I’ve always loved media. There’s something about TV, newspapers, radio and the whole public sphere thing that I love. As a teenager I did some work experience in the BBC and Belfast Telegraph as well as studying a City and Guilds course in Journalism. At university I wrote for the magazine, starred in 2 TV shows (still can’t believe I haven’t written about that yet) and appeared on 2 radio stations. Simultaneously I was editing a football fanzine. The public sphere and being with people is very much something I always knew I’d be working in. However, as I left Ethiopia on a media trip and flew to Hong Kong a few weeks back a major surprise was in store.
I checked my e-mails and the BBC had got in touch with me. BBC Northern Ireland. You might remember I went rafting in Slovenia a few years back on a BBC documentary. Well, if I thought that was my Andy Warhol moment, I’d have to think again. Totally unrelated this time, a journalist had somehow heard of me or got word about my travels with my Northern Ireland flag (if you follow my blog, don’t worry you’ll have seen the photos). Perhaps they saw this website that I set up last year…
I set up a website away from Don’t Stop Living, this website is for my photos of my Northern Ireland flag. It’s a site for photos only. Initially when I saw the e-mail I really believed it was a wind up. Mates wind me up all the time, but it really was a BBC journalist of course. I was kind of lucky with the timing of it, as I was in between an Africa tour and a visit to North Korea and I was catching up on some recent travel articles and work through my website. I was told that BBC Radio Ulster wanted to interview me based on my travels. Naturally I was pretty excited. I used to listen to Radio Ulster all the time as a child and youth. Particularly Mike Edgar’s Across the Line show and Sportsound every Saturday.
And since I’ve been away from Northern Ireland for 10 years now, 7 continents in and over 70 countries with about 50 jobs on the way it’s a nice time to get the call. That coupled with the fact I take my Northern Ireland flag everywhere with me was the niche the BBC wanted and I was chuffed actually. Plus, I’m not shy of being Northern Irish or promoting my country to the world, I’ve written articles for a load of sites on Northern Ireland such as on Suitcase Stories, We Blog the World and Santa Fe Travelers. I’ve just included Bangor and Belfast on an itinerary guide too.
So last night I went live on BBC Radio Ulster and I was interviewed by William Crawley on the excellent drive time show. Originally I was scheduled to be on the night before, but Belfast Poet Seamus Heaney died this week and that took centre stage of course! It was done as a call on Skype to my laptop from my mate Neil’s flat in Hong Kong. BBC Radio Ulster is on FM Radio throughout Northern Ireland and is available on the internet in most countries worldwide. I always use the webpages of BBC Northern Ireland to keep up to date with the news back home, to think I was now being broadcast was quite surreal, and yes I loved it. Why am I classing this as a “Working Wednesdays”? Quite simply because it acts as PR, as outreach, as another part of my travel blogging lifestyle, working can be a pleasure too you know as I’ve noticed during my working career.
Below is a rough transcript of the interview which is available to listen to for another seven days – Jonny Blair interview on BBC.
William in bold, myself in normal text.
“10 Years, more than 70 countries and one flag; Bangor man Jonny Blair is a full time traveller and he carries a reminder of home with him wherever he goes. I spoke to him earlier and started by asking him, where is he today?
William right now I’m actually in Hong Kong. I’m on the kind of west side of Hong Kong on a remote island before my next adventure on Friday.
Where are you off to on Friday?
I start off in Beijing so I’ll be flying into Beijing from Hong Kong and then a bit of an adventure I’m off to North Korea for the following week.
That could be a bit daunting, did you have any trouble getting into North Korea?
Basically at the moment I’ve been talking to a travel agent out there. They’re sorting out everything you know like the visas and all that so yeah it should be alright.
How long have you been travelling now, Jonny?
I actually left Bangor where I’m from I left there 10 years ago this month. The first few years I was a student, kind of a working student in the south of England and then I ended up going on a round the world trip and I got a wanderlust yeah a desire to see more of the world. I ended up moving to Australia, backpacked round South America, Asia and I’ve been to Africa a couple of times too and even Antarctica so it’s been quite a crazy trip.
How many countries have you been to so far?
My official count at the minute I think is 73.
Not to be too personal about all this Jonny but that sounds like it’s cost a fortune. How are you financing all of that?
Well to be honest I’ve had about 50 jobs along the way like. People think it must be an easy backpacking life but it hasn’t been like that. I mean I was working for a farm for about 5 months, you know 12 hours a day, 7 days a week yeah I did that for about 5 months just to save money, down in Tasmania in Australia. I’ve been working in a pub, as a teacher, as a host, kind of welcoming guests to events on Hong Kong Island and I’ve had a lot of travel opportunities come up recently. I’ve just started working on like an app. It’s like an app for the iPad and iPhone which will probably be out around Christmas time. It’s basically travel guides to cities and towns in the world. I’ve actually just done Belfast for them last week.
Well you sound like the man to do it – is this all still just wanderlust or do you have /have you set yourself a target of a certain number of countries you want to get to?
I am being a bit greedy but I would obviously would like to visit every country in the world.
What’s the country you’ve most enjoyed visiting so far?
Being a Northern Irishman like I do promote Northern Ireland a lot. I do tell people that you know you need to go and see the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills so I won’t hesitate to tell anyone that my favourite country is Northern Ireland. I’ll always say that but in terms of places I’ve been…Bolivia – loved it, Uruguay. Taiwan and in the last two and a half years, I’ve done quite a bit of travelling in China.
And you’re travelling with the old Ulster Banner the old Northern Ireland flag with you?
I travel with my Northern Ireland flag which is the one with the crown on it and the red hand that you know a lot of people recognise it as our flag, some people don’t, but for me it’s the flag that you know like the football team and people like Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have used the same flag so I’m quite proud of that and yeah I do take it everywhere with me.
It sounds like you should be made an ambassador for the Northern Ireland tourist board.
Well! Ha ha! Yeah – always big up Belfast!
Jonny Blair, and his flag.”
[end of interview]
It was nice to be on radio back home and my sister heard it and recorded it. Thanks to all at the BBC for the opportunity and hopefully I’ll be back someday. In the meantime, I’m off to Beijing then onwards to Pyongyang. Second time in North Korea for me, however this one is a proper trip rather than toptoeing in across the border at Panmunjom!