Broadcasting legend Seamus McKee (71) bid farewell to his presenting role on Radio Ulster's Evening Extra last week while his wife, Brenda (72) is a dancer, Pilates instructor and retired teacher.
The Belfast couple gave slushy cards a miss when their daughters Emma and Ruth were teenagers. The pair met when they were studying at Queen's University and got together a couple of years later when both were working as teachers. They were married at St Matthias' Church on the Glen Road - Brenda's parish - in 1973.
Former BBC presenter Seamus McKee at home in South Belfast with wife Brenda. Photo by Peter Morrison
Seamus says: "I'm a bit conflicted about Valentine's Day. It's awfully commercialised, but I wouldn't want to abolish it either. I think it's important to show each other you love each other and if that's by way of a card, then why not. We do it at Christmas and birthdays, but I do find it a bit commercially exploitative.
"When I think of this time of year, the day I actually find more meaningful is St Brigid's Day, the beginning of spring, and it's got the whole thing about strong women. She's an immensely strong figure, a goddess and poetess, as well as a saint. I like that, rather than the very sugary, sentimental sense that comes with Valentine's Day.
"I've recently been reading a poem by Frank Ormsby from his new collection of poems, and it's called The Love Poem. It's not what you'd expect. He's talking about how the love poem has been discredited and how the language of tenderness is suspect, but in the end the love poem is reinstated. It's really lovely and very apt at this time of year.
"Brenda and I gave Valentine's cards a miss for a while, but we do buy them for one another now. There's nothing more excruciating for teenagers than seeing their parents exchange slushy messages in Valentine's cards.
"Now that I've entered this new phase in my life, I have a bit of time so it may be that we get away for Valentine's Day this year although that's really more to do with the timing than particularly planning it for that day."
It's important to show each other you love each other Seamus McKee
Brenda says: "We got married in 1973 and I think the secret to a long and happy marriage is not to analyse it too much. We have our ups and downs and our fights like everyone, but you've got to keep your independence and not worry too much about it. We actually got married on July 4 - Independence Day - I often laugh at that irony.
"When it comes to Valentine's Day it all feels so awfully important when you're a teenager.
"When I was at school, the competition was intense as to how many cards you would get. It was so important and I peaked once or twice at about four or five cards, but then of course I was back to zero.
"I remember some people in school were scundered when their parents bought them cards.
"As you get older it doesn't matter so much, and you see it all there, the very commercial end of it. For years, we didn't exchange cards. We do now, but it's the supermarkets and all the shops, packed out with cards and all these things.
"You feel there's a pressure there to buy something, and you think, 'If I don't, what are you saying?'
"I like the idea of other days people have set up, like 'Galentine's Day' for your girlfriends, or 'Palentine's Day' for your pals.
"Seamus and I tend to focus more on days that have particular significance for us like our anniversary and things like that - when the restaurants aren't packed out and everything's covered in roses."
BBC Breakfast’s sports presenter Holly Hamilton (34), from Greyabbey, Co Down, and her husband of 19 months, TV and radio presenter Connor Phillips (38), from Jonesborough, Co Armagh, love a bit of hearts and flowers on Valentine’s Day — although both admit one of them is a touch more romantic than the other.
ROMANCE: Holly Hamilton and Connor Phillips on their wedding day in 2018
Holly and Connor have been together for six years after meeting through work. Connor proposed at Edinburgh Castle three years ago and the couple got married in a stunning Portuguese ceremony in 2018.
Holly says: “Well this year should be particularly romantic because Connor’s mum and dad are coming over to see us at our home in Manchester, and on Valentine’s night we are going to a Gaelic Football dinner dance with all of Connor’s teammates, so you can see romance was at the forefront of everyone’s planning here. Not quite.
“But it’s all good. I’m not that massively into it, all the big gestures and things, but I do think it’s worth marking.
“Connor would be more romantic than me. I’m the sort that will forget what day it is, or even what year we’re in half the time so it’s hard to remember specific dates. We’ve only had one wedding anniversary so far, so I haven’t managed to miss it yet — but there’s still time! Connor’s good at thinking of something different to do, like an alternative Valentine’s Day. The best one we ever had was at our favourite late night pizza bar in Manchester, where people normally go very late at night after quite a few drinks. It’s all pizza and frozen margarita cocktails.
It’s good to have an excuse like Valentine’s Day to really go for it” Holly Hamilton
“Instead, we went there in the middle of the day, about 2pm, and Connor told me he’d booked the table, and hired out the whole venue. It was just us in the place. Realistically, there would be no one in there in the middle of the day. But it was brilliant because we had it to ourselves, delicious pizza and frozen margaritas. What more could you want?
“Connor does really thoughtful and romantic things quite a lot, but I’m pretty useless in comparison. He always gives off because I didn’t get him a wedding day present when he got me this really thoughtful gift with this lovely speech all written out on a scroll and a beautiful wedding day charm for my bracelet.
“We try to be romantic as much as we can, but when you’re so busy it’s hard enough to fit in a date night every week so it’s good to have an excuse like Valentine’s Day to really go for it.”
Connor says: “Holly gives herself a hard time. Yes, she can be a bit flighty, but she’s actually pretty romantic in other ways. She’s always taking photographs, something I’m not that bothered about, and they always find themselves onto lovely personalised cards and things like that.
You might as well do something special Connor Phillips
“She keeps proper memories of all the stuff we do together and she knows what I like, too, so the presents she gets are spot on. For my birthday she got me tickets to watch Ireland playing Switzerland.
“When it comes to our top Valentine’s Day, the pizza place in the middle of the day might not sound all that great, but what Holly forgot to mention was that straight after that I’d booked us in for a cocktail making class, which was brilliant.
“My proposal was pretty good at Edinburgh Castle too, and I got us into a wee secret room with a bottle of prosecco and everything and when I got down on one knee and asked her, ‘Holly Charlotte Rebecca Hamilton will you marry me’, she made me repeat it because she was so surprised. She cried and I cried, and it was just brilliant.
“We’re pretty good on the romance side of things most of the time but I definitely think Valentine’s Day’s nice. The way I look at it, okay it might be a bit commercialised, but what’s wrong with that? If it brings a wee bit of happiness and gives people the excuse to be nice to each other once a year, sure that’s lovely.
“A bit of romance is great. All you’ve got in the end is your memories so you might as well do something special.
“I’m thinking this Valentine’s Day before we go to the dinner dance, we should go out the four of us, me and my mum and dad and Holly for a candlelit meal in the afternoon, and I’m really looking forward to staring across the table at my parents having their dinner with my beautiful wife by my side. Sure that will be lovely.”
Singer, producer and director Peter Corry (54) and his wife Fleur Mellor (40), a dancer, choreographer and producer, live in Hillsborough. They met in 2008 while they were both working on a show, and married 10 years later at a stunning ceremony in Italy. The couple say they try to be romantic every day — and don’t mark February 14.
Peter says: “Why should you leave yourself just one day to be romantic, when you can be romantic every day? Fleur has just thrown up — I’m married to a robot. But seriously. We tend to be pretty romantic anyway.
“I don’t think it should be confined to one day, and the problem with Valentine’s Day is that you lose the element of surprise.
“That’s what romance should be like. We’ve been together 11 years, but got married a year-and-a-half ago. On our first anniversary we went back to where we got married in Italy, to the little secluded spot where we had our ceremony and at almost exactly the same time we took a stroll down and I’d organised a meal and the Champagne was there waiting. It was really lovely.
“We have a pretty romantic thing we do every day too, actually. I don’t wear a watch and I’ve never worn any sort of jewellery, but I did take a wedding ring.
“I don’t wear it at night though, so every morning when I bring Fleur up a cup of tea, she’ll put the ring back on my finger. It’s lovely.”
Why should you leave yourself just one day to be romantic, when you can be romantic every day? Peter Corry
Fleur says: “As well as my other work, I’m a humanist celebrant so I really do place a lot of value in love and appreciating your partner. I’m not unromantic at all, but the very conventional, commercial nature of Valentine’s Day puts me off. I suppose I’m a bit rebellious and if someone tells me I should do something on a particular day, it makes me not want to.
“I think true romance is about the small things. It’s making them a cup of tea, or knowing they hate making the bed so doing it for them. It’s filling in the gaps for your partner and knowing you’ll get the same in return.
“I feel like the prices are really inflated on Valentine’s Day too. They’re jacked up for all these couples who feel like they have to go out for dinner that exact night, as if they can’t have a nice meal at home, or go to a nice restaurant a few days later.
“It all comes with this sense of expectation, that things have to be perfect. But if I was surprised with a beautiful candlelit meal on a Monday night, that would mean so much more to me. We’re lucky in that Peter and I feel the same about Valentine’s Day. Neither of us is bothered and we really don’t mark it at all. It would be trickier if one person felt it was significant while the other didn’t.
“I’m not writing it off altogether, because I know that while Peter and I are very open with this stuff it isn’t easy for everyone. For people who find it difficult to express their emotions, I think it’s probably a good way to show appreciation for one another, so in that case, yes, Valentine’s Day is a way to do that.”
BBC Radio Ulster’s Kim Lenaghan (57), who presents a show on Saturday and Sunday morning, and her consultant husband Andrew Jones have been married for three years. Kim and Andrew met when their taxis arrived at the same time at Belfast City Airport and they literally bumped in to one another. They went for a drink together in the lounge, exchanged numbers, and the rest is history. After a short friendship and a whirlwind romance they were married three months after their first date in 2017. The wedding was at Chelsea Registry Office, London on a glorious March day with a dozen close friends in attendance and, being proper foodies, they followed it with a glamorous private dinner at the Delaunay restaurant. They both agree it will always be the best day of their lives.
Kim and Andrew on their wedding day in London in 2017
Kim says: “Well it’s all done and dusted already, we’re booked in for a nice dinner in one of our favourite local restaurants. Andrew is away a lot with work, but he’s home this year because luckily, it falls on a Friday, and I’m not cooking!
“I usually love cooking, and Andrew loves eating, so it works well, but this time we’ll relax and go out.
“I’d say that generally we’re quite romantic, not slushy, but we would be quite affectionate with one another and do quite romantic things. So yes we are romantic — unashamedly so.
“Last Valentine’s Day was a good one. Andrew was away in London so I went out for a meal with my friend — to the same restaurant we’re going to this year, actually. We had a few little glasses of wine, and then another wee glass, and I tottered home about 10pm.
“When I got there I saw the lights on in the hall, and then I saw a big Fortnum & Mason hamper in the hall. I thought, ‘What is that’, but I was so excited. I thought Andrew had got a friend to drop it round and I was all excited. I went into the back room and rang him, and I was all pleased saying the only thing that would have been better was if he’d been there to deliver it.
“Then of course, he walked down the stairs. He’d been sitting waiting for me, and he didn’t text me to interrupt my night. It was just such a lovely, romantic surprise, it’ll be a tough one to beat.
The little extras are nice too once in a while, and I’m all for it Kim Lenaghan
“I guess Valentine’s Day can be a bit commercialised, but you could say that about everything from Christmas to Mother’s and Father’s Day.
“But is it really so awful to have to take a bit of time out to buy some flowers and say, ‘I love you’ to the person you love?
“I get that romance is about the small stuff. I totally agree, and I’m a big believer in all that. Do things for the person you love. If he’s working, I make sure I’ve made him breakfast. I book tickets for things I know he’ll like even if I won’t. But the little extras are nice too once in a while, and I’m all for it.”
Absence definitely makes the heart fonder Andrew Jones
Andrew says: “I’m not the most romantic by nature, but because my career means I’m working away we have to make every minute together count. That means our weekends are particularly special and probably more romantic than they would be otherwise.
"In our case absence definitely makes the heart fonder. The most romantic thing Kim has done for me was on holiday in Nice last summer. I love cars and she knew there was a road up in the mountains that I really wanted to drive, it was also my birthday, so she hired me a Porsche for the day, we drove this incredible road and then she took me for a fabulous dinner where we sat on the terrace drinking Champagne and watching a firework display across the bay. Definitely a top romantic moment.
“I do think Valentine’s Day is a purely commercial exercise. You shouldn’t need a particular day to show your partner how much you love them, you should be doing that all year round.
“Mind you, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it and we will certainly be making the most of it again next weekend.”
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