Belfast Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl: I've learned that it's much better to be respected than liked

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast Lord Mayor, Kate Nicholl

Belfast Mayor Kate Nicholl. Picture by Mal McCann.
Gail Bell

Belfast Mayor Kate Nicholl. Picture by Mal McCann.


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

My alarm goes at 6.45am and I scroll quickly through my phone to see if any urgent emails or messages have come through during the night. I make breakfast while my husband, Fergal, gets Cian (aged two) up and dressed and we all eat together. If I'm driving to work, I'll drop Cian at creche on the way in; if I'm cycling, then Fergal will take him.


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

I eat porridge every single day of the week - very boring - but for the sanity of others it's important I am not hungry by mid-morning.


If I'm organised, I'll make a salad and a sandwich or bring in some soup. Otherwise, I'll pop down to the Bobbin Café in City Hall.

Evening meal?

I love to cook but because of my schedule I now cook for the week on Sundays - I make things that are toddler-friendly and can be heated up quickly. At the moment we eat a lot of pasta bakes and shepherd's pies - not my favourite food, but definitely the easiest.


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

I was on maternity leave when the first lockdown hit and when I went back, I only worked from home. I became Lord Mayor in June - I frequently work seven day weeks - so I've gone from barely leaving the house to hardly being in it. I was happy working at home, but much prefer being out and about and with people every day.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

My mum has a chicken recipe - chicken thighs cooked in soy sauce, honey, garlic and turmeric - eaten with rice, which was always what we requested for our birthday meals as kids. It's very quick and easy and still my favourite thing to eat.


Weekend treat?

We don't get takeaways very often but it's a treat to eat brunch out - General Merchants on the Ormeau Road or the Bay Tree in Holywood are two of my favourite places. On Sunday morning, Fergal will often get pastries or we'll get coffee out and take them to the park.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

During lockdown, I started training with Thomas Donaghy who has a great online programme called LiFT - you can do classes live on Zoom or catch-up on YouTube... and he doesn't stop you from drinking wine. I also went running with a close friend. I'm doing less of that now and really miss it.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

I cycle to and from City Hall fairly regularly and fit in one of Thomas's YouTube classes or yoga when I can. Exercise has gone by the wayside a bit for me, especially since I found out I was pregnant - I'm hoping I'll have a bit more energy now I'm into my second trimester.


How do you relax?

Heaven to me is a bubble bath and a podcast (at the moment New York Times Modern Love Stories).


Teetotal or tipple?

Teetotal currently... but I'll be back to supporting the South African wine industry when I've had my baby in about six months' time.


What book are you currently reading?

I have a pile of books next to my bed and I'm a third of the way through all of them. I'm re-reading The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill - it's the best pregnancy book of the thousands I read last time.


Best Netflix?

Political documentaries or pure trash are my favourite genres.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

That it's much better to be respected than liked. I've been a people-pleaser all my life and confrontation is something I've avoided. I've learnt that it's important to find common ground and to work together when you can, but it's essential you stand up for yourself, your beliefs and for others if you want to get things done.


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

I really didn't have bad cabin fever at any point - mainly because I was looking after a small baby - but I missed my parents and friends.


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

My parents, my friends and visiting constituents.


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

I'm hoping to get to South Africa. So many relatives are there still and haven't met Cian. We'll have a new baby when my term of office is over, so that will be a high priority.


Biggest gripe?

People not taking responsibility really infuriates me.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Definitely. Since having Cian I've realised that I can only justify the time demands of being in politics if I'm making a difference and doing it with integrity. I started a masters in marketing so I'd have other options if I felt I wasn't doing it for the right reasons anymore.


Any new skills or hobbies?

Time management is an improved skill.


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

In many ways, Covid has exposed the very deep inequalities which exist in our society, but it has also exposed the deep sense of compassion and community which exists.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I suppose I've become more accepting of the inevitable. I've always been afraid to die - it used to be because I was afraid of not having had a full life, but now it's the thought of my children and those I love most not knowing how much they mean to me.

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