Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

How pals who were there for Dale Winton, and the NI heroes I met recently, have inspired me to give something back too

By Kerry McLean

Students seem to work very hard these days, don't they? I was mightily impressed by a bunch I was giving a talk to recently. I got chatting to them afterwards about university life and what a typical week entails.

The majority were up and out of the house for nine o'clock and when they weren't in class, were to be found elbow deep in textbooks in the library or working in some part-time post, trying to earn a penny or two.

It certainly didn't match the memories I hold of my carefree student days. My generation were probably the last to get full grants and, bar a bit of babysitting for neighbours, I, nor none of my housemates, held down a job.

Of course we went to lectures most days (every day, if my mum is reading this …) but we didn't push ourselves the way today's students do.

The library was somewhere we only ever went to when we were cramming for an exam, or when we were so broke we couldn't afford to turn on the heat in the house.

It was always lovely and cosy there and if you went to one of the less popular sections - Geography, I'm looking at you - you could get cosy and have a snooze, undisturbed.

But there was one part of our daily routine at university that my classmates and I studiously maintained.

No matter what was going on, no matter how late the night before or early the lecture the next day, we'd all try to be back in our digs mid-morning to watch everyone's favourite show, Dale Winton's Supermarket Sweep.

We'd debate the logic of packing your trolley with fresh produce or heading straight to the chiller section and filling up on frozen turkeys.

Should you toss the tins in first or use them as space filler after you'd stuffed the larger, expensive items in?

My housemates and I could never agree on the best approach to the trolley dash, though we probably discussed it more than any of the subjects we were meant to be learning about, but the one thing we had no argument over, was our love for the host, Dale, who sadly passed away last week at just 62 years-old.

He was unashamedly orange, had a corny pun for every occasion and was the first person I'd seen in the UK with American style whiter than white teeth. He was always showing them off with his thousand kilowatt smile, permanently unleashed on the audience.

You never heard a bad word about him from celebrities and contestants alike, confirming what I'd always suspected, that he was a warm, charming and hilariously funny man.

Which is probably why I remember being so shocked when I watched him on TV a few years ago, explaining how the big black cloud of depression had been a permanent fixture in his life.

He seemed to have it all, career, money and an enviable lifestyle, yet he went on to describe how it was so bad at times that he could barely put one foot in front of the other and was only able to keep going thanks to the support of good friends.

Proof, if it was needed, of just how important it is to be able to offer a listening ear to those who need it.

I was lucky enough to meet some of those who provide that kind of essential solace at the Spirit of NI Awards last Friday night.

Among them was Fiona Simpson, who has been sacrificing her free time for decades to man the ChildLine phones, Noel McKee, a firefighter who has raised over £1m for local charities, and the seven strong bunch of gentlemen who make up the Community First Group, based in the Shankill area, who've raised tens of thousands for all sorts of great causes.

It was an emotional night, hearing how these ordinary people show extraordinary amounts of care and thoughtfulness to those around them and it made me think about what I could and should be doing to promote love and kindness.

It's definitely time for me to step up and play a positive part in society.

In what way? I'm not sure, but watch this space ...

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