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Tracey Magee: 'Working makes me a better mother'

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It’s a busy time for UTV’s deputy political editor Tracey Magee, but she is a huge fan of elections. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

It’s a busy time for UTV’s deputy political editor Tracey Magee, but she is a huge fan of elections. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

It’s a busy time for UTV’s deputy political editor Tracey Magee, but she is a huge fan of elections. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

It’s a busy time for UTV’s deputy political editor Tracey Magee, but she is a huge fan of elections. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

It’s a busy time for UTV’s deputy political editor Tracey Magee, but she is a huge fan of elections. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

It’s a busy time for UTV’s deputy political editor Tracey Magee, but she is a huge fan of elections. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

It’s a busy time for UTV’s deputy political editor Tracey Magee, but she is a huge fan of elections. ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )

With just days to go until NI's election day, UTV's deputy political editor Tracey Magee is juggling a particularly busy time at work with bringing up her young son. She talks to Karen Ireland about finding that perfect work/life balance.

Tracey Magee says that she has done most things in her life a little later than most - she fell in love later, married later, had her son later and even entered her career in journalism later.

However, the TV presenter, who lives in Belfast, is a firm believer that "things happen when they are meant to and come to you when they are meant to" and quite clearly couldn't be any happier with her lot.

"I am very blessed," reveals Tracey (47). "Home life is good and I love my job so I count myself very lucky."

Her time away from the studio revolves around her husband of four years, Ian, who has just celebrated his 50th birthday, and their young son Jack (7).

"Yes, we put the cart before the horse," she jokes. "We met and fell in love, had our son and then decided to get married."

The couple met when Ian, who is a video editor, was doing some work for UTV.

"We had an office romance," says Tracey. "We just hit it off and had a lot in common. We met when we were older, but by that stage we both knew what we wanted. We settled down quickly and have been together for 12 years now."

As well as finding love later in life, Tracey says she came to journalism later too.

"When I left university I took the first job I was offered, which was with the Inland Revenue, and I worked with them for several years as an office clerk," she recalls.

"One day I just decided I wanted a change in career. I was about 24 at the time and I thought that if I was going to move jobs I wanted to do something that I have an interest in. I have always been interested in journalism so I decided to go back to school and study for my NVQ in Journalism."

At the same time Tracey started working for former Belfast radio station BCR at weekends and then applied for her first job as a journalist.

"I went for a job with the Mid-Ulster Mail newspaper in Cookstown. Being from Belfast I had to buy a map to get to the town as I hadn't a clue where it was," she recalls.

The trip was worthwhile, as Tracey was offered the job. Within weeks she had moved to Cookstown and started on her new career path.

"Those first couple of years were amazing," she says. "I loved the buzz of newspaper life and all the people in Cookstown were so lovely. It was fantastic journalistic training."

In her spare time, eager to gain as much broadcasting experience as possible, Tracey kept up her radio work and was eventually offered a job in a station in Portadown.

"I took it and worked for a while, but then the company went bust and I found myself freelancing. I happened to contact UTV one day and, as it happened, they were expanding their freelance register. I got placed on that and soon afterwards I was called in to do some shifts on the features and news desks."

Eighteen years later, Tracey says she has never looked back and really enjoys working on all aspects of the jobs.

"One day you could be in court, the next you could be covering a murder or an education story and then you are called to cover politics," she explains.

"I found I had a real passion for the political scene in Northern Ireland - in fact, I quickly discovered that I loved it."

When her colleague, UTV Political Editor Ken Reid, took ill and was off work several years ago, Tracey was asked to step in and cover his usual reporting beat.

"We are a small team at UTV and I was off rota at the time and working on the planning desk when I was asked to cover for Ken. After a few weeks, I realised I had found my niche and was doing something I really loved and was very passionate about."

Three elections and three talks processes later, Tracey clearly thrives on what she does and goes to work every morning with a spring in her step.

"I am very grateful as I get to do a job I love and not everyone is as fortunate," she admits.

Of course there are periods when her work can be very full-on - particularly in the days before an election when she has to keep on top of the story at all times.

Even on rare days off, Tracey will read newspapers and listen to news bulletins and current affairs programmes so that she is familiar with any breaking stories.

"I spent last weekend reading constituency reports," she says. "That shows you what a political anorak I really am, but I love it."

The period from polling day this Thursday to the conclusion of the count three days later will see Tracey working flat out.

"Realistically I know I can wipe next weekend out of my diary in terms of getting any time with the family, but that just goes with the job," she says

"Making it work is all about putting some effort in and planning ahead. I know I won't see Ian next weekend so we are planning on going out to dinner this weekend.

"I think it is important to make time for each other in a relationship. I am very lucky as Ian is very patient with my work schedule. If I'm very busy and can't get time off then he just takes over on the home front and gets on with it.

"I couldn't do what I do without his support and the support of my mum Yvonne. She retired the year Jack was born. It wasn't planned, it just worked out that way and she decided that she wanted to look after him."

While some working mums agonise over whether they see their children often enough, Tracey takes a more pragmatic - and some would say honest - approach, freely conceding that she wouldn't want to be at home all day.

"It sounds like a cliché, but I feel I am a better mum to Jack because I work. When I see him in the evening or at weekends, I really enjoy spending time with him. Equally, I love my job, going into work and discussing stories and getting the luxury of finishing a hot cup of coffee.

"I am so lucky to have my mum, as she can step in at the last minute and help us out, which is a great support, as balancing full-time work and motherhood isn't easy as everyone knows. But we make it work in our house.

"Also, I think because Ian works in the business he has a better understanding of the hours that I am sometimes required to work."

That familiarity with what she does for a living helps when Tracey finds it hard to switch off. "When we go out to dinner we do talk about work - it's hard not to. I'll start talking about politics and I can see his eyes glazing over, but he is probably as knowledgeable as I am - not least because I keep him up to date.

"Equally, though, I would like to think I take the same sort of interest in his work and want to know what is going on and what he is doing."

Holidays are, however, proving contentious this year.

"As a family we plan weekends away and time out together, but this summer our holidays will be dictated by football as Ian is off to the Euros for two weeks in July," she says through gritted teeth.

"So we will book somewhere and get away later in the year. Family holidays are essential for unwinding and switching off from life."

Tracey admits that she does find it difficult to completely detach herself from the day job, but she was forced to take time out on her honeymoon when they went to Donegal for three weeks and had no phone signal.

"Ian and I weren't going to bother getting married. It wasn't something that we particularly felt strongly about. We had Jack and our wee family and that was all that mattered, but then four years ago we just decided to go for it.

"It started off as a really small event and then snowballed into a big full-blown affair, but I loved every minute of it and had a fantastic day. We went away for a couple of nights on our own and then went to Donegal for three weeks with Jack.

"That was the one time I did unwind as I had no signal on my phone and couldn't text anyone or go on social media. The enforced solace was bliss."

Throughout this interview Tracey talks about Jack and it is obvious being a mum is her favourite role.

"I didn't have Jack until I was nearly 40 so he was very much wanted and hoped for. Ian and I decided we wanted children and were very blessed when it happened.

"Being an older mum is challenging, but it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. He is the joy of my life and makes it all worthwhile.

"Because we were older we had done all our partying and holidaying and we knew we were ready to be parents. I believe you have them when you are meant to and even though a lot of my friends are at different stages and have older children, they still have angst and anxiety over their sons and daughters so it is all relative in terms of when you start a family.

"I would have loved more children and if we had Jack earlier in life he probably would have had a brother or sister, but that's just the way it is and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Tracey reveals that even though she was an older mum she had a trouble-free pregnancy and worked right up to two weeks before Jack was born.

"I then took 10 months off and it was bliss having that time to devote to him."

She does admit, though, that she always had one eye on the news, keeping up to speed with things.

Tracey refers to the period she is in now as "journalistic Marmite".

"You either love or hate elections and I love them. I love to be in the middle of everything and watch a story evolve and you never quite know what is going to happen. By next Sunday I will be an exhausted mess lying in a heap, but it will all have been worthwhile."

Over the years she has built up an enviable contact list and has her "go to" people, but she admits she has a long way to go to match her friend and mentor, Ken Reid.

"Ken has been doing this job for 30 years now. He is a complete professional and a true gentleman. I have learnt a lot from him over the years and I have a lot to thank him for in my career. He has been so generous."

Looking good on camera is something Tracey says she has had to learn over the years, figuring out what works and what doesn't.

And it is an occupational hazard that sometimes you turn up to work in the same outfit as the person you are interviewing.

"Recently, the First Minister Arlene Foster and I were both wearing the same jacket," she jokes.

"I've learnt about colours and shapes and styles over the past two decades and know what to look for. I admit I am a bit of a shopaholic, especially when it comes to shoes. I am one of those women who sneak bags in and then say to my husband 'oh I've had this for years'.

"I love shopping on the high street and Marks & Spencer and Next would be favourites, along with picking up the odd piece in the Hobbs' sale."

Evidently life is busy, but fulfilling, for Tracey, who admits she feels very grateful for all that she has in her life.

She adds: "We have a lot of good people and support around us. We have just celebrated Ian's big 50th with a party for friends and family. It was fantastic to have everyone together in the one place ... his Euros adventure is part of the continuing celebrations."

Belfast Telegraph