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Our special bond with dad

NI families prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, we speak to some well-known personalities about what their dads mean to them.

By Audrey Watson

They’re the rock we can depend on when times get tough, the man in our lives who can fix a leaky pipe just as easily as a broken heart, the backbone of our family lives.

And when it comes to saying a big thank you to our dads, there’s no better opportunity than Father’s Day, which gives those of us lucky enough to have one that we love an opportunity to pay tribute to and make a fuss of the main man in our lives.

Ahead of the day itself tomorrow, we ask some well-known personalities and their dads what they mean to each other and what they will be doing to celebrate.

Jo-Anne Dobson (47) is the Ulster Unionist Party MLA for Upper Bann. Her father Eric Elliott (69), is a company director.

Jo-Anne says: "My dad has always been so good to the females in his life. I remember when I was very young, him bringing me up to see my beloved granny Lilly who we visited regularly as she lived close to Abercorn Primary School in Banbridge.

We have always been extremely close and still are. Dad has always been my greatest support and confidante — and with my parents having me and my little sister Belinda while they were in their early 20s, we have always been really close as a family.

Tomorrow, I will be cooking a traditional Sunday lunch with all the trim

mings for him and my mum, Joanie.

Growing up, we all had a very strong interest in politics and dad has been a fantastic support to me as I became, first a Craigavon councillor, and then in 2011, an MLA.

He did absolutely everything from putting up the posters to manning the polling stations, as well as being there for a much-needed hug!

I had a very happy childhood. Sundays were family days and after church we would head out for walks or outings to the seaside.

He wasn’t a strict father, but he never needed to be because we always had a very open relationship where everything could be discussed around the kitchen table.

Dad always found time for us. I have some lovely memories of when mum and dad would pick up Belinda and me from school and take time to discuss our day, even though they were really busy building up a business.

These days we are constantly in touch, if not in person, then by text or email.

He is also a fantastic granddad to my sons Elliott and Mark and also to Belinda's son, Alex. He takes them to the Northern Ireland football matches as well as across to see their beloved Manchester United play at Old Trafford.

My dad has taught me many life lessons, but the best one is that the most precious thing that you can give people is your time. He always says never

give up until you see something through, and always have time to listen.

I know it’s important for me to remember these skills in my role as an MLA — it is such a privilege to help people with their problems and I know that my dad has had such an influence on me to make me the person I am today.

Eric says: "If Carlsberg made daughters, it would have been Jo-Anne. She was always a very happy, pleasant and affectionate child who made friends very easily.

Joanie and I had two daughters and both were very good and loving children. The only difference between them personality-wise that I can think of is that Belinda would have been a little quieter than Jo-Anne.

Both girls always make a fuss of me on Father’s Day and I love it — what dad wouldn’t? I also love the fact that I am still so close to my two daughters and also their children.

I was delighted when Jo-Anne decided to enter politics. Her mum always says that she has my work ethic and never say die attitude and I totally agree.

The whole family has always been interested in politics and we all take a very active role in the Ulster Unionist Party. Jo-Anne’s role as an MLA means we are involved in a lot of meetings and activity together.

I am very proud of her and all that she has achieved — I’m just looking forward to seeing what is next.


Tara Mills (42) is a BBC journalist and newsreader. Her father Richard Mills (72) is a retired schoolteacher and theatre administrator/production manager with Belvoir Players.

Tara says: "This year, Father’s Day is also my 10th wedding anniversary, so my lovely sister Pamela has something special planned for my dad and

also my husband Danny and I. The whole family will be together for a double celebration.

Dad and I were very close growing up, but I'm really close to my mum, Patricia and sister Pamela as well. I was also very close to my brother Richard (who passed away in 2008).

Dad was a maths teacher so I always spent the afternoons with him. I've really good memories of chatting to him and helping make dinner. He's quite the comedian and there was a lot of laughter in our house. These days I love chatting to him about the news and analysing the latest developments at Stormont. We share a real love of current affairs and the recent elections were a big talking point. I'm so lucky he's my dad. I look back on my childhood and remember feeling such admiration for his energy and dedication. I still do.

I wouldn't be doing the job I do without him. Like so many other families during the Troubles, BBC news was a big part of our lives.

From a very young age I always wanted to know more about what was happening and I'd ask dad questions about the political situation and he'd try to put it into some sort of historical context for me.

He has a very strong sense of social justice which I've definitely inherited and has been a major influence in my life.

He runs the Belvoir Players studio and has a summer scheme which charges just £10 a week.

That's a very small amount and when I asked him why, he just looked at me and said: ‘I want all children to be able to attend — not just those from better off backgrounds'. That sums up his attitude and dedication to the community.

He's built up the studio from nothing and it's thriving every day of the year. When we were little he used to say: ‘I'd love to have a theatre' and he did it — he achieved his dream and I'm so proud of him.

I was part of the Belvoir Players from the age of four until about 21. Sadly, work prevents me from committing to shows now, but I still go and see as many as possible. My father is also an amazing granddad — my children, Daniel (8) and Aimee (6), are very lucky to have both grandparents on my side as sadly my husband's parents are no longer with us.

My son adores him and when I asked my daughter what she thinks of him she said: ‘He's a very nice granddad because he invented the studio'.

She loves performing in the shows and is part of the third generation of Mills family members in the Belvoir players!

Richard says: "Tara was a beautiful, kind, charming and extremely well-behaved child. Patricia and I were blessed with three marvellous children who were obedient, generous and well behaved.

Even in her teenage years, Tara never ever caused me any concern or worry. We talk to each other every day and can share problems and find solutions.

I’m delighted that she has chosen a career in the media — she demonstrated considerable journalistic skills in her early days and gained rapturous responses from her superiors at Belfast Community Radio, at the Bangor Spectator and then Radio Clyde.

All the reports that reach me from the BBC are also always very complimentary.

I’m extremely proud of what she has achieved. I’ve observed her throughout her career and marvelled at the wonderful way she presents herself.

I am forever receiving compliments from people with whom I am in contact praising her ability and speaking highly of her professional manner.

I’m glad to say we are a very close-knit family with various little family traditions that occupy Christmas, Easter birthdays etc, so with nine birthdays in the family, plus the special days, we are kept busy and see a lot of each other.

Traditionally we have a family meal together every Sunday. I try to have a regular meal out with just Tara, but with both of us leading such busy lives we can’t make time often enough.

Tara is always doing nice things for me, but providing me with two wonderful grandchildren, who I totally adore, is one of the best.


Tracey Rodgers (46) is the director of Style Academy modelling agency. Her father Stanley Hall (74) is a retired civil engineer.

Tracey says:"My dad is one of the most selfless people I know — he is always giving up his time to help or advise other people.

He is very involved in the life of our church (Mount Merrion Parish), both in a physical sense doing building work, and a spiritual sense attending prayer meetings and giving financial advice as a member of CAP (Christians Against Poverty).

On a personal level, he is always at the end of a phone when I can’t get my burglar alarm to go off, the bath starts leaking, I need a lift anywhere or advice on anything at all.

He means the world to me and he always says: ‘I don’t know what you would do without me’. And it’s true — I don’t either.

My little sister Susan and I both had a wonderful childhood — although we used to fight like cats and dogs. My memories are of hot summers spent in Portrush at Whiterocks beach or heading off to Spain when I often seemed to manage to bring along a school friend.

I ask dad for advice all the time about work. When Style Academy became a limited company, he became company secretary (unpaid, of course!).

I seek his advice about the business or my role as a landlord on a weekly basis and he attends all meetings with my accountant and financial advisor. He’s busier now than when he was employed!

Dad knew I was getting married before I did. In the traditional manner, my then fiancé Stefan asked him for my hand in marriage. I think he was delighted that someone was finally taking me off his hands!

It felt really special to have him walk me down the aisle. My biggest fear was that I might cry with happiness, but dad kept reminding me that it was a joyous day with no place for tears.

One of the most meaningful moments was holding both Stef’s and my dad’s hands at the same time at the top of the aisle.

I think dad envisaged that he was handing me over and would have less responsibility for me and my DIY needs in particular, but instead he has inherited a ‘son’ to look after as well!

We talk almost every day on the phone and I know I could call on my

dad at any hour of the day or night for anything at all — we are a pretty close-knit family.

We are both involved in the life of our church, so if we haven’t caught up in person during the week, we see each other every Sunday morning.

He always taught me from childhood, that all you can do is your best. In more recent years, to worry about nothing, pray about everything.

On Father’s Day, we always do something together as a family. It’s a great excuse to tell dad how special he is. I’ll probably cook his favourite meal at our house … well, Marks & Spencer will make it and I’ll heat it up!

Stanley says: "Tracey was a very happy, confident, playful child. She had a lot of friends and loved playing games where she was the schoolteacher.

I wasn’t very strict with her or Susan. My wife, Wendy, was much stricter.

As a teenager, Tracey went through the usual rebellious stage with her hair and make-up and clothes, but she grew out of it eventually.

She has always been very into fashion and make-up.

She’s a very thoughtful girl and never forgets a birthday or family occasion. She knows I have a sweet tooth and anytime she comes to visit, she will always have a box or a bar of chocolate for me.

We are very close and will talk everything over with each other.

As a family, we all like to go out for meals together and Tracey and I go to church together every Sunday.

We became Christians at the same time as each other, 20 years ago.

Tracey was always very determined at whatever she was doing. I like to think that she gets that from me.

We are both perfectionists and believe that if something is worth doing, you should do it to the best of your ability.

Before she started Style Academy, she went off to Spain for a year to work as a teacher, but when she came back, she didn’t want to do it any more and decided to start a modelling agency.

I said to her that it would keep her in pocket money until she got a proper job and she keeps me going that she still hasn’t got a proper job.

I’m very proud of what she has achieved. And I’m proud of the honest and ethical way that she runs her business.

Business people can be quite tough and Tracey is tough, but she is also very sensitive and caring. She rings Wendy and me every day to see how we are.

At her recent wedding, the minister joked that I would be relieved, but I was very happy that she had found someone special she wanted to settle down with.

I am getting on a bit and am very glad that there’s someone who will be there for her after I’m gone.

For details on Style Academy, visit:


Paddy Wallace (34), is a former Irish international/Ulster rugby player and founder of the Paddy Wallace Rugby Academy. His father Paul Wallace (63), is a chartered accountant.

Paddy says: "Growing up, my brothers and I never wanted for anything and I have lots of happy memories.

Dad acted as a referee most of the time as Rory, Neil and I tried to beat the hell out of each other in the back garden — there was usually a ball of some sort involved.

He was a keen sportsman himself and exposed us to as many sports as he could from a young age — tennis, golf, football, rugby, you name it we played it.

He never pushed us in any one direction, but it was clear early on that sport was in our DNA and it just so happened that rugby was the sport I fell in love with most.

I have sought his advice throughout my career and there have been times when we may not have seen things the same, but he has always been there to lend an ear and pass on his experience to me.

On reflection, now that I have my own kids — Paddy-Jack (7) and Leila (4) — it must have been as much of a rollercoaster for him as it was for me. The highs must have made him very proud and the lows incredibly protective.

Dealing with a knee injury for the last 18 months has been incredibly frustrating — initially probably the lowest that I’ve felt as a rugby player. But with the help of my wife Tina and the rest of my family, I can see there is light at the end of the tunnel and can focus on the challenges that lie ahead for me as a retired rugby player moving into what we call ‘The Afterlife’.

Dad has been a great help in setting up the Paddy Wallace Rugby Academy. With his experience in business and accounting we were able to put the business plan together, which helped me secure a number of companies willing to support the academy.

He also gave me an introduction to Tesco and they have come onboard as our principal sponsor.

Outside of rugby, he’s a very hands-on granddad and being quite an active ‘OAP’, takes dealing with all of his five grandkids in his stride. Although he has to be quite iPad-savvy to deal with my two!

I love the fact that he still has a full head of hair in his 60s, which gives me hope that I might avoid baldness in the future.

My dad means a lot to me as he’s been my number one supporter throughout my rugby career and con

tinues to be a great crutch to lean on now that I am moving on to something else.

He taught me how to believe in myself. I was quite a shy person growing up and would have struggled believing that I had what it took to make it as a professional, let alone an international.

Having the support of my mum and dad, who always believed in me, gave me the confidence to go on and achieve what I achieved. I owe a lot of my success to them.

Paul says:"Paddy was always lively as a child and a bit of a hyperactive tearaway. He was into all sports, but I never would have dreamed that he could have ended up playing sport as his profession.

He loved American Football too, and his hero was Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, who sent him his autograph.

I remember one of his schoolteachers warning him to pay less attention to his rugby as he would never make a living playing sport!

For myself and his mum, Alison, Paddy’s rugby career has been a series of proud moments, right from mini rugby tournaments to getting picked for his school teams.

We never had any idea that he would go on to achieve so much — Junior World Cup winner, making his debut for Ulster, his first start for Ireland, being part of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning team. I think I am most proud that he always gave 100 per cent to the team.

We have quite a normal father/son relationship. I learned early on not to try and make any comments about his rugby! I think we’ve become a lot closer recently, especially as Paddy’s playing career moved towards its end.

I enjoy helping him formulate his plans for life after rugby and we meet most days to chat through the various issues. He’s really impressed me with his drive and focus on his new ventures.

He has had a huge amount of experience playing all over the world and he will bring that knowledge and passion to the camps. Above all he’ll want the kids to enjoy the sport as well as develop the skills.

Paddy’s a great guy — basically modest and unassuming. He’s a fantastic husband and father and I’m proud of the way he has developed.

But if he made a fuss of me on Father’s Day, I’d wonder what was wrong with him!

For details on the Paddy Wallace Rugby Academy, visit:

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