Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Feisty, funny, intelligent and hard-working ... the reasons why our mums mean the world to us every day of the year

Ahead of Mother's Day tomorrow three Northern Ireland personalities tell Una Brankin and Stephanie Bell how they plan to treat their mums

By Una Brankin

Eamonn Holmes has to think outside the box when it comes to buying a gift for Mother's Day. "Mum doesn't like flowers and she's a diabetic, so you can't get her chocolate," he says. "You ask her what she wants, and she says she doesn't need a thing.

"She'll say: 'The only thing I'd like is your Daddy back, and you can't give me that. She's absolutely convinced she'll meet my dad again when she dies."

The award-winning broadcaster (58) has found the solution to his gifting dilemma - in art.

"I have to be increasingly inventive to get her a present she approves of," he laughs. "What she relates to, in a rich vein, is old pictures, so what I do is get them turned into paintings, some abstract.

"I get old pictures of Dad and get them transformed into a watercolour painting and framed. She thinks that's absolutely amazing - it's like giving her a painting she never knew she had, and memories come back from the time of the picture.

"She can re-live old times, like when we used to go to Omeath (Co Louth) on the ferry for a day out, all of us and our uncles. Probably drove home from the ferry drunk, back in those days."

Josie, who turns 90 this year, still lives in north Belfast, not far from where Eamonn grew up with his four brothers in a two-up, two-down house off the Antrim Road, with an outside toilet and no bathroom. Eamonn recalls his mother baking and polishing, and keeping the home immaculately clean, while his father, Leonard, went out to work as a carpet fitter. Leonard died of a heart attack in April 1991, with more than 1,000 attending his funeral.

Josie had a tumour removed in 2010 and made a good recovery. But, down the line from his home in Weybridge, Surrey, Eamonn admits he worries about her. "She's frail, which is a big concern, but she's tough," he says. "We're very alike. She's very feisty - all her kids say the same. She can be formidable. She has an opinion on everything and she has very little time for my celebrity-hood and that sort of life.

"She'll always criticise and slag off these ones. She'll say: 'Who cares about them?' She does watch me on television but she doesn't pretend to overly enjoy it!

"She doesn't like you getting above yourself in life, or thinking you're greater than anyone else in the family."

Like many true mother-hens, Josie likes to keep her chicks nearby.

"I live part of the time in east Belfast - it's 11 minutes away from her but she'll say, 'What took you away there?'" Eamonn laughs. "There are not as many people around her from her younger days now.

"She says, 'Everyone I know is dead'. That's a sad state to get to, to not have anyone around relevant to your time. Having someone to listen is a great joy for her."

Last December, Eamonn made the Queen's New Year Honours list and will receive the prestigious OBE for his services to broadcasting at an investiture ceremony later this year.

He is considering bringing his daughter, Rebecca, by his first marriage, and his son, Jack, to the ceremony, explaining that Jack's mother, Ruth Langsford, would be prepared to "stand aside", given the two-guest limit.

While Josie doesn't travel too far from home these days, Eamonn and his brothers visit her frequently and look after her every need.

Says Eamonn: "Mum is proud of the OBE but I don't think she thinks it's as good as her brother-in-law getting a BEM, the lowest of the honours, for diffusing limpet landmines off ships in World War Two. That was worthy of a much higher award than a BEM.

"Mum thinks if I make people happy, that's good.

"And if they object to me in any way, that's okay too. That's a good thing for me. She doesn't make any difference in me and my brothers. She's as egalitarian as can be, if that's the word, and she still treats us all as if we're about seven."

As for Ruth, Eamonn leaves it to Jack to mark Mother's Day at home in Surrey.

"I get annoyed when people ask me what I'm doing for Ruth for Mother's Day," he complains.

"Ruth's not my mother. Jack takes care of her and I look after my mum. I'll make sure he's on the ball, and he will be.

"They get on very well. It was his 16th birthday last week and Ruth had the whole house decorated for three days and these different tea parties and so on. It was a whole birthday weekend. I'm not like that but they do very big things at Christmas and so on."

For the first time in many years, Eamonn will be unable to see Josie on Mother's Day, on Sunday, as he is pre-recording the current series of Do The Right Thing ("a re-working of That's Life"), which goes out on Channel 5.

"We do the filming the weekend before it goes out, so, my guilt is that I won't be with Mum on Mother's Day this year," he concludes. "But I'll see her soon. Mum enjoys reminiscing about the old days, and when she talks, she talks and talks, and you listen. She loves talking, and to have someone to talk to.

"There won't be that many Mother's Days left, and I think the best gift you can give - especially an older mother - is time. That's a wonderful gift."

Catch Eamonn and Ruth on Do The Right Thing, Channel 5, Thursdays, 9pm

'In any situation in life, good or bad, I can turn to my mum and ask her to be here'

Jonathan Rea is 9,500 miles away from his mum Claire (55) this weekend, but the World Superbike champion isn't forgetting Mother's Day.

"Unfortunately, I'm in Australia and away from my mum this year but I am making it up to her and having a nice bunch of flowers sent," he says. "I will, however, be celebrating an UK Mother's Day with Tatia, my wife, and our two little boys. Me and the boys will pick out some nice flowers to give to her, and we'll have a date night tomorrow."

From Antrim, Jonathan (30) grew up in awe of his road racer father Johnny, a former Isle of Man TT winner, and was always close to his mother, who stayed at home to look after him and his siblings, Richard, Kristoper and Chloe, while Johnny worked long hours in the family business.

The Rea household was non-sectarian; the young Jonathan was so naive that he thought red, white and blue kerbstones represented a race track. He was even bullied at school because he didn't understand sectarianism.

"I was very, very close to my mum in the earlier years - I could confide in her on anything and she helped me through being bullied at school," he recalls. "We had a very, honest, open relationship.

"She is an amazing mum. Whilst dad went out and worked to keep the family business open, mum pretty much brought us up and made sure we were always turned out well. We never went without, but I don't feel that we were spoiled."

An accomplished cross-country runner in her younger days, Claire has struggled with back problems, which worries Jonathan.

"Her health is average - she could be in a healthier state in these later years," he says. "I would love to see her take up sport and do more exercise, but it is trying to fit it into a hectic schedule. She likes going out with friends, eating nice food.

"She enjoys paddle-boarding when she comes to our house in Australia - actually, she is not that into paddle-boarding! She enjoys taking my dog Bruno out for walks and she enjoys shopping here."

The Rea boys were given motorbikes at a young age by their father Johnny, while Chloe got a quad bike. Jonathan's love of racing started early, and his mother Claire regularly took him to various competitions when he was growing up.

"I don't think she ever stopped worrying about me but I feel that my mum did enough of job when I was younger to show me that she really trusted me," he recalls. "Although, if I was away out-of-sight, out-of-mind or whatever, I know that she would be thinking of me. But that she knew I was switched-on enough to make good decisions that she had instilled in me,

"She taught me right from wrong; she taught me very valuable lessons as a kid, the difference between needing something and wanting something. She and dad have been a huge influence on me. I was lucky my parents both instilled great morals in me. The person I am today is down to both her and my dad."

Looking back, Jonathan recalls that his mother was quite strict and firm with her ground rules when he was a teenager. But he knew how to get around her.

"In my later years I understood how I could push her buttons," he laughs. "Not that she was a pushover, but I managed to get my own way sometimes. But she was pretty strict especially when it came to being a teenager and wanting to go out and hang out with my mates in the town, or going out at weekends.

"Mum was always the one who would come and pick me up and I had always to be on time, and if I was one minute late at the agreed meeting time or meeting place, I wasn't allowed to go out for the next few weeks."

The champion rider made all his family extremely proud last year when he received an OBE. With his earnings from racing, he is happy to help out financially and buy his mother thoughtful gifts.

"We celebrated occasions like Mother's Day when I was a teenager by all the family going out for a nice meal together," he remembers. "Generally, I would have signed the card that my dad bought, and he always bought a present from the kids, as well as probably flowers from him.

"I help my mum with her home now, which I am very proud to say. I've flown my mum around the world to visit me and to come to my races. I think one of the most extravagant gifts I bought her was a nice watch.

"Mum means the world to me know because I know in any situation in life, good or bad, I can turn to my mum and ask her to be here," he adds. "More recently, now with my own kids, my mum really steps up and comes over to help me out with the kids. She is not only an amazing mum but an amazing grandmum - or nanny, as she prefers to be called!"

'Don't ignore a call from your mother, you could regret it'

Although Vinny Hurrell is happy to splash out for his mother on any given occasion, he subscribes to the idea that it's the thought that counts. "I remember when I was about 12, I was sent to get the groceries, with the money to pay for them," he recalls. "I decided to buy Mum some sweets and kept them for Mother's Day, so she was paying for them herself, really. But I was only 12!"

The BBC Northern Ireland presenter and Stephen Nolan producer/sidekick grew up in Randalstown, Co Antrim, as the middle child of five - he has two older sisters, Donna (41) and Emma (39), and two younger brothers, Donal (35) and Patrick (26).

His mum, Jean (60), worked in retail after many years of helping her husband Donal (63), a small farmer, run his butcher shop in Randalstown, as well as a stint co-running an inn in her hometown of Longford.

Vinny (36) recalls his mother making him sit down to study for his 11-Plus for an hour each day, which he spent doodling. As a result, he didn't pass the exam, but his parents encouraged him to obtain a good education anyway. He went on to study for a degree in journalism and media studies at Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent before spending a year in Australia backpacking.

"Mum has always made me feel 100% supported," he says. "Since university, I tried for years to get on the BBC training course. It wasn't paid, you just got an allowance. When I eventually got a place, I had an offer for a HRSC job as well, and I remember asking my mum if I should just go for the proper paid job.

"She said, 'Don't be silly, go for the job of your dreams'. I was quite glad she said that. I mean, I was 24 and plenty would have told me to stop dreaming and go and get a proper job and earn some money.

"She's very good at giving me honest feedback, though. She'll say, 'Well, I'm not sure about this or that,' or 'What was that you were talking about?', and she tells me to slow down a bit, that I'm too fast."

Vinny's parents met at the height of the Troubles, when Jean was visiting her sister, who had moved from their native Longford to Northern Ireland. The couple settled in Randalstown, Co Antrim, and have lived there ever since, apart from a few years in Longford while Vinny was at university.

"Mum's one of 11 children originally and she would have stayed with her aunt a lot because there wasn't the space in the family home in Longford," Vinny explains.

"She wasn't fazed by the Troubles when she moved to Northern Ireland. She just kept going and didn't complain. She's very softly spoken - she has a very gentle brogue, but you wouldn't want to cross her or upset anyone belonging to her!

"She's always been fantastic. We've got a great relationship - she's like a rock. She's hard-working and determined. She'd take the clothes off her back or the food out of her mouth for us."

The award-winning broadcaster credits his parents for giving him a good work ethic.

"Dad had a butcher's shop in Randalstown and a small farm, and my mum helped out with both," he says. "And when we moved to Longford, he bought a pub with accommodation, like a small hotel, and mum worked there morning, noon and night. She'd be working to 2am, then up at 5.30am to do the breakfasts.

"She worked in clothes shops too, up until last year. She's always been busy, and my sister has four children, who keep her occupied as well."

The Hurrell family got together when Jean turned 60 last year and rented a cottage in Rostrevor, Co Down, for a few days to celebrate.

"It's still great to spend time with her. You tend not to realise how lucky you are to have someone until they're not around. I feel lucky to have both my parents," Vinny says.

"We'd bring mum out for dinner, not just on Mother's Day.

"We've sent her on holidays to New York and Lanzarote. The five of us club together, so it's easier.

"But I don't think it's important to be extravagant. It's more about spending time together. Mum's happy if we meet up for dinner at someone's house, so we're all together."

Vinny will visit his mother on Sunday with a gift, even though Jean has other plans.

"I can't tell you what the present is or it would spoil the surprise. Now she's going to think it's something really amazing!" he laughs.

"I always keep the receipt in case she wants to change it. She does say, 'Oh, that's too much', but isn't that what all mothers say regardless? I'd like to take her to dinner, but my sisters are taking her away to some hotel spa thing. I'm not invited!

"I'm sure they'll spoil her. As someone once told me, don't ignore a call from your mother - you could live to regret it one day.

"There are these sayings which come up on Facebook that mum is always right, and I still would turn to my mum for advice. It is always good advice."

The Vinny Hurrell late night magazine show goes out on BBC Radio Ulster on weekdays at 11pm

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