Belfast Telegraph

Home Life

It's a daily battle to balance work and being a mum and wife ... but I wouldn't have it any other way

Reading the news, delivering a baby lamb or singing her favourite operas, the BBC's Jo Scott leads a very varied life. She reveals to Karen Ireland how she manages her hectic existence on and off camera.

It's 9:30am, breakfast time for most of us, when my interview is scheduled with Jo Scott, but for the bubbly 44-year-old presenter it feels like lunchtime following her 4.30am start.

She's having a 'lunch' of poached eggs as we catch up about her hectic life on and off camera.

A typical week is broken up with news shifts during the first few days, then filming for her new rural affairs series Home Ground at the end of the week.

However, she is not complaining.

"I'm having a ball and feel so blessed at the minute with the opportunities that I am being given. One day I am in the studio reading hard news stories and the next I am up a mountain with a fire crew lighting heather in the Mournes."

Away from the camera she has to fit in being a busy mum to James (8) and Ollie (5) and wife of Gerry McAleenan, who works for Bombardier.

"When you say it like that, life is incredibly busy, but it is also very good and I am loving life at the moment."

Jo who grew up in Jordanstown with her mum Jo and dad Alan, now lives in Belfast.

While life is busy, it seems that as far as work goes it has often been gilded as well. She reveals her first job out of university was also a dream job.

"I studied business at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and then I got a great job as a buyer in the bread department for Marks and Spencer. Everyone thinks that's funny that I ended up working in bread, but I loved it.

"It was a fantastic opportunity for someone straight from University. I got to live in London and travelled the world to trade fairs. It was really well paid and a great opportunity for me," she recalls.

However, Jo felt a yearning to try her hand at journalism as it was always something she had an interest in.

"I did a few courses and eventually did a post grad in journalism at Belfast Institute.

"It was hard to give up the security of a great job and my life in London to return home, but at the time I was single and had no ties, so I decided it was something I would regret if I didn't give it a go.

"So I left my plush life in London for Kiltonga Industrial Estate in Newtownards, where I got a job on Downtown/Cool FM news. It turned out I loved being involved in news gathering and reporting and I knew I had found my niche and passion in life."

A year later she got the opportunity to do some work with Radio Ulster at the BBC and then in 2000 she moved to television reporting.

"I loved radio and it was really good grounding for my TV work. I can't believe I have been on TV for 16 years," she jokes.

But her current work on Home Ground is a bittersweet experience for her, as the one person who would have loved it and been so proud of her involvement in it isn't here to see it.

"I lost my beloved dad last year and I know this programme would have struck a real chord with him."

He was her biggest fan and Jo says she and her mum and three siblings have been left with a huge void.

"I am the youngest of four. I have two sisters and a brother and we have all been heartbroken by dad's death. He was a true gentleman and he loved life. It has been really difficult, but I know he would want us to carry on and I know he would be so proud of Home Ground. He would have loved the whole format of the programme.

"I was very fortunate as I had a wonderful childhood with two remarkable parents who gave us all a real zest for life and getting out and about.

"Dad's death has left an unfillable hole in my life, but I just want to go on and make him proud. I still imagine him enjoying the programme and all the stories we are telling and interesting characters we get to meet. He'd have loved it."

Jo has known her husband Gerry for 18 years after being introduced by a friend. "When we first met I have to admit to thinking 'wow' and it was love at first sight. It was instant for both of us and we have been together ever since."

Jo recalls how Gerry proposed during a walk in the park in his home town of Rostrevor and says it was the biggest surprise of her life.

"I just turned around and there he was on one knee with the ring and I was blown away. I have a good one in him. He would do anything for his family and he is my rock."

The couple married 10 years ago at a service in Jordanstown, followed by a reception at the Clandeboye Estate.

"It was a fantastic day. We had the big traditional wedding with all our friends and family. I loved it."

She admits that sons James and Ollie are the centrepieces of the couple's life. "They are our world. We both work long hours, but the boys come first and we always make time for family."

Family time for the foursome revolves around trips to Rostrevor or to Donegal, with outings to farms or the seaside.

"We love to go somewhere that's not too far away and to spend time just being out and about doing things. The one thing I hate is to see the boys on the tablets or laptops. I want them to be outside experiencing life like I did. My parents brought me up with a real love of the outdoors."

Jo says her mum played a big part in creating a love of all things rural as she grew up on a farm in Holywood and before she retired worked for the Ministry of Agriculture in the poultry department.

Getting the work/life balance right can be tricky given the irregular hours Jo works. That is where her mum is such a big help.

"I am very lucky as my mum is a great support to us and if I am on a late shift and can't get the boys from school she will step in and she will always ensure they are outside exploring and doing things.

"If I am working the early shift, such as today when I start reading the news from 6:30am, then I will be finished at 2pm and it is straight to the school gate to pick the boys up.

"I love being there to pick them up and do homework and dinner with them. Mum was always there for us and I think it is important as these are precious years which they will remember.

"I'm lucky as my job means I can be there for the boys a lot of the time. Gerry is also a very hands-on dad and if I am late home he just takes over and sorts them out. We are a good team."

Jo admits after 16 years on screen she has become used to being noticed when she is out and about, but recently her appearance at the school gates has led to a few strange noises being directed towards her.

"Some of the children have started greeting me with baas and moos since Home Ground went on air.

"I think a lot of them must have seen me delivering the baby lamb on the programme.

"My boys thought it was pretty cool. In fact, the following day I took them back to the farm where we filmed the lambing and we got to see around it and they met all the lambs and other animals. The farmer had endless time for them, which was great."

Working on Home Ground is certainly varied. There are few topics left untouched, from delivering that baby lamb, dry stone walling in the Mourne Mountains, profiling Northern Ireland's very own horse whisperer, to the devastating impact on some farmers of the poor market for potatoes.

"It has been a fantastic project to be part of and I am loving every minute of it. Gavin Andrews, my co-presenter, is a true professional and we have such good fun working together.

"We have a giggle about things, but at the same time we are tackling some pretty serious issues. It is about real people and telling real stories."

Jo who is normally so polished and tailored on TV says one of the great joys about Home Ground is that she gets to throw on a pair of wellies and her jeans, stick her hair back in a ponytail and not worry about make-up.

"That has been fantastic and so refreshing. I normally have to think very carefully about what I am wearing and know which styles and colours will work, but with this I can get away with dressing down."

Jo also gets to dress down when she enjoys her other love and passion in life - running. She is a member of a running club and pounds the pavements twice a week.

"I love it. That is my down time. Time to just switch off. I have great craic with the rest of the club members and I really enjoy running. It is a great form of exercise. One of my colleagues, Colette Maguire, came into work this week with her medal from the Belfast Marathon and I was really inspired. I would love to do a marathon. That is definitely on my bucket list."

Also on Jo's to-do list is to return to another love - singing.

A trained soprano, she sang alongside colleague Noel Thompson at the annual Castleward Opera production near Strangford.

"Noel is a true friend and has really taken me under his wing at the BBC. I loved singing with him at Castleward. I also sang when I was in Edinburgh. It is something I'd love to get back to, but I think my voice has probably got a lot deeper with shouting at children for years," she jokes.

"Life is just too busy at the minute with working, the children and trying to make time for each other as a couple. Gerry and I get out as much as we can. We like a night at the cinema or even a nice walk and a drink. We have a niece who is now our number one babysitter.

"There is so much going on at the minute, sometimes I wonder how we manage to squeeze so much into a week, but I think it is important to always make time for each other as a couple and that's something we are conscious of.

"We like the odd weekend away just the two of us when time allows. Getting to film all over Northern Ireland has shown me how beautiful it is here and there are so many wonderful places to be visited and explored."

Looking back over the past 16 years of her career, Jo says there are so many highlights and so many stories which have touched her heart.

"I suppose one of the things I look back on is George Best's funeral, which I covered as a pup reporter. It was very poignant.

"I also remember at the end of a long shift being sent to Holywood Golf Club to interview an up-and-coming teenage golfer. I just wanted to go home as I was tired and have no interest in golf. Little did I know then I was interviewing the soon-to-be world golfing star Rory McIlroy. I should have asked him for his autograph."

  • The new six-part series Home Ground is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday nights at 7.30pm

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