Monday 23 April 2018

‘She’s got no time for celebrity-hood’ - TV presenter Eamonn Holmes on his mother Josie

Eamonn Holmes
Eamonn Holmes
Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes
Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford (Ian West/PA)
Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford to front new consumer entertainment show (Ian West/PA)
Eamonn Holmes

Una Brankin

Eamonn Holmes has to think outside the box when it comes to buying a gift for Mother's Day. "Mum doesn't like flowers and she's a diabetic, so you can't get her chocolate," he says. "You ask her what she wants, and she says she doesn't need a thing.

"She'll say: 'The only thing I'd like is your Daddy back, and you can't give me that. She's absolutely convinced she'll meet my dad again when she dies."

The award-winning broadcaster (58) has found the solution to his gifting dilemma - in art.

"I have to be increasingly inventive to get her a present she approves of," he laughs. "What she relates to, in a rich vein, is old pictures, so what I do is get them turned into paintings, some abstract.

"I get old pictures of Dad and get them transformed into a watercolour painting and framed. She thinks that's absolutely amazing - it's like giving her a painting she never knew she had, and memories come back from the time of the picture.

"She can re-live old times, like when we used to go to Omeath (Co Louth) on the ferry for a day out, all of us and our uncles. Probably drove home from the ferry drunk, back in those days."

Josie, who turns 90 this year, still lives in north Belfast, not far from where Eamonn grew up with his four brothers in a two-up, two-down house off the Antrim Road, with an outside toilet and no bathroom. Eamonn recalls his mother baking and polishing, and keeping the home immaculately clean, while his father, Leonard, went out to work as a carpet fitter. Leonard died of a heart attack in April 1991, with more than 1,000 attending his funeral.

Josie had a tumour removed in 2010 and made a good recovery. But, down the line from his home in Weybridge, Surrey, Eamonn admits he worries about her. "She's frail, which is a big concern, but she's tough," he says. "We're very alike. She's very feisty - all her kids say the same. She can be formidable. She has an opinion on everything and she has very little time for my celebrity-hood and that sort of life.

"She'll always criticise and slag off these ones. She'll say: 'Who cares about them?' She does watch me on television but she doesn't pretend to overly enjoy it!

"She doesn't like you getting above yourself in life, or thinking you're greater than anyone else in the family."

Like many true mother-hens, Josie likes to keep her chicks nearby.

"I live part of the time in east Belfast - it's 11 minutes away from her but she'll say, 'What took you away there?'" Eamonn laughs. "There are not as many people around her from her younger days now.

"She says, 'Everyone I know is dead'. That's a sad state to get to, to not have anyone around relevant to your time. Having someone to listen is a great joy for her."

Last December, Eamonn made the Queen's New Year Honours list and will receive the prestigious OBE for his services to broadcasting at an investiture ceremony later this year.

He is considering bringing his daughter, Rebecca, by his first marriage, and his son, Jack, to the ceremony, explaining that Jack's mother, Ruth Langsford, would be prepared to "stand aside", given the two-guest limit.

While Josie doesn't travel too far from home these days, Eamonn and his brothers visit her frequently and look after her every need.

Says Eamonn: "Mum is proud of the OBE but I don't think she thinks it's as good as her brother-in-law getting a BEM, the lowest of the honours, for diffusing limpet landmines off ships in World War Two. That was worthy of a much higher award than a BEM.

"Mum thinks if I make people happy, that's good.

"And if they object to me in any way, that's okay too. That's a good thing for me. She doesn't make any difference in me and my brothers. She's as egalitarian as can be, if that's the word, and she still treats us all as if we're about seven."

As for Ruth, Eamonn leaves it to Jack to mark Mother's Day at home in Surrey.

"I get annoyed when people ask me what I'm doing for Ruth for Mother's Day," he complains.

"Ruth's not my mother. Jack takes care of her and I look after my mum. I'll make sure he's on the ball, and he will be.

"They get on very well. It was his 16th birthday last week and Ruth had the whole house decorated for three days and these different tea parties and so on. It was a whole birthday weekend. I'm not like that but they do very big things at Christmas and so on."

For the first time in many years, Eamonn will be unable to see Josie on Mother's Day, on Sunday, as he is pre-recording the current series of Do The Right Thing ("a re-working of That's Life"), which goes out on Channel 5.

"We do the filming the weekend before it goes out, so, my guilt is that I won't be with Mum on Mother's Day this year," he concludes. "But I'll see her soon. Mum enjoys reminiscing about the old days, and when she talks, she talks and talks, and you listen. She loves talking, and to have someone to talk to.

"There won't be that many Mother's Days left, and I think the best gift you can give - especially an older mother - is time. That's a wonderful gift."

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