In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to former Miss Northern Ireland Katharine Walker (25), a paediatric nurse and presenter on Cool FM. She lives in Hillsborough with parents Fred and Wendy and has a boyfriend called Jack.
Q. Tell us about your childhood.
A. I grew up in Hillsborough, in the same house that we still live in now.
My dad, Fred, was a civil servant and my mum, Wendy, had her own business. She ran a cafe with her twin sister and did a lot of dressmaking as well. She is very crafty and she's good with her hands. I'm quite a practical person and my job is very practical too, so I probably got that from my mum.
I have an older brother called Gareth. We were like chalk and cheese growing up - we were so different - but we get on really well now.
I would say I was really lucky growing up. My friends all lived close by and we would have played a lot of hockey and tennis together. Every day of every summer was spent at the tennis club. I absolutely loved that. My childhood was very sports-orientated and I was always outdoors.
I suppose, whenever I think about my childhood, I think of summer, the tennis club and being at Hillsborough Forest Park.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. Winning Miss Northern Ireland in 2018 because that was something I'd wanted for years, probably from when I was about five years old.
When I was a teenager and social media became a lot more prevalent, I was able to follow it much more closely. Not only was I able to follow the contest but I could follow the girls competing, the winner and Miss World.
I just loved seeing how each girl did and every girl was so different. I thought it was really cool. What drew me to it was the opportunities it brought. I thought that, as a young woman, it was a great thing to achieve, especially if you're someone who is interested in maybe lifting your public profile. It's definitely a good way to do that.
Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?
A. I don't like to have regrets because I don't like to look back on things like that, but if I'm being totally honest, I wish I had done some travelling before university. I think once you're in university, especially for nursing anyway, you're in. I know a lot of my friends had their summers off when they were at university, but that's not how it is for nursing as you're pretty much on placement for the whole summer.
I never got to do the big trip to Bali, Thailand or America and now I'm left wanting to do that. I think as well, going into nursing at 18 is very young and I was one of those really young 18-year-olds. I wasn't as mature as some people my age, I didn't have much experience and I grew up in a bubble, so it really was a shock to the system.
I didn't know what real life was until I went to university, so if I could go back, I would take a year out to go travelling.
Q. What about phobias? Do you have any?
A. I have a massive fear of sharks. I'm terrified of them. I don't know where the fear comes from, but I know it's completely irrational. When I was younger, it would even have put me off going into the swimming pool.
Last year I was on holiday in the Maldives and the people I was away with were really outdoorsy. They had been scuba-diving before and were really into it. They wanted to go swimming with whale sharks. I remember the whole boat ride out there... I was probably having a mild panic attack.
We were snorkelling along and I looked below me and suddenly thought, "Is that a shark?" There were about four or five of them and they were small, but they were still sharks. However, I didn't panic and that was a major milestone because, normally, if I'm in the water and anything touches my foot, I would panic.
Q. The temptation you cannot resist?
A. Sales shopping. I'm a sucker for a real bargain. Since we've been in lockdown and the shops have been shut, I've been able to find some real bargains online. I am quite thrifty that way and I'm proud of it.
Q. Your number one prized possession?
A. To be honest, it would be my car because it was something I bought for myself. It was my first adult purchase and I do love it - it's a Mini.
Q. The book that's most impacted your life?
A. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. I studied it for my English A-level and loved it. I think it opened up a big interest in that era for me. It's just one of those books I could read over and over again.
Q. If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?
A. Without sounding negative or bitter, I would ensure that nurses got the pay they deserve.
It's one of those topics that we ban talking about in the tearoom because it really upsets people because you do feel so undervalued.
After graduating from Queen's University as a nurse
It was recently suggested that the government is considering freezing nurses' pay, but here in NI we're only after getting the pay rise we've deserved for three or four years to put us on par with the rest of the UK. You don't do nursing for the money, obviously, but equally it's such a hard job that you do need those rewards.
I get a bit frustrated because I see my friends who have other jobs in the NHS and I see how quickly they progress, but in nursing you can stay stagnant.
I definitely feel like the nurses I work with (and there are other professions that are underpaid, but I'm just talking for nurses because I am one) are worth their weight in gold.
Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A. It drives me crazy when people don't wear sun cream. They are always the ones to say, "The sun isn't strong over here", but it is. You're not in Spain, but the sun is very strong.
I just don't have time for people who let themselves get burnt because they want a tan. It's really damaging. You will still tan through your sun cream. You just won't get burnt.
Q. Who has most influenced you in life?
A. My parents and my brother. They all just work so hard. I probably didn't appreciate it when I was younger, but I definitely see it now as I've got older. My mum and dad worked so hard to give me and my brother everything, which is something I understand now. If I had children, I would do the same. I appreciate them so much.
My brother, although he didn't go down the traditional university route, is absolutely killing it now in the job he's in. He still works extremely hard, but he just did it in his own way.
Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A. First would be Jennifer Aniston because I love Friends. If I could, I would invite the whole cast of Friends, but if I have to choose one, it would have to be Rachel (played by Jennifer Aniston).
Then, Taylor Swift because I love her music. There are so many people from the sporting world I would want to invite, but I'll say Roger Federer. I would just love a tennis lesson after dinner.
Q. The best piece of advice you've ever received?
A. It's okay not to be okay. Although it's very simple, it's true that it's okay to have days where you feel off. It's also okay to admit that. We're all having days like that during the current pandemic. At the start, I was loving life in lockdown, then, I think about a week later, I had a bit of a wobble. It's up and down.
Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A. I'm a bit of a dork for anything history-related. If we're on holiday somewhere and there are any museums, I always want to see them because I want to learn about things. I think it probably comes from my upbringing because we would have gone on family holidays around Greece mostly. We visited a lot of the archaeological sites. I actually wanted to be an archaeologist for a while when I was younger.
Q. The poem that touches your heart?
A. If, by Rudyard Kipling. I love the meaning behind it, about being strong and not letting things overcome you.
Q. The happiest moment of your life?
A. Obviously, winning Miss NI is up there. It was a massive moment for me.
I would definitely say graduating university as well. It was so hard. When you do nursing, you're maybe on 40 hours of placement a week.
You've also got to hold down a part-time job and then I would have played tennis and hockey for the university.
I think juggling all that and coming out of it qualified as a nurse was a huge achievement.
A more recent big moment for me was with the Cool Saturday Show - we just got our biggest listenership. It's taken a while to sink in that we're getting bigger and people are listening. I don't want to put people off, but I can't believe people are actually listening to me and Stuart (Robinson). It feels really cool to be part of that and I can't believe it's actually happening.
Q. And the saddest moment of your life?
A. I was very lucky that I had all four grandparents growing up, but they all then died very quickly after each other.
I would have loved to have had them for a while longer because I could have taken them out in my car or gone shopping with them. I never got that time with them because I was too young.
I very much cling on to my boyfriend's granny now. I just think that's one of the nicest things you can do, looking after older relatives.
I loved meeting all these different people and hearing their stories and why they were representing their country.
I felt very much like a small fish in a big pond because for a lot of them this is their career, but I was doing it alongside everything else.
I felt out of my depth, but then I got through to the top 30 and that was a real boost. It did make me feel good that I represented somewhere small like Northern Ireland.
It was an unbelievable experience, travelling around China with people I had never met before but then getting really friendly with them. I'm still in touch with a lot of them. I'll never get to do that again. It was such a one-off, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?
A. When I think about my end goal, it's a permanent spot in presenting, whether that's in sports or elsewhere.
I could definitely see myself reporting from Wimbledon. I love sports, and to report on something that I'm genuinely interested in would be amazing.
I would love people to know me as the girl who does the commentary for tennis, or golf or whatever.
Q. What's the philosophy you live by?
A. Always be kind and never take your health for granted. That's something that is drilled into me with work. We all take our health for granted and, just like everyone else, I too get caught up in the trivial.
But, I think if you've got your health, a good support network of family and friends, with a bit of work, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. I just hope people would have fond memories of me as a kind person.
Katharine presents the Cool Saturday Show with Stuart Robinson from 10am on Cool FM. You can also follow her on Instagram at @katharine_walker