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Tragic Stephen Clements: 'My BBC show offers me an escape from reality'

Poignant words of radio star Just A few months before his tragic death

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

By Jane Hardy

Radio presenter Stephen Clements had told how his 90-minute BBC Radio Ulster show was always "an escape from reality" no matter what was happening in his life.

In his last major interview, which I carried out with him in mid-October, he told me how he was loving his career.

He also revealed that it was his dream "to become part of the fabric of Northern Ireland".

A hugely positive person, the 47-year-old said of his ambitions: "The first thing is not to make any mistakes. I would love, like Stephen (Nolan) has, to become part of the fabric of Northern Ireland, that would be the dream. But I'm walking in the footsteps of legends here.

"It was always my dream to work for the BBC, the biggest, most creative media platform in the world. I grew up on a housing estate so for the BBC to come to me. I had a close relationship with the owner of Q Radio, he knew the only way I'd leave was if he sacked me or the BBC came for me.

"The show has been described to me as an oasis of fun, which is a great compliment, in between Stephen Nolan, which can be heavy, and William Crawley on Talkback."

But the Carrickfergus man admitted he wasn't always so upbeat, explaining: "I made a decision a while ago to not blame circumstances or anybody else for what happens in my life. If things go wrong, it's down to me, but if things go right, I can take the credit.

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Stephen Clements
Stephen Clements

"Whatever is happening in my private life - and our family has gone through a lot of illnesses - it's almost like an escape from reality for that hour-and-a-half. As soon as the mic's live, there's so much going on with calls and texts, it's a relief."

The dad-of-two also spoke of the radio presenters who influenced his career including Stephen Nolan and the late Gerry Anderson.

Stephen explained: "Locally, when I was growing up, Gerry Anderson and Stephen Nolan are the two that stand out. They may be different but are both very Northern Ireland, very real, very us with that dark sense of humour.

"Chris Evans would have been the person I loved and Chris Moyles after that. He's (Evans) doing all right now but back then he was presenting TFI Friday and Don't Forget Your Toothbrush which were so ahead of their time.

"To me, and I've met some of them now, they're very real. They don't come across different from how they are (on radio or TV). They'd be the same person if you met them down the pub."

He spoke passionately about his career, about how you "can be the person you want to be in real life" and how radio can make a difference to people's lives.

"I think one thing I love about radio is that you can kind of be the person you want to be in real life. You're an exaggerated version of yourself, saying the things you think but don't say in real life. Sometimes, when I'm at a party, people can be slightly disappointed, saying 'We thought you'd be funnier or a bit edgier'. I say 'No, not really'."

On taking over from Sean Coyle in Radio Ulster's mid-morning slot, Stephen talked about getting some negative feedback but emphasised the "lovely messages" he received from scores of listeners.

"I got some lovely messages from all kinds of people of all ages including some 80-year-olds, and a bit of negative feedback too as people don't like change. The best moment was talking to this engaged couple aged 82. We got them on and the owners of a hotel on the North coast were listening and offered them a free wedding."

Dream job: Stephen gets settled in
Dream job: Stephen gets settled in

But while he had already done a few TV stints for BBC Northern Ireland at The Open in Portrush and for Children In Need, he admitted: "TV is something I would be interested in but it was never really my thing. I never grew up thinking 'I want to be on television', whereas I did grow up saying 'I'd love to be on radio.' It's because it's live and you can react to the world, give your views and opinions. Few TV jobs give you that chance and I've never craved that recognition, although I know some people who do."

A geography graduate with no media background in his family ("My father worked in a warehouse, my mum was a mum"), he worked as a Bass promoter before getting into radio. He also taught English as a foreign language in South Korea in his 20s for three years.

"I'm not sure but I think nobody should be allowed on radio until they've done two or three other jobs. I've done some not horrible but ordinary jobs. Loading lorries for 12 hours a day in a building with no natural light makes me know how lucky I am to have this job," he said.

He met his wife Natasha when they both worked in Wetherspoons in Carrickfergus.

Stephen revealed: "She was my boss. When I got the chance to get into radio, she was pregnant, it was a tough decision as I had a good wage and a car. She said to me 'Just do it, look at your face. We'll find the money somehow.'" That was clearly a good call.

When I asked him how he relaxed outside of work he admitted that he didn't watch TV.

"I haven't for years because I can't commit to a series knowing I might fall asleep or not watch the next episode. Listening to radio is a bit of a busman's holiday but I go to the gym quite a bit and I walk our dog, Cheeky," he replied.

Twice a year he, his wife and their two children, Poppy (8) and Robbie (5), headed to a house owned by his in-laws near Alicante. "It's easy, we're very lucky. We don't have to take stuff as we've got the kids' things over there. It's a home away from home."

On Q Radio, where he hosted the hugely popular breakfast show with Cate Conway before moving to the BBC, he had a pretty significant fan base. Famously DUP leader Arlene Foster rang in once, calling herself Arlene from Fermanagh. 'Martin from Derry' (the late Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness) also rang in.

"It was the least political interlude: Arlene sounded like a mum, Martin like a granddad. There's so much more that binds us than divides us, I think, across Northern Ireland. I hope I can manage to reflect that," Stephen said.

"Everybody has the same memories. That's why we have that almost caustic sense of humour which was one of the only ways of dealing with the situation we grew up with. If you actually thought about it, it would drive you insane so we had to develop a Teflon coating. Yet we're still world renowned for being the kindest people. I remember reading an article years ago about a fellow in a Celtic shirt and a fellow in a Rangers shirt having a fight. They both stop to help a tourist, saying 'Victoria Square's that way, don't listen to him, he doesn't know what he's talking about.' Then they carry on fighting."

He noted that when he did a beer promotion for Style Academy model agency when he was a student, he discovered the same thing: "We went to Ligoniel pigeon club and a club in Twinbrook and the people were exactly the same. The only difference was the colour of the football shirts."

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