It's fair to say that the last month of Suzie Lee's life has been a whirlwind, even more so than the last two years. Speaking to Weekend about three hours after she finished filming her new TV show, Suzie Lee Home Cook Hero, coming to our screens from this Wednesday, she describes how the last few weeks have been.
"I'd got myself all geared up to keep moving with my accountancy [work] and accepted more clients," she says, upon learning that the show wasn't going to go ahead at that moment.
"Then seven days later I got a phone call [about doing it] and I was, 'Yeah, no problem," she laughs.
"I feel so fortunate and really honoured to be asked again. Who gets their second series within a year? I genuinely am really touched I was considered the first time around, never mind the second.
"My emotions are everywhere in that sense; goodness, they believe in me that they want to produce a show never mind a second series.
"It's been a bit strange to think this accountant, who is still practising, is now going on to this different world."
Describing herself as someone more used to being behind the camera - "I'm usually the helper, the doer, the one who co-ordinates events" - to be the main event, to have cameras turned to face her, is something she finds strange.
"When you're staring around at all the camera crew and all that kind of stuff, you're going. 'This is for me, this is all for me and I have to perform'. That's where I think, 'oh my goodness'. I don't really get nervous; I get a wee bit wobbly before I start filming but once I start to cook, I love it. My brain and my personality switch to, 'Ah, I can do this!' I never thought I would be that person."
It's a great thing for confidence we say.
"It's usually the first two lines, I have a bit of a speed wobble, and then I know I can do this," she says. "I have to talk through it for the first two motions and then I go for it. I just seem to switch on. It's been lovely because, yet again, it's all my recipes and I'm showcasing my little quirks and being very pro and passionate about Northern Ireland, I'm getting to have the best of both worlds to show, you know, things such as German biscuits," a treat she recreates on-screen.
Suzie Lee Home Cook Hero is a three-part series perfect for those of us who love to cook at home, especially anyone unsure about venturing out immediately once cafes and restaurants reopen.
"I never thought about it like that but you're right because I actually have spoken to a lot of people, who are saying, 'I'm not going to be rushing out,'" says Suzie.
"We're still not protected as a nation fully and then I was like, I get you, I completely get it.
"Even a couple of the crew - it's lovely. They haven't watched me do it but they've said, 'I've read your recipes and I've already tried out the lamb and it's amazing. Your recipes are really straightforward'. For me that's such a compliment."
Those wanting to try Suzie's dishes will see on pages 16-17 just how straightforward they are, with allotted times for tidying and resting while dishes cook.
In the show, Suzie will demonstrate her take on modern family friendly cooking, combining it with flavours and colours from her childhood. She'll also visit several artisan food producers to select ingredients for her dishes.
"It's about time management," says Suzie of recipe following. "Once you get into the swing of things. My recipes, you can change. I've said use these herbs but if you've got more of one, use that, that's fine. That's what I want people to get into the feel of going, [that]I can trust myself. Once you step over that basic hurdle of fear, can I co-ordinate this? Yes you can. Step towards the kitchen, the oven and just start. Trust yourself. Taste and practise. Once you start tasting your food, you may prefer it slightly saltier for example, or add little bits and pieces. I think that's what people don't realise - you can tweak certain things."
We talk about previous cookery shows, even from two decades ago, where there was a mystique or glamour about both creating the finished product and its appearance on screen.
"You can look at a show and think the dish looks beautiful, then you look at the 10,000 steps and think, 'No, never going to do it.' That's what I try to do - make sure the ingredients are readily available and you're covered and work with that.
"If I've said to use an ingredient, I'll say, 'You can use it for this, or that'. It's not buying an ingredient just for that recipe, I never try to do that. There's key ingredients you can buy for Chinese cooking or Northern Irish cooking and there's techniques as well.
"Once you learn those, you can merge them, play around with them. I'm still learning; it's not like I'm a professional, I am a home cook, happy to say that. I love showing people my way of cooking and it's not scary. Through lockdown, I've done lots of cook-alongs and to get people to message, 'Thank you for being so enthusiastic. I'm not scared of cooking anymore'."
Growing up, the kitchen was the hub in Suzie's home and it still is in her home which she shares with husband Steven, son Zander and daughter Odelia.
"It's not that you need to be a Michelin star chef, it's just that enjoyment, and to show it's another activity to do with your family. I love bringing my kids into the kitchen; they genuinely love helping. Yes, sometimes it's really manic and really stressful, but they love it and enjoy making whatever. They're not scared of eating vegetables. If they genuinely don't like it, they won't eat it but they've tried it at least once or twice.
"I've had so many people say, 'You're really lucky that your children eat vegetables'. It's not about luck; it's about embracing it. It's a holistic thing of bringing them in, letting them chop the vegetables, seeing what's going in and doing an activity. It's also a chance to talk to them. It's a nice time to unwind; I love being in the kitchen after a hard day's work of accountancy."
It must be difficult to live a dual life we say - but it's all part of both jobs, says Suzie.
"I think my brain has never not known cooking, so I just do.
"It doesn't ever feel like a chore or second job, it's just part of me.
"Proper cookery filming finished on Saturday but I came home to then keep cooking. I have to feed my family. I've still been cooking, there hasn't been a break. I ended up cooking four pork bellies, because why shouldn't I? And making sausage rolls and meatballs. I genuinely love it and I'm still feeling it's an out of body experience because on Saturday we were still doing final lines of promos for the show. I got to say, 'Join me, Suzie Lee, for my brand new series'."
It's only been two years since Suzie, who had elected to become self-employed as an accountant just before applying for BBC show Best Home Cook, 'applied on a whim.'
The hardest part came in knowing she had won, but having to wait nine months - something she calls being in 'a complete downer' - before everyone knew she was victorious.
"I don't keep quiet so for me to have kept quiet was really hard," she laughs.
With the first lockdown occurring less than a month after she won, it's no surprise she experienced somewhat of an emotional roller coaster - but it was something she took in her stride.
"This is what was meant for me and I'm a big believer that things happen for a reason," she says of time during lockdown.
'Live your life to the full'
"I got to regroup, and really just think is that was I want to do. I have to say, hubby was amazing. He really forced me on the social media route. I would have said no, not in a million years.
"But doing all the cook-alongs and just being slightly bold to ask people to come board. I really had nobody saying no and it was lovely to get people like Shane Todd, Holly Hamilton, Jonathan Rea and Carl Frampton."
The cook-alongs were swiftly followed by her first series and it's clear that she's keen on saying yes when opportunity knocks.
"Live your life to the fullest," she says. "I lost my mum at 16, she was 43. I'm 37 now and I look and think, 'I'm getting closer and closer to that stage, what's going to happen?' I do panic and wonder what would happen… that was very sudden for her and I wonder what if that happens to me.
"She would have wanted me to do as well as I could have, enjoy every minute. She was one of my biggest champions. She pushed us all. There's five of us and I'm number four and I'm genuinely so grateful that she made us so driven.
"I'm known as the Tasmanian devil, I find it hard to say no. At school, I was in every single society or every club. I did every sport, apart from netball. I was in the orchestra playing violin, in the choir, I literally was in everything. I was that child with violin, tennis racket, badminton racket, hockey bag…"
So did she have many badges adorning her blazer lapels?
"I was known as the badge brigade," she grins while speaking to us via Zoom. "Both lapels were filled with badges. I'm proud of that because I was part of every single club and people did laugh at me but I didn't care because I was really proud of them and part of the team."
Life changed when Suzie's mum was no longer there and she says she took on a mother hen role, something that her friends remember her doing.
'I am so pro show everything'
"Mum's death shattered me. I was really close to my mum and she was really quite protective so I would have, not been in her shadow, I would have been a different person [if she had been here] because she would have brought that mother layer. Whereas I had to turn into a mum because I had a brother who was 18 months younger than me who I had to look after. I was fifth year, he was fourth year.
"I did the cooking, my sisters were at uni. I just took on the mother hen role and I've never not known that."
Having Steven is a virtue, as he's able to spot when she's taken on too much and needs a break, saying, "He lists all the things that have gone on and says, 'Do we think adding this on would be a really good idea?' and I say, 'No.'"
When it comes to looking after herself, exercise is paramount.
"I love going to the gym. I really miss my spin classes in the morning. I would be there first thing in the morning, and I love going to a six o'clock, 6.30am class. Just get out of the way and I feel amazing, I can start the day. So, spin classes and circuit classes. I still play hockey. I say that loosely because I'm one of the old dolls at the back of a hockey pitch, I'm a defender, so I'm called in for reinforcement. To think that I'm a 37-year-old veteran!
"I'm part of Lisburn Harmony Ladies Choir. I love singing, that completely is a release for me. It's a lovely group of ladies, 85, 90 strong. Kirsty Orr is the musical director. She gives a lot and has so much time for everybody. She can see when I'm about to crack or whatever and she can really look at me and ask, 'What's happening in your life at the moment?' It's funny how some people can read others."
The award-winning choir sing with real joy on their face, says Suzie.
"The ones [awards] that we've won, the adjudicators have said that you can tell that we love singing together and we do. Our concerts are sold out every year. That for me has been a big downer; we'd have about two concerts each year and we've not had those to perform.
"Perhaps that's it, I do actually love performing and I never thought that was, I was always part of something and you're hiding. Singing is a real therapy for me, and obviously talking. Love, love catching up with friends and family. That's what I really miss at the moment, being able to stop by, recharge for half an hour with a cuppa and being able to regroup."
How can she juggle life with so many priorities?
"So many priorities is a good way of putting it. It's been strange but I've got some really great, very loyal clients," she says of her accountancy business. "The first three months were grim [of lockdown] - nothing happened. Being self-employed, there was no money in and again, emotions everywhere.
"Then the BBC stuff came. Then work started to amp up again because things were opening. I didn't sleep at that time and hubby would have said I was taking on too much. But I wouldn't change it for the world; you have to sacrifice stuff, you have to work hard, you have to graft. Things don't just pop up out of thin air. I'm happy to always admit that because some think there's a glamorous lifestyle to most people on TV.
"There's a lot of grafting underneath it all and I'm really happy to show it. I love being able to say on my social media, Instareality, it's a normal day in my house and my kitchen table is a bombsite. We've got Playdoh, we've got food, we've got spilt things, we've got Lego, everything's on the table. People say, 'I can't believe you've shown that.' And? That's life."
It is this 'pro show everything' on social media that is imperative for Suzie.
"People say, 'You're sweaty in that photo' and I said, 'I've just finished exercising, what do you think I'm going to be? Hair glam, make-up? I don't think so.' There's hard graft. Yes, I'm not overweight but I exercise. I eat a lot but I need to exercise.
"You get people who say, 'It's come so easy for you,' and I say, 'It took me eight years to get my accountancy exams, hard graft. I had my family, doing my final exams with children.'
"I'm still doing it because I love it and I'm not complaining in that way. Some people just see things through rose-tinted glasses. I am so pro show everything."
Suzie Lee Home Cook Hero begins on BBC One Northern Ireland on Wednesday, March 31 at 7.30pm. The series will also be available on the BBC iPlayer. Suzie's recipes will be online from bbc.co.uk