Tina McKenzie: I don't think I'll go back to heels says Belfast businesswoman

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Tina McKenzie, business executive, former politician and policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses NI

Belfast businesswoman Tina McKenzie
Gail Bell

I’m loving my gym gear and trainers says Tina McKenzie


Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

Now, when I get up, I don't have to plan for time to drive to an office or plan for a flight. I can also get away with hair scrapped back in a bun or pony tail rather than being perfectly blow dried. I'm loving my gym gear and trainers – I don't think I will go back to heels. As my kids are working from home now, we get to actually have breakfast together as well, which is nice.


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

Bran flakes during the week and a cooked breakfast at weekends


Lunch is usually a wrap of some sort. I cook for us all, so I make what the kids will eat – chicken, prawns and tuna with salad are always a hit.

Evening meal?

My daughter is a vegan and when she left for university the boys in the house loved to have steak with peppered sauce, a shepherd's pie or some lasagne/pasta dishes.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

I actually really enjoyed being at home in the first lockdown as I was more productive and could spend more time with my kids. This time around I have started to feel it is counterproductive, with too many Zoom calls and online comms. I am a people person and love nothing better than being in a room connecting with people and also having a good debate with my team at Staffline Ireland.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

Homemade vegetable soup – quick and easy and the kids love it.


Weekend treat?

Deane's take-out menu – from the burgers to the Sunday roasts; everything is yummy.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

In the summer I slipped a disc in my lower back and have suffered since with sciatica. Anyone who has had it knows how painful that is. I started walking every lunchtime around the country roads near my house and it has helped me get a break – both mentally and physically – from my computer.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

Walking. I am not able to run, although I would just love to… When we open up again, I will get back to swimming and hopefully join a gym class again.


How do you relax?

To really switch off, I love to travel. I also relax switch by walking and a bit of mindless TV (Judge Judy and The Real Housewives of Orange County – but please don't tell anyone).


Teetotal or tipple?

Both – I love a cup of tea, I drink coffee in the morning and decaffeinated tea all day long. I only now have a tipple at weekends as through the first lockdown I was having a glass of wine nearly every night. Now it is a treat for a Friday or Saturday night – usually red wine but sometimes a nice whiskey with a drop of water.


What book are you currently reading?

Two at the minute – the first, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind [Yuval Noah Harari], which is all about the development of human beings over the ages and the second is Escape to the Chateau by Dick and Angel [Strawbridge].


Best Netflix?

Unforgotten – a great series about historical unsolved murders


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

I have more patience than I thought and I trust people way more than I thought I would while working from home. When you trust people, in the main they really appreciate it and work harder.


On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

My worst has been around an eight a few weeks ago – I got to the weekend and just thought I have nothing to do. Usually, I sit around a five. I keep close contact with my best friends – lots of calls and FaceTimes and the odd funny meme in our group chats keeping us all sane.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

Being with the people I work with, being able to travel with my husband, and being able to see my mum more often.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

I will go to the offices and visit my teams around Ireland. I will also get some flights booked to head for some sun.


Biggest gripe?

The lack of a plan for businesses in Northern Ireland – the rest of the UK is far ahead of us with their plans and although I appreciate we must be cautious, we must also realise we need to give businesses a steer and a bit of hope.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Yes. I used to go at 90 miles an hour and now I realise I can – and must – take more time for my family and my own physical health.


Any new skills or hobbies?

Believe it or not, my husband bought each of us a litter-picker so I go litter picking at weekends around our village.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

More flexibility in the workplace for staff. People have shown they can be productive and work better with flexibility. This helps with work-life balance and also managing your mental health.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

No, I don't worry about dying. I am very much of the opinion we only get one shot at life and we should live it to the full. For me, it's about quality of life rather than quantity which is why I'm looking forward to getting our freedoms back.

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