IN 1970, Australian performer Candy Devine popped over to Ulster to perform a gig – some 40 years later, she is one of our best-loved broadcasting personalities.
This weekend, Candy will be one of three radio presenters – and the only one from Northern Ireland – to be inducted into the very first Irish Radio Awards Hall of Fame in Kilkenny.
“This country has been very good to me,” the Downtown Radio star told the News Letter yesterday in her distinctive warm tones.
The cabaret performer had worked in radio in her native Australia before going to mainland Britain in the 1960s.
It was there where she received an invitation to sing at the then Talk Of The Town, at Bridge End in east Belfast. She travelled across the Irish Sea, met her future husband who was one of the agents, Donald McLeod, and that was it, the rest is history.
“When the Troubles broke out, I was doing a show up the northern end of the country and they were taking stones out of the Derry’s walls and throwing them at each other.
“We were not long married, you would have thought that would have been my cue to leave but no, I weathered the storm and I’m glad I did,” she said.
Since then, Candy has interviewed royalty, touched hearts across the country and even started a wave of marriages through her Date Line feature.
Candy had presented a Sunday radio show in Australia for ABC called Candy and Spice, but doing the five-days-a-week drive-time show on Downtown was truly being thrown in at the deep end, she said.
“I was working with people like Big T, who is still with the station, John Paul, Hendy (Michael Henderson), they had been working clubs and were used to throwing on records,” she said.
“They were firing in jingles at a rate of knots and I thought, ‘my God, how do I do this?’
“But I remember being told you just have to go on and be yourself – which, of course, was the best advice I ever got.
“Insincerity is instantly detectable on the radio, there aren’t the distractions that there are on television like looking at the set, looking at the presenter’s make-up or what’s she’s wearing. It’s just a cold voice. And if that doesn’t grab them, give up.”
But Candy had no problem grabbing listeners who went on to grow up with her – and now their children listen to her too.
“I have listeners who have been with me since day one. I had a text from a lady only last week who said I used to listen to your children’s spot when I was a wee girl and now listen to you on a Saturday afternoon while I am doing the ironing.
“I received a letter from a man up in the Maiden City about a year or so ago, and he records my programmes then plays them in the car and listens to them with his children. That’s two generations, it’s wonderful.”
One of the ways which Candy touched her listeners most over the years was the long-running Date Line feature where she matched up listeners with each other – Candy said it resulted in scores of marriages.
“It was brought from Australia, we really didn’t think it would work because Northern Ireland people can be a bit private, but it just took off,” she said.
“The number of marriages we have had – we always used to have a bit of a snigger about Cilla Black when they had their one wedding. I still receive mail from people, a couple in Australia who met via Date Line. Every now and then I’d be walking through a supermarket and someone will come over and say I met my husband through your Date Line.
“I remember when we had our first wedding, we were told . . . in a few years, they’ll either love you or hate you. To my knowledge, they are still together.”
Candy modestly quipped that she thought the Hall of Fame award was a joke initially.
“It came to the studio and I thought, ‘what’s this now’, opened it up and at first I thought it was a bit of a joke, then I realised no, it was a genuine address,” she said. “I really was absolutely over the moon.”
The annual PPI Radio Awards – the Oscars of Irish radio – will take place on Friday in the Lyrath Hotel, Kilkenny. Along with Candy, RTE presenter Gerry Ryan will receive the honour posthumously together with Seán Bán Breathnach, who is one of the Republic’s longest-standing Irish language broadcasters.