Why Christine and Adrian find Ulster the friendliest place

Adrian Chiles and Christine Lampard PIC:Press Eye/Darren Kidd

Besides notably working together on the BBC’s The One Show, Northern Ireland’s Christine Lampard and Brummie presenter Adrian Chiles have been firm friends for over a decade.

And the pair are setting off on an adventure for a new TV show about friendship and Northern Ireland’s uniquely convivial culture. Christine and Adrian head out to investigate the local friendliness quotient as research has named Northern Ireland as the friendliest part of the UK. Christine applauds this as the truth but cynic Adrian is much more sceptical - why would Northern Ireland be friendlier than anywhere else, particularly given its historic problems with division?

The duo start their investigation of Northern Irish friendliness at Corn Market beside the Spirit of Belfast sculpture where Adrian soon befriends two older women named Nan and Betty, experiencing a warm Northern Irish welcome.

“We are a nation of smiling people in Northern Ireland and I feel very passionate about that,” says Christine.

“I remember when I first moved to London and was very wet behind the ears I used to smile to people when I was out and on the train and people would just give me really odd looks. It’s not like that here. I think Northern Irish people know a lot about friendship.

“If I can convince people here to be friends with Adrian Chiles then it really will prove we’re the friendliest people in the UK, if not the world!”

“I’m just not sure this is the friendliest place on earth,” says Adrian at the outset of the programme. “How is one place friendlier than anywhere else? What makes here friendlier than say Manchester or Birmingham?”

Adrian is the perfect cynical foil to Christine’s enthusiasm and positivity.

The pair head out to meet a cross-community angling group who talk about how their love of fishing unites them whatever their differences. Then the duo meet a man whose best friend acted as his kidney donor, saving his life. In Ballycastle they ask passersby about their thoughts on friendship while enjoying Yellowman. They meet a sheep dog training champion because dogs are man’s best friend, attend a GAA hurling club to experience sporting camaraderie, head to a night of country music and line dancing near Banbridge and visit the appropriately named Friends School in Lisburn to ask pupils what friendship means to them. To round things off Christine introduces Adrian to SDLP councillor Terry Andrews and DUP councillor Billy Walker from Downpatrick who are best friends despite the significant political divide.

What emerges is a colourful picture of a friendly, post-Troubles Northern Ireland.

“Adrian fell in love with the place to the point where I think he would even buy a property here,” says Christine.

“Everywhere we went people were just really nice,” says Adrian. “I met two lovely elderly women named Nan and Betty and one of them even tried to cross the line with me and wanted to come back to my hotel room! As a much younger man I just didn’t think it was right!” laughs the presenter.

“Everyone we spoke to while filming this was pleased to see you and happy to talk. I was very happy to be cynical and tried to find fault in the whole thing but people were lovely.”

“For me it was just great being home,” adds Christine. “Everybody opened their doors to us and there was always tea and cakes. I stay at my parents house in Newtownards.

“I think we are a nation of smilers and I think we really find a lot of humour in things - I really do.

“I love where I am in London, but I have to get home once a month for my home fix. All my friends are here, my mum and dad and sister are here. When I come back home I just slip back into place.

“Of course I’m settled in London now though - I’m married. So I have my home in London but ‘home home’ is here.”

“I think this is a special place,” adds Adrian. “We met a tremendous range of people and everyone wanted to know what we were doing. I think this is a nation of chatters really as well as being a nation of smilers.”

What does friendship mean to them and do they have lots of friends?

“I’ve a big circle of friends from all over,” says Christine. “I’ve got a group of friends who I’ve known for years from here and then I’ve got a really close group of girls who I went to school with.”

“I’ve got a lot of friends from way back when I started primary school and we all went through school together,” says Adrian.

“I meet people through work and go for a drink but I think friendship involves honesty - I think it’s when you’re with someone and you don’t feel that you have to perform at all. You can just sit around and be yourself. I think true friends are the ones you can just share a silence with or even say something outrageous. Friendship takes time.”

“I especially loved meeting our two councillors from the DUP and the SDLP [Billy Walker and Terry Andrews] who haven’t allowed politics to come between them at all,” says Christine. “They are the best of mates who even go on holiday together with their families.

“I couldn’t be happier with how Northern Ireland portrayed itself to Adrian.”

“You know, it’s a pity this show can’t be shown across the UK because I think this is a side of Northern Ireland that people should see and know about that despite the Troubles this place has so much to offer and people are honestly so friendly and talkative. If it would help I’d totally be prepared to do an ad for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board telling people about the friendliness we encountered here.”

See Christine & Adrian’s Friendship Test on BBC One Northern Ireland, Monday November 6 at 7.30pm.

More from Lifestyle