We caught up with one of Northern Ireland’s best-known women, UTV news anchor Alison Fleming. The 39-year-old mum of three tells us how she manages to juggle a high profile media career and motherhood.
Alison married her husband Damian, a web designer, in 1997, six months before she started her UTV career. Having previously cut her teeth at Citybeat radio station, publishing house Greer Publications and Saturday Morning Extra with Nigel Gould, Alison began her UTV career as a freelance journalist, presenting weekend news bulletins, as well as presenting and producing the magazine show, UTV Life until it finished its run due to rescheduling two years ago. Despite all of the recent reshuffling that has taken place at UTV over the last couple of years, Alison has remained with the station, where she is now one of the main news anchors, presenting the six o’clock news with Paul Clarke, Monday to Thursday and sometimes stepping in to present UTV Live Tonight.
Currently living in Holywood, Co. Down, Alison and Damian have three children, Annie (7); Finn (6) and Kitty (16 months). The family have recently moved house, and Alison is busy juggling not only her daily work commitments and family life, but she is also still in the process of settling into their new family home, so we decided to take her away from all the chaos to a peaceful, home-from-home retreat nearby.
So, Alison, you’ve added the stress of moving house to your life of late...
Yes, adding to our brood meant we need a bigger home. We wanted to stay in Holywood, but needed more space for our growing family, and although we found the ideal home for us, it does need a lot of work to get it exactly the way we want it. So, we’ve applied for planning to extend the property, and while we wait for this to be passed we’re in limbo because we can’t go ahead and decorate until any structural work is done. So, it’s great doing this photo-shoot somewhere I don’t have to worry about making a mess, and I can steal a few decorating ideas too. I do love interiors, however, with three young children functionality will triumph over beauty when it comes to decorating our new house. Kids have to be able to relax in their own space, so there’s no point having expensive carpet and furnishings that mean you are constantly on their case. Like all children, my three will spill food and drink, and love to pull the cushions off the sofas and use them to make something else. Also, while we wait to extend our current home, there’s not enough space to contain them in one room, so they have full run of the house.
What is it about Holywood that appeals to you?
I love the fact that you can walk into town and grab a coffee during the day between browsing in the shops, and then in the evening there are places to eat and drink within walking distance. Also, the kids go to school here too, so everything we need is on our doorstep.
How do you manage to juggle a high profile career and life as a wife and mother?
Both Damian and I never stop, but our mothers are great, which helps enormously! My own mother, Jean, as you can see today is a great help to me with the kids, as is Damian’s mother, Mary. I don’t know what I would do without the pair of them. They are also great friends and love any excuse to get together for a catch-up. When I had to go away and cover the horrific story of honeymooner, Michaela McAreavey in Mauritius, Damian’s mum and dad came to stay and my mum and Mary sampled the delights of the Holywood coffee shops during the days. It is rare that I have to travel such a distance to cover a news story, but I know I have the necessary support should something like this come up. Damian is really supportive and thanks to him and the grandmothers, within half an hour I had a bag packed and away I went for five days to cover the story on behalf of UTV.
So how do you cope on a daily basis?
My mum lives closer to me in Bangor and Damian’s mum is in Dungiven, so I do rely on Jean to help on a daily basis and she looks after Kitty on a Monday and Tuesday, and does the morning school run with Annie and Finn, allowing me to get showered and dressed in peace before going into work. I’m also lucky to be able to work four days a week, Monday to Thursday, with Friday off – it really does make all the difference. It has never seriously crossed my mind not to work. I love what I do and I think the kids might get bored of me if I stayed at home all the time. When I had Annie in 2003, I was back to work after a couple of months. Annie was a great baby, and after a day at work, a pleasure to come home to at night. I knew she was well looked after during the day and I didn’t really skip a beat, then I found out I was pregnant again after just four months. So, when Finn arrived and I also had a 13-month-old toddler, things were very different and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was tough going for a couple of years juggling two babies and work. I did go part-time at work and with the help of a day nursery and my invaluable mother, I managed to keep my sanity.
What about working in the UK, has this ever crossed your mind?
No, not really. I love living and working here. Perhaps I should have been more ambitious, but I’ve no regrets and there wouldn’t have been any grannies in England!
You seem to be very close to your mum.
I am, and I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but since I had Annie and became a mum myself, it has made me truly appreciate her. Mum is celebrating her 60th this month and she really is great with the kids. Three kids are a lot of work and I know I only have to lift the phone and mum will be on hand to help me out.
There’s a bit of a gap between your first two and Kitty, did you plan to have a third child?
We had never ruled out the possibility of adding to our family, and it was a lovely surprise when I found out that I was pregnant again on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago. I remember finding out and Damian and I just sitting laughing – half with excitement and the other half probably a bit shell-shocked as we began to remember what would lie ahead. And, I have to say Kitty is a lovely baby, and even though, unlike the first two, she hasn’t slept since she was born, she is adorable, especially when she wakes you up with a big kiss and gurgles out “Mama”
Being so close in age, do Annie and Finn get on well?
With only thirteen months between the two of them, when they were younger it was hard work having such a short gap between them, but now they are older, they are good pals and great company for each other. Annie is a really creative person and I have kept all her creative writing books – her stories are incredible. She loves singing and drawing. As for Finn, give him a Wii and he is happy! Both of them are also really good with Kitty and completely adore her. Annie was really excited though I think she did have a different idea of what a baby sister would be like, but Annie and Kitty have a lovely relationship and Kitty already looks up to her big sister.
With three young children, how do you look so fresh for the cameras?
Make-up! I wouldn’t call myself high maintenance when it comes to my skincare and beauty regimes – far from it, but I wouldn’t answer the door without my make-up on! I tend to cleanse and tone with whatever is handy – babywipes or Sudocrem! And I swear by Ponds. Also, I’m a great sleeper. I like to be in bed for about 10pm and I usually get up at 6.30am or 7am with the kids. All this said, Kitty isn’t a great sleeper, so there are those nights when I probably don’t get my full quota, but all of us mums know what it’s like to have to get on with the day ahead without much sleep the night before, and somehow you adjust to being able to function on only a few hours.
How do you stay in shape?
I am careful about what I eat. If I’ve been indulging a bit too much one week then I try and make up for it the following week. I try to eat organic as much as possible. I’m not a big fan of ready meals and I tend to cook meals over the weekend and freeze them so I’m prepared for the week ahead. Although sometimes when needs must, there’s nothing like sticking a pizza into the oven. I run and I walk a lot as well; I try to do this as much as possible, but with work and the three kids it has got harder over the years to set time aside to exercise.
Are clothes and what you wear important to you?
While at heart I’m still 20-something when it comes to dressing outside of work, for work I have to be smartly presented and I do invest in a few good suits every season. With separates I tend to stick to muted shades and that means whatever I buy, everything in my wardrobe will coordinate. If I had the time and money, I’d probably be more into what I wear, but I don’t think I do too bad.
Finally, how will you be spending Mother’s Day this year?
I tend to take every day as it comes, and to be honest, I couldn’t even tell you what date Mother’s Day is this year. We don’t tend to have a lot of fuss, however, it would be most likely that everyone will get together at ours and we’ll all spend the day together.
Interview: Margaret Connolly
Photography: Darren Kidd at Press Eye T: (028) 9066 9229 W: presseye.com
Location: Alison Fleming was photographed on location at 'Marino Cottage' by Heritage Developments.
Hair: Rebecca Lowry at Andrew Mulvenna, Belfast T: (028) 9024 9191 W: andrewmulvennahair.com
Make-up: Joanne Wilson at Glass Dolls T: 0771 2580676 W: firstname.lastname@example.org
Styling: Eve Brannon at Fashion Pharmacy T: (028) 9032 4437 W: fashionpharmacy.com
Evelin Brandt/La Femme, 236-240 Ormeau Road, Belfast T: (028) 9020 7020 W: evelinbrandt.com/lafemmebelfast.co.uk
RIO/BRAZIL/BT9, 41 Bradbury Place, Belfast T: (028) 9032 5504 W: riobrazil.co.uk
PEEL, 107 Bloomfield Avenue, Belfast T: (028) 9045 2665
Marccain, Lesley Manor, 805 Lisburn Road, Belfast T: (028) 9068 7050
Catwalk Kids, 20 Lisburn Street, Hillsborough T: (028) 9268 8530 W: email@example.com
EQUUS, 98 Main Street, Moira T: (028) 9261 1272 W: equusclothing.com
Once Upon a Bump and My Own Two Feet, Unit 2&3 Rawdon Court, Moira T: 028 9261 3190