In this week’s interview, we talk to Heather Wilson (29) from north Belfast, who works in housing policy and was the SDLP’s first representative from a unionist background to stand for council.
Q. Tell us about your childhood.
A. I had a really happy childhood and my mum Emily and dad Jim made sure my sister and I wanted for nothing. I was probably a wee terror, running around on bikes, playing outside.
It was very different from the way things are now - you were out first thing in the morning and not back until night. Dad would have given us a couple of pounds to go to the shop with our friends on our bikes or we'd go to the park to play football.
Then I got to that age when you were given a fiver to go into town and you'd make it stretch as much as possible and you'd come back with two bags of things.
My parents were just really good, solid people. Daddy, who passed away in March, was really sensitive and just doted on his daughters.
My mum was probably left to be a wee bit stricter. We both knew we were really loved and we were never too afraid to come home and tell them if we'd done anything wrong.
My sister is eight years older than me so we didn't hang out, but we're much closer now. We played things like kerby and we were allowed to kick balls off the neighbours' walls and garages. It was a great area to grow up in.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. This is a really hard one. When I ran for election in 2019 and was the first candidate from a unionist background to stand on an SDLP ticket, there wasn't one single friend or family member who had anything negative to say about it.
Generally speaking, they don't share my politics but they supported me in whatever way they could and they were there for me when I didn't make it across the line because they knew more than anyone what it meant to me.
So I guess I'm really proud of my circle. And I know if I were to do it all again - which I hope to - they'll be there. There was no real defining moment that made me join the SDLP - I just saw my values reflected in the party more than any other.
Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?
A. Three or four years ago, I got a job with a Premier League football club - Leicester City. The contract came through but I decided not to take it and stay in Northern Ireland.
On reflection there could have been some great opportunities that would have come with that and sometimes I wish I'd given it a go to see where it would have taken me - the grass is always greener! But I can't change that now.
Q. What about phobias. Do you have any?
A. Flying - but I will do it. I've never not got on a plane, but it takes a while and a lot of self talk to do it and I would have a wee G&T and keep my earphones in all the time.
I'd love to meet all the people who say they love flying because I just don't understand them. It's not the actual flying or landing or being over 30,000 feet in the air. The claustrophobia of it is something I hate.
Q. The temptation you cannot resist?
A. Sweeties - it's not very profound, but I have a really, really sweet tooth.
I don't understand how people could leave a packet half finished and put it back in the cupboard, even if it's a sharing bag. I always tell people not to buy me any because I can't help myself. I love the giant strawberries from Haribo.
Q. Your number one prized possession?
A. I have a check shirt of my dad's, which he would have worn regularly for the last few years.
It hangs on the back of my bedroom door. It's very precious to me.
Q. The book that's most impacted your life?
A. Chasing the Dragon by Jackie Pullinger. It's about a missionary from England who sails to Hong Kong and lives inside the walled city there with drug addicts and prostitutes.
She spent years of her life working with people in Hong Kong who'd been forgotten about and saw people set free from drug addiction and prostitution. Since I've been young, I've had a real heart for social justice and people who society has forgotten about and who need to be lifted up a bit. But I know I couldn't do anything like this missionary did. So few people have what it takes to be able to walk away from everything, so I admire what she did.
Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?
A. I would implement integrated education in Northern Ireland overnight. I think it would solve a lot of our problems. I think in 2020 we should be educating all of our children together - anything less is not good enough.
Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A. Social injustice. I was furloughed for four months and spent that time in a local food bank run by the North Belfast Advice Partnership.
The volunteers were amazing and the work so worthwhile, but it angered me that in 2020 we've more people in food poverty than ever.
When people can't afford to make a decent meal for their children, we know the wheels have well and truly fallen off the system.
Pulling people out of poverty should be a priority shared by all.
Q. Who has most influenced you in life?
A. I think my mum has had the biggest impact on my life. She is this hybrid mix of being really strong and courageous but also really loving and caring, and her heart really breaks for people. She really loves people and has passed that on to us.
She has lived her whole life for other people and not for herself. I hope in some way that I kind of reflect that as best as I can.
Politically speaking, I've been really fortunate to have learned so much from Nichola Mallon MLA and her predecessor, former MLA Alban Maginness. Nichola has taught me a lot about how to 'do' politics and helped engrain into me that it is all about people, and Alban has been my biggest and most unrelenting cheerleader from the word go. I owe them both a debt of gratitude.
Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A. Jane Fonda, the actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy and Cher, because I think you can't have enough of a mix of wisdom and laughter in your life.
I think Jane Fonda was really before her time, really outspoken and stood up for and defended people - she is really funny too. Melissa is very, very funny and me and my mum went and saw Cher last year. It was really funny and also really profound, so if she wants to come to the dinner party and sing and impart wisdom, she's most welcome.
Q. The best piece of advice you've ever received?
A. Somebody said to me once that the best strategy to fight fear is ultimately to believe you can be free and I think that is really important.
Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A. If you say politics, people think you're really boring! But I've started kayaking this year and I really love it.
I think it's good for destressing and it's not something you can do every day, so you do appreciate the time when you're out on the water - and you can social distance as well.
Q. The poem that touches your heart?
A. Any poems I know are stereotypical ones and I really don't love them.
There would be lots of song lyrics though - I love music and have too many favourite lyrics to pick one out as a favourite, but given her monetary contribution towards the Covid-19 vaccine efforts in the US last week, I'll have to go with a Dolly Parton lyric: "But they didn't understand it; And I tried to make them see; That one is only poor; Only if they choose to be; Now I know we had no money; But I was rich as I could be; In my coat of many colours; My momma made for me."
Q. The happiest moment of your life?
A. I tend to think of life in seasons, some good and some bad, and through it all my ultimate goal is contentment.
Though if I had to pinpoint a time, it was probably my school days. I loved school - I went to the Girls Model in north Belfast. I've such good memories of school and when I think back to that time, I always find myself laughing at some of the madness we got up to.
Sometimes I still consider emailing some of the teachers to apologise for specific antics.
Q. And the saddest?
A. I had a head injury in my early 20s after fracturing my skull playing in a charity football match and I had a few years that were really difficult. On reflection, I feel sad about it because I missed out on a lot of really formative years.
It affected me playing sport and I developed really bad anxiety practically overnight - it probably affected me for a good three or four years.
Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?
A. I've three nephews and my life wouldn't be the same without them.
So I'd probably have to say all three of their births.
Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you forward?
A. Just that there is so much to be done in the world and everybody has a part to play no matter how small.
If you decided to give up in the morning... we are all here for a purpose and if you don't keep going to fulfil your ambitions they might not get fulfilled.
Q. What's the philosophy that you live by?
A. In Seamus Mallon's book, A Shared Home Place, he quotes a Greek proverb which I think is great: "A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit."
I think it's about living life for other people and not yourself.