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The fear factor: From nightmare nun story to clowns and sharks

We talk to well-known personalities to find out what gives them the fear factor

By Kerry McKittrick

Earlier this month, two nuns were rescued in Rome after becoming trapped in a lift for three days without food or water. The nuns - a 58-year-old from Ireland and a 68-year-old from New Zealand who were visiting the city - found themselves stuck in the elevator due to an electrical fault.

To make their nightmare ordeal even worse, the building was locked up for the weekend, while everyone else went home.

The pair were discovered three days later and were rushed to hospital.

Following their rescue, the nuns admitted they had turned to their faith and had spent a lot of their time praying.

For most people, being trapped in a lift would certainly be one of the worst fears imaginable, while for others, coming head-to-head with a dreaded creepy-crawly or scaling a terrifying height would be enough to induce a panic attack.

We ask some well-known people about their worst fears.

My fear: trapped with mice and rats

Alison Clarke runs the ACA Modelling Agency and lives in Portstewart with her husband, golfer Darren Clarke. She is mum to two sons, Stuart (26) and Philip (23) and step-mum to Tyrone (16) and Conor (15).She says:

My worst nightmare would be to stuck in that lift but with mice and rats in there with me. I've always been scared stiff of them and even a glimpse of one would have me leaping onto a chair.

Nothing specifically happened to me to make me scared of them, but I grew up in the country and there were always mousetraps in our house, so I think that frightened me. I can cope with anything else - spiders, daddy-long-legs, wasps and bees are no problem, but mice and rats scare the life out of me. I imagine them running up my leg and it makes me cringe."

My fear: enclosed spaces and flying

Paula McIntyre (48) is a food writer and broadcaster living in Portstewart. She says:

I'm petrified of rats, although, thankfully I haven't seen one for years. Strangely, I know that my mother came across me petting a dead one as a child.

I think the fear might have come from my father, though.His mother caught a live one in exactly the same garden where I'd found the dead one. My brother is also terrified of rats, too, so it might have come from him.

I feel really sorry for those poor nuns who were trapped in the lift. I can be a little claustrophobic, too, and I really don't like being on the window seats on planes. There are times I've really had to hold it together and keep the lid on the panic.

I hate flying, too, but I've had to do it so much in the last year I think I'm getting over it a bit. In the past I would have done anything to avoid flying - I would drive down to London instead, but this year it just hasn't been practical so I've flown instead.

It has shown me that confronting your fears can definitely be a good thing and can sometimes help you overcome them."

My fear: clowns and sharks

Coleraine-born Bronagh Waugh (32) is an actress best known for her role as Sally-Ann Spector in The Fall. She is based in London. She says:

Clowns and sharks are my two biggest fears. I think the clown thing comes from watching Stephen King's It when I was about nine years old - far too young.

It's become really bad over the years and has progressed on to masks as well.

I was in Derry over Halloween and they have a big fancy dress party up there. I couldn't cope at all - everywhere I looked there were people in masks and costumes and they absolutely terrified me.

I've had to turn down shows that involve masks and I can't even take my god-daughter to the pantomime.

The shark fear again comes from watching a film when I was far too young for it, this time it was Jaws.

I have a recurring nightmare that I'm at the Pyramids swimming pool in Portrush and one end of the pool is full of sharks and the challenge is to swim through it.

I had that nightmare again a couple of weeks ago."

My fear: falling from great height

Jackie Fullerton (72) is a sports broadcaster for BBC Northern Ireland. He lives with his wife Linda in Ballymena and they have three sons, Darren, Nicky and Gareth. He says

I've long had a fear of heights. I don't like being up high and looking down a sharp drop. We were recently in Croatia and the hotel room was up on the fourth floor with a balcony looking out over the sea. I could only look down from it for a second before stepping back. I don't have a problem looking out over a view but looking down is a problem. I've even made it to the Empire State Building in New York, but I didn't look down.

I've dreamt many times that I'm running away from somebody and the figure chases me off a cliff, so all of a sudden I'm falling in mid-air. Even though I normally land on my feet I don't like the dream at all. I don't have a fear of flying though, it's just when I see a sheer drop that I have a problem."

My fear: being stuck in a lift

Gareth Stewart (34) is a Cool FM radio presenter. He lives in Bangor and has three-year-old twin sons, Cody and Charlie. He says:

T he story of the nuns being stuck in lift terrifies me, as I'm claustrophobic. I can't even get into a lift - only the glass ones that you can see out of. It can be a bit tricky when it comes to tall buildings - for example, when I'm hosting something on the top floor of the Europa Hotel in Belfast, which has quite a few floors, and I have to take the stairs the whole way to the top.

I think it happened when I was very young. I got stuck in a lift with my mum and we had to wait for ages for an engineer to come and let us out. It just scared the life out of me, so I don't like small spaces that I can't see out of.

The only time it really effects me is on holiday. I arrive at the hotel and am given my room number. Then I go to the lift, put my suitcase in it, press the right floor number and race up the stairs to get there in time before someone else calls the lift and finds my suitcase there in it."

My fear: going under the water

Denise Watson (42) is a TV presenter and sports journalist. She lives in Lisburn with her husband, David Scott, and their daughters, Samantha (10) and Beth (6). She says:

I'm really scared of water. I learned how to swim when I was younger, but I never put my head underneath the water and things like rushing rivers frighten the life out of me. I had to cross a river on stepping stones when I was doing my Duke of Edinburgh Award, and it ended up with people pulling me across - I nearly had a full blown panic attack in the process.

I don't know where it came from. I know that neither my mum nor dad learnt to swim though. I know my dad was thrown into a river as a Cub Scout and I'm not sure if hearing that story made me afraid of water.

The only swimming stroke I can do is breast stroke so I can keep my head out of the water. The thought of being submerged is the worst part. In I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here, the contestants are sometimes submerged in tanks and that would be my worst nightmare.

My husband David has already started teaching our daughters to swim - he's adamant about teaching them to swim young, so they don't have any fear of water. We go into the water with them, but they know that I just won't put my head under it."

My fear: having the duvet too close

Frank Mitchell (51) presents U105 Mornings with Frank Mitchell from 9am every weekday. He lives in Belfast with his wife Helena and their daughter Laura (20). He says:

My principle fear sounds a little strange - I hate having the duvet too close to my head or too tightly tucked in when I'm in bed.

For years I didn't know why this was until there was a phone-in on the U105 radio show and we had a psychologist on as a guest and talking to her brought it all back.

When I was very young, I fell head first into a vat of lime on a farm.

The farmer saw me and ran over to get me out but lime is like talcum powder, it's very soft and I really fell into the depths of it.

I had forgotten but because of that I really don't like tight, enclosed spaces.

I couldn't play football either - when you see a guy score a goal on TV and all of his mates pile on top of him in celebration - that makes me look away. I would fear nothing more than being the guy at the bottom of the pile."

My fear: messing up on live radio

Marcus Hunter-Neill (32) features on Radio Ulster and is a drag artist from Bangor. He says:

The thing that scares me the most would be doing something wrong live on-air or completely drying up.

I actually had a nightmare about it once. I was supposed to be speaking to a guest, but I didn't know anything about them and I didn't have a brief so I couldn't read up on them. During the interview the production team were trying to feed me questions in my ear, but the link-up wasn't working so I had to do the whole thing blind. It sounded so bad that they took me off air and cut to Radio Foyle, which would be a disaster if it actually happened in real life.

Thankfully, it was just a dream and I woke up, but that really would be my biggest fear. The problem is there's nowhere to hide on live radio - if something goes wrong then it's really hard to cover it up."

My fear: bad dreams and night terrors

Leanne McDowell (20), from Cookstown, is the newly crowned Miss Northern Ireland. She says:

Of course, I'm scared of the normal things, like spiders and that kind of creepy crawly. However, I also have sleep paralysis and that's turning into one of my biggest fears.

There doesn't seem to be any particular reason for me to have it, but it started about four years ago. I wake up feeling like I'm having a heart attack because I'm dreaming there is a woman in my room.

She comes in and tries to attack me in my sleep, but I can't move a muscle. I can't scream for help or anything.

All of this happens in my sleep. The first time it happened, I thought I was screaming for my mum, but I was still asleep and I didn't make a sound. It lasts about five minutes but feels like it's much longer. It's gone down from once a week to once a month now, but I still dread it. It's one of my big fears and sometimes I dread going to sleep in case this happens."

Celebs who are afraid of mirrors, butterflies and cows ...

  • This may surprise most people, but Jennifer Aniston is afraid of flying, as is Cher and Whoopi Goldberg
  • Other freaky fears include Billy Bob Thornton's phobia of antique furniture. He says: "I get creeped out and I can't breathe, and I can't eat around it," He also gets uncomfortable around bright colours.
  • While many have an irrational fear of clowns, they are in good company as so does Johnny Depp, Daniel Radcliffe and Sean 'Diddy' Combs. Depp says: "There always seemed to be a darkness lurking just under the surface, a potential for real evil"
  • Meanwhile, Pamela Anderson is spooked by mirrors, while Orlando Bloom is scared of pigs
  • Country singer Lyle Lovett is terrorised by cows
  • Scarlett Johansson is frightened of cockroaches
  • Nicole Kidman fears butterflies
  • Justin Timberlake gets the chills from snakes, spiders and sharks

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