For such a small country Northern Ireland definitely makes a big noise.
With Game of Thrones being filmed here as well as prominent actors such as Liam Neeson, Jamie Dornan and James Nesbitt doing their bit in Hollywood, NI is being mentioned in more positive tones around the world.
That’s all the obvious stuff out of the way, so here’s a list (extended) of celebrities with lesser known links to our wee country…
1. Dec (From Ant and Dec)
Declan Donnelly (the one on the right) formerly of the Geordie Pop duo PJ and Duncan has been one half of the UK’s top entertainment duo for over 20 years now.
Even though Ant and Dec’s song ‘We’re On the Ball’ was used for the 2002 England world cup song, Dec actually has strong ties to this part of the world. His parents are both from Desertmartin in Magherafelt and some of his siblings were born here.
2. Daniel Radcliffe
Not many people know that the Harry Potter actor has roots in Northern Ireland. The actor’s father, Alan hails from Banbridge, County Down and went to Banbridge Academy.
This came in handy in 2013 while Daniel was perfecting his Irish accent for his role in the ‘Cripple of Inishmaan’ play.
3. Angela Lansbury
You may know her as the woman from ‘Murder She Wrote’, that afternoon television classic with catchy theme tune and painfully contrived scenarios where people just seem to die all around her wherever she goes.
But next time you are stuck in the house on a Tuesday afternoon and can’t understand why you feel such a strong connection to super sleuth Jessica Fletcher on the television perhaps it is because her mother was Belfast born actress Moyna MacGill.
4. Brad Pitt
I will take shout outs to Northern Ireland in movies whatever way I can get them. Even if it means Brad Pitt making a shocking attempt at a Norn Irish accent during the 1997 movie ‘The Devils Own’. I still feel chuffed that at some point in his life Brad had to sit down practice saying ‘Curry chip and two pastie baps’ over and over again in our Ulster Brogue.
Unfortunately Brad’s time in mid 90s Belfast will not contain fond memories. While ‘perfecting’ his accent he was reportedly attacked by a group of paramilitaries who believed he was a British Spy. How anyone thought this is beyond me. A guy that good looking in Belfast would stick out like a sore thumb. Not exactly spy material.
5. Lambert Wilson
This name may not mean much to you until you watch the poor follow up to 1999’s The Matrix. The best scene in the otherwise dire Matrix Reloaded belongs to the Merovingian character portrayed by Lambert Wilson.
More famous in French cinema, this actor’s brief dialogue in the sequel will make you want to learn French just so you can swear in it.
Another little known fact about this actor is that his mum was a model from Omagh and he often spent summers there as a child. Feel free to mention this to your friends the next time you come across this masterpiece on ITV2 on a Thursday night. Bringing up topics like this is a good way to lose friends quickly.
6. Darius Danesh
Sadly it’s true. The man who gave the unforgettable (even though we’ve tried to) performance of ‘Hit me Baby One More Time’ on PopStars back in 2001 has links to County Antrim.
Even though we can deny it and pretend he is Scottish, Darius wrote in a 2005 article about how his relatives from Ballymena have given him a love of Guinness and the Corrs. You’re Welcome Scotland. We can keep this one quiet.
7. David Tennant
5 years ago the Tardis was in the capable hands of Shakespearean actor David Tennant. Like Darius this guy is most definitely Scottish. But when taking a closer look at his family tree for the BBC show ‘Who Do you Think You Are?’ in 2009 revealed his great-grandparents played a key role in big historical moments here. William Blair played for Derry City and also signed the Ulster Covenant. Sounds like quite a confused chap. If only there was a way David Tennant could time travel and find out what he was thinking…
8. Sam Neill
One of my earliest memories is that of being a dinosaur crazy 7 year old and being taken to Glengormley for a family meal at the now defunct Huckleberry’s restaurant followed by a trip to the cinema to witness the movie which will forever be etched in my memory, Jurassic Park.
Who knew that ripples going through a glass of water could cause such terror in an audience? Headlining the cast of this masterpiece was Sam Neill. It was only after several years I discovered that Sam was actually born in Omagh and lived there for the early years of his life before moving to New Zealand in 1954.
9. Michael Fassbender
Traditionally Larne is the place in Northern Ireland that gets the most slagging. Such phrases as ‘It could be worse, you could be living in Larne’ and ‘Don’t worry son, we will only be in Larne for 20 minutes…the ferry is leaving soon’’ are common in local Ulster culture.
Personally I think Larne has a lot of potential as a town and could one day be a great place to visit and that’s in spite of failing my driving test there 4 times!
Another good thing about Larne is that Michael Fassbender’s mum hails from there. Though the Fassbender family spent most of their time between the Republic of Ireland and Germany every time you watch ‘X-men:First Class’ or ‘12 Years a Slave’ you can now admire what has to be the finest genetic information to come out of Larne in years.
10. Jackie Woodburne
Just in case you didn’t know I couldn’t write an article about famous people with Northern Irish connections without mentioning Jackie Woodburne.
For decades now Susan Kennedy has been involved in some of the most gripping storylines with her on screen husband Karl on the hit Australian TV show ‘Neighbours’. No one who watched the moment Susan slapped Karl back in 1998 after discovering that Karl had cheated on her with Sarah will ever forget it. Nor will they forget how she had amnesia, has been married to Karl twice and Rachel Kinski’s dad once, has survived a plane crash and been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis among other key storylines.
Originally Jackie was born in Carrickfergus and grew up in Whitehead, County Antrim. Jackie reports that she had to hide her Northern Irish accent early on in her acting career. All I can say is that if Susan threatened Karl in her native accent he would definitely never cheat on her again and he would make her breakfast every morning.
11. James Hewitt
Lieutenant James has made his name on the back of an affair he had with Lady Diana back in the 80s.
Rumours persist that he is the biological father of Prince Harry. Who knows if this is true but I would love it if the DNA test was revealed live on the ‘Jeremy Kyle Show’… Surely that would be a ratings winner!
James Hewitt makes this list because he was born in Derry/Londonderry/Stroke City/Wherever before moving to Kent in England. Does this mean Prince Harry is Northern Irish too?
12. Eddie Izzard
Cross Dressing, Cross Countries Marathon runner Eddie Izzard is one of the UK’s top stand-up comedians. While running 43 marathons in 51 days across the UK in 2009 he took time during his trip to visit Bangor, County Down.
Eddie has a fascinating background, being born in Aden (now Yemen) and living in various parts of the UK. But Eddie spent his early childhood in Bangor and, as mentioned in the BBC documentary charting his marathon runs, he has fond memories of the place.
The host of ‘Tarrant on TV’ and ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ spends a lot of time in Bellaghy, Omagh and Crossmaglen on his holidays.
He describes Northern Ireland as one of the best places to go Pike Fishing in the world. So if you ever meet him on his travels while he his fishing it would be a good idea to go up to him and shout ‘Oi Chris, can I use a lifeline and phone a friend or can I use your fishing line?’ I’m sure he would love that.
14. Peter Kay
Ask people across Britain who their favourite comedian was 10 years ago and they will probably mention this guy. During his classic jokes about garlic bread and dipping biscuits in his tea he often impersonated his mother.
Peter’s near perfect of the Northern Irish accent is because his mother and father are both from Coalisland, County Tyrone. He used this as the basis for his character Geraldine in Channel 4’s ‘Britian’s got the Pop Factor’
15. Shakin Stevens
Shakin Stevens, otherwise known as Michael Barratt took advantage of that brief moment in the 80’s when people forgot what good music, style and taste was to rise to the top of the musical charts. Hits such as ‘This Ole House’, ‘Shakey’ and ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ have made the Welsh Elvis a very wealthy man.
However, an incident at a Christmas Concert in 2008 in the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena is one he would probably rather forget. During a concert Shakin Stevens deliberately damaged the camera of a local fan at the show. The whole escapade eventually ended up in court where Michael had to pay a small fine.
However, not many stars of the silver screen can say they have spent time roughing it in Aughnacloy.
This is exactly what star of Luther and The Wire Idris Elba has been doing as he is participating in the Circuit of Ireland Rally. The man, touted as a future James Bond, spent time tearing up the track in County Tyrone this April as part of a documentary he is filming for the Discovery Channel.
Things didn’t go exactly to plan as he crashed his Ford Fiesta R1 during a test drive!!! Stick to Nelson Mandela impersonations lad….
17. Bear Grylls
Survival expert and Chief Scout master, Edward Michael ‘Bear’ Grylls spent his early childhood in Donaghadee, County Down.
After leaving these shores at the age of 4 he went on to be educated at Eton, climb Everest at 23 and help Will Ferrell survive in the wilderness.
And the one that got away…
Perhaps my favourite Urban Legend about Northern Ireland concerns this man. Back in 2005 while promoting their double sided album ‘In Your Honour’ Dave revealed to Colin Murray the most tedious of links to Northern Ireland on Radio 1. Dave Grohl grew up in various towns across the East Coast of America but it all could have been so different.
Back in the 80s Dave Grohl’s mother, Virginia was a high school English teacher and was set to do a ‘Work Exchange’ programme with a woman from Downpatrick.
The Grohl family was all set to move to the province when a family emergency happened to the exchange family moving in the other direction. Dave Grohl and his family never set foot in Downpatrick but think of how different the musical landscape would be had this have happened.
With Dave Grohl as the drummer, Ash could have become one of the biggest bands in the world and Nirvana… well I’m sure they would have got another drummer and done alright too!
A shorter version of this article was published at Belfast Vibe
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