Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Radio Ulster presenter Eve Blair on growing up on a farm, her love of broadcasting and why a hurricane made for challenging conditions on her wedding day

Lee Henry

Hearing the backstories of BBC Radio Ulster presenter Eve Blair and her younger sister Laura and brother John, one can't help but recall the precocious talents at the heart of Wes Anderson's comic masterpiece The Royal Tenenbaums, in which a brood of far-sighted siblings prove prodigious in their chosen fields.

So it was (in a sense) for the Blairs, who grew up together on their father's remote dairy farm in rural Co Derry in the 1980s and '90s in Dergalt, two miles outside of Strabane and were given, as a consequence, flights of fancy that proved to be remarkably prescient.

"I would get old radios out of wardrobes, put blank tapes in them, play music, write scripts and have my friends read them, whether they liked to or not," recalls 33-year-old Eve, stifling a giggle at the sheer bossiness of it all. "I just loved everything do to with radio. I always knew exactly what I wanted to be."

Laura (31) and John (25), meanwhile, were also driven by their own childhood preoccupations. "Laura made us do assembly," explains Eve, "making us line up for roll call in the hallway, pretending that she was the headmistress, while John was always absolutely farming mad, having us do all sorts of things outside.

"It's maybe a little bit unusual to think about it now, in hindsight, how that background very much shaped who we are today, but it did. I went on to work in radio, my sister now teaches in Gortin Primary School and John works on the family farm. We each followed our interests right through into adulthood."

Today, of course, Eve is the new voice of The Late Show on BBC Radio Foyle, filling in for Cherrie McIlwaine at 11pm every weekday evening, putting her long-held aspirations into practice. She looks back on her childhood, however, with nothing but happy memories.

"Growing up on a dairy farm, there was no rest for the wicked," Eve remembers. "Everyone had their jobs. It was very much an outdoors way of life and you were never allowed to be bored. My sister and I helped in the milking parlour, her milking the cows, me tending to the calves, and during silage season it was all hands to the pump."

Eve "loved every minute of it", the cold, the wet, the dirt, the crisp sunny mornings and long, meandering evenings in the company of her siblings. Childhood chores "instilled a strong work ethic in all of us", she admits, but play was just as important.

Eve reveals that her mother Sylvia (60 and a retired community midwife), and father John (61 and still working) encouraged the Blair brood to indulge their imaginations at every opportunity. With few friends living close by, they did as they were told.

"We didn't have tablets or computer games or anything like that. We weren't able to go down the street, knock on doors and play football with other kids because we were so remote. As a result, we were always doing our own thing, making up stories, climbing trees, building tree houses and such."

At the heart of all of Eve's escapades was her "prized possession", a trusty Fisher Price tape recorder that was rarely out of reach. "Wherever I was in the house, whatever I was doing, there was always a radio on and I was fascinated by the workings of it," she says.

"I had a love for the medium at a very young age. I loved the process behind it, the fact that you could reach so many people all over the world, that people could hear music that you wanted to play and listen to things that you wanted to say.

"I loved all the music programmes. Radio 1 was huge when I was growing up and RTE Radio too. We were on the border so we were able to get those stations.

"Whether I was in the car or in a tractor or in my bedroom on my own, I always had my Fisher Price with me. I made up my own shows for my own weird little station. I was presenter, producer and DJ. It was all I ever wanted."

The Blair family unit was tight and Eve remembers golden summers travelling around Europe in her father's renovated Ford Transit, affectionately christened Henrietta. "She was our pride and joy. We drove everywhere, through France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and England. It was a great way to travel and spend quality time with each other."

While attending Gortin Grammar School, Eve predictably chose to see out her work experience at BBC Radio Foyle, and when it came time for her degree she looked no further than the Media course at the University of Ulster in Coleraine.

"Work experience solidified what I wanted to do. My university course was very practical. I specialised in radio and I had great lecturers. Professor Paul Moore was one of them. In three years, I missed one class. I absolutely adored learning.

"In my second year, I got to travel to North Carolina to study at their Mass Communication and Journalism School for six months. It was a bit of a culture shock but I developed a real love for the southern States and the culture down there.

"The work was intense. We spent Monday to Friday head down in the books and got to travel during the weekend. One of my courses was Mass Communication and Minorities and one particular professor had been a friend of Martin Luther King, so it was like living through history.

"And we were very sensible when it came to the sorority parties," Eve laughs. "We were there representing our university, so we had to have our good heads on. And I was 20 at the time, so there was no alcohol. The legal limit over there is 21."

Eve graduated in 2005 and soon found work at the Q Radio Network as a broadcast journalist operating mainly in the newsroom. "It was a lovely station to work for. We all loved music and because the newsroom was so small, we got to learn so much on the job. It was a great training ground."

After two eventful years, Eve applied for the position of broadcast assistant at BBC Radio Foyle and was successful. Soon she found herself sharing an office with a childhood hero of hers, the late, great Gerry Anderson (below).

"We grew up listening to Radio Ulster, so I always loved Gerry Anderson," she adds. "He was always on in the background. I loved his wit. I remember laughing at him and maybe not quite understanding why everyone was laughing at him, but as I grew older I began to understand his sense of humour. The music that he played was amazing, too, local music as well as popular international music.

"So I was very lucky to work with Gerry so early in my career, having admired him so much. They always say don't meet your heroes, but I realised immediately that Gerry was a very special person who took people under his wing. I learned so much from him.

"He was just the same off air as he was on it. He would sit in the office and tell us all stories about the good old days, many of which we couldn't repeat here, and I loved every second. Gerry is so dearly missed by everyone at Radio Foyle and beyond because he was such a big influence."

It was during Derry's transformative year as the inaugural UK City of Culture in 2013 - when a whole host of events brought thousands of tourists into the city to celebrate Derry's rich history as a mercantile powerhouse and musical mecca - that Eve made the tricky transition from broadcast assistant to full-blown on-air presenter.

Filling in for former Undertone Michael Bradley on The Arts Show and Sarah Brett on Pure Culture, Eve was in her element. Her first big outside broadcast came from the memorable Music City event in Ebrington Square, featuring performances from the likes of Bronagh Gallagher and PORTS, and it was, Eve admits, a "daunting experience".

"But it was also very exciting. Being part of such an event, when everyone came together to enjoy music by local artists, was something I'll never forget. That really whetted my appetite for presenting programmes, and thankfully, after 2013, I continued to fill in on The Arts Show and even on The Afternoon Show for Mark Patterson. Lots of bits and pieces here and there."

The Late Show allows Eve to indulge her second love of music and she enjoys playing an eclectic mix of musicians on the show, citing her old colleague Gerry Anderson as a prime influence in that regard.

"I'm having a ball on The Late Show, I really am," says Eve. "Playing music that I love and finding new music is something that I am passionate about, and I'm so grateful to be able to create so many new relationships with local artists. Derry and the surrounding areas really are well-stocked with talent.

"Don't ask me to choose my favourite artists though," she laughs. "That would be like having to pick my favourite child! I have such an odd taste in music. Mum and dad used to say that when they took me to friends' houses, I would sit for hours at the record player with headphones on listening to all the old records and discovering new ones. That comes across in the music I play on the show.

"I love everything from Jackson Browne to the Eagles right up to the likes of Northern Ireland's own Ben Glover, Anthony Toner, Malojian and Peter McVeigh. Emmylou Harris will always be a favourite. She's an inspiration. I have been accused of being a country girl in more ways than one."

No surprise, then, that Eve managed to persuade her husband, chef Neill Auterson, to spend their honeymoon in Nashville, the epicentre of country music. That mischievous giggle returns: "Neill is not a country music fan at all, but I think he enjoyed it," says Eve. "Nashville has got such history and culture, it's difficult not to find something that you love about the place."

Eve and Neill were introduced by a family member in 2013. Over drinks in a Hillsborough pub, they "clicked instantly". "We weren't intentionally set up but we really hit it off. Neill has a white boxer dog and I'm a huge fan of boxers. We had both travelled a fair bit. We chittered away and almost forgot that my cousin was there. We have so much in common and he's a really nice guy."

The couple were engaged in the picturesque island of Ile de Re off the west coast of France in 2014 and married at the Lough Erne resort two years later. "Getting engaged wasn't on my mind," Eve admits, "but Neill knows how much I love France and I guess he was inspired.

"Our wedding day didn't quite go to plan though. That weekend, Hurricane Desmond reached Ireland, so the weather was horrendous. I won't talk about my hair. It's too traumatic! But we made the best of it.

"I remember the photographer, Kat Mervyn, was in our house in the morning and she spied my beloved cowboy books. She asked if we could take them with us and I ended up walking across the little bridge at Lough Erne, with my dress held up out of the rain, with my cowboy boots on show. I'm not afraid of a little rain."

Having run a seafood restaurant on Belfast's bustling Lisburn Road, after honing his craft in London, America, Australia and the Far East, Neill agreed to relocate to Co Derry and Eve is now the proud owner of a fixer upper in Artigarvan. Her idea of heaven is preparing The Late Show and returning home to paint or browse interiors on Pinterest.

Eve adds: "Neill jokes that he's going to be buy a tractor because there are more tractors than cars in this part of the world, but he's slowly getting used to life at a different pace. And I love it here. It's where I'm from. My parents are close by and my sister just had a baby girl, Ruby, so I get to spend lots of time with her. Right now, I couldn't be happier."

  • The Late Show, Radio Ulster, Mon-Fri, 11pm

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