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Veteran broadcaster Walter Love on Sir Van Morrison turning the tables on him in new interview

Veteran broadcaster Walter Love tells Stephanie Bell how a chance conversation led to him being interviewed by the legendary Belfast musician, and recalls his own lustrous career and the anguish of losing his adored wife

Two legends will swap roles tomorrow in a unique broadcasting coup which will see Sir Van Morrison take the hot seat to interview Walter Love on his own show. Notoriously shy when it comes to media interviews, Van turns the tables on veteran broadcaster Walter to make sure he is the one asking the questions on the Jazz Club tomorrow.

It is regarded as something of a feat in itself to get the music man into a studio for an interview and Walter has managed it twice.

When invited a third time, it was Van (72) who suggested the two swap roles.

Van Morrison is our biggest music superstar and when it comes to broadcasting, Walter Love is also in the super league.

After 60 years with the BBC, he is revered by his colleagues in Broadcasting House in Belfast and much loved by the public. And his love of jazz is as legendary as the presenter himself.

Walter freely admits it was an unusual experience to find himself being interviewed on his own show by none other than the great Van Morrison, who sets about the task with relish, quizzing his subject about his lifelong love for - and first experiences of - jazz.

Walter says: "It was actually Van's idea to turn the spotlight on me this time and I think he enjoyed it.

"It was an unexpected pleasure to be sitting at the other side of the table from him, although I think I would prefer to be asking the questions rather than answering them!"

The two men have crossed paths often over the years and share a mutual passion for music.

While not exactly friends, Walter has interviewed Van twice on his radio show in the last few years and when he extended his third invitation it was the music star who suggested tomorrow's unusual role change.

The media-shy musician proved a natural host, gently taking Walter through his passion for jazz from getting his first jazz radio show on Radio Ulster to his involvement in the Holywood Jazz Festival, among other things.

During the conversation, Walter shares tracks from his favourite artists, including Fats Waller, Ed Polcer, Eddie Lang and Louis Armstrong.

Walter says: "I met Van a couple of years ago socially and we had a very interesting conversation about music and jazz and blues.

"He was a guest on two of my programmes after that, talking about his early influences and the people he worked with in the early part of his career.

"After the second programme, when I was thanking him he said to me 'Maybe next time I will interview you' as a sort of throwaway line and that's how it came about.

"We spent a good six weeks talking about the idea of the programme before we did it.

"It was a very enjoyable experience. We both enjoy talking about music and he asked me about where my interest in jazz came from and how it developed.

"I've met him from time to time over the years and when I asked him two years ago to come on my show I was very grateful that he accepted. He is our most important musician and he loves talking about music.

"As an interviewer he was very much to the point and asked the right questions and hopefully I gave him the right answers."

While more a fan of jazz than blues, Walter has seen Van in concert and followed his career over the years.

Now aged 82 and still presenting his weekly jazz show, Walter has been a stalwart of TV and radio in Northern Ireland since joining the BBC in 1958, although his first appearance on radio was much earlier at the tender age of 11 in 1946 with an appearance on Children's Hour.

Fifty-two years later he received an MBE in the New Year's Honours List for his services to broadcasting and in 2014 he was inducted into the PPI Radio Awards Hall of Fame.

To celebrate his 60 years in broadcasting, the BBC hosted a concert of the Ulster Orchestra in his honour at the Ulster Hall.

The 'menu' was entirely his choice, music from childhood through to jazz to the jaunty Jaromir Weinberger - Schwanda the Bagpiper: Polka and Fugue.

While he has enjoyed an illustrious career, it says everything about Walter that when asked for his career highlight he doesn't choose any of the big stars he has interviewed over the decades, but opts for a compliment from a member of the public.

"I was doing an outside broadcast in Co Fermanagh and had just finished the programme when a lady came over to me and said 'Thank you, I'm disabled and the way you speak to people means a lot to us'," says Walter. "That has to be one of the best things that has happened in my career."

Born on June 22, 1935, and educated at Strandtown Primary School and Regent House Grammar School in Newtownards, Walter grew up in east Belfast, the middle child of five.

His dad Bob was a travelling salesman with the Dunlop Rubber Company and his mum Gwen was a housewife and mother.

He has fond memories of a busy household which was a magnet for his siblings' friends: "Because there were five of us over 10 years we each had our own group of friends and our house became a place where people were constantly coming and going," he says.

Walter left school in 1952 and while he loved radio and was by then a freelance contributor to the BBC, his parents persuaded him to pursue a "proper profession" and he planned to work in accountancy.

He says: "As a youngster I had asthma, which meant I had to be off school a lot and very often spent the day in bed listening to the wireless and it was BBC in those days. I became very attached to it and loved the idea of it.

"I was keen to get into broadcasting but was persuaded by my parents to follow a proper profession, so I went into an accountant's office. I wasn't terribly good at it.

"I was into amateur dramatics in Belfast at the time and after appearing on Children's Hour when I was 11, I continued to do small features for radio."

In 1958, at the age of 22, he left accounting when he got his break as a studio manager for the BBC in London.

He returned to Belfast in 1959 to become a staff announcer, covering everything from symphony concerts to the Friday Night is Music Night show.

In 1960, he became a television newsreader, a job he held for more than a decade. He recalls: "I was the main newsreader for the BBC for about 10 years and during the summer months when presenters were on holiday I got to fill in."

This led to his own show Day By Day in 1978, for which he was nominated for a Sony award.

Ten years later, he moved to the afternoon programme with Love in the Afternoon and from 1988 until 2006 he was both producer and presenter of Love Forty every Sunday afternoon.

Walter semi-retired in September 2006 and experienced tragedy in his personal life when his wife Mary died from an illness in 2011.

Today, he describes her loss as the worst thing that has ever happened to him.

He says: "It was very sudden. She only got six months, which was a very short time, and that was hard to take. She had a rare lung disease and was only 69 when she died. You have to be philosophical and draw a line under things."

Mary was head of art at Ballyclare Secondary School for most of her career and the couple had been together for 47 years, and married for 28 years.

During their time together Mary often talked about giving Walter art lessons and he finds it ironic that he only discovered a love for painting after she passed away.

He says: "I love to paint and just took it up a few years ago. Mary often talked about giving me lessons and in 47 years we never got round to it.

"I get great pleasure out of it now and I mainly paint landscapes. I do a lot of travelling and take a lot of photographs.

"My sister lives in Canada and my brother is in Australia and I have a lot of photographs from various places which I paint from. I think Mary would be very surprised indeed by how much I enjoy it now."

Walter lives in the countryside near Downpatrick and says he can't imagine his life now without the BBC.

He adds: "I know I'm no longer in my 20s. Wherever you are in life, you have to draw a line and look to the future.

"I think it is very important to have a focus and I feel really privileged to work for the BBC.

"I never thought in 1946 when I was first on radio that I would still be broadcasting in 2018. I have three families; the one I was born into, the one I married into and the BBC. I've always regarded the BBC as family."

Sir Van Morrison interviews Walter on the Jazz Club on Radio Ulster tomorrow at 9pm.

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