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Rachel Dean's Big Ask: U105 presenter Carolyn Stewart on growing up in tower block during the Troubles and death of her father


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Big hit: Carolyn Stewart in the U105 studio

Big hit: Carolyn Stewart in the U105 studio

Carolyn Stewart at home with her two dogs Ella and Jackson

Carolyn Stewart at home with her two dogs Ella and Jackson

Carolyn Stewart. U105.

Carolyn Stewart. U105.

U105 Radio Presenter Carolyn Stewart cooking in the kitchen with some of her sauces that she has made.  Photo by Peter Morrison

U105 Radio Presenter Carolyn Stewart cooking in the kitchen with some of her sauces that she has made. Photo by Peter Morrison

Best friends: Carolyn with her dad John

Best friends: Carolyn with her dad John

Big hit: Carolyn Stewart in the U105 studio

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to U105 presenter Carolyn Stewart, who lives in Bangor. She has been a familiar voice on the airwaves here for over 20 years.

Q Tell us about your childhood

A I grew up in a tower block in north Belfast with my dad and my sister, Marie. We were really good friends as well as family. My sister was and still is my best friend. I look out for her and she looks out for me.

There wasn't a lot for me when I was a kid, but that was because the area I grew up in was pretty deprived in a lot of respects. Now when I look back on it, I think, "It wasn't too bad" - we didn't have a lot, but we had a lot of love.

You went out and you made your own fun. Nowadays, you see a lot of kids playing on iPads or whatever and I'm thinking, "As a child, would you have liked that? Or would you prefer you didn't have all of that stuff?" I would have spent a lot of time outdoors whenever I was a kid - I was always out running about and playing on my bike. Not a lot to do like I said, but you enjoyed it.

I grew up during the Troubles - you wonder how you came out of that unscathed, or did you? Would you ever really say it's normal to grow up with soldiers about your area all the time? Because I lived in a tower block, you would meet soldiers on the stairs. That's not normal for a kid. I always remember going into the lift and maybe there'd be soldiers in the lift, with their faces all blackened and they'd have guns, and as a child, you're looking at that and you're afraid.

We still had a good childhood, though; it didn't stop us kids having fun. I still know a lot of people from the area, given that I spent about 18 years of my life in north Belfast. Then I went and travelled a bit. I lived in Jersey for a while and had summer jobs and things like that. And that made me realise that there's more to life than one way of living, one religion, one colour ... it really opened my eyes.

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Best friends: Carolyn with her dad John

Best friends: Carolyn with her dad John

Best friends: Carolyn with her dad John

My (late) dad, John, was a joiner all his life - which is probably where I get my DIY skills from! I used to watch him making things. We always used to look back and laugh at the fact that he'd be out working all day, taking a wee sandwich in his pocket for the entire day, and he'd come home, and I'd ask him to build me something.

We used to watch snooker a lot when I was a kid, and one time I asked him: "Could you build me a snooker table?" He was probably thinking, "I've just come home after working with wood all day and she now wants me to start building stuff in the house".

But he did. He was brilliant like that. So, he built me the snooker table, and I say snooker table, but it would have fitted on our kitchen table - I was only a child, so to me it was massive. I would say every night, "Can we play?" and he'd get the snooker table he'd built and put it on our table, and he'd made me cues as well. We would play for hours and I just loved it.

Those are the things I remember about my childhood, the simple things.

Q What are you most proud of?

A Being accepted into law school is a stand-out moment for me - actually getting that grade to be able to go to Queen's University. I was really proud, and I remember my dad was really proud, too. I did it as a mature student and I had been out of education for quite a bit of time. I was working at Cool FM at the time. I was doing the night show and I thought, "Well, I have time to do something else", so I decided to take on a class, maybe photography or something, but then I ended up talking to a guy who talked me into doing an access course.

It was just general studies like Sociology, History and English Literature. I think as a mature student, you really start to enjoy doing stuff like that as opposed to someone telling you that you have to. I was really proud that I was able to achieve that - and once you achieve something you ask: "What else could I achieve?"

Q The one regret you wish you could amend?

A I don't really believe in regrets. I think whatever you're doing in life, you create your own destiny.

You might look back and think, "Maybe I should have done it that way", but if you had done it that way, maybe you wouldn't have turned out the way you are.

Q What about phobias? Do you have any?

A Not really. We lived on the tenth floor when I was growing up, so I'm fine with heights.

Q The temptation you cannot resist?

A Fish and chips. I try to say no to them, but every time it gets me and I'm just like, "Aw, go on then".

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Carolyn Stewart at home with her two dogs Ella and Jackson

Carolyn Stewart at home with her two dogs Ella and Jackson

Carolyn Stewart at home with her two dogs Ella and Jackson

Q Your number one prized possession?

A My music collection. The thing about it is that it's not all albums or CDs that I've bought for pure pleasure - most of them have been bought for work purposes, for gigs and things like that. I've been gigging for a long time, so I've built up quite a collection.

Every single one of them has a memory of a bar, club or person. It's really, really precious and almost like a photo album to me. Also, my dogs, Ella and Jackson - they are everything.

Q The book that's most impacted your life?

A I've loved reading since I was a child - I started off with Enid Blyton books when I was young then I moved on to music magazines in my teens. Whenever I went out and started gigging, I didn't seem to have enough time to read.

Then, whenever I started the access course, there was a guy called Alan who took the English Lit class and he was amazing and so inspiring. He introduced me to F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and he got me back into reading. He didn't even know this until I said it a few years ago on radio and his wife sent me a text to say I'd really cheered him up! I didn't even know he was listening.

The fact that someone can have such an impact on you is astounding. I've been reading a lot since then, and I've now got lots of different versions of The Great Gatsby and I've even visited F Scott Fitzgerald's house in Montgomery, Alabama.

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

A I would try to make things a lot more equal, especially for women in the workplace and generally. I'd love to have the power to change people's views on women and help them see that women have as much to bring to the table as men. I do a lot of stuff around the house, right down to the electrics - if I can do it, I will do it myself. You rarely see a female electrician. I think it's all down to our schooling and how we're brought up.

So many girls are brought up playing with dolls and they grow up with the mindset that they're supposed to be doing one thing, and everything else is out of their arena. I think a lot of women now would be able to say that a lot of the things they can do, a man can do. Why should there be any inequality? I'd make people see individuals as opposed to boxing someone into a stereotype because they're a man or a woman, black or white. You should only judge someone on whether they are a good person or not.

Q What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A People not understanding filter lanes in traffic. That really winds me up. Why are people here so precious about the space in front of them? If someone needs into the lane, you should just let them in!

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Carolyn Stewart. U105.

Carolyn Stewart. U105.

Carolyn Stewart. U105.

Q Who has most influenced you in life?

A My dad, without a doubt. He never would have said anything bad about anyone. He was a very fair man. He passed that on to me - "Be careful what you say because you don't know the impact that's going to have on someone."

Another thing he'd always say was, "treat people how you would expect to be treated yourself". All of my dad's lessons were good, there were no bad lessons from that man. He wasn't a well-travelled man, but I called him the 'armchair traveller' because he knew about everywhere. You could talk to him about anything. He was a very encouraging man, too - there was nothing you couldn't do as far as my dad was concerned.

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

A First of all, I would have Bob Marley there to play some music for me. I would have Maya Angelou there for the wisdom. Then, I'd have Ellen DeGeneres there for the craic.

Q The best piece of advice you've ever received?

A To live in the moment. I remember many years ago someone once bought me a book called The Precious Present and the basic principle of it was if you live in the moment, and you can be happy in the moment, then you will always be happy, or at least content, because the moment is the only thing that matters.

I try to live my life in that minute, so that I'm not thinking about what has happened before or what is going to happen, and I can just really enjoy the present.

Q The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A Probably DIY and gardening. I love being in the garden and doing my house up. I love growing fruit and veg as well. During this lockdown, I've got every seed you could imagine planted. Now with a wee bit of time to spare, you can really look after plants and encourage growth, so I'm looking forward to seeing my harvest this year.

Q The poem that touches your heart?

A The Cloths of Heaven by WB Yeats - that was passed down to me through my dad because he was a big Yeats fan and he was always reading poetry. That one always stands out to me because that's his poem. It reminds me of him.

Q The happiest moment of your life?

A Getting a chopper bike for Christmas when I was about 10 or 11. It was the happiest day ever and I'll never forget it.

Q And the saddest moment of your life?

A The day I lost my dad was the saddest day ever. He had several ailments, but his death in 2004 was sudden. We really weren't expecting it.

It doesn't matter how old your parents are, it's just never easy is it? I think especially if your parent was your friend as well, it's a different kind of grief. When I lost my dad, I had a lot to miss. He was every part of my life, and he and I were mates.

Q What event changed your life?

A A trip I took to Honduras with Trocaire about eight or nine years ago. I was going there to raise awareness for what Trocaire does and where the money goes when people put it in the wee boxes. The impact of that trip was very strong because I realised how lucky I am. It just made me really humble. The people we went to see had so little and they were just getting on with it.

We're complaining about being on lockdown, and these people can't do anything about it. They are in families of maybe 10 people in one house and they can't do the social distancing thing. They don't have what we have; they don't have anything. Whenever I was there, there was a focus on a society where women are treated so poorly.

Women were nothing. It makes you think how people can deal with that in these current times, where they are told they can't go out and are stuck in the house with men who aren't treating them well. When I came back from that, I looked at life so differently and I appreciate things more.

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

A I just really love what I do and I'm really lucky. I try to incorporate things I enjoy into my life. I started my food business a couple of years ago and, while it's not a huge business by any stretch of the imagination, I get a buzz out of doing it because it's something different. It's been successful and it's won awards like the Irish Food Award and the Great Taste Award. Success drives success.

I'm also keen to keep my listeners inspired during the pandemic. What's great about my listeners is that they'll say, "You're really helping me get through this", but they're helping me get through it too.

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U105 Radio Presenter Carolyn Stewart cooking in the kitchen with some of her sauces that she has made.  Photo by Peter Morrison

U105 Radio Presenter Carolyn Stewart cooking in the kitchen with some of her sauces that she has made. Photo by Peter Morrison

U105 Radio Presenter Carolyn Stewart cooking in the kitchen with some of her sauces that she has made. Photo by Peter Morrison

It's great for me to be able to play some music, have a bit of craic with the listeners, and also to encourage and hopefully inspire them. This isn't the end of the world; we will get through this. I'm very aware of people's mental health and people struggling with it on their own.

So, I've been encouraging my listeners to find a project to do to get them through the day, to take it one day at a time and to feel good about achieving something, no matter how small it is. It's good for your mental health to take yourself away from your thoughts and do something that you really enjoy doing for even 30 minutes or an hour - it really does help.

Q What's the philosophy you live by?

A Always live in the moment.

Q How do you want to be remembered?

A I would like to be remembered as someone who was good fun and could always turn a negative into a positive.

Carolyn Stewart hosts Lunchtime Bistro on U105 from 12 noon to 3pm on weekdays

Belfast Telegraph