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Yoga, baking, exercising and working from home: Four well-known NI faces share how they're staying busy in isolation

As Northern Ireland joins the rest of the UK in an unprecedented lockdown in the fight against coronavirus, Claire O’Boyle speaks to four well-known faces to find out just how they’re staying busy and keeping their spirits up in these difficult times

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Wendy Austin

Wendy Austin

Wendy Austin

Wendy Austin

Ken Reid and his granddaughter Summer

Ken Reid and his granddaughter Summer

Zoe on a  solo walk last weekend up Scrabo Tower

Zoe on a solo walk last weekend up Scrabo Tower

Aimee Presenting in Austria for BBC Ski Sunday

Aimee Presenting in Austria for BBC Ski Sunday

Aimee live with Gyles doing yoga

Aimee live with Gyles doing yoga

Aimee  at her first Olympics with her nan and grandad

Aimee at her first Olympics with her nan and grandad

Aimee Fuller

Aimee Fuller

Zoe Salmon

Zoe Salmon

(Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Wendy Austin, her daughter Kerry and grandsons Austin (4) and Ellis (2).

Wendy Austin, her daughter Kerry and grandsons Austin (4) and Ellis (2).

BT Sport Industry Awards...LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Snowboarder Aimee Fuller poses on the red carpet at the BT Sport Industry Awards 2015 at Battersea Evolution on April 30, 2015 in London, England. The BT Sport Industry Awards is the most prestigious commercial sports awards ceremony in Europe, where over 1750 of the industrys key decision-makers mix with high profile sporting celebrities for the most important networking occasion in the sport business calendar.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for BT Sport Industry Awards)...S

BT Sport Industry Awards...LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Snowboarder Aimee Fuller poses on the red carpet at the BT Sport Industry Awards 2015 at Battersea Evolution on April 30, 2015 in London, England. The BT Sport Industry Awards is the most prestigious commercial sports awards ceremony in Europe, where over 1750 of the industrys key decision-makers mix with high profile sporting celebrities for the most important networking occasion in the sport business calendar. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for BT Sport Industry Awards)...S

Ken and Liz Reid

Ken and Liz Reid

Ken Reid at UTV

Ken Reid at UTV

Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph

Wendy Austin

Veteran broadcaster Wendy Austin is staying positive through her time in lockdown - which, she says, means lots of time in the kitchen.

"It's been a very odd situation," says Wendy. "But we're doing fine here. We've been keeping busy doing things round the house and I'm spending a lot of time in the kitchen. "I'm up to my ears in wheaten bread which is what I tend to bake when there's not much else going on. We're taking it all as it comes, which for the meantime means we're not going anywhere."

And in a touching tribute to her beloved mum, Irene, Wendy has also been sharing a collection of recipes that has stayed in the family for many years through her Twitter account.

Starting off on Mother's Day last weekend, Wendy, who lives between Hillsborough and Dromore, posted: "This extraordinary Mother's Day may I introduce my Mum's Cookery book - recipes in her own hand… she survived the war and everything else, was tiny, kind, infinitely capable, a great cook and loved her G&T."

Since then, Wendy has shared a number of handwritten recipes, including her mum's Potato and Leek soup, as well as Smoked Haddock Lasagne and Crisp Potatoes.

"My mum was a fantastic wee woman," she says. "She was tiny and nobody argued with her. The kids always said Granny's rules applied, and everybody adored her.

"She was a completely capable woman and she managed everything as it came. And she was a fantastic cook, too. She always kept her own recipes, and we kept the recipe book when she died. Kerry, my oldest daughter, held on to it. She was the keeper of the plum pudding recipe for Christmas, and recently I thought it would be fun to do something with it.

"And now's a perfect time. I thought, for heaven's sake, I'm just here, stuck in the house."

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Wendy Austin, her daughter Kerry and grandsons Austin (4) and Ellis (2).

Wendy Austin, her daughter Kerry and grandsons Austin (4) and Ellis (2).

Wendy Austin, her daughter Kerry and grandsons Austin (4) and Ellis (2).

The handwritten recipes have naturally provoked some feelings of nostalgia in Wendy.

"Of course," she says. "She had a very distinct hand, and she liked writing her recipes. She loved entertaining and having her friends around, and you can definitely tell the recipes she used most through the years from the splatters!"

And after a long career working in broadcasting, Wendy says she has made a conscious effort to limit the amount of news she's consuming as the coronavirus crisis rolls on.

"We're watching the news once a day," she says. "It's important to know what's going on of course, but all that doom on a constant loop is just really bad for you. I'm staying up to date but I'm doing my best to keep off the phone because it's so easy to follow every link through and scare the daylights out of yourself.

"I think people could really do with some uplifting and positive stuff to lift our moods, because this is such a dreadfully serious time. We can't be expected to simply live with this awful news, it's not good for us at all.

"I think the programmers could do with digging up some old series and providing a bit of escapism as we all do our best to stay indoors during the next while, because it's not easy."

Wendy Austin

Staying at home with husband Frank Hewitt, Wendy says she is keeping active in the garden and by taking her dog for walks.

"We have lots of country roads nearby, so we're able to keep a safe social distance," she says. "And I enjoy gardening too so I'm happy to get that bit of movement in and around the house.

"I'm keeping in touch with my family too on social media, daughter Kerry, my son Neil in England and my daughter Clare, who is a doctor. For now that's the best thing we can do and we're just hoping everyone can do their very best to make sure we all get through this time as best we can."

‘There are books I want to read and I’ve always wanted to learn to knit’

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Zoe Salmon

Zoe Salmon

(Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Zoe Salmon

Model and presenter Zoe Salmon is sticking rigidly to government advice, and says she resolved to stay indoors even before the Prime Minister’s historic lockdown announcement. “I’m 100% going with the advice,” she says.

“I’m backing our government, I’m backing the scientific and medical experts and I think it’s imperative on us all to do what we’re told here.

“No ifs, no buts. It’s a no-brainer.”

In fact, Zoe has been so concerned about the coronavirus outbreak that the last time she left her Co Down home to meet anyone was on Friday March 20, when she met her dad Joe for a walk on Ballyholme beach.

“There were so many people around, it was clear not everyone was taking it seriously,” she says. “And even though me and my dad were staying apart, there were loads of people paying no attention to social distancing.

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Zoe on a  solo walk last weekend up Scrabo Tower

Zoe on a solo walk last weekend up Scrabo Tower

Zoe on a solo walk last weekend up Scrabo Tower

“So to be honest it’s a huge relief now that the restrictions have been put in place.”

And while Zoe is determined to batten down the hatches and stay at home, she says she’s worried about the key workers still going out to work every day — like her sister, a nurse, and her husband Will Corrie, a butcher.

“For all those people, we really have to play our part,” she says. “And our sacrifice of staying at home is nothing to theirs, because they’re the ones facing into this thing every day.”

As well as cleaning the house from top to toe, decluttering rooms and getting black bags packed up for the charity shops when they reopen, Zoe is taking time in the garden to get some exercise and to breathe the fresh air.

“I know a lot of people are focusing on exercise now, which is great,” she says. “But I’m taking a bit of a step back because I do a lot in the gym in normal circumstances.

“My approach at this point is to get out into the garden for a walk, to get some air. I’m finding that the gentle exercise and fresh air is really helpful for how I feel.”

And keeping in touch with her family every day on her phone and through social media, Zoe says she’s determined to stay as calm and positive as she can.

“I feel like in life we’re just blessed to be living, even in this strange time,” she says. “We’re alive and we’re breathing so we need to be grateful. I have so many things I want to do that I don’t even know where to start. This time has just been thrust on us, none of us would ever have taken the time to just say, that’s it, stop travelling, don’t go to work. Just stay home and fill your days.

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Zoe Salmon and Will Corrie at Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2019 at Titanic Belfast. Pic Colm O'Reilly

Zoe Salmon and Will Corrie at Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2019 at Titanic Belfast. Pic Colm O'Reilly

Zoe Salmon and Will Corrie at Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2019 at Titanic Belfast. Pic Colm O'Reilly

“There are books I want to read and podcasts I want to listen to, and I’ve always wanted to learn to knit. I will not let myself get bored and I certainly won’t defy these restrictions for something like that.

“I know there’s so much terrible stuff happening for people in the middle of this, but we need to do our bit, which means we need to fill our time so we don’t go out when we could be putting lives in danger.

“There are about 100 things on my to-do list, and if I take this as an opportunity and turn my own small experience into a positive, then it means I’ll be able to do my part better for the greater good.”

‘It’s not an easy time but I am having good craic on social media ’

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Ken Reid at UTV

Ken Reid at UTV

Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph

Ken Reid at UTV

UTV’s Political Editor Ken Reid has been in self-isolation since before the government’s lockdown was imposed at the start of the week, and says establishing a routine is key. “I’m in a very high risk category,” says Ken, who is diabetic and was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2017. “So I’ve been taking the situation very seriously.”

And largely, says Ken, people have been supportive, particularly after he expressed his frustration at seeing crowds of people flock to parks and beaches across the UK last weekend.

“I felt angry and very stressed by that,” he says. “I put a tweet out saying that I hadn’t slept and it got 3,000 likes, so people have been very supportive.”

Not least, says Ken, his employers at ITV.

And kitted out with equipment at home that means he can still work, the broadcaster has continued to appear on screen a number of times this week.

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Ken and Liz Reid

Ken and Liz Reid

Ken and Liz Reid

“ITV have been brilliant,” says Ken. “I’ve got the technology all in place which has meant I’ve been able to appear on UTV Live and View from Stormont from home.

“I think maintaining a schedule will be really important, otherwise there’s the trap we could all fall into of watching Netflix all day and losing our sense of structure.”

But that’s not to say the dad-of-three isn’t enjoying some box sets as life in lockdown beds in — and in fact, he has some recommendations. “I’ve been watching the original House of Cards, which I have to say is excellent,” says Ken.

“It’s 10 times better than the American one, and I’d probably say that along with Yes Minister that’s two great political serials everyone should have a look at.”

Keeping his spirits up, music buff Ken is also listening to old favourites — as well as discovering new artists to share with his followers on social media.

“Every morning I’m posting two or three recommendations to give people something to listen to,” he says.

And staying at home with wife Liz, the grandfather-of-one is getting regular exercise in the garden with his dogs Lola, a black Labrador and rescue dog Prince.

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Ken Reid and his granddaughter Summer

Ken Reid and his granddaughter Summer

Ken Reid and his granddaughter Summer

“That’s helping,” says Ken. “And my daughter Sophie puts up a picture every day of our granddaughter Summer, who’s three months old.

“That really lifts everybody, although it’s frustrating that we won’t be able to see her for a while.

“It’s not an easy time, but already I’ve had a better night’s sleep than I did at the start and I’m having good craic with people on social media. I’m still reading the papers every day and watching the news in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening.

“I think it’s wise to make sure the news you’re consuming, especially now, is coming from established media outlets, and it’s probably wise to take a break from it all during the day.

“When I was going through chemo for the cancer, I tried to use mindfulness, and although it’s probably lapsed a bit I think it would be an excellent way through this. I think the best thing to do is to live in the moment and take one day at a time.”

‘Yoga boosts your mood, keeps you agile and has helped me get through some tough times’

Aimee Fuller

Olympian Aimee Fuller has moved back to Northern Ireland amidst the coronavirus crisis to be closer to her family, who live in Co Down.

The champion snowboarder, who went to school at Holywood’s Sullivan Upper, has teamed up with author and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth to offer weekly online yoga classes to older people through the coming weeks and months.

“It might sound like a bit of a strange pairing,” laughs Aimee, who until earlier this month was living in central London.

“But I actually met Gyles on a TV programme last September, when we were both appearing on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. The way he spoke really inspired me and when I went on after him I felt so much more confident.

“When I was finished he came and told me he thought I’d done really well, and we kept in touch since then.”

So when Aimee (28) made the decision to up sticks and move back to Northern Ireland as life in lockdown approached, she reached out to Gyles for a way to help older people keep moving while they were restricted to their homes.

“Right throughout my snowboarding career, I’ve always done yoga,” says Aimee, who has competed at two Winter Olympics.

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Aimee live with Gyles doing yoga

Aimee live with Gyles doing yoga

Aimee live with Gyles doing yoga

“It’s helped me immeasurably in getting through the tough times. It boosts your mood, it keeps you agile. It’s the very best thing to do in a time like this.”

Making the decision to come home to Northern Ireland, Aimee, who has done TV presenting for major sports events around the world, came with a plan.

“My nan does yoga,” says Aimee. “And with all of what’s going on, obviously the classes she’s been going to have stopped, and I know that’s hard for her.

“That’s why I thought this would be a good way for her, and other people like her to keep it up.

“I reached out to Gyles, who had never done yoga before to see if he’d be interested, and he said yes.

“We’ve done one session so far, which was great, and Gyles did brilliantly.

“It’s perfect for beginners and we’ll do one now every week. It’s a split screen on Instagram with a 10-minute yoga session, and a bit of a chat between us both.

“Gyles even did a bit of poetry, which was new to me!”

Getting back to Northern Ireland has been a breath of fresh air to Aimee, who says she can think of nowhere better to be during a time like this.

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Aimee  at her first Olympics with her nan and grandad

Aimee at her first Olympics with her nan and grandad

Aimee at her first Olympics with her nan and grandad

“I love London, but when I get home and I can take a run along the stunning north Down coast, then there’s really nowhere like it,” she says.

“You can get the exercise you need with the most amazing scenery. I went for a run a few days ago and I just had to stop and look at the beautiful coastline, because it’s so calming and puts a lot of stuff into perspective.

“It’s a really strange and difficult time, but if we all just take precautions and do what’s being asked of us, then we should be able to take a step back as well and see exactly how lucky we are, and what amazing things we have in our lives.”

Aimee’s yoga sessions will be on her Instagram page at 5pm every Monday @aimee_fuller

Belfast Telegraph