The Undertones' Billy Doherty on how medics, music and Snoopy have helped him keep the beat

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: drummer with Derry band, The Undertones, Billy Doherty, an ambassador of good heart health for Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke

Drummer with The Undertones Billy Doherty. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Gail Bell

Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

During the week, I get up at 6.15am and later say my morning prayers. At the weekend, I treat myself to a lie-in and surface around 7am.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

During the week I have tea and toast at around 6.30am. Later in the day, when I'm at work, I have either Weetabix or porridge with a banana, or toast and a scrambled egg. I try to always eat something in the morning, as it helps with my medication which I take daily at 10am.


Usually, a salad sandwich – on brown bread.

Evening meal?

Boiled potatoes with salad or veg and meat or fish. Dessert would be a yoghurt. At the weekends, I would have a small fry in the morning and, very occasionally, allow myself a Chinese take away.


Is nutrition important to you?

Nutrition is very important to me. After my heart attack in 2017, which was shortly followed by a stroke, I started to take stock of the amount of rubbish we eat and how having an obscene diet seems to be the norm. I try to avoid processed food, which can be difficult, but nothing beats good, honest, real food. I also prefer to eat smaller portions of food and have cut down on the sweet treats. That said, I do have occasional relapse moments when I find myself indulging with a box of chocolates which always leaves me feeling guilty.


Best meal ever?

Home-made chips and a soft steak, followed by apple crumble and custard.


Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I'm a complete chocaholic and I adore freshly baked baps – the smell of fresh bread would take the heart away from you, ha ha.


Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

Yes, I did diet years ago to help with my cycling regime and I lost a right few pounds. Thankfully, I seem to maintain a fairly balanced weight – somewhere between 10 and half stone to 11 and a half stone for my five-foot-eight physique. When I had my heart attack, I stuck religiously to the diet sheets that the hospital gave me and my weight dropped to around nine stone. In fact, I lost so much weight that my clothes no longer fitted me.


Do you take health supplements?



How do you relax?

Long walks with my two Cavalier spaniels, Bobby and Oscar, and I enjoy taking photographs. I used to cycle a lot but, as I now have osteoporosis, I'm nervous to get back on the bike in case I fall. Playing and making music with my Undertones buddies is something I enjoy immensely, so that always helps me relax.


Teetotal or tipple?

I enjoy the very occasional glass of wine and I would have had a soft spot for a really good Irish whiskey.


Stairs or lift?

Stairs all the time… within reason.


Do you have a daily exercise regime?

Yes, I walk every day for at least an hour with my dogs which is great exercise for all three of us. I reckon my drumming has kept me reasonably fit too – drumming with The Undertones can be like the engineer stoking a train to keep it at full speed: relentless and exhilarating.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Keep active as much as you can and don't feel guilty if you can't stick to it. There will always be another day.


On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I would have said, pre-heart attack, that I was a strong eight. Now, post-heart attack, I am a decent four.


Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I haven't tried it, but I'm certainly not averse to the idea.


Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

I hated school from the very first day I started. I remember it clearly. I cried my eyes out when my mammy left me. At primary school, I played for the school football team and will never forget one of our first matches. That morning, when I got up to go to school, I kept my pyjamas on underneath my school clothes, as it was so cold. I had forgotten that I had them on and when I was changing into my football gear my team-mates spotted them and jeered at me. Very embarrassing moment for a would-be Georgie Best! At secondary school I represented the school in cross-country running events. I always came second in the long-distance races – the same classmate beat me every year.


Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

Yes, when I had my heart attack and then again when I had my stroke a week later, which was very traumatic. I realised then how fragile life is. I despair when I see how, as a race, we are determined to destroy and dominate each other. The human body is an incredibly complicated and wonderful thing and we should respect that. We hurt each other needlessly and that's disgraceful.


Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

I asked my cardiac consultant when I should stop taking my medication and his stark advice was: Keep taking the tablets or you will die. Hard to ignore advice like that.


Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness/attitude to life?

The entire medical team that helped me to recover.


What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I'm in bed between 10.30 to 11.30pm. I love my bed.


Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I became very depressed when I was ill, but support of family and friends is so precious. You do have to fight each and every day to recover because, ultimately, you're the only person who can do it. It's difficult reflecting on mortality but, as Charlie Brown said to Snoopy, “Some day, we will all die, Snoopy”, to which Snoopy replied: “True, but all the other days we will not.” Never, ever give up.

Billy Doherty is supporting the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke charity's new heart health and recovery service, Heart Strong, aimed at bridging the gap between rehabilitation and easing back into 'normal' life. It is the first of its kind in Northern

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