Belfast street artist Tim McCarthy on his love of spicy food, Irish craft beer, and why he doesn't have time for lunch

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast street artist Tim McCarthy

Tim McCarthy
Tim McCarthy

Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

I get up every morning during the week at 6.45am and have a pot of strong coffee to jump-start my batteries. My brain is covered in yellow post-it notes to myself for the things that I have to do that day.


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

I have muesli, chia seeds, hemp powder, natural yoghurt and raspberries religiously every day for breakfast and that sees me through until dinner.


I don't have time for lunch.

Evening meal?

I do all of the cooking at home for my wife and two daughters. We are vegetarian and one of my daughters is also coeliac, so trying to get a nutritional balance is really important. We grow quite a bit of our own food, so fresh is always best.

Most of our meals would be Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food (of course, with lots of chillies thrown into the mix).


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

I have a balanced diet, but I do still take prebiotics and vitamin D.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

Never. I'm very much an Epicurean when it comes to food.


Weekend treat?

I get the occasional takeaway, especially if I've had a long weekend trading at a food event and am too tired to cook. It's always Indian or Thai food as I love spice. I don't have a sweet tooth, so it's olives and cheeseboard for watching a movie. Sunday night is always 'Nacho Night' with the girls.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

Walking our dog ticks both of those boxes. I have a hectic work life, which means that in the course of a day I burn a lot of calories.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Get a dog and aim low.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I represented Ireland at athletics when I was at school (St Mary's CBGS) and was Ulster cross country and road running champion. Our school was very sports-focused. I also played hurling and did judo for many years.

Tim McCarthy

Teetotal or tipple?

I'm a tippler. Irish craft beers (Bullhouse and Kinnegar breweries), red wine and gin are my favourites. I home-brewed beer for a few years, with horrific results.


Stairs or lift?

Stairs, every time. I got stuck in a tiny lift at work once for 45 mins with two people that I didn't know and it was horrendous: inane small talk, claustrophobia and constant reassurance – and that was just me. And yes, fear most definitely does have a smell.


What book are you currently reading?

I am just finishing The Best of Me by the American humourist David Sedaris. It's belly laughs all the way as he is so honest about his shortcomings. I got elbowed in the ribs quite a few times by my wife on a plane recently for laughing so loudly. I also have a huge cookbook collection which I constantly dive into: Japanese, Mexican, Lebanese, Indian and Italian.


Best Netflix?

Any documentaries or movies based on real events. I have just finished The Watcher which was unsettlingly good, but probably the best thing I've seen was Don't F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer.

Sometimes, though, I just want to leave my brain at the door and put on an over-the-top bonkers fest like Polar with Mads Mikkelson.

The Watcher

Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

I try not to be too introspective and as a 58 year-old, I'm not sure there is too much that I don't already know about myself.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I am learning Italian at the minute with a view to retiring to Italy. That has been the long-term plan for almost 20 years.


How do you relax?

I'm looking at you, Mr Gin…


What are your goals for 2023?

From a personal perspective, I'd like to get off my fundament and start yoga which I've been threatening to do for years. Also, I wouldn't mind mastering the pluperfect in Italian.

From a business perspective, it would be to get more of our Blackfire Chilli products into the UK and Irish markets.


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

My body tells me when it has had enough, which varies, depending on what I have been doing. I'm a light sleeper and my head is usually filled with lists, so I never get enough sleep.


Biggest gripe or regret?

Not treating people better when I was younger. I have spent the last decade or so seeking out people from my past and apologising to them. It's cathartic.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Having children in my mid-40s was an absolute game-changer for me. I gave up a fairly hedonistic lifestyle and now my best moments are with my wife and kids.


Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event – changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I lost several friends in the last few years and some others have had big health scares. The older you get, the more funerals you seem to attend. My black suit has paid for itself many times over. As Epicurus said: "The art of living well and the art of dying well are one".

:: Tim McCarthy, street artist, street art tour guide and managing director of Blackfire Food, will be curating a special Feast of Fire at Belfast Mela Day on August 26 at Botanic Gardens. Festival details at