Sarah Clarke: 'People think I am Paul Clark's daughter, I was even taken for his wife, which we both found very funny’
She may be one of the most recognisable faces on local television but life could have turned out very differently for UTV's Sarah Clarke. Karen Ireland finds out how she always set the 'bar' high, professionally and personally.
As one of the newest faces on UTV Life, Sarah Clarke is every inch a serious reporter, having covered the big news events here from the Saville Inquiry to the Pope's UK visit in 2010 - but come the weekend she juggles the needs of two young children and housework just like every other working parent.
While Sarah seems as natural in front of the camera as out reporting live from a scene somewhere in the province, the 35-year-old originally studied for a career in law.
In the next few weeks, though, Sarah will step up to co-anchor the main UTV news show alongside her colleagues Paul Clark and Marc Mallet, as Rose Neill takes a short leave - so life is about to become busier.
Married to accountant Rory (36), the couple, who live in Stranmillis, have parents and in-laws who help out from the sidelines with their two young children, Daniel (4) and Emily (2).
Sarah says: "It is the perennial problem for all working mums - juggling the children and work. It is a challenge, but it is one we work at all the time and we have great support.
"The children go to nursery a couple of days a week and my mother-in-law, Kay, comes to our house to look after Daniel and Emily for the other two days of the week. I am off on Wednesday, which is great.
"Rory is very hands-on. He has more flexibility in his job than I do. Most times he can work around picking the children up and his job. When I am presenting or out on a story, I can't just drop everything and get away."
That said, though, despite the logistics of managing work and family, Sarah says she loves being a working mum.
"I think working makes me more fulfilled and I am a better mum to the children because I work, and I love what I do. And Rory is great with the children, too," she says.
"And not everyone is lucky enough to have the family support that we do, so I know we are very fortunate."
Like most working mums Sarah says she makes the most of the time she does have off.
"Weekends are special and we try to do as much with the kids as we can," she says. "Sometimes I have to work weekends, but then I get a couple of days off during the week, which is great."
Presenting UTV Life on a Friday with co-host Marc Mallet, reporting during the week and anchoring when she is needed - including over the next few weeks when Rose Neill is on leave - Sarah says she loves the variety of her job.
"One minute I am out covering a big story, covering real issues that matter to people - and the next I am presenting with Paul Clark," she says.
"Yes, people do think I am his daughter and on one occasion I was even mistaken for his wife - which we both found very funny. I keep pointing out we are not relatives and I am Clarke with an E."
Sarah adds the thing she loves most about her work is the camaraderie and team spirit at UTV.
"Everyone works well together. There are no egos and we all just have a job to do," Sarah says.
She reveals how fate stepped in and determined her career, though. As a Law and French graduate, she had applied for a place at the bar.
"I studied law as I got good grades at school and it seemed like the right path to take. But I had always had an interest in journalism. While I was at university, I was knocking on doors to gain experience. I was working for both Radio Ulster and the Irish News," she says. "I had built up a strong portfolio in reporting, so when the Bar didn't work out, I applied to do a postgrad in journalism at the University of Ulster."
Sarah worked on traffic and travel reporting at the BBC before joining the newly-established U105 10 years ago as a reporter - then TV and continuity shifts followed.
"So, if things had worked out differently, I could be a barrister now. But I'm glad things went the way they did, as I love what I do," she says.
"I have been presenting for over five years now and I love that side of it, but I wouldn't want to do that full-time. I think being a reporter makes you a better presenter, so I like the balance of both."
She adds she has nothing but respect and admiration for her colleague, Rose Neill, who is one of the most familiar faces of TV news here.
"I have earned my stripes, too, and have gained a lot of experience. The team know I am always ready for the challenge, whether it is covering big stories or presenting the news," she says.
She cites the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, the Royal Wedding and the Pope's visit to Scotland as highlights of her professional career.
When asked how she looks so fresh and flawless on television, she jokes they have a very good make-up department at UTV.
"You are conscious that you are under scrutiny and need to look your best all the time. I need to look smart and well-groomed. So, when shopping for clothes, I am always thinking about what will work well on camera, but not take away from the news I am reporting on. It's a balance," she says.
A self-confessed shopaholic, Sarah reveals she shops everywhere from designer boutiques to high street stores. But there is a special place in her wardrobe for "vintage pieces" handed down from her mum and mum-in-law.
"I have a fabulous Chanel dress that I 'borrow' from my mother-in-law and a gorgeous Jaeger suit of my mum's, which I still get compliments about. It is about mixing and matching, but I love fashion," she says.
Sarah has been with Rory for 18 years, having met him during her Fresher's Week at Queen's University, Belfast.
"It was my first week at university and he came up to talk to me - he was black and blue with a broken nose after a Gaelic football match. He was shy because of that, but I remember thinking he was very handsome in spite of his injuries," she recalls.
"The next day, we had our first official date, which was a milkshake at Maggie May's, and then a trip to Funderland. I hadn't the heart to tell him that I hate those rides, but I made sure I told him afterwards, so he didn't take me back to anything like that again."
The couple got engaged in 2007, when Rory proposed during a midnight walk through Queen's - back to where they met.
"It was very romantic and then we got married a couple of years later in St Anne's Cathedral and then had our reception at The Merchant Hotel," says Sarah.
On the key to sustaining their 18-year relationship, Sarah says they make time for each other.
"We work at it. Time passes so quickly and we want to enjoy every second with the children as they aren't young for long. But we also need time for each other. When we get them down to sleep at night, we will relax with a glass of wine and a box set on the sofa or a nice meal together.
"We did have a rare romantic overnight in Dublin at Christmas time, but I don't like to leave the children for very long - Rory is understanding of that."
With work, children and a husband, Sarah admits she doesn't get much alone time.
"I used to do yoga, but with my work pattern, it is difficult to commit to a class. But that is something I would like to get back into," she says.
"My parents are from near Castlerock, so we spend as much time up there and going for walks on the beach as much as possible. We will be up there over Easter.
"I also love to read, but that, too, has taken a back seat to housework.
"I love to cook, though, and find that very relaxing.
"Right now, life is busy, but I am fortunate as it is also very good. I just take things one day at a time. I wouldn't have it any other way. Right now, I am loving life."