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'I just love the power I have doing live TV'

Tonight UTV launches the return of the Late and Live debate show with new presenter, Tina Campbell. Chrissie Russell caught up with her

Presenter Tina Campbell has been a familiar face on our screens now for more than a decade. Tonight she's swapping her usual slot, presenting UTV's flagship news programme UTV Live, to front a discussion-led show where everything from street violence to sex, health and house prices will be up for debate with a live studio audience.

"It's a new challenge that I can't wait to get with," says Tina about her new role. "I hadn't been looking for anything new but when I was approached about the show I said yes straight away.

"The format appeals to me a lot. Basically it's a studio audience-based programme with a panel of guests discussing three or four different issues each night.

"We'll be exploring a range of subjects that affect all of us — but the most important thing is that we're really interested in hearing what people have to say; the success of the show depends on people getting in contact."

While no stranger to live television, this will only be Tina's second time chairing a programme that revolves around a live studio audience. "I'm not going to lie and say I'm not worried," she laughs. "The biggest fear is that it's live and I've really no idea what people are going to come out with, but I know when I did it before for an environment programme for Insight, I loved it. I never, never saw myself doing it but I really loved the power and being in control."

With the show going out at 10.35pm on Mondays, the presenter has had to make adjustments to fit the new commitment into her already hectic schedule. Presenting three days a week (she's dropped one UTV Live day to accommodate the new Monday night slot) and mother to three children under 10, Tina's remarkably laid-back about the sacrifices she makes to be a working mum.

"UTV are wonderful at allowing me to have a work/ life balance," she says. "I don't know how women who work full time do it. At home everyone knows mummy works Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Monday, Tuesday and weekends are my time with the kids. It is a balance, and out of it the first thing to go is definitely any sort of 'me time'. I said to my husband a while ago that would love one day on my own but it never happens!"

Tina is married to John Paul Ballantine, or 'Jippo' as she and their friends call him. The pair live with their three children, Charlotte (8), Sophie (5) and Benjamin (18 months) in their home on the Ards peninsula. "I've no plans for any more children," reveals Tina. "I did a documentary on maternity units not long ago and I'm pregnancy and baby-mad, but I think three is ample."

She describes her husband as a "hands on dad".

"God love him, he works from home and I think he finds getting on the computer is especially difficult with three young children," she says. Until last year her husband was best known as head of music at Downtown and Cool FM. "He's working on a new venture at the moment," says Tina.

"It's not up and running yet so I don't want to say too much, but he's still in radio."

John Paul was, of course, previously married to Tina's UTV colleague, Pamela Ballentine. And the two Mrs Ballentines, past and present, have often sat side by side on the UTV Live couch. "I think at the start it might have been a bit amusing with us on the sofa together, but Pamela was my favourite person to work with," says Tina. "We don't really present together any more, and we don't really see each other socially outside of work, but we're great friends in work. There's no pressure or problem whatsoever."

Tina joined UTV in 1994 after a brief stint in PR and Radio Ulster's traffic and travel team. "When I was very young I wanted to be an air hostess because I thought it seemed so glamorous," she laughs.

"Then I wanted to be a primary one teacher, but then the summer I was doing A-levels, I started work at Downtown. I met Eamonn Holmes, Frank Mitchell and Pamela Ballantine — my dad, grandad and uncle Roy had all been in the Belfast Telegraph so I'd known journalists all my life — and part of me knew I was interested in following it as a career. I did an English degree at Queen's University, Belfast, and then an NCTJ course and took it from there."

Her most difficult assignment came relatively early in her career. "I was really young and had only started the job the week of Diana's death," recalls Tina.

"I'll never forget it, for some reason I was on most of that week — the other presenters Linda Bryans, Kate Smith and Pamela must have been off. The whole country was in mourning, different stories were coming in every night and it was hard not to be affected. I've worked on other big stories, but I'll always remember that one — I've always been a softy at heart."

She adds: "Now, I think my whole outlook has changed with becoming a parent. Human interest stories about kids that have been killed or injured leave me with a lump in my throat and there are many times after covering stories that I have to think 'wise up, be professional'."

Growing up, she says the presenters that influenced her were Carol Barnes and Anna Ford. Today, Fiona Bruce is a favourite: "She's such a lady! I think it's wonderful how she manages the balance between hard news and lighter pieces."

But she's unconvinced by the overly casual approach of Channel Five's jeans wearing Natasha Kaplinsky. "I think there's a time for jeans," says Tina. "It's not that I dress fussily, but I think there are stories where you need to command a bit of authority."

Late and Live, UTV, tonight, 10.35pm. Get in touch or tel 9032 8122

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