in the forms and hadn't actually sent them in because mum said, "Do your GCSEs, see how you get on and then once you finished, we will send them in if you still really want to do it".

So, I never got to because life changed.

I still had the ambition to cook though and my plan was to earn enough money from the accountancy and open a coffee shop in years to come and just retire from that.

It looks like I might be doing it sooner rather than later - winning Best Home Cook has really opened a lot of opportunities for me. I've got an agent now and there's just so many things that are about to happen. There's stuff in the pipeline - fingers crossed!

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Be kind. Treat people the way you would want to be treated and help people when you can. There's no need to be nasty - the world is tough enough.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. Kindly, and as a nice person.

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