Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Brenda Winter: Friends, family and a lazy lunch is my idea of perfection

Brenda Winter
Brenda Winter

Do weekends find you at the coalface or drawbridge up? Weekends are extremely variable according to what I have on. As well as acting and writing, I am, at fiftysomething, finishing up a PhD in Drama Studies at Queens' University, Belfast.

Last weekend, I spent learning lines for An Evening with Our Jimmy. This weekend I am frantically trying to finish a paper on the Northern Irish playwright George Shiels which I have to give at a major conference in New York next month. I recently completed a stage play on his life. At the moment weekends seem to be all coal-face but that might change in November when my first grandchild arrives. You'll find me down at Shaw's Bridge with the buggy on a Sunday!

If you can, do you grab a lie-in?

I'm a desperate one for my bed. When I'm working at home it's hard to dig myself out on any day of the week.

What do you remember about weekends as a child?

I remember going to speech and drama lessons on a Saturday morning. They were held in Fruithill Tennis Club and my teacher was my mother's cousin Sheila McKay. I have her to thank, or blame, for launching my theatrical career. I remember Saturday night telly after my brother and I had had our weekly bath. We watched Dixon of Dock Green and the Billy Cotton Band Show in front of the fire in our jammies. In later years we hid behind the settee from the Daleks in Dr Who. On Saturday night Mummy always made a big pot of soup for the Sunday dinner and the smell filled the house. On Sunday, there was Mass and always a block of ice-cream and a tin of peaches or pears after your dinner. It sounds corny now but it was such a treat.

If you could do anything you wanted this weekend, what would it be?

I would bundle my mum up into the car and take her to Donegal. We used to go there for holidays to our caravan at Portnoo. Mummy loved it so much there and she longs to go back. Unfortunately she is now in very poor health and is unable to travel.

If you could buy anything at all this weekend, what would it be?

A pair of size 10 skinny jeans but since I am currently struggling to stay a size 14, it ain't gonna happen any weekend soon.

At weekends do you eat out or rustle up something yourself?

Our children have flown the nest now so my husband Richard and I tend to please ourselves at the weekend. I like to cook for people but time is in short supply at the moment. As often as not we go out to eat on our own or with close friends, I reckon I've earned it after 20 odd years of cooking for two big lads.

A night at the flicks or a DVD?

I love going to the cinema — it’s much more relaxing than going to the theatre. I can leave my theatre critic hat at home. We try to see all the latest films. Our favourite cinema is the Queen’s Film Theatre. Because I also do a bit of teaching at Queen’s going there is a bit like a busman's holiday but you always meet someone you know and you can get a nice glass of wine.

If you have time to read a book this weekend, what will it be?

Because I am such an old luvvie it would have to be the new biography of the 19th century actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry which is just out. I'm hooked on theatre history.

Do you switch off your mobile and log out of your emails?

You must be joking! I'd be too afraid of missing something!

Do you go to church on Sunday morning?

I'm not a churchgoer any more but life circumstances have ensured that I have maintained spiritual beliefs.

Your perfect Sunday?

No deadlines to meet and a lie-in with the Sunday papers. Lunch out somewhere with Richard, our boys Chris and Owen and Owen's partner Alex. Wherever we go will, of course, have to have a high-chair to accommodate the new arrival. As usual I would have my wee half bottle of champagne. It's my favourite tipple although my husband always tells me it was ‘far from Champagne' that I was ever reared. I tell him it's my only vice. Home then, into the jammies and watch the telly.

And when do you start to get depressed at the thought of the week ahead?

I don't get depressed at all. I am usually looking forward to what the week will bring. I feel so privileged to be doing things that I really love. As I get older life seems to be offering more and more opportunities. I'm still acting and writing as I have always done but going back to higher education has opened doors to experiences that I never dreamed would be possible. Being asked to write the critical introduction to Lay Up Your Ends was a real honour. I am also looking forward to the publication next year of my own new play Just Shiels which was written as part of my PhD. So roll on the week ahead. I'm up for it!

Belfast actor, director and playwright Brenda Winter recently played Emily Beattie in An Evening with Our Jimmy, a tribute theatre production of James Young's famous TV characters performed at the Grand Opera House.

One of the founding members of the legendary Charabanc Theatre Company, Brenda recently completed a stage play on the life and work of Ulster dramatist George Shiels.

Lay Up Your Ends by Martin Lynch and The Charabanc Theatre Company, in which Brenda Winter was one of the original cast and founding members, published by Lagan Press, £9.99. Edited by Richard Palmer, the book also includes an introduction by Brenda and articles from playwrights Martin Lynch, Marie Jones and actor Ian McElhinney. At all good bookshops or visit

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