A modern Christmas hero

A modern Christmas hero Paul Clark
Forget Clark Kent, journalist Paul Clark is the real superhero of Christmas, writes Colm Fitzpatrick


There’s a pervasive feeling in today’s society that the enchantment of Christmas disappears as we get older, but for television presenter and journalist Paul Clark, the magic of this festive season is still alive and well.

The UTV reporter, who has been a mainstay feature of people’s evenings for decades, says he looks forward to Christmas as a time to celebrate life, love and God.

“Christmas is an extremely important event and I’ve always viewed it primarily as a religious festival. Having been born and brought up Catholic, having been an altar boy, it was always something that was very special and you know the religion that I grew up with I learnt from my mum and dad and I feel that very strongly – the Christianity that I have comes from them,” he tells The Irish Catholic.

As a young boy, they worshipped as a family and would have attended Mass on Christmas day or midnight Mass, while as an altar boy Paul also went to the service on the morning itself.

“So, Christmas has always been a very special time and the preparation for it as well, through Advent, so I’ve never viewed it alone as something that is just for the giving and taking of presents. I view it very much as the greatest present that anyone could be given and that is the presence of Jesus. The baby that came down at Bethlehem.”


While most Irish households celebrate Christmas in the same way, the day for Paul and his family – his wife Carol and two children, Peter and David – doesn’t follow this almost universal structure. Instead of waking up to open presents and then gorging on a homemade dinner, the Clarks’ day begins with a visit to the Northern Ireland Hospice of which Paul is president.

“We’ve been doing this for years and Christmas would not be Christmas if we did not go to the hospice on Christmas morning. They always try and get as many of the patients home as is possible but those who are too sick, who cannot be moved, they’re the ones who remain and everybody knows it’s going to be their last Christmas on planet earth.

“And in the hospice, they try and make them as comfortable as possible – they invite the families to come in, they have Christmas dinner there insofar as they can,” he explains.

“And I would go along in the morning with the family, and the chaplains in the hospice they always have a carol service so there’s always that. So, there’ll be carols being sung and members of staff would be there and also family members would come along and be invited to take part and there would be a short reflective moment as well which is very much a part of it.”


Paul says that during these visits, he listens to those who are sick and has “remarkable conversations” about faith and spirituality, which helps both him and them to remember that death is not the end of existence but really just another step in the journey of life.

Paul recalls one standout experience at a hospice some years ago which he describes as a “beautiful encounter” with Dromore-based priest, Fr Martin McAlinden, who died of cancer in 2016 aged 51. These types of interactions, Paul explains, gives him a greater appreciation of his own life, allowing him to live more fully in the present.

“Well here’s the thing, the mere fact that Carol and Peter and David will come with me to the hospice as a family, that brings us closer together and that reminds us of how lucky we are at this particular time but we are always mindful, and I certainly am, we are always mindful of our mortality.

“As Pope Paul VI famously said: ‘We all have only so many tomorrows’ – and I hope that I have a few more,” he says.

“I’m reminded of the wonderful work that the hospice nurses do and the people in staff there do and so often they go above and beyond the call of duty – it’s more than a job, it is a vocation, it is a calling. And I like to be reminded of how lucky I am and I say Christmas reminds me of that at the hospice and also whenever I’m at home with the family because I have to say I’m not at home often enough so I do look forward to being at home for a few days.”


Given the busyness of their Christmas morning, Paul and his family don’t have a normal Christmas dinner but instead opt for a ready meal which can be made quickly and tends to be just as satisfying, if not more so.

“In the past I’ve stuffed myself, I’ve eaten too much, and who among us doesn’t and you’re just so bloated you can do nothing else for the rest of the day. So actually, the ready meals that we buy, we buy four individual ready meals and they provide us with more than enough, so there’s room for a bit more at the end of the day.

“So, what I’m doing is buying into this culture of what you might call TV dinners but I order them up and I make sure that I have them and then I add a few extras to make them just that little bit more palatable! And guess what, that’s the way we’ve done it for the past number of years and it works,” Paul says.

While the TV presenter is content about how he celebrates Christmas today, Paul says that his understanding of Christmas has shifted over time and deepened in many ways. He notes that becoming a father three decades ago brought back the spirit of the festive season that he had previously lost.

“I think that I had lost the spirit of Christmas many years ago because you’re no longer a child, you’re no longer living in the bosom of the family, so therefore it’s not the way it was – it’s not what you remember as a child. But it actually came alive for me again when I had my own children.

“So, Peter is 30, David is almost 28 now so whenever they came along again, I discovered the magic of Christmas again. It was rekindled in me and I began to understand what it must have been like for my parents.”

Paul adds that Christmas represents the “best in us”, because during this time we try and behave in a more benevolent way than usual, pointing out that it can be easy to take the significance of the day for granted. As a result of this deep love and appreciation of Christmas, he strives to focus on the spiritual importance of the day, rather than viewing it on a two-dimensional level.

“I think increasingly we as a people of faith – we are not asked always to do but we are asked to be and I think that sometimes all you have to do is just to be there not do something, but just to be there with people. And I’m also mindful of the fact that there are a lot of people for whom Christmas is not happy.

“You know we use this line ‘Happy Christmas’ – what does that really mean? Particularly in the hospice environment where I’m very close, you are mindful that there are people who are going to have a very unhappy Christmas because somebody isn’t going to be there. There’s going to be a missing place at the table. So, I’m always trying to be very mindful of the language that I use when I’m talking to people.

“I try not to say have a ‘Happy Christmas’ in that environment because I know that deep down it’s going to be anything but a happy Christmas,” he says.


Given the fragility of life, Paul is keen to spend time with his family and friends as much as possible during the Christmas holidays, and celebrate what it means to be alive.

“I like to spend Christmas day at home but we haven’t got a huge extended family but there is an extended family and we tend to spend the days after Christmas visiting them or having them at the house.

“So, you know mum and dad will come down one day between Christmas and the new year. Carol’s mother is very frail, she’s in a nursing home so actually we will visit her on Christmas day after the hospice and before we come home.”

Indeed, Paul’s family, in particular his own parents, have played a formative role in his life and have allowed him to become the man he is today. While he says that as a child, he still remembers receiving a present of a toy dog on four wheels which he called ‘Gaggy’, this gift was nothing compared to what values his parents instilled in him.

“I think the greatest present of all that I can say is the love and the affirmation that I have gained from my mum and dad. It’s totally unconditional and guess what, I will be 65 just before Christmas, and my mum and dad are both still very much alive, hale and hearty, and they know how much I love them and this is an opportunity for me to say the values they have instilled in me from childhood are the values that live with me till this day,” he says.

Behind this unwavering love for friend or stranger, is his strong faith that guides him every day. Although now a practicing Presbyterian, Paul says he brings his Catholicism with him on his faith journey, adding that rather than focusing on denominations, he sees himself as Christian and as part of that huge family of Christ.

“I am surrounded largely by people of faith and the conversations that we would have would revolve around the real meaning of festivals like Christmas rather than the two-dimensional one where it’s just about the here and now and having a good time. I tend not to have a massive hangover on New Year’s Day because in truth I’m trying to live everyday not so much as it’s Christmas day but I’m trying to live every day the way God would want.”