Julian Simmons – not out and definitely not down
UTV's Julian Simmons will not be appearing on screen to do his famous Coronation Street links but he's far from disappearing off our TVs, he tells Joanne Sweeney
THON big lad Julian Simmons from the UTV is very much alive and kicking, so he is.
Our famous redhead would like us to know that he is light years away from retiring or ending his TV career anytime soon, despite some mild hysteria in the media over the much loved continuity presenter disappearing from our screens.
Julian won't be appearing on screen any more to do his famously camp, tongue-in-cheek 'Norn Iron' style introductions to Coronation Street or his fun Santa Flash journey updates from the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
That's due to changes as UTV aligns with its new owner ITV.
But he will continue working with the television station along with colleague Gillian Porter as continuity announcers off camera in keeping with the rest of the ITV network throughout the UK.
For many, it's the end of an era, the loss of a special friend who spoke their language and set them up for an evening's craic on the box for more than 25 years.
Julian would have been as scandalised as the rest of us with the antics of the likes of Bet Lynch, Ken Barlow and Sally Webster and found the humour in some of the Street's darkest days as well as his own.
He bravely carried on with his work after his beloved mother Pearl died on Christmas Eve 2006 at the age of 96, not telling any of his colleagues and friends until St Stephen's Day.
Julian made his swansong final UTV appearance on October 16 in typical style, looking resplendent in a black dinner jacket and white dickie bow.
But he really hasn't gone away, you know.
"I'm still working four days a week and I'm in for the mornings now recording everything for that evening," Julian assured me, looking immaculate in his trademark suit and tie. "Quite honestly, it's quite hard work but I love it. It's what I do.
"But when I'm out and about now, people are coming up to me because of all the reaction in the press. One wee woman said to me in Forestside, 'Ach Julian, 'Was it your heart? Is that why you're retired?'
"And I said 'Pardon?' I said there's nothing wrong with my heart and I'm not retiring."
Indeed, he's looking fit and well having completely recovered from a quadruple heart bypass in 2011. Having decided to publicly confirm that he was gay in 2008, and that he was a 'bunny boiler' when it came to relationships of the heart, he adds: "That's well behind me now. I was told by my consultant that I would have the heart rate and the libido of a 16-year-old after the operation, and I tell you he wasn't wrong."
He read news reports and continuity very straight in his early days with UTV until one Christmas when he was covering for five days straight, he decided to go off-script and put his own distinctive shot of personality into his links.
Luckily for him, the UTV boss at the time loved it and encouraged him to do more.
Julian got the idea for his famous catchphrase 'And now on the UTV' from listening to fellow commuters on the train as he travelled into Belfast for work.
Apart from UTV, the travel industry is his next great passion and interest; he recently received the Northern Ireland tourism industry's Roll of Honour award. His first job was working in McCalla Travel and he later spent over 25 years working for Air Canada in Belfast and London.
"I used to get the train into town from Sydenham and people would sit on the train and talk about the soaps they had seen the night before," he explains.
"They would talk about it like it really happened like 'Did you see her [pronounced hair in a triple-strength Belfast accent] on the UTV last night? She just digged him in the face, and told him what she thought of him.'
"All of this was being talked about and I decided to use it and began to talk like the way that people talked on the train as if the programme and characters were real to them."
The only son of devoted parents Pearl and Alan (who died when Julian was 12), Julian says that he has been entertaining family and friends all his life.
"My parents were Londoners and we moved over here with my father's company Morley's when I was about four or five," continues the 64-year-old who was born in Kent.
"He had the choice of Northern Ireland or Rhodesia but when my mother bawled her eyes out at the thought of Rhodesia, Belfast was the lessor of the two evils.
"When she got to Northern Ireland, she loved it and never looked back. While I spent a lot of time on holidays in England and worked in London for quite a few years, I'm very proud of my Belfast heritage. I'm basically a Belfast boy and that will never change."
Julian, an experienced actor and singer, says that he was quite a shy boy growing until he got on the stage at Fullerton House (Methodist College).
"For the first six months going to Fullerton House, my father would have to stop the car in the mornings so that I could be sick as I was a bit hyped up at the size of the school and the size of the classes," he recalls.
"That was until I joined the cast of Benjamin Britten's opera Noye's Fludde which was with Methodist and the Studio Opera Group and from that I never looked back. I was a member of St Mark's Dramatic Society and later the Holywood Players.
"But I was always a bit of a show-off. When I went to Simmons' dos at Christmas, I would do a piece from the Mikado with costumes made from dressing gowns while the rest of them were doing their party pieces.
"When I think about it now, I could curl up and die."
Outside UTV, he will be soon appearing in TV3's Living with Lucy when Julian invites the presenter to get an insight into his world – although he's decided to base it at his second home, the Europa Hotel.
"I will also be covering the weather report when Frank Mitchell is off so I won't be definitely disappearing from the screen," he stresses.
"And there are other things in the pipeline but at this stage I will take it all with a pinch of salt until it becomes firm."