Polished, professional and a dab hand at pressing politicians to answer the hard questions on BBC Newsline, journalist and newsreader Tara Mills is a class act.
The glamorous 44-year-old Belfast-born and bred broadcaster has been delivering news to Northern Ireland audiences for two decades now but still relishes the whole process of news gathering and reporting with clear enthusiasm.
Tara confides that she was always interested in pursuing a career in journalism even while still a very young girl.
“Most people who grew up during the Troubles were always glued to the news; nobody talked when the news was on because it was so serious. I knew all about what was going on from a very young age.
“Reporting is really in my blood. I love it. Everyday presents a different challenge. I love interviewing people like politicians and holding them to account. If I meet people in the street they are always lovely and congratulate me for not letting people away with stuff on air.”
Tara studied politics at the University of Ulster while doing freelance work for the Irish News and Belfast Community Radio. The budding reporter then worked at the Bangor Spectator before a three-year stint in Glasgow with Radio Clyde. She came back to her native Belfast in 1997 and has now been at BBC NI for 20 years.
Given her confidence and poise on camera it’s little surprise to learn that Tara has a background in amateur dramatics thanks to her father Richard who founded drama company the Belvoir Players 50 years ago.
“That was my childhood - doing a lot of drama and performing. I was in a pantomime of Cinderella when I was four and it went on from there. I was Red Riding Hood at 13.
“I grew up in love with acting. I remember we did a play during the Hunger Strikes and there were about three people in the audience. They were difficult times but the show had to go on.”
In fact Tara met her now husband Danny when the pair starred in a Belvoir Players’ production of Brian Friel’s play Lovers, Tara as Mag and Danny in the part of Joe.
“I was clearing stuff out of my mum’s house recently and I found a scrapbook with a newspaper cutting of Danny and I posing for the play. It makes me laugh how it all began - does it sound naff? I hope not. Danny’s now a cameraman at the BBC. That play was about 25 years ago.
“We have two children, Daniel is 11 and Aimee is 10. They’re great. Aimee is very into drama whereas Daniel is such a daddy’s boy and Mr charmer. Any free time I get I spend with them.”
This festive season Tara is displaying her big hearted nature by supporting a BBC NI broadcast appeal aimed at helping those who might be feeling lonely and isolated or struggling with mental health problems.
The Playing Our Part - Everybody Needs Somebody campaign organised by BBC NI and the mental health initiative Change Your Mind is all about reaching out to those who are feeling lonely this Christmas.
“We’re talking about mental health issues in the public eye more and more and we are starting to realise that actually we are all the same, we all feel pain, we all go through loss and other personal difficulties,” says Tara.
“The perception is that it’s really only people who are elderly who struggle with loneliness having lost their life partner but actually loneliness affects a much broader demographic.
“Help is out there. Help is available. Going out and joining a group where you can share a common interest is a brilliant way of coming together to feel less alone.
“A coffee or a night out with your friends can be the loneliness-busting experience we need. Sometimes that can be the best possible therapy.”
The broadcaster describes how experiences in her own family helped make her aware of the prevalence of loneliness and the dangers of untreated mental ill health.
Tragically, Tara’s brother, Richard, a war photographer for The Times, took his own life at 42, while working undercover in Zimbabwe in 2008.
He and Tara were very close.
Tara confides that she is interested in British writer Cathy Rentzenbrink’s thoughts and insights on loneliness and trauma. The author recently published a book entitled A Manual for Heartache following on from 2015’s bestselling memoir The Last Act of Love - which outlines the devastating loss of a brother.
“I loved this book for the way the writer was very honest about overcoming the difficulties of trauma in her life - sometimes you read about people who overcome things very quickly and that doesn’t always feel realistic. Rentzenbrink is honest about the fact that it took her years to get over the loss of her brother.
“The thing is so many of us have been through trauma in our lives - it’s a fact of life - by the time you reach a certain age you will have experienced the loss of someone or some form of trauma or a sense of loneliness.”
Tara also talks about her uncle and how he overcame his own struggle with loneliness to enjoy a new lease of life.
“My uncle Gerald lost his wife and all of us in the family look at him with admiration because he got up and went out to join bowls, he created another kind of life for himself and I really admire that. He’s in his 80s.
“But it’s not just older people, there are children, adolescents, younger adults and new mums who are struggling with loneliness too.
“All of us will face periods of loneliness at some point in our lives - it’s how we deal with that.”