Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

BBC newsman Mark Simpson is an anchor for his wife and family

Exclusive: Catherine Simpson chats to Sue Corbett and gives the lowdown on life with BBC reporter Mark Simpson

Today marks the Simpsons' 24th wedding anniversary - and Catherine is hoping that a football match will definitely not be part of the celebrations!

"Let's just say that Mark isn't really the romantic type," Catherine laughs. "When we got married in 1994 he took me on honeymoon to watch his beloved Manchester United play.

"OK, it was in Barcelona - but it was still a football match. Oh, and they lost 4-0!"

Fast forward 24 years from then and the Simpson family has expanded to include three daughters - Grace (21), Holly (19) and Joy (14). The eldest two are currently studying in Dublin.

"Mark jokes that it's like living with Bananarama but I know he adores being surrounded by us women," Catherine says. "We both really wanted children and we are so thankful for them."

Catherine hails from Strabane and although just 49 years old, she retired from her teaching job last year.

Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and the auto-immune condition SLE (Lupus) made continuing with her role at Victoria Park Primary School in Belfast impossible, but she was delighted to return in June this year to present the prizes at the P7 leavers' assembly.

"That was a real privilege, and it was lovely to go back," she reveals.

Ill health can make life tough going at times, but the former teacher is quick to praise her husband for his part in helping her get through any difficulties. "I think the benefit of a long relationship is that you know each other so well and are grateful for your partner's strength in your weak moments," she confides.

"Every Lupus sufferer should be married to a journalist - they are trained in reacting quickly to a breaking story! Lupus flares up so suddenly and often Mark realises I am in trouble even before I do.

"We are well-known to, and so grateful for, the superb rheumatology team at Musgrave Park Hospital."

The last year has been particularly traumatic for Catherine. "It is true to say that I wouldn't be coping without Mark," she admits. "The biggest change in our relationship for me came last year when I lost my lovely dad. It's been so hard to let him go, but Mark has been so supportive.

"Family is so precious to both of us. We laugh and cry together. We try to be supportive and hold each other up."

Shared Christian faith is, says Catherine, the key to making their relationship work. As a family they attend Holywood Parish Church, and Christian values are central to their married life.

The couple met back in the late 1980s when both were students at Queen's. "I first met Mark in an American history lecture. The rest is, as they say, history," she recalls. "I remember that first meeting so clearly. I remember his vivid green coat, and he remembers my Dr Who scarf - well, it was the Eighties to be fair!"

After dating for two years they split up, spending two years apart, before Catherine had a change of heart and a life-changing reconciliation happened.

Although now settled in North Down, at one stage in Mark's broadcasting career the family lived in Leeds, where he was based as the BBC's North of England correspondent.

"He said he wanted to kiss his kids goodnight every night, so I went with him," she explains.

"I think he managed to kiss them goodnight twice in the four years we were there, but that's the nature of his job. It was great to get back to Northern Ireland, though."

Catherine is quick to praise her 51-year-old husband's energy: "If you ask Mark to do something he will always get it done. It's like that expression: If you want something done, ask a busy person. He is one of the most proactive people you could ever meet.

"He is also caring and understanding. Those are his really positive traits - the head-scratching pales into insignificance by comparison," she admits.

Today, like most Sundays, Mark and Catherine will probably be at the harbour in Donaghadee, swimming together in the sea.

"This is a hobby we've taken up in the last year together and we are really enjoying it. We've joined a group called the Chunky Dunkers, who go into the sea at high tide every day. We go on most Saturdays and Sundays. It's for people of all ages and all abilities, and is great for the body and mind. It's certainly not for the faint-hearted, as wetsuits are banned."

The bracing cold seawater helps ease the pain in Catherine's joints and will also provide therapy for Mark when he faces major surgery in the next year.

"Mark needs a knee replacement, which is quite difficult for him to contemplate as he has led such an active life, running three marathons and competing in triathlons in the past.

"But the good news is that his new knee won't stop us swimming - nor enjoying the great family life we are both so grateful for," she adds.

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