Here's an exclusive for you: Jane Loughrey never wanted to become a television reporter.
That revelation may come as a shock to viewers who have grown accustomed to seeing her face on TV night after night.
Indeed, the highly respected journalist is almost as recognisable as the UTV logo itself.
But as the north Belfast woman prepared to hang up her microphone for the final time after almost three decades, she told the Belfast Telegraph she had no burning desire to be on the telly.
“I love my job and I love being a storyteller, but I never wanted to work in television,” said Jane, who left UTV’s City Quays studios for the final time as a staff member yesterday.
“I actually thought radio would be more suitable for the sort of journalism I wanted to do. My family still thinks it’s hilarious that I ended up on television for nearly 30 years.”
It’s a different world Jane is leaving now. When she started at UTV in 1992, the Troubles were raging, bombs and bullets were still killing people and there was little sign of ceasefires, let alone a peace process.
Newsrooms were still filled with plumes of cigarette smoke and the clattering of typewriters, while mobile phones had yet to become an essential tool of the trade. Even Google, the lifeblood of media now, didn’t exist.
“Everything has changed so much. We didn’t have mobiles, we had bleepers. If your bleeper went, you had to find a phone box somewhere,” said Jane (54).
“And of course, there was no satnav either. It was a very different place back then.”
It was the 4am “graveyard shift” that propelled a keen cub reporter in front of the camera.
“I was brought into UTV to write bulletins, but these were the dark days of the Troubles, so although my shift was supposed to finish at lunchtime, I was invariably asked to stay on and cover whatever was happening,” Jane said.
“I remember one day being asked to go to Armagh after a bomb went off. I was very hungry for news, so I was delighted for the opportunity. This was what I wanted to do.”
Although “very emotional” about leaving, Jane is looking forward to spending time with her 13-year-old son, Matthew, and is excited about the future.
“Leaving was a huge decision, but it’s the right one,” she said.
“My grandma has a great saying that a lady always knows when it’s time to leave, and I think it’s the right time for me to see what other challenges are out there.”
Jane’s face became familiar down the years as she covered major stories, such as the Shankill and Omagh bombs, the Loughinisland massacre and the IRA ceasefire.
She also recalls some “amazing times”, such as when Bill Clinton visited Northern Ireland in 1995.
“That was a huge moment in the peace process,” she said.
“I was also outside Castle Buildings when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and at Hillsborough Castle when Tony Blair famously said he ‘felt the hand of history’ on his shoulder.
“When the Queen visited UTV, I was actually asked to report on that story, which was strange — the Queen coming to my work.
“I was in Guildhall Square when the Bloody Sunday Inquiry concluded. That was a big moment, particularly as my parents (Patrick and Alma, both in their 80s) come from Derry”.
Atrocities such as the 1993 Shankill bomb remain memorable for all the wrong reasons.
“I’ll never forget watching people frantically digging through the rubble with their hands, trying to free people who were dead or dying,” Jane said.
“I thought I’d never see a worse sight in my life but, unfortunately, I did in 1998 after the Omagh bomb exploded. I wouldn’t wish anybody to witness what I saw that day.”
Rather than leaving home like Eamonn Holmes and many others for a career on national TV, Jane did it other way round, leaving London for Belfast.
The QUB psychology graduate did her training at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication), studying broadcast journalism.
Prior to that, she took a short course in print journalism that included a stint at Hello! magazine on a work placement.
“My claim to fame is that I posted that week’s edition of Hello! to Princess Diana at Kensington Palace,” she said.
“It was a great experience, but it was the week the Berlin Wall came down. I was transfixed watching this historic event unfold. I knew then that I really wanted to be a news journalist.”
Jane’s Belfast brogue did her few favours back then.
“It was difficult in London during the 1980s with my accent,” she said.
“These days, regional accents like Huw Edwards’ are almost sought after, but not back then.
“I ended up working in Oxford. I did a freelance stint at a radio station in Cambridge. I got some freelance shifts with ITN and I read the news on Classic FM — that was hard work.
“I would willingly work shifts back-to-back because I was a young journalist with rent to pay in London.”
Everything changed, however, when two opportunities came up back at home.
“I was interviewed by BBC NI and UTV on the same day,” said the former past pupil of Dominican College, Fortwilliam.
“It was UTV who offered me the job, so I grabbed it and, well, the rest is history.”
Unlike the Beeb, UTV has never found itself in the firing line over allegations of sexism or ageism, and neither was an issue for Jane during her career.
“I have never been prevented from doing anything I wanted to do,” she said.
“UTV was a great place to work. I’m very close to my family, but I really do feel that UTV has also been a family for the past 30 years.”
She will miss working alongside colleagues including Tracey Magee and Niall Donnelly, the latter of whom she had an interesting experience with when out on a job in Ardoyne.
“We were reporting on a volatile Tour of the North when one of the rioters threw a brick that struck me on the ankle, and I fell down,” Jane said.
“When I was lying in agony on the ground, the young fellow who’d thrown the brick came over and said, ‘Jane, I’m really sorry... I meant to get a peeler’.
“He offered to buy me a gravy chip before I was carted off to hospital in an ambulance. That could only happen in Northern Ireland.”
In another report from a summer riot in Ardoyne, Jane and her cameraman got trapped in front of the police line.
“I was pleading with a police officer when a woman, drinking straight from a bottle, yelled ‘Let her through, she does the weather’,” she said.
“I still laugh about that to this day. In the midst of all the terrifying things, there have been lighter moments. You need that.”
Being “under siege for days on end” while reporting on the Drumcree protests didn’t provide many laughs, but “even in the darkest of days”, Jane found that people were kind.
“They opened their doors. It astounded me that so many people did that in the middle of their anguish,” she explained.
The reporter has only ever wanted to be a conduit for the news, not the star of the show.
“I’ve always believed that it’s a reporter’s job to tell other people’s stories, not their own,” she said.
“My view has always been that I never want to become the story. I’m there to tell somebody else’s, and I would hope that history is kind to me.
“I’ve done so many types of stories over the past three decades, but I would like people to remember me and think that I was kind, that I listened, that I’m fair and I told it as it was.
“All the way through my career, that is what I hope I achieved.”
What is next for Jane, who has an older sister, Anne, and two younger siblings Stephen and Una? Consultancy work, lecturing or perhaps a book?
For now, she is looking forward to spending more time with her son “because being a mother is the best job in the world”.
Down the line, she would like to write a memoir, “not just about poignant times in UTV, but also about the lighter moments, the fun I’ve had with people over the last three decades and the laughs along the way”.
“Northern Ireland is a small place. I don’t think there’s a town or village that I haven’t been in,” she said.
But don’t think you have seen the last of Jane Loughrey.
As she said: “I am not retiring. I’m excited to see what the next chapter brings.”