Suzie’s back in control

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Mary McGinty

WITH Suzie McGuire what you see is what you get. The rapid-fire chat, the bouncy personality and the infectious laugh are entirely authentic. There is no public persona with Suzie. She’s as real as they come.

The signs were there early on. Suzie McGuire was marked out for a broadcasting career from childhood. When the report cards came home with the perennial comments of ‘chatterbox’ and ‘talks too much,’ Suzie’s mother would remark every time that her daughter would end up talking for a living.

Suzie has been a nigh-on constant voice on the airwaves in West Central Scotland since she first got behind the microphone. Before that she was 15 years behind the scenes in production and other roles after she got a start at Westsound straight out of Prestwick Academy at 16 years of age.

The talent for talking, the pre-requisite for a radio presenter, was bursting forth from the beginning. It wasn’t a lack of confidence so much as a lack of inclination and a genuine enjoyment in the job she was doing which kept her from taking to the airwaves.

“I loved the production side,” she recalled. “To be honest, I had no desire to present and I fought against it every time it was offered to me. When Paul Cooney joined from Radio Clyde he said: “You’re poised for mischief, you should be on the radio.” So when Westsound became West FM and they were looking for young presenters it was now or never.”

When Suzie moved to Radio Clyde in 2000, or as she describes it ‘the same year as Martin O’Neill came to Celtic,’ she was their first female presenter on daytime. She quickly endeared herself to listeners and was a consummate interviewer of the showbiz names. With her innate warmth and generosity of spirit she is not given to bad-mouthing people. When asked her favourite and least favourite interviewees she plumps for Lionel Ritchie as one of her favourites.

When pushed she admits to being disappointed by Victoria Beckham.

“Her husband was lovely but she was quite snooty,” she remembered. “I was with her when a wee girl approached her for her autograph. She asked the wee girl if she had bought her book and when the girl said no she said well I’ll give you my autograph when you buy my book.”

Being Suzie, she quickly follows up with: “You know what, she might just have been having a bad day.”

Break-up and break-down
In all she was with the Bauer Media Group for 30 years. One of life’s jugglers, she was pursuing a demanding, if thoroughly enjoyable career, as well as providing a happy home life for her daughters Millie and Daisy. The relationship with their father had ended and she later met the man she would marry.

Although Ollie and Poppy arrived in quick succession the marriage ended soon after and the next few years would be the most challenging of her life. She would need all the bounce-back-ability she could muster. The well-documented break-up of her marriage to Derek Mitchell and the subsequent court case—which saw him found guilty of catalogue of domestic abuse charges—took their toll.

“I was on the front pages every day,” Suzie said. “The case was the worst three weeks of my life. Actually, it was the worst three years of my life. I had to remind myself that if it helped one woman in similar circumstances it was worth it.

“What I then discovered was it helped a lot more than one woman. I was getting personal messages from women who said that if I could do it in the full public glare then they could do it.”

Her own distress is something she wants to consign to the past. However she is always keen to talk about Women’s Aid and the role they can play in helping women suffering from domestic abuse.

“I would always say just pick up the phone and talk to someone,” she said. “It’s a terrible time for women (and men). Don’t dwell on having to give evidence or it can overwhelm you. Just take baby steps and have a coffee with one of their counsellors and get practical advice on keeping yourself safe and take it from there.”

The online trolling after the case wasn’t something she had countenanced. While it is almost to be expected these days it took her by surprise.

“I don’t ever want to sound like a victim, but I just wasn’t prepared for it,” she said. “Years ago what people read in the papers today would be tomorrow’s chip wrappers but that’s not the case now. That aspect worries me with regard to the children but they know their mummy and they have a happy life.

Her children (above) will also be able to read about her suicide attempt and she does not shirk from discussing it.

“It wasn’t a cry for help and I didn’t call anyone to tell them,” she said. “It was my poor mum who found me. That’s how low I had sunk. I had no confidence or self-esteem and I really did believe my children would be better off without me. Now, I don’t recognise that woman. I ended up in high dependency in Hairmyres Hospital and I feel so blessed that they saved me.

“I’ve grown as a person. Looking back everything was about fun. There wasn’t a lot of depth to my life. I took stock of my life and I made changes. The happiness I have now is a deep-seated one rather than a fake, party happiness because I’m going to an event. I’d rather be curled up at home watching a movie with my husband and my kids. I feel more grateful now and more appreciative

The wrench of leaving Radio Clyde and the lack of support from the management is in the past, but her smile drops for a moment when she recalls the meeting, three weeks before the trial, at which her contract was ended.

“I had Poppy, who was just weeks old, with me and it ended just like that,” she recalled. “I had 30 years unbroken service—a loyal, loyal employee—and I feel they should have had my back. I can’t deny it was a very difficult time. I’m an only child; it’s just my mum and me. Radio Clyde was like my family for all those years.”

Better days
Better days were ahead. Work with the BBC, a stint on the stage production, Mum’s the Word and a firm focus on family life kept her going. Then driving along one day she happened on a new radio station.

“I tuned in by accident and it was Nation Radio,” she said. “I was blown away by the music and when I heard the local accents I was thought it’s got me written all over it. I was getting a bit of the old Suzie sparkle back again and I put something up on Facebook saying I should so be on Nation Radio.

“The programme director contacted me and when I offered to send a demo tape and he said no need because we know who you are. So here I am on the radio seven days a week and absolutely loving it.”

Clyde’s loss is Nation’s gain. Suzie is a mainstay in the programming schedule of Nation Radio, which in just nine months has consolidated a strong position for itself as Scotland’s fastest growing radio station.

“We are truly local to Glasgow and the West,” Suzie said. “We love this part of the world and it seems to love us right back.”

Off air, her musical choices are broad-ranging. As for her own favourite song it’s a toss-up between the haunting Grace, which she and Kevin both love and You’ll Never Walk Alone.

“That was the song that saved me when I felt lost and alone,” she said. “It gave me a little bit a hope and when I listened to the word I would feel less alone.”

As much as Suzie is enthused and re-energised by the upsurge in her own career she is delighted when she has the opportunity to mentor younger people, in particular young women.

“We’ve come a long way although we’re not quite there yet,” she said. “I would like to see more women on air—I mean we’re brilliant!

“Women are no longer in the business as a token but because of their talent and because they have earned it. What does annoy me is that women start to feel their coat is on a shaky peg around the 45-year-old mark. Meanwhile the silver foxes can stay on forever.”

If Suzie glows throughout our conversation she positively glistens when she speaks of her husband, Kevin Irvine, or as he’s known to her listeners, Big Kev. After all she had been through she had no thought of meeting a new man when he came along.

“My friends wanted me to go on match.com and I was having none of it. I had stopped thinking I needed a man in my life. I was enjoying the life of a single mum and I just wasn’t interested. I wasn’t looking. Unless he’s dropped off at my door, I’m not interested, I told them. Well, that’s pretty much what happened.”

When we meet, she’s not long back from a week in Donegal as guests of Kevin’s business partner.

“There’s a lot of Irish in me and I love the place,” she said. “Mulroy Bay was beautiful and we all stayed in Fanad Lighthouse for a night and that was amazing.”

Humour is writ large in Suzie’s conversations and anecdotes. Talking of her love of Ireland she says she had a shamrock tattooed on her hip when she was 18: “Of course after four babies it looks like a sprig of broccoli now.”

Apart from those three difficult years Suzie has always been a glass-half-full sort of person. Now it seems her cup runneth over, and for that she is filled with gratitude.

“I won’t lie, being a mum of four and being on the radio is a juggling act,” she said. “Sometimes the plates come crashing down but not too often. I’m lucky that I can do bits and pieces from my studio at home, which my husband built for me.

“The children and Kevin come first and work is further down the line. At Clyde, I was always so busy it felt like I was trying to fit everything else in. Now I have a greater sense of perspective and I’ve got my priorities right. I feel I have more empathy. I am more aware of how people struggle and when I see someone teetering I just want to help.”

mary@theirishvoice.com

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