Belfast Telegraph

Eamonn Holmes’ son: my moment of terror on dream honeymoon in South Africa as lions came far too close for comfort

Eamonn Holmes' son Declan tells Claire McNeilly about a close encounter on safari, his emotional wedding day and why his famous dad has always been his role model

Declan Holmes and wife Jenny
Declan Holmes and wife Jenny
Father and son today
From left, Declan’s half-brother Jack, brother Niall, mum Gabrielle, Declan, his wife Jenny, his dad Eamonn, Ruth Langsford and his sister Rebecca
The couple on their honeymoon safari
Declan beside the Lagan

For a brief moment, Declan Holmes thought the fairytale was about to come to a terrifying end. The lions were so close, he could almost smell their breath. Declan and his new bride, Jenny, sat motionless in the jeep. Any sudden movement could be fatal, and even the guide looked concerned.

Eventually, after what seemed an age, the jeep was restarted, the huge beasts ambled out of the danger zone and the dream honeymoon was back on track.

"We were told to keep our limbs inside and not to make any sudden moves," recalled the 29-year-old son of Britain's best-known television presenter, Eamonn Holmes.

"The jeep had stopped and the lionesses strode into the vehicle's shadow to get away from the sun. After they finally moved away, the guide told us he was a bit worried because they were too close for comfort."

That was one of the only times a smile left newlywed Declan's face during the 16-day "honeymoon of a lifetime" - three days in Cape Town (coincidentally, one of Eamonn's favourite cities), two in stunning, oak-shaded Stellenbosch, three in the untamed beauty of Kruger National Park and the rest luxuriating in the warm Indian Ocean surf and golden sands of the Seychelles.

Earlier, on August 8 this year, Comber-based Declan and 31-year-old Jenny (nee Gouk) had got married at the picturesque Castle Leslie in Glaslough, Co Monaghan, where Sir Paul McCartney wed Heather Mills in 2002.

Apart from the father of the groom and his second wife, Ruth Langsford (Eamonn's This Morning co-host), well-known faces among the 100-plus guest list included UTV's Julian Simmons and John Linehan, better known as panto dame May McFettridge.

"John married my dad's cousin and he very kindly said May would do a wee bit for us after the dessert," said Declan.

"We've grown up with him and called him 'our aunt May', so it was a funny wee twist."

For the MD of the Nightcap Event group, which specialises in pop-up mobile bars and providing staff for hospitality venues, it was an exceptional day, where tears were never too far away.

"I just felt something was going to make me cry. I didn't want to cry, but I guess it's an emotional occasion," he admitted.

"It all went far too quickly. It was raining, but we got this break of 20 minutes of sunshine and glorious weather and we were able to make Jenny's dream come true and get married outside by the lake.

"It felt like someone was looking down on us and making sure it all went according to plan."

Declan's parents' marriage ended in 1995 when Declan, brother to Rebecca (27) and Niall (25), was just six, but Eamonn and Gabrielle (both aged 58) "get on" and were proud to see their eldest child stride happily down the aisle with Jenny.

His siblings and their half-brother, Jack - 16-year-old son of Eamonn and Ruth - all played a part in the summer nuptials.

"Niall was one of my groomsmen, Rebecca was a bridesmaid and Jack did a fantastic reading, so it was nice to have them all incorporated on the day," Declan said.

The couple met six years ago thanks to a mutual friend who inspired the Methody past-pupil to reach out on Facebook to Comber native Jenny, who's now an A&E doctor based at the Ulster Hospital.

"It was New Year's Eve 2011 and our friend kept coming up to the bar where I was working and showing me a picture of Jenny," Declan revealed.

But, as he said in his wedding speech, "it took three months of chat" before the pair finally saw each other in person.

"I thought she was avoiding me, but when I met her I realised how busy shewas between family, work and university," he recalled. "When we eventually met up, we got on like a house on fire."

Declan is fiercely proud of his father, who's been in the media industry for 38 years, and admits that he sees him as a role model "in a lot of aspects".

"I can now begin to comprehend how difficult it must have been for him to work in London and travel back to see our family," he said.

"His work ethic has always been incredible, but as a father he's been great. If I could be the dad he's been to me, I'd be very happy.

"He's always had a relaxed nature and he's never wanted that Belfast boy to leave him. I don't think it really has."

Both are avid Manchester United fans, and Declan, who was born only a few miles from Old Trafford, said they "bond over our football".

"I go to him for advice. He's very approachable," he added.

"He's always made it very clear that, whatever happens, he's there for me, my brothers and sister."

But it's not always easy being the son of someone in the public eye, and Declan has encountered his fair share of unsavoury characters.

"It was difficult when I worked in the bar," he recalled.

"They'd ask me why I was doing that when my dad was on TV. I replied that my dad had worked in a bar - I've got rent to pay and a career to build myself.

"People's wives would say, 'I love your dad', and the husbands would say, 'I'm not too fussed on him'.

"I just thought, 'That's your opinion, I don't really mind... maybe I'm not too fussed on you'."

Following a film studies degree at Queen's University, Belfast, Declan tentatively considered a media career before going into the hospitality industry - partly to avoid inevitable comparisons with his father.

"Starting out, I had a few people say, 'If you go into that industry, how are you ever going to live up to your dad?' I don't think I ever aspired to," he said.

"My dad was my dad and he did what he did in a different time and era.

"He was very successful - and rightly so - but I never thought that was what I wanted to do'."

Instead, he initially founded Gallopers Beer, before finally "parking" his interest in the craft beer sector last Christmas. He had, however, shifted his focus to bespoke events four years ago.

"It started off as me as a bartender doing cocktail events for friends and family. Now it's snowballed into providing mobile bar staff and basically bringing a bar to you," Declan said.

"We've corporate clients like Ikea and the Scottish Provident Building. We do regular events with them."

The company also provides hospitality staff to clients like Titanic Belfast, and "it's going really well".

Although Declan's parents broke up 23 years ago, it's not something he ever dwells on.

"It didn't affect me in way you might expect because dad was always away anyway," he said.

"It maybe wasn't what people would see as a conventional family set-up, but what is conventional these days?

"It didn't affect me in that I was at home crying. I'm very close to both my mum and my dad, and they both get on, so it's great for us."

And there were no issues when Eamonn and Ruth tied the knot in 2010, after more than a decade together.

"She has never tried to be our mum," Declan said.

"With my dad, it was all about his kids, and that was made aware to Ruth; that the kids come first, they're not going to go anywhere. He wanted us all to get along, and we're very fortunate that we all do.

"Ruth always welcomes us over to the house any time we want to be there."

Having escaped from the wilds of Africa unscathed, Declan revealed that Jenny, a former UTV continuity announcer, is "already trying to organise when we go back on safari".

And he thanked Mahlatini Luxury Travel - a local tour operator that specialises in travel to Africa and Indian Ocean - for setting up a website "for our guests to donate towards our honeymoon to contribute to our trip of a lifetime rather than buying gifts".

"Mahlatini has been voted the UK's best safari and wildlife company for the last two years, so we were in excellent hands," he said.

"They took time to listen to exactly what we wanted from our dream honeymoon and made it happen.

"Everything was planned to perfection and we were treated like royalty."

Declan said they "wanted a mix of adventure and relaxation with luxury all the way".

"Mahlatini recommended a multi-centre trip to South Africa and the Seychelles," he added.

"Our first stop was in cosmopolitan Cape Town, followed by a stay in the Winelands at Oude Werf.

"During our Kruger safari we saw the big five - buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, lion and leopard - and made unforgettable memories at the wonderful Ngala Lodge.

"After all the exhilaration, our stay at Carana Beach was the perfect antidote, with time to relax and indulge ourselves on the most beautiful island."

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