What it's like being an only child, celebrities confide
Karen Ireland talks to four famous faces about growing up without any brothers or sisters and asks how it affected their formative years.
‘When my dad died, it was friends who supported me’
Pete Snodden (36), Cool FM’s breakfast presenter, is married to Julia (36) and they live in Bangor with their two daughters, Ivana (6) and Elayna (2). He says:
Growing up, I never thought about having a brother or sister. I always had plenty of friends, so I was never lonely.
I enjoyed being an only child and was very close to my mum, Irene, and dad Jackie.
Sadly, dad passed away two years ago and it was only then, when I was dealing with a lot of paperwork, that I thought it would be comforting to have a sibling to share this with. I felt very responsible for mum as she was on her own.
It would also be good to have someone who could spend time with mum, so she wasn’t seeing just me all the time.
She lives near us and I try to see her as often as I can. If I don’t see her every day, then I speak to her every day.
When my dad died, my friends, who I’ve had since I was young, all supported me. They were the closest thing I have ever had to a brother.
They have been though a lot of life’s ups and downs too, and are always there for me.
While people are there for you after a loss, there comes a point when they have to get on with their own lives. That’s natural. Maybe if I had had a sibling there would be someone to share the grief with. I don’t think I have dealt with my dad’s death at all yet. My way of coping has been to bottle things up and keep myself busy.
I don’t think I’m selfish as a consequence of growing up as an only child. My mum always said my dad would give you the shirt off his back. He was so generous and always put other people first.
I try to do that in my life. The girls and Julia come first, and as long as they are happy, I’m happy too.
Life with two young children is busy, but we always try to make time to spend together as a family.
While I’m working all week and the occasional night too, Sunday is sacred to us — it’s our day.
I love watching the relationship the girls have with each other and how close they are. As sisters, they have a really special bond.
Some of my friends don’t speak to their siblings and have had horrendous family feuds. Situations like that make me glad I’m an only child.”
‘It was good not having to share my bedroom’
Alliance leader Naomi Long (46) is married to Michael and lives in Belfast. She says:
My mum and dad married quite late in life, so mum was 40 by the time she had me and I was an only child. My dad worked in the shipyard, and I used to stand and listen for the horn to blow at the end of the day, then I would run and meet him at the end of the street.
I never really thought about being an only child. Growing up, we spent all our time playing on the street and were in and out of each other’s houses. It never felt like I was alone.
Sadly, my dad died when I was 10 and just before I went to secondary school. From then on I felt I had a more responsible role in the house and took on a lot of my dad’s jobs, like DIY and decorating.
Because of this, though, I became more practically minded and enjoyed subjects such as science and engineering at school.
I don’t think that not having brothers and sisters made me selfish as I was always in the company of other children and I learnt to share and how to play with others.
My mum also looked after some of my cousins, so there were always lots of children in our house. It felt like I grew up in a large family.
However, having no siblings did make me independent and enjoy my own company. I never feel lonely and like to spend time on my own reading and other doing things.
But I love people and am very sociable. There are people who are only happy when they are with others, but I’m not like that. In this job, though, I get little time alone.
When I was younger and I saw my cousins bickering with their siblings I was always glad that I had my own room and could go in and shut the door.
It was good not having to share (a room) with anyone I was arguing with. When mum passed away in 2009 I felt a little lost as there was only me and my memories left.
When she was ill, however, all my cousins helped me to look after her so she could stay at home.
Thanks to the closeness of my family I was able to take some time off work to care for her where she wanted to be — at home.
We were also helped by Macmillan and Marie Curie nurses who made her more comfortable in her final days. Michael’s mum and dad were amazing during this time too, and a great support to me.
His sister, Alison, is my best friend. We have been friends since before Michael and I became a couple, so if I were ever to pick a sister it would be her.”
‘It made me independent and determined to succeed’
Julian Simmons (65), UTV continuity presenter, lives on his own in Belfast. He says:
I never felt like I missed out on anything being an only child. I had a great upbringing and was very close to my mum, Pearl, and my dad, Alan.
My dad used to travel all over Europe for business, so a lot of the time it was just mum and me. He died when I was just 12, so I felt a lot of responsibility at that stage towards looking out for mum.
I have a lot of great memories of my dad when he was home. He loved fishing and would take me up to a cottage we had in Glenarm, on the Co Antrim coast. My mum would make us a picnic, whatever the weather, and we would go fishing.
I was often bored, but he loved it. It was a great way of spending time with him and we would chat together.
When he died, it was just mum and I but, even at that stage, I didn’t wish I had siblings. Mum and I were very close when we lived together. We just got on with things.
Having said that, we were never in each other’s pockets. We both had our own lives. I was working for Air Canada at Heathrow Airport in London and for UTV in Belfast, and would fly home for a night or a weekend. There would be a message on the fridge saying mum was away shopping or out for dinner and she had left a salad in the fridge for me.
At one stage I moved over to London and mum came with me. She loved the life over there — going out socialising and to the theatre.
We had a lot of relatives in England, and I remember going over there as a child and being teased a lot among all the cousins.
There was a lot of picking on each other, so in that respect I was always glad it was just me and I didn’t have brothers or sisters to fight with.
They say blood is thicker than water, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Even when I was younger, my friends were like my family. As I got older, I had a strong friendship group around me and was very fortunate.
When mum was ill, 10 years ago, that was the first time in my life I ever wished that I had brothers or sisters. It would have been good to have someone to share the load of looking after and caring for her.
Again, it was my friends who rallied around me, and when she died they were all there for me.
A few years ago, when I was ill and needed a quadruple bypass, they were all there and got a rota going for visiting me in the hospital and looking after me when I came home.
I don’t think being an only child has made me selfish.
It has made me fiercely independent and determined to succeed in life. I suppose I would have liked to have nieces and nephews, but I have a good friend, Christine, whom I travel the world with. Her children are like my nieces and nephews, and to them I am uncle Julian, which is nice.
I’m a real people person. I love going out with my friends and being very social, but at the end of the day I’m very comfortable being on my own too.
I like closing my door at night and going in and just being me on my own. I like my own company.”
'I felt lonely at times and really wanted a brother'
Gemma McCorry (28) is a part-time model and a psychology student. She is single and lives in Portstewart. She says:
My mum, Marianne, was a single parent, so growing up it was just the two of us. My dad moved abroad, so I never really saw him. Mum and I have a unique bond, and we were extremely close as I was growing up.
We are very similar and get on well, but we also argue a lot too, perhaps because we are alike.
There were times when I was younger that I felt lonely. I really wanted a younger brother to play with. I thought as he was growing up that I could teach him things. We would play pranks on mum and go on adventures together. It would be great.
One time I was playing up and mum told me if I was good she had a surprise for me. I remember jumping up and down and thinking it was a brother. My poor mum's face fell as it was just a bar of chocolate she had for me. I was devastated.
The good thing about being an only child was that you didn't have to share any of your toys. Anything I had was mine and I got all the attention from my mum and my grandparents.
I have young cousins who are close in age and, while they play really well together, they do squabble a lot over toys or who has the TV or the laptop. It makes me realise I was lucky to have all my own stuff.
Sadly, my mum took ill about seven years ago with chronic leukaemia. At the time I did feel a lot of responsibility looking after her. She wanted to be at home and we managed to keep her there until she got really ill and had to go into hospice care.
During that time, I remember thinking that if I had a brother or sister to share this with, it would be easier. Friends and family were brilliant in helping out, but at the end of the day I was her daughter and even though I was very young I felt it was my job to look after my mum.
She died six years ago and I miss her terribly. Everyone was grieving, but they knew her as a daughter, a sister or a friend - there was no one else who knew her as a mum, and I didn't have anyone to share all those memories with, of the times it was just us.
No one else had that bond and that relationship with her. At the time I did wish I had a sibling to go through the grief with and someone to share memories with.
I felt guilty that maybe I wasn't there enough for her, or did enough for her, but at the time we all did the best we could.
I think she was proud of me. She always carried my model pictures with her and showed them to everyone. I know she was proud of that. I think she worried about my choice to study psychology as she was concerned it would affect my mind and be too tough on me. She worried about me a lot."