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Radio DJ Jason Hughes: In tribute to my mum, my dad and I set up a charity transporting patients to and from hospital

 

Keep it country: Jason Hughes performing as Garth Brooks
Keep it country: Jason Hughes performing as Garth Brooks
In demand: Jason on stage
Proud father: Jason with son Charley
Sarah Millican
Gordon Ramsay
Garth Brooks
Rachel Dean

By Rachel Dean

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to Downtown Country DJ Jason Hughes (41), who's also a Garth Brooks tribute act and an ambulance officer. Jason lives in Londonderry and has a son, Charley, who is 10.

Q. Tell us about your childhood

A. I had a great childhood. I have a brother called Stephen and a sister called Glenda - I'm the youngest. My dad, Jimmy, worked for the Government and my mum, Iris, was a homemaker.

We lived in a rural community called Culmore, which is at the very border of Derry. There was nothing but fields around and we had quite a peaceful childhood. We didn't get everything we wanted, but we always got what we needed.

I went to a wee country school which had only 20 children in the whole school. I played a lot of football and rugby when I was younger.

I had a range of jobs. When I was 10 or 11 I delivered newspapers and then at 14 I worked in a golf club. I worked in a petrol station, I was a car salesman, a bungee-jumping instructor and I owned property. I didn't really sing until I was about 18.

I started at Downtown Radio in Derry as a volunteer and was just broadcasting around a shopping centre. Then Downtown Country came around and I was asked to join the team. I agreed because I already had a country background.

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We listened to country growing up - people like Glen Campbell and other legends. I never thought or knew I could sing, but my mum used to sing with a showband.

Then I was in a place in the Brunswick Moviebowl in Derry one time and I got up to sing a Garth Brooks song. What I didn't realise was that it was a competition - and I got through to the final. After a few weeks of competing, I ended up winning the thing. It was class.

That's how I got into the Garth Brooks tribute act - and I've been getting away with it for the past 20 years.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I would have to say my son, Charley, and my family. Also, me and my dad set up a charity called Northern Irish Cancer Care as a tribute to my mum after she died due to lung cancer - her name, Iris, is in 'Irish'.

Our charity is a registered ambulance service that transports cancer patients to and from hospitals.

We set it up about six months after my mum passed because we realised how hard the travelling can be. We had to go from Derry to Belfast a lot and it was difficult and expensive. The people we transport aren't sick enough for a regular ambulance but are too sick for public transport. We've transported more than 7,000 people and I'm very proud of that.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I don't live with regrets. Every day we are lucky to be here. Compared to other people's lives, I'm lucky - and I truly appreciate it.

Q. Do you have any phobias?

A. No - I'll eat anything and pet anything.

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Buying new guitars. It's an expensive hobby, but it's me. The best guitar I've ever bought is a Takamine - that's the brand Garth Brooks uses. Their prices can go into the thousands, but I didn't pay that amount of money for mine.

I probably have about 10 guitars now and I have them all mounted on walls around my house. I think if they're accessible, you'll play them more than if they're just in the box. They're nice to look at and play, but not nice to dust.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. I've a Bible my mum and dad gave me when I was 12 or 13 and I still have it. I'm not good-living as such, but it means a lot to me because my mum is no longer here and there's a nice inscription in it.

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

A. I remember when I was at school the teacher would give everyone a book to read over the summer holidays. Whenever you came back, you had to discuss it and write a book report.

I remember getting the book Stig of the Dump (right), by Clive King, when I was about eight years old. The day that I got it and took it home, I was flicking through the book and I ripped one of the pages by accident. I was sick with worry for the entire summer, afraid what my teacher would do when she found out. I told her on my first day back and she told me not to worry, but I already had - for two months.

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

A. I would use my authority to protect the most vulnerable people in society.

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

A. People having opinions on other people's lives. If it doesn't concern you or doesn't concern your body and it isn't breaking the law, then it's none of your business.

People are too quick to get offended by things that have nothing to do with them. You've got your own life to worry about.

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My parents. I was brought up in a good household and learned to respect other people, respect the value of money and to always have good manners.

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

A. I would have to say Garth Brooks. I've never met him before and I would love to get some pointers from him.

I think Gordon Ramsay would be a good laugh - and he could also do the cooking.

I would also invite comedian Sarah Millican because she seems like good fun.

Q. The best piece of advice you have ever received?

A. "Love many, trust few and always paddle your own canoe." My granny, Matilda, told my mum that and she passed it on to me.

Also, whenever I worked for BBC Radio Foyle, broadcaster Gerry Anderson lived near me and I asked him if he had any advice for me going on the radio. He said: "Don't curse and don't spill nothing." Very matter-of-fact, but great advice regardless.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. This time last month I said to myself I was going to get healthy, so I've been walking and running eight kilometres every night from Monday to Friday.

I go out at half past 10 at night with my beanie hat, looking like one of the robbers from Home Alone, and I finish up at about 11.45pm.

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. Poetry is not my thing. I think it's too fluffy. Some stuff rhymes and some stuff doesn't - I don't get it. In terms of music, The Dance, by Garth Brooks, is a beautifully written song with touching lyrics.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. When Charley was born on April 18, 2009. I was overwhelmed with joy. To experience life being born is so amazing - it's hard to put it into words. He was named after the singer Charley Pride.

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. When my mum passed away. It was only about eight weeks from she was told she had cancer that she died. Cancer is a horrible thing that is taking over the world.

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

A. I went to Boston College in America to study business management. In this day and age, qualifications are so important and you need to have them. Boston is brilliant - it's kind of an Irish capital. I had an absolute ball and I came home with a different outlook on life.

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

A. Variety is the spice of life. I'm lucky enough to have three jobs - I sing, I'm a crew member on the charity ambulance and I work for Downtown Country (Saturday mornings 10am to 1pm and Sunday afternoons 4pm to 7pm). Every single day is different and I'm very lucky that way.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Mind your own business and do what makes you happy - live your own life.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. As a good dad.

Jason Hughes as Garth Brooks will headline TribFest Country at the Slieve Donard Hotel on Saturday, August 24, alongside other country tributes including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain. Tickets available from www.ticketsource.co.uk. Jason will also be performing alongside some of the best tributes to America's greatest artists at the Crumlin Road Gaol tomorrow at 8.30pm as part of the July 4 celebrations. Visit www.crumlinroadgaol.com

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