In this week’s interview Rachel Dean talks to Vinny Hurrell (38), a BBC radio and television producer and presenter. He lives in north Belfast with his fiance.
Q. Tell us about your childhood.
A. I grew up in Randalstown with my mum and dad and my two sisters and two brothers. Donna is my eldest sister, although she loves the fact that she looks the youngest of us all now. Then there’s my sister Emma – she was always the wild child – and then there’s my brother Donal, who is just a year younger than me. Although we fought the bit out when we were young, we were close friends growing up. Then there’s my little brother Patrick, the wee surprise that came along and turned everything on its head. He was born when I was about 11.
We all get on better now than we used to, but I just think it’s normal as children that you can fight and bicker with your siblings – and of course, I was the poor middle child.
We had quite a nice upbringing, not that we realised it at the time. My dad Donal had a butcher’s shop in the town that he took over from his dad. He’d also served his time as an electrician. Since we lived in the countryside, he did a lot of farming as well. He’s a man of many talents. That’s what he did when we were young until I was about 17, when we moved to Longford.
My mum Jean would have helped dad out in the shop, but she looked after all of us too. My mum is a powerhouse of a woman. She’s very softly spoken but you did not, and still wouldn’t, want to cross her.
She’s from Co Longford, so she’s got a very soft southern accent, but if you got on the wrong side of her, you definitely knew.
I have lots of nice memories of going through the fields or the streams and down the River Maine and doing a bit of fishing the odd time.
Life was good when we were kids. Mum and dad were always very hard-working.
We didn’t have a lot of toys and gadgets or whatever, but we were pretty happy.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. I remember feeling really proud the day I got my BBC badge. Growing up, I knew what I wanted to do – I knew the job and industry I wanted to work in – but I also knew there was no guarantee I would get there.
I used to drive past the building sometimes and there was just such gravitas that came from the BBC.
I loved a lot of the programming and what they did. I grew up listening to Radio Ulster in my dad’s shop – he had it on constantly. I was always trying to turn it over to Cool FM and he used to say to me, “One day, you’ll appreciate how good this station is”, and I do.
The day I got my BBC badge, even though I was just a temp at the time, I remember thinking that I was working towards something and I felt really pleased. It was like my first foot in the door.
Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?
A. My grandmother Alice died in 2004, but she had been sick for some time beforehand. I went to university in England and I’d been back and forth a lot. I didn’t realise quite how sick she was. I remember thinking, “I should maybe go home” and I didn’t.
I did get to see her before she died because I eventually came home, but she was so ill at that point. I always regret not just coming home earlier and spending that little bit of extra time with her.
Q. What about phobias? Do you have any?
A. I do not like heights, although it doesn’t stop me getting on planes. But if I started to think about those few inches between me and the sky, I would start to freak out.
Ladders, looking over balconies and things like that – I’m not a fan.
Q. The temptation you cannot resist?
A. I like to think that I’m good at resisting things, but one thing I tend to do, no matter how hard I try not to, is over-think everything.
I think everything out, all the possibilities and consequences. That’s why I’ve found this lockdown occasionally stressful because you’ve got too much time to over-think.
Q. Your number one prized possession?
A. I have a shoebox full of old family photographs that my mum gave me. I love looking through it because it’s like a time capsule.
Q. The book that’s most impacted your life?
A. It’s a childhood book – Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World. I wasn’t a massive reader as a child and I remember my English teacher convinced me to read it and I really enjoyed it. It was the first time I realised that reading could be fun.
Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?
A. I would have a three-and-a-half-day working week. I would increase everybody’s pay and give people more time to spend outside. Downtime is good for your mental health – it’s good for clearing your head.
Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A. I don’t like when people feel the need to put other people’s ambitions down. Sometimes people feel the need to give others reality checks and I just think it’s uncalled for most of time. I think it’s good to have an aim, goals, ambition and drive – as long as you aren’t screwing people over for it then it’s fine. I don’t think anyone should tell you that you can’t do something.
Q. Who has most influenced you in life?
A. Definitely my mum and dad because they’ve always been encouraging. They always thought there was never anything you couldn’t do if you put your mind to it. They’re also hard-working, even now they’re both kind of retired. I like to work hard, to get involved and do the best I can – that came from them.
Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A. All singers because I just see it as an opportunity for my own mini concert, so it would be Tina Turner, George Michael and Whitney Houston.
Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?
A. I remember being told by a friend to ignore people who tell you that you can’t do something. That’s stuck in my head.
Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A. I love a bit of DIY, especially during lockdown. From painting to cladding and a bit of tiling, although my tiling was disastrous and I had to redo it – it’s also still terrible.
But I love that, getting the time to be creative. Just put a bit of music on or even a podcast and on you go.
I think that’s why I enjoyed filming My First Home so much. It’s fun to go around and nosey in people’s houses.
Obviously, in the big mansions and stuff, you just walk around with your mouth wide open.
It’s also great to get ideas for interiors and renovations.
Q. The poem that touches your heart?
A. I’m not massively into poetry, but I do remember reading Seamus Heaney’s Digging at school. It’s a nice poem and I like the message behind it.
I’m a big fan of my dad and I think I appreciate him more than I did when I first read that poem.
It just hits home more now that I’m older and realise how fortunate I am.
Maybe when you’re younger you think “this person is always going to be there”, but they won’t. I’m glad I know that now and that I’m still able to ring him up and have a chat.
Or in my case now, it’s FaceTime and I just see the top of my dad’s head.
Q. The happiest moment of your life?
A. There are so many to pick from. I would say when I got engaged and when I became an uncle for the first time. Also, getting to talk to people on the radio and TV makes me happy. Radio in particular is such a personal thing, chatting in people’s ears in their car or kitchen. It makes me smile when I’m doing it because I’m thinking how lucky I am.
Q. And the saddest moment of your life?
A. My friend Nuala passed away in 2004 – she took her own life. That kind of grief is something else and obviously it was even harder for her family.
It’s something that you adjust to, but it never really goes away.
I remember my phone was broken and there were a couple of messages from Nuala on my phone.
In the space of about 48 hours, by the time I got my phone fixed and got the messages, it was just too late.
Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?
A. That – losing Nuala. We were quite young and I think you go through life quite selfishly, although not intentionally, when you’re that age.
You just think that everything is forever and nothing will change – and I think you can be quite insular.
Nuala’s passing made me realise that there are people in your life that you’re very lucky to have and you should appreciate them while they’re here because you just do not know what’s round the corner.
Q. What’s the ambition that keeps driving you onward?
A. You should always try to be the best version of yourself. That’s something I try to do every day.
Q. What’s the philosophy you live by?
A. Live for today and don’t wish your life away waiting for what’s coming tomorrow.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. I would like to be remembered as someone who was kind and tried to make things easier for other people. Whether I will be or not, I have no idea.
Vinny Hurrell is on BBC Radio Ulster on Fridays from 3-4pm and also on BBC Sounds. You can watch the first four episodes of My First Home on BBC iPlayer now