Belfast Telegraph

Run for political office? I have a law degree from Queen's and the skills to succeed, so don't rule it out: Zoe Salmon

On day two of our interview Zoe Salmon discusses her glamorous Barbados wedding and reveals her hopes for the future

By Claire McNeilly

Zoe Salmon, MLA. It's not a pipedream. In fact, it remains a distinct possibility. Some people may scoff at the suggestion because Zoe's various day jobs down the years - model, children's TV presenter, actress, Dancing on Ice contestant - don't make the corridors of power at Stormont part of any natural progression.

But look beyond that and you'll see someone who has a law degree from Queen's University and an ability to articulate ideas and opinions that many of our politicians would envy.

The DUP, The Assembly's biggest political party, were certainly very serious when they approached the Bangor-born beauty earlier this year and asked her to consider running as a candidate for east Belfast in the Assembly election.

She turned them down, not because she wasn't interested, but because she was planning a secret wedding, had signed up for a Channel 4 reality show and her mother was dying.

Priscilla Edith Salmon, mother to former Blue Peter star Zoe and her siblings Naomi (35), Lara (38) and Julian (34) - passed away last month, a few days before her 71st birthday following a brave four-and-a-half year battle against terminal illness.

As a result, Zoe has put her career on hold until next year, save for working on a live TV telethon, Stand Up For Cancer, which will air on Channel 4 later this month.

Politics, however, is something she would consider some time down the line.

Speaking for the first time since the Belfast Telegraph revealed the DUP's interest in putting her 'on the hill', the 36-year-old said: "I wouldn't rule it out. With my legal background and having spent five years studying law and being qualified as a solicitor, I think there's a skill set there that would come into good use in a political career.

"I'm very proud of my legal background, and I use it a lot more than people think.

"When my agent gets a contract I ask to see it first and say, 'Add in this clause first, take that out'.

"I own a couple of properties and I've been in and out of court with my tenants... I actually represented myself in London courts - and I've always won my cases.

"I'll always be able to make use of my legal skills and, who knows, maybe I'll use them in a political aspect in future years."

While she said it like a true politician, the former Miss Northern Ireland's immediate aspirations are with television, and Britain's number one Saturday night entertainment show, Strictly Come Dancing, is the goal.

"I would absolutely love to do that show - I love dancing" Zoe admitted.

"I'm really excited about (Irish TV presenter) Laura Whitmore doing it this year. I've known her for years and she's doing really well."

Newtownards-based Zoe fears that the call from Strictly might never come because she competed in a rival show, Dancing On Ice, seven years ago.

"They've never had a Dancing On Ice contestant go on to do Strictly, so maybe it's something to do with that," the former Blue Peter star said.

"They don't have any Northern Ireland representatives on the show this year and that's bad craic.

"It's the BBC, we all pay our licence fees and all four home nations should be represented."

Zoe is, of course, no shrinking violet when it comes to voicing her opinions - something that has caused more than a little controversy in the past, including on Blue Peter.

Even in the pre-social media days, there was outrage in some quarters when she suggested that British Airways could use the Red Hand of Ulster symbol on their planes.

"I'm from Ulster and I'd like to cover a plane with the Red Hand of Ulster- that is our proud symbol," she said.

Her remarks led to a number of complaints being filed to the BBC, including one from sociology professor David Miller, who likened paramilitary use of the Red Hand to Nazi use of the Swastika.

The BBC was forced to apologise to those who complained, although the GAA defended her choice as a non-sectarian symbol.

Then, in 2012, Zoe used her Twitter account to rail against the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall, and also sparked an online debate after complaining about the British Olympic Association calling their athletes Team GB - thus leaving out Northern Ireland - and not Team UK.

Some of her friends were reported to be upset earlier this year when she 'eloped' to Barbados to marry Will Corrie, a butcher who had proposed to Zoe on the exotic island last November.

In the subsequent exclusive pictures published in Hello magazine, which had organised the nuptials, Zoe looked radiant in a beaded gown with a long, detachable train from wedding designer Berta.

The photo spread certainly gave the impression that she'd never been happier - and, after all, Zoe had merely done something similar to her parents Joe and Priscilla back in 1972.

"I can't wait to get home and tell everyone," the magazine quoted Zoe as saying, adding: "I didn't even tell my mum and dad, although running off to get married does run in the family, so they will be thrilled for us.

"We'll have a big party when we get home, I'm sure of that. I want an excuse to wear my dress and feel the magic again."

The "big party", however, would never take place - and behind the dazzling smiles in the Caribbean, Zoe was secretly in turmoil.

The whispers got rather loud not long after the wedding. While most people understood the nature of celebrity weddings and the secrecy that surrounds them, others couldn't comprehend why Joe and Priscilla weren't there.

Of course, it's all becoming clear now. "When I came back from Barbados, everyone wanted to talk about the wedding and see the photos, but all I wanted to do was be with," Zoe said.

"My parents knew about the wedding plans, and my sisters and brothers as well, although I didn't tell them the date or where I was getting married. I didn't even tell my friends."

She added: "That was actually a really difficult time for me because I knew how ill mummy was and I didn't know whether I should go off and get married because of that.

"I remember wondering at the time if I should postpone the wedding because she's so ill. But when I thought about it, I asked myself, 'When I should postpone it until?' And the answer to that was, 'When she's not here'.

"So I did it for both of us. I wanted her to know that I was married and I wanted to do it when she was still here because I don't think I could've walked down an aisle knowing that she wasn't."

Zoe explained that because her late mother was so private, none of her friends knew how ill she really was.

"Some of them questioned why I went away but I couldn't tell them," she said. "I had to deal with all that... all of the questions.

"Now I feel a little sense of relief because all those people who quizzed me about going away... I can now tell them that my mum was ill and she couldn't have been there."

Although the wedding was a bit of a mystery, there's no secret about what Zoe wants from her marriage.

"It's a lifetime commitment, absolutely," she said. "I'll be six months married on the 22nd of this month.

"I'm really lucky to have two parents who were married for 44 years and were together since they were teenagers.

"In a society where divorce is, sadly, rife, they're both an inspiration.

"Once you're married your whole life is each other. I look at their marriage and I think, 'That's the way I'd like mine to be.'"

She added: "I'd love twins. A boy and a girl who are un-identical.

"If there was a girl I'd name her after my mum, and the boy would be called William Joseph, after my husband.

"Actually, Will reminds me of my mum because he's a good person who's quiet but really listens."

Well, at least when the two actually get together, which, as newlyweds isn't as often as they would like.

"I've hardly seen him, to be honest. Married life couldn't be going any better because I think the secret is to not actually see each other," Zoe joked.

"I've been away for work, back and forth, since we got married, and because my mum was ill I've spent a lot of time in the family home.

"Will's just opened a new shop and we're both very busy ..."

Zoe wants to emulate her parents by having a long and happy marriage, and she took advice from them both.

"My dad says it's all about compromise and that's true because everyone is an individual and we all have different ideas and thoughts," she said.

"My mum was just was the perfect role model mother, the best Good Samaritan and she was faultless.

"Her patience was a virtue, especially when life was so challenging in so many ways, but she always took everything in her stride.

"If I could bring my children up to be like her, it would be incredible. I would love that."

Zoe said her family wished to express their thanks to staff at the Northern Ireland Hospice for looking after Priscilla, and have set up the Priscilla Edith Salmon Tribute Fund in her name.

The couple are planning to return to Barbados next month, and this time there won't be a camera crew in sight.

The visit will coincide with the first anniversary of Will popping the question - on his 30th birthday - to Zoe's great surprise and delight at Sandy Lane, the famous five-star luxury beach hotel owned and favoured by well-heeled Irish.

The same venue also hosted the couple's lavish wedding, but Zoe said: "We're going back to reflect on the wedding that maybe we haven't really had."

There will be plenty of free time to discuss future plans - Will's business, for instance, or Zoe's dream of being on Strictly Come Dancing.

Perhaps the folks on the hill might even get a mention... after the twins.

Belfast Telegraph


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