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The show must go on! Three NI entertainers share how they're adapting to coronavirus lockdown

The coronavirus emergency is also having a big impact on some of our best-loved entertainers and radio presenters. Olivia Nash, Malachi Cush and David Maxwell tell Stephanie Bell how they’re adapting to the new normal and why they’re already looking forward to getting back on the road


Olivia Nash (r), Malachi Cush (top l) and David Maxwell (bottom l)

Olivia Nash (r), Malachi Cush (top l) and David Maxwell (bottom l)

Olivia Nash (r), Malachi Cush (top l) and David Maxwell (bottom l)

Olivia Nash's familiar laugh booms down the phone and despite being in isolation for the past three weeks it is obvious that this well-loved actress is coping well with the current coronavirus lockdown.

Making light of her own situation is one thing, but Olivia's thoughts soon turn to the people for whom self-isolation is not an option and she is clearly in awe of the courage of the NHS staff and others who are risking their lives to keep the rest of us safe.

Now in her 70s, her age means she is among the group of vulnerable people asked by the Government almost three weeks ago to stay at home.

But confinement has been made so much easier for the Give My Head Peace comedy star by the fact she has the company of her youngest grandchild, Livi (16), who is staying with her until things get back to normal.

Olivia says: "I have three fabulous grandchildren and with Livi being the youngest we felt it would be safer for her to stay with me. It's just great for me to have her here.

"She was is in the middle of her GCSEs and is still working away every day on her school work. We are having a lovely time and I feel so, so lucky to have her here with me."

Olivia, who has spent most of her life in Larne where she grew up, moved to Belfast a year and a half ago to be close to her daughter Patricia and her grandchildren.

Tragically, Olivia's husband Bill, whom she has described as her soulmate, died suddenly when she was just 38.

As well as Livi she has a grandson, Gabriel (21), and another granddaughter, Daisy (19).

Olivia's family are ensuring she is staying safe by doing her shopping for her while she herself is coping with being confined to home by keeping herself busy.

She jokes: "I always said that it would be written on my headstone 'She was going to do it' and now I am finally trying to do it - all the things I never had time to get around to.

"My cupboards have never been cleaner and I am lying in bed at night trying to think about what I could clean next and believe me, cleaning has never been one of my hobbies!

"I'm lucky that my apartment has lovely grounds around it and I go out every evening and walk round them three times. It is wonderful; I think we don't appreciate how nice fresh air is until you are made to stay inside.

"My apartment is like an ice box because I have all the windows open all day to let the fresh air in." Having so much time on her hands has also made Olivia think of the importance of people in her life and an unexpected bonus of her lockdown has been the pleasure of rekindling old friendships.

She explains: "It has definitely made me appreciate the value of keeping in touch with people.

"I have two old school friends who I would exchange Christmas cards with.

"Every year I write that I will definitely be in touch in the New Year and of course, before you know it, another Christmas has arrived and you are writing the same message again.

"I realised that now, with time on my hands, I had no excuse and I have been in touch with both of them to catch up and that was just lovely.

"The last time we spoke was at my mother's funeral three years ago. "

Olivia has been treading the boards in local theatre and appearing on TV in an acting career which has spanned 50 years.


Olivia Nash on the Give My Head Peace Tour

Olivia Nash on the Give My Head Peace Tour

Olivia Nash on the Give My Head Peace Tour

She was on tour in March with the much-loved Give My Head Peace gang when the coronavirus crisis forced the theatres to close.

A vital part of the original cast, she has been playing the sharp-tongued character of Ma in the show for 20 years.

She says: "It was just before St Patrick's Day and we were playing in Armagh when all the theatres closed.

"Our tour was actually due to finish last Saturday night in the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine and we have missed playing in Ballymena, Strabane, Omagh and quite a few other places. It was a great tour and we were playing to packed houses every night and hopefully a lot of people got some joy out of it

"The arts is an area which has been badly hit by all this but you don't hear much about it.

"Some plays were stopped at rehearsal stage and it leaves actors, director, technicians and producers - a whole lot of people who are self-employed - with no work. It is very difficult for them and for some reason we don't get a lot of sympathy and yet people in the arts are suffering just like everyone else."

Olivia doesn't know what the future holds for the tour but is looking forward to getting back to work when things return to normal.

She says: "I am looking forward to everyone being healthy and happy and getting on with life and I honestly don't know if we will get to finish our tour but I will look forward to getting back to work again, be that in theatre or on TV, whatever works out."


Give My Head Peace

Give My Head Peace

Give My Head Peace

When Give My Head Peace first aired on TV in the mid-Nineties it gave Olivia and her fellow actors exposure to a whole new audience.

However it wasn't Olivia's first time entertaining a TV audience.

Thirty years ago she came into our homes as another local housewife in the memorable TV advert for Spar with the famous catchphrase "Fred there's no bread".

She laughs as she admits: "In terms of being recognised Give My Head Peace did make a huge difference. If people see you on TV they think they own you and that's very nice.

"The 'Fred there is no bread' ad for The Spar was over 30 years ago and people are still saying that and remember me for it.

"I have done a few other ads over the years but that one still sticks in people's minds."

Looking back over the past 50 years she feels blessed to have bonded with the team from Give My Head Peace who she describes as like a family.

But it was working with the late great Jimmy Young in the Group Theatre as a young woman that stands out most in her memory.

She recalls: "I have been very blessed to have done a lot of great things over the years and I have had a wonderful time.

"For the first 20 years I worked a second job in administration for the health service as there was never enough work then to keep actors in full-time employment.

"Working with Jimmy Young was amazing. He was terrific. He didn't suffer fools gladly and he didn't like anyone not knowing their lines and you had to do your work well.

"He was a very kind man and I considered him a very good friend.

"It is now 20 years since I first met up with the guys in Give My Head Peace and we are all very good friends.

"It is genuinely like a family, we all look out for each other. Tim (McGarry) has been on the phone every week to make sure I have everything I need, just like family would," she says.

"It has been terrific and a very big part of my life."

Now that the unthinkable has happened and theatres have been forced to close, Olivia is feeling safe at home while thinking about others who don't have that luxury.

She adds: "I feel so thankful and have so much respect for the NHS staff. How they are managing I do not know, they are saints the whole lot of them.

"The best we can do for them is to behave ourselves and stay at home. Words don't even express how amazing they are.

"At the end of the day they are human beings who have to go home to their families and they don't know what they are carrying home.

"It is a weird, frightening and very sad time and I think in the middle of all of it there is a wee lesson for us all.

"It will make us all appreciate what we have and what life really is about and also appreciate our NHS staff and the police and everyone who is working to help keep us alive."

‘My father and father-in-law have serious health issues so both sets of parents are in isolation. We are all being very careful to keep them safe’

Co Tyrone singer/songwriter and TV presenter Malachi Cush (39) is counting his lucky stars that vital surgery on his leg went ahead as planned in February just before the widespread changes brought on by coronavirus.


Malachi and his wife Claire

Malachi and his wife Claire

Malachi and his wife Claire

Weekly physiotherapy appointments have however been cancelled but Malachi is not worried about missing out as his thoughts are very much with the NHS staff who have helped him during his long journey back to recovery after a serious accident last year.

He says: "It was a blessing to get the surgery done but now everything has been put on hold. My consultant and physiotherapist have been put into different roles now, God love them. You build up a relationship with them when you are seeing them over such a long period of time. I hope they are doing alright as they really put me back together again.

"I've been thinking about them a lot. When you are in the NHS system you build a bond. Before my accident I never really needed the health service and now I really understand the dedication and professionalism and love they put into it and I just know they will be putting 100% into it at the moment.

“We are holding them in our prayers.

“As for me, I am lucky that my consultant and physio have given me exercises to do each week at home and that’s fine, I can do it on my own without too much stress.”


Malachi Cush performs at Feile in Clonard Monastery, west Belfast on August 6th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott)

Malachi Cush performs at Feile in Clonard Monastery, west Belfast on August 6th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott)

Malachi Cush performs at Feile in Clonard Monastery, west Belfast on August 6th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott)

Malachi’s life changed in an instant last June when he was seriously injured in a freak accident in Dungannon.

He was loading a new strimmer into the boot of his car outside a hardware store when a runaway car rolled down the street straight into him and a local shopkeeper, who was also badly injured.

The no-warning accident crushed Malachi’s leg, knocked teeth out and left him with multiple cuts and lacerations.

He spent three weeks in hospital and most of the past year at home recovering while his career plans were put on hold.

Now in lockdown with his wife Claire, a primary school teacher, he says he has had to get used to being at home during the past year and is passing the time playing music and writing new songs.

He had been working on a new album and this year had hoped to get back into the studio to finish it but like many other people his priorities right now have shifted enormously.

He says: “With my recovery I have experienced a bit of isolation as I have been largely confined to home.

“Claire and I are now both at home. She is a primary school teacher so she is still working away doing lessons online and I have my faithful companion, our golden Labrador Molly.

“I’ve had a knee brace on since last June but that was removed during my surgery in February and I am still getting around on crutches.

“I am lucky to live in the countryside, miles from anyone and so I try to get out once a day to walk on my crutches which is part of the recovery.”

While Malachi and Claire have managed to keep busy at home they are both worried about the impact of the lockdown on their elderly parents.

Malachi’s dad Paddy (75) has underlying health issues and is now being cared for entirely by his wife Pat (75).

Claire’s dad Brendan, who is in his early 70s, is also in the high risk category because of his health and is in isolation with her mum Helen, who is in her 60s.

Malachi says: “We are taking the isolation very seriously. My father and father-in-law have serious health issues, so both sets of parents are in isolation. We are all being very careful to keep them safe.

“We are lucky to be able to talk online but it is not the same as being able to go in and put your arms around them and give them a hug.

“I do worry about them. My parents are not that media savvy and don’t really use the internet so there is the worry they will be getting a little bit lonesome.

“Mum will also be dad’s full-time carer as we can no longer help out and I worry about the pressure on her. I know there are a lot of cases like that around the country.

Malachi Cush

“My sister lives down the road and it is hard not being able to go in and out of each other’s houses like we usually do.”

On a day-to-day basis Malachi is using his enforced time at home to play the guitar and write songs.

He was working as a gas fitter when he auditioned for the TV star search competition Fame Academy in 2002. It propelled him into the limelight as a new singing talent and since then he has carved out a successful career as a recording artist, performer and TV presenter.

Having been off his feet quite literally for months he had plans this year to bring his new album out and also to use his home studio to set up an online channel for musicians.

Having to put life on hold for longer than expected is not bothering him as instead, he counts his blessings at this difficult time: “Everyone’s plans at the moment have been put asunder. It is not a time to feel sorry for yourself,” he says.

“The apple will grow again and we all will have the chance to do what we did before and get back to our careers.

“I think what is happening to us now gives you more time to think about what is important and you start to appreciate family and I feel blessed to have my family and my home while others are struggling on the frontline to keep us all alive.”

Malachi has often talked about his strong faith in God and now more than ever he is drawing on that to get through these dark days.

He adds: “I’m not a saint by any stretch of the imagination but I did study theology in college and I get comfort from it. The church is adapting to the situation and Mass is being live streamed online which is helping everyone to feel part of the faith community.”

‘My wife Angharad is a head and neck physiotherapist and my sister is an A&E nurse ... I am very proud of both of them going to work in the present situation’

Desperate times call for desperate measures and when forced to present his weekly gardening show from home last Saturday, presenter David Maxwell (35) came up with a rather resourceful idea. It is probably the first time in the history of the BBC that a clothes rack and duvet have been ingenuously employed to control acoustics during a broadcast.


David Maxwell

David Maxwell

David Maxwell

David’s youngest daughter, 11-week-old Ada developed a temperature early last week forcing her whole family into two weeks isolation in keeping with government guidelines.

Thankfully little Ada soon recovered but it meant that dad David couldn’t leave home to present his Saturday morning Gardener’s Corner programme.

He explains: “This big black box arrived from the BBC and we set up a studio in my living room. It is a room with very little soft fabrics so it can have quite an echo.

“I put a clothes horse on either side of the desk and covered it with a duvet and made a wee cave. I broadcast from inside it and it was really strange but it didn’t echo and the programme went fine.


David, his wife Angharad, Seren (5) and baby Ada

David, his wife Angharad, Seren (5) and baby Ada

David, his wife Angharad, Seren (5) and baby Ada

“It was certainly interesting doing the show from my living room.

“Ideally I would love to do it from my garden but I can’t rely on someone not starting up a lawnmower somewhere so I don’t think that’s going to be possible”

David was a news reporter for BBC NI for many years before landing what was his dream job, presenting Gardeners’ Corner in 2017.

His love of gardening goes back to his childhood growing up on a manse with a beautiful garden.

His father, Rev David Maxwell, is a Presbyterian minister.

It was an idyllic spot in Co Down and when David was 10 he was devastated to leave the garden behind when his dad was given a new posting in Belfast.

To soften the blow, his parents bought him a small greenhouse and he started what has become a lifelong love of growing fruit and vegetables.

Such is his fascination for gardening that he even bought his current home in Belfast without stepping through the front door, basing his decision entirely on the size of the garden.

Now in isolation with his Welsh-born wife Angharad and their two girls Seren (5) and baby Ada, the garden is understandably helping all of the family to pass the time.

David says: “Seren is still doing school work set by her teachers and I have been helping her and it has taught me that I certainly didn’t miss my vocation as a school teacher!

“I think it has been hard for her to adjust her wee mind to working at home and not in a big school environment. We’ve been following the Joe Wicks daily workout on YouTube together and that has been fun, as it involves bunny hops round the living room and I’ve been able to video it and send it to family.


David Maxwell of the BBC (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

David Maxwell of the BBC (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

David Maxwell of the BBC (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

“And of course we’ve been getting out into the garden a lot more.

“I used two spades and a garden fork to prop up a tarpaulin and make Seren a wee den and she has been playing games in there and made a flag to put on it.

“We’ve a little pond with tadpoles in it and it’s been good watching their development.

“It has been really nice family time and if there is a silver lining in all of this it is that we are spending more time together.” David came through a major health scare when he and his wife were expecting Seren five years ago.

Out of the blue he was diagnosed with a serious genetic heart condition and when Seren was just two-months-old he had to undergo open heart surgery to have a plastic valve inserted.

He spent a difficult year recovering but despite the condition, he feels fortunate not to have been put into the vulnerable category for coronavirus.

His own health is not causing him too much concern as he is more worried about his wife, who is an ENT specialist.

He explains: “I am one of those people who has to get the flu vaccine every year but I didn’t get a letter from the government to say I was in the high risk group. I did contact my GP and he thinks I am fine.

“Angharad is a head and neck physiotherapist and because she has had to be isolated for the two weeks it has been really frustrating for her as she wants to be in work helping out.

“My sister is a nurse in A&E in the Ulster Hospital. It is worrying when you see them in their PPE gear which they have to put on to protect themselves.

“I’m very proud of both of them for going out to work in the present situation.”

Getting through as best he can without family, who he keeps in touch with via the internet, David adds: “Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to realise that this is actually happening and we are living through these times. The uncertainty of it all and the impact of it all are hard to take in.

“I am just trying to think of positive things. I think it is about finding a balance and concentrating on the things that are good in life rather than the repercussions of all this. I think all we can do right now is take one day at a time.”

David Maxwell presents Gardeners’ Corner on Saturdays, BBC Radio Ulster at 9am and also on BBC Sounds

Belfast Telegraph