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What dad means to us: Jenny Bristow, Vinny Hurrell, Leah Totton and Claire McCollum's Father's Day tribute

Ahead of Father's Day, four well-known celebrities from Northern Ireland pay tribute to the role their dads played in their lives and tell Leona O'Neill why they will always be indebted to them

Vinny Hurrell with dad Donal and his two younger brothers Paddy and Donal Jnr
Vinny Hurrell with dad Donal and his two younger brothers Paddy and Donal Jnr
Vinny Hurrell's dad Donal
Jenny Bristow
Jenny Bristow with her late father James King
Dr Leah Totton in her clinic
Dr Leah Totton's dad Trevor
Claire McCollum
Claire McCollum and her dad Sam
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

There's no one quite like your dad. Father's Day is our annual excuse to pay tribute to the wonderful dads who helped guide and nurture us and continue to be our biggest supporters.

They are the men who stand at the sidelines of our lives, clapping and cheering when things go right, and are there with a hug when things go wrong.

Four of Northern Ireland's best-known faces tell us why their dads are, and were, the best in the world.

‘Anything we wanted to do, he’d always encourage us’

Northern Ireland cook Jenny Bristow lost her dad James King in 1975. A farmer based in Coleraine, he would have been 93 this year. Jenny, who lives in Cullybackey with her husband Bobby and has three grown-up children of her own, says he provided the most idyllic of childhoods for her and her two siblings.

"My mum and dad were dairy farmers," she says. "They launched a range of Jersey cattle and they started separating the milk into the cream.

"My summer job was delivering the cream to all the hotels and restaurants. In those days everyone wanted good Jersey cream with high cholesterol. And now we've all changed around again.

"I have a brother and a sister. I was in the middle. We just had the most ideal lifestyle. You were never bored. We were just busy on the farm doing things.

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"We worked hard and we played hard.

"In the evening we went fishing on the River Bann and caught salmon and pike. We used to go to Portrush and fish for eels. We were bringing in hay. We were always doing things. We never stopped.

"Dad was the most ideal person. He was wonderful. If we had said we wanted to build a spaceship he would have said, right let's go see where we will put it. He totally motivated us.

"My brother was a fisherman. I bred dogs, my sister kept horses and he encouraged us all. I think that's where we all got it from. Nothing was a bother. Anything we wanted to do, he encouraged us and was supporting us along the way.

"They didn't have a lot of money, but mum and dad worked hard.

"My dad gave me the best advice anyone ever gave me. He said never marry for money, but marry a man who will have the ability to go out and earn it. I thought that was very profound.

"He would give us all little goalposts. He would say if we got to 21 years old and did not drink and smoke, he would give us £100. And that was a lot of money. We wouldn't have done anything. The thought of losing our £100 prevented that."

Jenny adds: "What made dad so special was his love for mum.

"They were just so devoted to each other. And for us as kids, that was a special thing for us to see in a house. I know that life today is so difficult and so different for many homes. And we used to think, and still do looking back, that we grew up in such an ideal situation.

"He was quite a disciplinarian," she says. "You knew what you were allowed to do and you knew where the guidelines were.

"There were rules set in stone and we had great respect for them and for our parents."

Jenny says that her dad is her hero who, despite passing away while still so young, gave her and her siblings the guidelines to navigate life successfully.

"Everyone says to me that I am so like my dad," she adds.

"But I look so much like my mum. However dad and I would be very similar in our personas. I work things out and rationalise things like he would have done and had similar philosophies in life.

"He is absolutely my hero. He couldn't have been any better.

"We lost him when he was so young. It was such a change in our lives.

"If I could say anything to him this Father's Day I would say that we only had a short time together, but I think he very much gave us the guidelines, principles and the values to carry on."

‘Family is the most important thing to him ... he’s a good man’

BBC star Vinny Hurrell's dad Donal (66) is the man we can thank for introducing his oldest son to Radio Ulster. Vinny says the electrician from Randalstown lives for his family. He once tried to steer Stephen Nolan's sidekick into farming, but thankfully for listeners, to no avail.

Vinny says: "I'm the middle child. I have two older sisters and two younger brothers.

"I grew up in Randalstown until I was 16 then we moved to Longford. Being the oldest boy, there was a lot expected of me. My dad used to do a little bit of farming, which I hated. He wanted me to help, which I hated. I was quite a typical grumpy teenager, so I think that is why we clashed sometimes.

"My dad is quite a traditional man. My grandad was a butcher and then my dad took over from him. I helped out in the butchers too. It was hard work and I was lazy.

"I think he might have hoped I would have taken over, but I wasn't interested and I'm sure that was a bit of a disappointment to him.

"When I got out of my teens I started to appreciate my dad more. When I moved to England to go to university and my family weren't around me all the time, I got to thinking they weren't so bad and I wouldn't mind having a chat with my dad. I knew I would miss my mum, but I was surprised how much I missed my dad.

"From being that moody teenager who would have been grumpy with my dad, now that I'm older, I love spending time with him.

"He is a very practical, hands-on kind of man. He could turn his hand to anything, from electrical work to house stuff. He always tries to help out and he's always trying to pass on whatever knowledge he has.

"He shows me how to do stuff and encourages me to do it myself."

Vinny says there are a lot of qualities that make his dad very special, particularly his focus on his family's happiness.

"Dad is a very considerate human being," he says. "I know that his family are the most important thing. And it's not necessarily something that he says all the time. But I just know from how he prioritises everything with the family and always has. He would literally give you his last morsel of food.

"Everything he does is centred around his family. He likes nothing more than when we are all in the house, or if he comes up to us, just spending time together. You just get that feeling from him."

Donal gives practical advice on renovating houses, says Vinny, and can turn his hand to anything.

"He also gives me great pointers around buying houses and renovations because he's been there and he's done that," he says.

"I've bought a couple of houses over the years and I'm renovating one at the minute. He just is full of advice and information. And because he's so handy and he's kind of semi-retired, he has got more free time. So he's always up doing things and helping me out."

Vinny adds that he and his dad have similar driving techniques and even though they differed greatly when he was a teenager, they now share the same musical and radio tastes.

"We are similar with regards to our driving, in that we both get impatient with other drivers," he says.

"I'm not saying road rage, but we both get aggravated by other drivers occasionally.

"With people not using their indicators and the like.

"In terms of music, I remember sitting in his car - a bright orange Vauxhall Cavalier - at around seven or eight years old.

"He would be listening to the Eagles and I'd say I hate that music and I'd be trying to turn it over. He said that one day I'd appreciate it and I'd say I would never.

"Fast forward a few years and I'd stolen all his Eagles records to take to university and I still have them.

"He also was the man who introduced me to Radio Ulster. It was always on in the car and in the shop with him.

"I used to always try and switch it over to Cool FM and he would say it was good radio and I'll appreciate it some day. And I do.

"He is proud of me.

"He always listens to my Monday night show on Radio Ulster and he always listens to Nolan. He shows an interest and wants to know how things work.

"He genuinely is a good man and I'm glad now that I realise how lucky I am to have him," he says. "I have lost a few people in my life - my best friend and my granny - and when you look back you wish you had appreciated them more. So I'm glad that I realise how lucky I am to have him and the great fella that he is.

"Him and my mum are a great couple. They look after each other and he is very good to her. That is also good to see, because not everyone is as fortunate to have their family around them.

"If I could say anything to him this Father's Day I would say to him 'thank you and I appreciate everything you do for me, even if I don't always show it'.

"He is a good man and I'm lucky to have him."

'Dad has always been my biggest supporter'

Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton, who runs a multi-million aesthetics business in London and Essex, says it was her father Trevor (55) who instilled in her the self-belief to reach for her dreams.

The 31-year-old says her dad, a taxi driver from Londonderry, has always been her and her two younger sibling's biggest cheerleader.

She says: "I grew up in Derry. Dad was amazing with us growing up. He really is the most fabulous father. I know everyone says that but mine really is. He would be my best friend, even now. I would speak to him at least once a day. We are all very close with dad. I think it might be because my parents got married and had us quite young, they were very young when we were growing up.

"My mum would be quite strict but dad was just like a mate. I would have told him everything, from if we were drinking when we weren't supposed to be, to who I was dating, everything. He was very relaxed growing up.

"He is really funny. Dad is the funniest person in the world. He would have made a real joke out of everything.

"I was really into academia and into schooling and my dad couldn't have cared less. I would be doing exams and stressing out and being a perfectionist. I wanted top scores in everything and anything less than an A* was no good. But dad did not have that at all. He would tell me that it was totally fine whatever grade I got. He was so chilled out.

"He is completely selfless. Every time I fly back home he comes and gets me at the airport. He is really great. We are so lucky to have him and have him as our dad growing up. He always was and continues to be our biggest supporter."

Leah says she owes her success to the confidence her dad gave her growing up.

"The amount of self-belief that he instilled in me growing up was amazing," she adds. "That is really unique. It was only as I've got older that I've realised how much natural self-belief I have. He really made me believe anything was possible. We grew up in a working-class household in Derry and he had me believing that I was going to be able to go on and do everything that I have done and more. He really instilled a self-confidence in me that I could achieve my dreams.

"He did that and he is still my biggest supporter and my biggest encourager.

"In business, a lot of people listen to professional motivational speakers, but I literally grew up in a household where that was my every day. My dad would tell me I was amazing.

"And now, that is just naturally how I think and I don't see anything as beyond unachievable. He made me a really positive and confident person."

She says that she and her health-obsessed dad have similar traits.

"I think that we share the same sense of humour," she says. "I think I am funny like him. He is very loyal and honest and I have those traits also. He would be very laid back. I don't know if I'm as laid back as him. I am a bit more of an organiser and a planner."

She says this Father's Day she wants to tell her father that he is "the best dad in the world".

"My dad is my hero," she says. "Everything that I have achieved in my life is because of him, because of the grounding, encouragement and support he has given me and continues to give me.

"On Father's Day I would want to thank him for being the best dad in the world. I would tell him that everything I have achieved in life I owe to him. I want to thank him so much."

'He is very intelligent and has a wonderful sense of humour'

One of the most recognisable faces on TV, Claire McCollum (45), lives in Whiteabbey with husband Alastair and their two children Samuel (12), and 10-year-old Rosa.

Her father Sam (78), who lives in Jordanstown, suffers from Parkinson's disease.

Claire says he is a wonderful, gently spoken man who gave her and her sister the best start in life.

"Dad was so lovely growing up," she says. "He is just such a mild-mannered man, he always was. He is and was a wonderful father, not strict at all. He was firm but fair.

"He never really had to be firm, though. My sister Kelly and I were such wonderful children. But we knew when we stepped out of line, because he would have just gone quiet. He wasn't a shouty type at all. He would give us a look and we would know that we had to get back into line.

"Dad just lived for his family and worked hard all his life. We enjoyed lovely holidays together. He and my mum are a great partnership.

"Dad has a wonderful sense of humour and I share that with him. Dad has Parkinson's so some things have been taken away from him in recent years, but he still enjoys slapstick humour, like me.

"Dad is a very intelligent and creative man. He is great with his hands. He would have built model airplanes and flew with the Ulster Model Aircraft Club.

"He once flew a plane across Belfast Lough to raise money for charity.

"He had a workshop down in our garage and I used to love going down there with him and going out to Nutts Corner where he flew his model planes.

"He is very talented and a lovely gentleman and a man of moderation. I can't speak highly enough of my father, but then we are always biased about our own dad."

Claire says the most profound advice her dad gave her was to treat others as she would wish to be treated.

"I think the best advice he gave me was to really follow his example of moderation," she says. "He always told me to be kind to the people around you. His motto was always 'do onto others as you would have them do onto you'. And that is how I would try and live my life, to treat people the way I would want to be treated.

"He is just a really great guy. The Parkinson's is compromising a lot of dad's wonderful qualities, but he is still very much in there and every so often there is a lovely chink of light.

"My dad is a hero to me, without a doubt.

"Both my parents are my heroes. They have been a wonderful example of how to live for your family and do your best.

"If I could tell my dad one thing this Father's Day it would be that I love him and he is wonderful.

"I always say that he set a wonderful example to both Kelly and I.

"I would say thank you to him."

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