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Rachel Dean's Big Ask: Sports journalist Denise Watson on loss, motherhood and what drives her on


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Radio waves: Denise Watson at the U105 studios in Clarendon Dock

Radio waves: Denise Watson at the U105 studios in Clarendon Dock

In the U105 studio

In the U105 studio

Close family: Denise with her mum Sabina

Close family: Denise with her mum Sabina

Beth wearing the plasters after one of three hip surgeries

Beth wearing the plasters after one of three hip surgeries

With sister Julie Hailes

With sister Julie Hailes

Denise's close friend Colin Angus who died in 2008

Denise's close friend Colin Angus who died in 2008

Busy life: Denise with husband Dr David Scott and daughters Samantha and Beth

Busy life: Denise with husband Dr David Scott and daughters Samantha and Beth

Denise Watson

Denise Watson

Proud mother: Denise with Samantha and Beth

Proud mother: Denise with Samantha and Beth

Radio waves: Denise Watson at the U105 studios in Clarendon Dock

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to sports journalist and U105 DJ Denise Watson (48) who lives in Lisburn with husband Dr David Scott and their daughters Samantha (15) and Beth (11).

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. I grew up in a wee village in Co Antrim called Lambeg. I'm the eldest of two - my sister Julie is 45 now. Being of a similar age, we were so close. My mum did that thing where she made us have the same haircut and the same clothes for pictures. We had pageboy haircuts and matching polo necks, so we have some photographs that we do look back and laugh at.

Basically, I grew up at a rugby club as well because my dad Ian was a rugby player and coach, so I spent most of my time on the weekends watching him at Lisburn Rugby Club. He also worked in textiles, while my mum Sabina worked in a health centre for the trust.

We had a really happy childhood because our parents were always about and they made things fun for us - bearing in mind that I grew up in the 1970s, during the height of the Troubles. We weren't spoilt, but we were always with them, which was lovely. My mum didn't work until I was about 11 years old, so we always came home to a homecooked meal every night. She would have friends over and coffee afternoons, which I don't think people do anymore. There was always treats in the house, so it was lovely.

I went to Harmony Hill Primary School, which is still there and a really well-respected little school.

Lambeg is a lovely wee village and we didn't stray far from it. I don't think I went to Belfast until I was maybe about 10. Maybe that was to do with the time I was growing up in - we were probably sheltered a little bit from the Troubles. If my parents ever needed to go to Belfast, we would have been dropped off at my grandad's in Dunmurry. I had a really nice childhood.

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Close family: Denise with her mum Sabina

Close family: Denise with her mum Sabina

Close family: Denise with her mum Sabina

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Being a mum. It's just the best thing I have ever done in my life, without a doubt.

Watching my two girls growing up at different stages, with their different personalities is just incredible. My youngest Beth had a really tough start to life. She was born with hip displacement, so she needed about three surgeries - the first at five months, the second at 15 months and then she had her last one when she was two and a half years old.

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Beth wearing the plasters after one of three hip surgeries

Beth wearing the plasters after one of three hip surgeries

Beth wearing the plasters after one of three hip surgeries

It was really, really hard, but she was a determined wee thing and managed to pull herself along with the plaster on - nothing would have stopped her. She was a little bit behind and wouldn't have been able to play like other kids, so her big sister Sam was great at that stage. She'd bring toys to her and really looked after her.

Beth's had check-ups every year and she's just been discharged from the hospital this year, which is wonderful news. I can't thank Musgrave Park enough for what they did for her.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. It's not really a regret, but I do wish I had children earlier. I didn't have Beth until I was 37 and at the time, I was considered to be what people called a 'geriatric mum'.

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Proud mother: Denise with Samantha and Beth

Proud mother: Denise with Samantha and Beth

Proud mother: Denise with Samantha and Beth

I didn't think I was old, but if I had known the joy I have now from having those two girls, I probably would have had them earlier. It's just a thought though, not an actual regret.

Q. Any phobias?

A. I'm not good with heights. This is something I didn't have as a child, but it's developed over the years. And I'm getting better at this, but I couldn't have anyone touch my feet, ever. I don't like feet and I don't like my own feet, and the thought of someone giving me a foot massage just cracks me up!

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Cheese, in any shape or form. I don't ever crave sweet stuff or chocolate, but my goodness, cheese...

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. My engagement ring. It's like Princess Diana's, with the sapphire surrounded by diamonds. When we were looking at rings, I remember seeing this ring that I really liked and thinking it was really expensive - going way back when we got engaged in the Nineties.

David let me pick that ring anyway and he always jokes that it was the front half of his motorbike he'd been saving for. We're 20 years married this year, so it really does mean a lot to me.

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

A. One book that made me cry was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I did English Literature as a degree and I had this course on Black American fiction in which we had to read this book. It is really, really sad. I had never read a book that had made my cry.

I've gotten really into audio books recently though and one that I listened to recently was Mel B's autobiography Brutally Honest. It's quite a shocking read - it's almost like a survivor's guide through domestic violence. It is quite hard to listen to, but when I was listening to it, I really felt for her.

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

A. I'd come down harder on people who drop litter or let their dogs poo on the pavement. I've just got a dog, so it's something I've been really fussy about. I bring those dog waste bags with me in my pocket no matter what, because you've got to clear up after yourself and your dog.

Sometimes I find, and it's not all the younger generation, but a lot of them will just leave stuff behind them, expecting somebody else to clean up. I just don't understand that at all.

There are people involved in the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful campaign and we do have a beautiful country, so just respect it.

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

A. I worked in M&S when I was a teenager and from that, I don't like people who are rude to service and retail staff.

I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm never going to be one of those people', so when I go into shops now, I'm probably overly nice at the till, chatting to everybody.

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My husband David. He's very intelligent and he's a great decision maker and a brilliant dad. And I trust him 100% to be there.

My dad has been a great influence on me too in regard to sports.

He helped me discover my passion for sports.

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Busy life: Denise with husband Dr David Scott and daughters Samantha and Beth

Busy life: Denise with husband Dr David Scott and daughters Samantha and Beth

Busy life: Denise with husband Dr David Scott and daughters Samantha and Beth

And then one of my mentors, the man who first gave me a job in the BBC, Terry Smyth.

He took a chance on a girl who came in from commercial radio and I will always be thankful for him.

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

A. The first one would have to be Elvis Presley because I have an obsession with him. Everything about him - his music, his look, his life, his faith - is fascinating.

Then, Serena Williams because she's just incredibly awesome all round, as a tennis player and a woman.

And Rylan Clark-Neal. I just listened to his autobiography on Audible and I think he is wonderful.

In my opinion, he's the biggest talent on television today, and he really deserves the break.

Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?

A. 'Be yourself' is a good one, especially for TV, because the general public can see through phonies. I always try to be the best version of myself that I can be.

I did meet a lovely man in UTV called Johnny and he taught me the motto, "Be better, not bitter". And even though I've come through some bad stuff in my life, I think that's a great way of just letting go of anything negative.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I do love cutting stuff out and sticking them in scrap books with my daughter, or colouring in. I sit with her sometimes and I'll say, "Can I colour in with you too?" It might seem juvenile, but I love being part of that.

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. Really, it's not anything specific or famous, and I've done a lot of poetry in my life. It's sometimes just things my daughters have written or made for me, like a little card with the 'Roses are red' verse on it for Valentine's Day.

I've kept all of those and they're lovely. They're worth more than any present.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. My wedding day and the birth of my two girls. Their all very memorable and happy moments. Particularly having Sam in 2004 because she was born on December 30, so I was in hospital between Christmas and New Year.

And I remember my friends, being my friends, sending balloons and champagne on New Year's Eve. It was a surreal time to be in hospital.

Then, my grandad, who's not with us anymore, he did live to his 90s, but he did live to see me get married in 2000. It was lovely to have him there alongside our greater family, and a lot of them were older so they're no longer with us either. It's very special to be able to share those memories with family.

Q. And the saddest?

A. When my grandad passed away. I was in the hospital room when he died, which was hard.

Then, I lost one of my best friends, Colin Angus (a well-known celebrity agent), in a car crash in 2008. It's not something you ever expect to go through. I had just got word a couple of weeks before that Beth was going to need her surgery. Colin was with me, supporting me, saying, "She's got a great mum, she'll get through this" - those were the last words he ever said to me. I got this call early on a Saturday morning from his partner saying, "Are you sitting down?" and he told me Colin had died. I don't know if I'll ever be over it. That was the saddest moment for me, because he was only 40 and he had so much to live for. I'll never forget his family asking me to speak at his funeral, and I did. I'm really glad that I was able to do that, even though it was probably the hardest thing I've had to do in my life. Now, if the phone ever rings early in the morning or late at night, I get a bit worried.

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Denise's close friend Colin Angus who died in 2008

Denise's close friend Colin Angus who died in 2008

Denise's close friend Colin Angus who died in 2008

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

A. Having my daughters and being a mum is so rewarding and I really believe that's what life is all about. Being able to bring two other people up is just incredible.

Professionally, getting the break in the BBC was incredible too. It was a dream of mine to work for the BBC. To go in there, to do the screen test and to be told, "We're bringing you in for six months" was just great. That's what I got, a six-month contract, then I managed to land 17 years.

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

A. To try to remain as healthy as possible. I am aware that I'm a couple of years off 50, and I want to be fit and healthy at 50.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Always remember where you came from. This was something my mum and dad instilled in me - to never be rude and to respect people's cultures and lives. And as my mum would always say, "Don't get too above your station!"

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. As a positive person who was good fun to be around, and as a good friend, a good wife and a good mum.

You can hear Denise alongside Maurice Jay on U105 breakfast every weekday morning from 6am-9am

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