Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Clements: Homegrown hero and devoted family man who helped shake up Northern Ireland radio

As fans digest the shock news of broadcaster's untimely death, we look back at his remarkable career on airwaves

Stephen Clements with wife Natasha and their children Poppy and Robbie
Stephen Clements with wife Natasha and their children Poppy and Robbie
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

A final message on social media is haunting thousands of fans of Stephen Clements.

The rising star of Northern Ireland broadcasting died suddenly just hours after posting smiling pictures of his family alongside emojis of hands clasped in prayer and a heart symbolising love.

The Radio Ulster presenter did not include any words by way of explanation as to why his 19,000 followers were seeing the montage of nine pictures of him with his wife Natasha and their beloved children Poppy and Robbie, who were regulars on his breakfast shows during his time on Q Radio.

Earlier in the day the 47-year-old former teacher sounded upbeat as he signed off his mid-morning BBC show - during which he had talked about how much he adored his children - with the hope that his listeners would have a "lovely" Monday.

BBC Children in Need are presenters Holly Hamilton and Stephen Clements with Pudsey Bear.
BBC Children in Need are presenters Holly Hamilton and Stephen Clements with Pudsey Bear.

At the turn of the year he posted positive messages about the next 12 months.

On New Year's Day he put up a picture of a beautiful sunrise, accompanied by the words: "This year will be a great one."

The following day he posted a quote from former monk turned motivational speaker Jay Shetty, whom he said he loved and whom he urged his followers to check out.

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It read: "If you could see what's coming, you wouldn't stress about what's happening."

At the end of last year Stephen mystified his online followers with a series of cryptic messages, which were interpreted as hints that he might be moving to Radio 2 in England.

In one of them he drew a large arrow pointing at an orange Radio 2 logo.

The national broadcaster denied all knowledge of any job or the tweets, which were subsequently removed by the Radio Ulster presenter, who at the end of his show two days ago made a promise to his listeners to "see you tomorrow in and around the same time if that suits".

It was a date he would not keep, sadly.

On Tuesday his listeners were not told why another Radio Ulster presenter, Stephen Rainey, was standing in for his namesake, who counted Arlene Foster, the late Martin McGuinness and Stephen Nolan among his many fans.

The final message posted on social media by Stephen Clements was this montage of family pictures
The final message posted on social media by Stephen Clements was this montage of family pictures

As news of his death emerged around lunchtime, the internet was flooded with hundreds of messages of shock and tributes from fellow broadcasters and fans, ranging from politicians to sporting figures.

Eamonn Holmes was among the stars who tweeted their condolences, and rival politicians like Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill took time away from their talks at Stormont to post messages of sympathy to Stephen's family, who talked of their devastation and appealed for privacy.

A large number of charities which Stephen supported also paid glowing tributes to the Co Antrim broadcaster.

The messages were testament to the remarkably wide fanbase which Stephen cultivated primarily during his eight years on Q Radio and Citybeat, where his broadcasting style was seen not so much as a breath of fresh air, but a hurricane of inventiveness and innovation.

His breakfast show, which was co-hosted by his friend Cate Conway, was a runaway hit and he remorselessly poked fun at the great and the good with his Through The Window segment, which was a take on the Through The Keyhole TV programme.

Stephen memorably showed no mercy to Peter and Iris Robinson at the height of their domestic crisis.

At the same time, he turned his children Poppy and Robbie into celebrities, playing recordings of them on the programme, which was particularly popular with parents taking their youngsters on the school run every morning.

"I really did think I knew Poppy and Robbie. They were an absolute hoot and it was clear that Stephen loved them to bits," said one fan.

One charity which the broadcaster famously supported was Tiny Life, which was set up to help premature and vulnerable babies.

Stephen Clements on his first week at the BBC on September 25th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Stephen Clements on his first week at the BBC on September 25th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

He even managed to recruit the services of Holywood actor Jamie Dornan to assist in the fundraising cause.

Stephen wrote and recorded a version of the Eminem rap number Stan with Dornan in mind.

The lyrics were about an obsessed fan trying to connect with a musical hero.

Dornan eventually replied to pleas in the reworked song for him to say he would meet Stephen.

They then raised much-needed money for Tiny Life.

Stephen, who was also the patron of Autism NI, once found himself linking up with Foster after she became leader of the DUP.

She rang his breakfast show, introduced herself as "Arlene from Fermanagh", and proceeded to give the presenter a weather update on the Q Radio "snowline" before revealing her true identity and admitting she was a big fan.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also said the breakfast show livened up his long treks in the car from Derry/Londonderry to Stormont every morning.

The endorsements from Stormont proved to be a massive fillip for the show and even rival presenter Stephen Nolan hailed Clements as "the most talented young man on the radio" at the time.

BBC Presenter Stephen Clements with Alison Clarke presenting from The Open in July 2019. Pic Kevin McAuley/McAuley Multimedia
BBC Presenter Stephen Clements with Alison Clarke presenting from The Open in July 2019. Pic Kevin McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

The broadcasting world was one that Stephen took to like a proverbial duck to water, but the ease with which he made his name on radio was all the more astonishing because he was such a late entry onto the airwaves.

Stephen had a geography degree and taught English as a foreign language in South Korea before returning to a job in sales in Northern Ireland.

Nurturing a dream of a job in radio and at the age of 37, he quit his "boring" employment in sales to work for Citybeat in weekend shows.

He said in an interview at the time that growing up in a housing estate in Carrickfergus after moving from Whitehead had left him clueless about how to get work in broadcasting, but he rang the radio station out of the blue to enquire about a role.

Two weeks after sending Citybeat a demo tape, he was on air.

He vowed to be different from other 'safe' broadcasters in Northern Ireland and took inspiration from ground-breaking presenters such as Chris Evans and Chris Moyles.

It was a massive gamble for Stephen, who gave up a good salary and a car to take the plunge into broadcasting.

He said: "I wanted to do something I loved doing rather than waking up in the morning, dreading going to work and being miserable all day."

After seven years with Q Radio, Stephen took another risk and quit his long-established breakfast show to take up a new challenge with BBC Radio Ulster.

The Ormeau Avenue executives had been keen last year to freshen up their schedules and one look at Stephen's listener figures on Q Radio made them identify him as someone who could help to revive Radio Ulster and win over a younger audience.

However, what made the task even harder for Stephen was the slot he was handed, taking over the mid-morning show on Radio Ulster which Sean Coyle made his own after the death of his friend, the legendary Gerry Anderson, who was one of Stephen's heroes.

When the axe fell on Coyle, his fans were apoplectic.

Questions were asked if housewives, who made up the majority of Coyle's listeners, would tune in to the more anarchic Clements, whose more traditional fans, it was argued, would be working or studying when he was presenting his radio show.

There were threats of boycotts and there were petitions, leaving Stephen with the unenviable job of trying to win over thousands of listeners who were clearly digging in their heels against him before even giving him a chance.

But Stephen was determined to make a success of what he called his "dream job" at Broadcasting House.

He said he was so keen to work there that he would have taken a post as a cleaner if it had been offered to him.

Stephen's quirky sense of humour shone through from the first moment on his first day on Ormeau Avenue.

He claimed that "suits" in the Beeb had picked the Queen song Under Pressure as the opening song of his debut programme.

He later confessed it was actually his choice, but few people got the joke.

He said that the Beeb's bosses had not laid down any restrictions on his broadcasting style, insisting that they wanted him to be himself rather than a sanitised version of his Q Radio persona.

In an interview shortly after moving to the mid-morning show, Stephen told this newspaper he did not think his style was unique.

He said: "It's a reflection of the Northern Irish outlook on life. We don't take ourselves too seriously (and we) don't take life too seriously.

"People of my generation who grew up during the worst of times have probably the darkest sense of humour because it was the only way of dealing with the stuff that went on back then."

Away from radio, Stephen had also started to make his mark in television.

Even before he began on Radio Ulster, he was approached to be a presenter on the BBC NI series Open For Summer during The Open golf championship.

He confided in friends that it took him time to conquer his nerves on the show, but he impressed BBC executives, who lined him up to co-host their Children in Need programme in November last year with national sports presenter Holly Hamilton.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 8000

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