This Morning broadcaster Eamonn Holmes (60) has been extremely busy during lockdown, working from his home in Surrey with wife Ruth Langsford (60). However, he did find time to visit his favourite haunts during a trip home to Northern Ireland.
“Our house was turned into a studio — it was ready to broadcast This Morning from if we needed to do that with transmission quality cameras,” he says. “And then they were replaced for seven weeks by cameras from Gogglebox when we did seven weeks of that.
“We were just talking this morning about how we certainly have been occupied with work, but you don’t get the icing on the cake, you don’t live a life, you don’t get to visit people, you don’t get to go to the theatre or cinema or restaurants or just be normal.
“I wouldn’t say we were twiddling our thumbs in any way, but we have thoroughly enjoyed not commuting in and out of London and having extra time to ourselves. Ruth particularly spends a lot of time getting fit and skipping and doing things, and I find time to walk my dog — you get to savour life a bit more when you’re not commuting.”
Like many others, Eamonn and Ruth have seized the opportunity to clear out their house and garage, including investigating the contents of boxes that had never been unpacked since they moved in six years ago.
He also got to catch up with some of his children when he visited Northern Ireland for a couple of weeks. Declan and Rebecca live in Northern Ireland, while Niall, who produces his dad’s Talk Radio show, lives in London and his youngest, Jack, has just completed his A-levels.
“We had two weeks booked off, but I went home,” Eamonn says. “There’d be no prospect of holidays and to be honest with you, I just wouldn’t. I certainly wouldn’t go long haul, and I don’t feel any burning desire to jump on board a plane and go to Portugal or Spain. There’s no point acting as if this virus has gone away because it hasn’t gone away.”
Two weeks ago, he spent a lot of time on the North Coast, taking in Portstewart Strand and Harry’s Shack restaurant, and he says it has been a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a staycation.
“It was just like what you would do if you were in Portugal, where you’d go for your breakfast, your lunch or whatever, and I sat and thought ‘God, this beach is gorgeous, this weather is good’. It was so good and the people are lovely — I know it doesn’t all often come together but when it does, it’s just heaven.”
Eamonn’s favourite staycation trips include the drive down the Co Down coast to Portaferry and the Glens of Antrim, including calling in to Laragh Lodge restaurant at Glenariff.
“I love walking around there and I love that mixture of woodland and views, and I love Waterfoot, going into Cushendall and Cushendun. And Ballycastle will always have a place in my heart because for years we had a caravan there as a family,” he says.
“People seem very surprised to see you — they think because you’re on the telly you should be in the Bahamas or something. I just have a lovely affinity with the north Antrim coast because my parents did and we just spent a lot of time there.”
His best ever holiday was at the D-Hotel in the stunning Turkish resort of Mugla, an incredible bay dotted with islands.
“It was truly magical,” Eamonn enthuses. “I’ve never done the Maldives or anything like that — I’ve never been anywhere too exotic.”
But he admits Easter holidays at their place in Portugal tend to be less successful due to the weather.
“Easter in Portugal is rarely good, so it was just a week of listening to Ruth moaning because she doesn’t do cold,” he says. “I could sit on holiday and watch satellite TV and watch football and just be relaxed, but Ruth has to be in the sunshine.
“So I remember Easter holidays in Vilamoura were never fun — otherwise it was great but Easter in Portugal is very hit and miss.”
UTV journalist Sarah Clarke (40), from Belfast, had planned a trip to Barcelona for her 40th birthday with husband Rory and children Daniel (8), Emily (6) and Gabriel (1), but it was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“That was all refunded because there was a ban on all but essential travel,” she says. “And then we had Portugal booked this summer, but we have postponed that until next year. I don’t feel comfortable with it so we just pushed it on and hopefully things will be better next year.”
Sarah had extended her maternity leave with Gabriel in order to homeschool the children in lockdown. Now she’s back to work and admits she’s ready for it as it can be tough being together in the house all the time.
“I do try to get out every day for a walk on the towpath, or a cycle, or to take the scooter out. I started the Couch to 5k running plan,” she reveals.
Sarah has been jogging as part of a challenge in memory of her friend Aileen McGeown who died of cancer at the age of just 46, shortly before Christmas. A group of friends had been due to tackle the Belfast marathon, but Covid put it on hold and instead they walked, ran and cycled twice the distance of the length of Ireland from Malin to Mizen Head — more than 800 miles — helping Aileen’s husband Stephen to raise more than £20,000 for the Northern Ireland Hospice.
Before Sarah returned to work, the family were able to get away to visit her mum on the North Coast and visit the beach.
“I do sense from the children they would like to go away but they are happy when they are with you,” she says. “Kids want their parents’ attention most of the time.
“My mum lives near Castlerock, so we’ve formed this bubble with her and we’ve been up to stay a couple of times. We plan to do that for maybe a week and it has been a real Godsend.”
As a child, she says, she would have gone on a couple of foreign holidays, but most were at home or visiting relatives across the water.
“Holidays were about being with family and being with parents, spending time with them,” she recalls.
“As a child those are your stand-out moments. It’s time and attention — that is the only way they judge you. You think you should be giving them all these expensive holidays but what they really want is you being really present.
“I do recall being traipsed around a lot of National Trust properties because my parents were members. Looking back, it was a lovely thing to be exposed to, but I remember as a child being desperate to get to the outdoor park while my parents were trying to instil a bit of culture!”
Sarah says her favourite holiday was her honeymoon to Thailand, staying in luxury hotels, while she also loves Portugal with the children.
But visiting Disneyland in Paris is her idea of hell — particularly when pregnant.
“I hadn’t told anybody I was pregnant with Gabriel and I was really nauseous, really tired,” she says. “The children adored it but it was tough for me because I was utterly exhausted. Maybe some adults do enjoy that kind of holiday, but it was challenging, queueing at rides and eating copious amounts of fast food.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was my worst holiday, but it was a difficult enough holiday.”
She admits, however, that anywhere that is hot and where you don’t have to worry about providing breakfast, lunch and dinner is usually successful.
“I love the anticipation of a holiday and the planning,” she smiles. “And I love getting on the aeroplane, treating myself to a gin and tonic, that kind of feeling of ‘this is the beginning of a holiday’. I’m not that fussed about where I would go. Once you are sitting on the plane and thinking ‘This is the start of something exciting’ — I love that.”
This year, UTV broadcaster Paul Clark (66) has ambitious plans for his summer holidays. He’s just taken four weeks off work and is planning to go on his summer holidays — to his own home.
His wife Carol has a rare lung condition called lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM) and has been self-isolating at their Belfast home with their two sons Peter (31) and David (29) since the start of lockdown.
“I’m not living at home at the moment — I have been living with my mother because my father died at the beginning of the pandemic,” he says.
Paul’s father had been living with skin cancer which had recently become very aggressive. He was admitted to a hospice in February and passed away five weeks later. In the final week he contracted Covid-19, which was recorded as a secondary cause of death.
“As a result of that, we weren’t able to have a normal funeral for him,” Paul says. “We couldn’t have a Requiem Mass and the coffin couldn’t be opened.
“It wasn’t a primary cause, it was a secondary cause, and I don’t think that contracting Covid-19 shortened his life to any great extent.”
Over lockdown Paul has been doing much more shopping than usual, fetching groceries for both wife Carol and his mother. Given all the to-ing and fro-ing, it’s perhaps not surprising that what he’s looking forward to is a relaxing stay in his own home.
“My hope for my four weeks off work is that I will actually manage to get back into the house for the first time in over four months. So that will be my staycation, getting home!”
Paul would love to get away for a few days in Donegal, he admits, but it’s just out of the question.
“Carol is immunosuppressed — she has had this lung condition for a long, long time, and she is in the extremely vulnerable category. So even though we would love to go away to Donegal, which is something we do, she wouldn’t trust herself. She will not travel, she will not leave the house.
“I have discovered over the years that being on holiday is as much a state of mind as it is a state of place, so I’ve managed to get my head around the fact that I’m going to have a really good holiday this year in my own garden.”
Paul has fond childhood memories of Achill Island, off the coast of Co Mayo. It was such a beloved spot for his parents that his dad had asked for his ashes to be scattered there, although the travel restrictions have prevented it so far.
“It’s been a bittersweet experience this year, because my dad has died. But he wanted some of his ashes to go back to Achill Island and I promised him that that would happen, and it will,” Paul vows.
The broadcaster has fond memories of taking his own children away on holiday when they were small. These days, Peter is studying theology while David, who has Down’s syndrome, had been working with the Orchardville Society but this work has been mothballed at present.
“David works two days a week at the society, two days a week in the canteen at the Belfast Health Trust and one day doing a computer course, and is also a member of a drama club called Babosh,” Paul says.
“It’s a group for people with learning disabilities and his teachers are very gifted and patient and bring out the best in the students, at their own pace. We have such good memories of holidays with the boys when they were small. We all loved going to Castlerock. A friend of my wife from university was always happy to have people round to the house and we loved going there for two reasons — holidaying at home, and also because the boys loved the beach. I am passionate about railways and the line runs through the town there. I will often go on the train and take a run to Derry and back again.”
Paul admits he isn’t the sort of holidaymaker to lie on a beach.
“We love going to France — we have access to a little place in the Alps, and I love the mountains, and I love the fresh air,” he says.
“But it’s very, very hard to beat a little village that we go to called Kilcar, which is west of Killybegs.
“I have some conversational Irish, it’s in the Gaeltacht, and I love to be able to go over there and to be able to immerse myself in the culture and enjoy a pint or two of Guinness while I’m at it. It’s interesting that the more Guinness I have, the more fluent I become in Irish!”
TV chef Jenny Bristow, originally from Coleraine and now living in Cullybackey where she runs her cookery school, has fond memories of childhood holidays with her late parents.
“They were dairy farmers so they were always busy and it was always difficult to get away, apart from the weekends,” she recalls. “So our holidays were just simple — I have wonderful childhood memories, and you try to replicate it with your own family and your grandchildren as life goes on.
“I think this is one of the things we’ve tried to instil into our own children as they grew up — life is simple and it isn’t all about spending a fortune of money.
“We lived right on the beautiful North Coast, and we used to spend our summer days fishing on the rocks down at the harbour, fishing for eels on boats, taking trips to Rathlin Island or the Skerries. When I think back on it, we never went anywhere on a plane as a family.”
Jenny is married to engineer Bobby and has one daughter and two sons. Because both of her sons are pilots, she has been to some pretty memorable destinations.
“I think for one of my special birthdays we went to Rio de Janeiro and my son was actually flying the plane the whole way there so that was kind of special,” she says.
“I’ve been to Australia, Brazil and China. At the end of the day, places are places and they’re absolutely wonderful and it’s so nice to go and see them — it’s one of my aims to see as much of the world as possible while I’m here, but I still come back and say it’s times spent with people that are special in the midst of all of that.”
One particularly memorable Christmas was spent in the Canary Islands for a few days when her children were small.
“We packed the Christmas spray and brought the Christmas socks and had them stuffed with presents and Santa came in the middle of it all,” she laughs.
When lockdown came, Jenny cancelled all her bookings and shut down the cookery school. Now, the plan is to move the events en masse to later in the year and reopen the cookery school in September while following social distancing guidelines.
“It was a big change for everybody, but for me, gosh, it was an opportunity to catch up on all those things that I’d always wanted to do — such as cupboards to clean, and at this stage as we sit here now at the end of July I’m still not finished!” she says.
“We just had so much work to do in the garden with trees and lawns and replanting and re-juggling flowerbeds around, and having my husband here was wonderful because the two of us could work away together.
“I think the glorious sunshine we had during lockdown was just a special gift to get in the middle of all of this, really about 10 weeks of glorious wall-to-wall sunshine — it was amazing.”
One newfound lockdown hobby has been angling on the River Bann with her sister Rosie, who is teaching her to fly fish.
“I’ve got my fishing licence and permits, and I am determined to catch a salmon this year,” she says. “We had our daughter home recently with some of the children. There’s a lovely little island in front of my mum’s house and we set sail in the boat with all the kids and had a picnic and fished. And then we were on the Portstewart beach and we were surfing down the waves and down the big hill on the snowboards.”
UTV reporter Barbara McCann (62) is planning to head to Donegal with her family in August as part of a special family trip that had to be postponed earlier this year.
“Every May over my dad’s anniversary we normally go as a family to Donegal,” she says. “We scattered his ashes up there but we had to cancel that this year.”
She’s also hoping to visit her sister in Victoria, Australia, over Christmas, if conditions permit.
Barbara has been hard at work during lockdown, putting together her reports and broadcasting from her car and home. She is certainly looking forward to a spell in a thatched cottage in Portnoo, Co Donegal, one of the places where she used to holiday as a child, along with Inishfree Island, off Burtonport.
“We had wonderful holidays on Inisfree Island — there was no running water or electricity but it was such fun,” she says.
Barbara recalls all sorts of adventures with her brother Tony, now a BBC cameraman.
“Tony and I were the ones who ran around together, climbing over rocks and just jumping on the fishermen’s boats,” she says. “But we just became part of island life and loved it. There were no shops — my parents would bring a supply of chocolate amongst the groceries and then just go for the whole month of August.”
They also used to visit her grandfather, who was a gardener at the convent in Omagh, and on one memorable occasion the pair got into trouble for trying to break into the vault.
“It was because my dad told us that when he was a child, his brother pushed him into the vault and I suppose Tony and I were going down to see if we could push each other in,” she recalls. “It sounded such a glamorous thing when my dad was telling us about it!” she laughs.
Barbara admits her trip to Donegal this year will be particularly poignant as she will be scattering the ashes of her beloved boxer dog Bella.
“My beautiful boxer passed away last month and I’m heartbroken about it. She was a rescue dog,” she says.
Barbara’s favourite holiday was to Venice — in fact, she’s been there six times now.
“I was in Tuscany for my big birthday two years ago with my family — I love Italy and Venice would be my favourite,” she says.
“But then for my 50th I went to China — I’ve a sister living over there so it was lovely. I do love to travel.”