Interview and Photo Shoot: Deirdre Heenan

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Deirdre Heenan, an Academic, Author, Political Commentator and Professor at Ulster University meets with THE STYLE EDIT creative photo shoot team in HOUSE, Belfast. Jenny Taggart takes a break from shooting to learn about her opinions on fashion and motherhood, as well as gaining an insight into her political career…


I believe I was very much shaped by being brought up on a family farm where everyone worked together to keep the farm going. Running a family farm is the ultimate team business, one where the work and rewards are shared. It instilled a work ethic and also meant I am never afraid to get my hands dirty. Gathering potatoes, bringing in hay and dehorning cattle are experiences that live with you forever. I also think being brought up in an isolated rural area taught me how to find contentment in simple things such as going for a walk, reading a book or sitting daydreaming. The potent smells of cut grass, the farmhouse and nature are at my core.


My three sons are Jack 22, Harry 20 and Matthew 18 – raising them has been a complete joy. Yes juggling everything when they were young was demanding and exhausting but so, so rewarding. They are unfiltered, honest, funny and unapologetically loving.

Quality of life:

A life lesson that I have learnt, is that quality of life is about quality of relationships. It’s not about followers, online friends or re-tweets. It is about spending time and creating memories with the people who matter to you. It is about being in the moment and giving the moment your fullest attention.

“A life lesson that I have learnt, is that quality of life is about quality of relationships”

Favourite city:

My favourite city in the world is New York. As a student I spent my summers working along the East Coast of the USA, doing varied jobs including a chambermaid, waitress, receptionist and fun-fair attendant. After work my friends and I spent time in New York, it was fabulous – except in 7 days we probably spent half of what we had earned in 10 weeks!


I am fanatical about sport, especially football, and have been a fan of Manchester United all my life. Going to Old Trafford is always special. I was thrilled to be asked to be a patron of the Harry Gregg Foundation and get to know the man that truly is a living legend. The HGF is a local charity promoting positive changes and providing opportunities to fulfill dreams.


It’s okay to love fashion. Imagine having to say that in 2018. Some people still think that my interest in clothes and fashion is incompatible with being a professor. Females have always been judged by their appearance, not least by other females. Women in public life, in so called serious professions such as academia, law, medicine and politics have to dress in a way that means that they are taken seriously and yet look feminine and womanly. Fitting in with preconceived ideas can be treading a fine line… My view is that fashion is all about feeling comfortable in your own skin, feeling good about yourself and projecting your confidence. Stereotypes are there to be challenged. Loving fashion and style is neither superficial nor frivolous.

“It’s okay to love fashion”


I have always loved clothes and fashion. I have two older and two younger sisters, and used to love watching my older sisters getting ready to go out. I was one of those pain in the ass little sisters who was always in the way and asking questions. No-one is body-perfect everyone had something that they want to change. I think it’s important to work out your own strengths and play to them. Women can be creative with their choices and have fun with fashion. Whilst I often complain about how easy it is for a man to dress, just put on a suit and that’s it, in reality I feel a little sorry for them.

Style icon:

Jackie Kennedy. Her attention to detail with perfectly coordinated, well cut, outfits that were perfectly suited for her shape and size made looking chic seem so effortless. Whether it was in a ball gown or cigarette trousers and a denim shirt, she was coolness personified. Secondly, my mother. She bought two new outfits every year, one for Easter and one for Christmas. This required a considerable amount of deliberation, as clothes were an investment and something that would have to stand the test of time. She instilled in me the importance of good quality fabrics and well cut clothes. I am also a believer in quality over quantity and price per wear – some of my favourite jackets and coats are decades old.

Wardrobe go-tos:

I think every woman should have favourite go-tos in her wardrobe! Those great high-heeled shoes, well cut trousers and a no-fuss shirt – pieces that don’t require a lot of effort or thought but still look stylish.

Favourite song:

My favourite song would be Chris Issak’s Wicked Game. “The world was on fire and no-one could save me but you” – what a line!

Favourite film:

It’s difficult to choose just one! My top three are: On the Waterfront, Rear Window and Double Indemnity.

Favourite book:

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. I read this book in one sitting. It’s only 200 pages and the story seems simple, the wedding night of two people in love. It’s a love story but not in a typical way. For such a short book it packs quite a devastating emotional punch. Not a comfortable read but definitely memorable.

The beauty product:

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream, a classic that soothes and relieves chapped lips and keeps my unruly eyebrows tamed. Always in my handbag and car.

The holiday:

The best holidays have definitely been with my husband and children in Donegal. The rugged, wild beauty, the beaches, the food and very, very occasionally – the weather!

The hotel:

I have a soft spot for The Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, County Down. Looking out onto the Mourne Mountains transports me straight back to my childhood in Co. Down.

Pet hate:

Self-service checkouts. It’s that shouty voice that chastises “unexpected item in the bagging area” I have just scanned it! Why are you not expecting it? I would much rather queue.

Secondly, whether is it eating loudly, kicking the seats, snogging, talking, texting, answering the phone, googling, arriving late, slurping slushy drinks or taking their shoes off, there is nothing more annoying than an inconsiderate cinema-goer.

The vice:

Diet Coke.

The virtue:

Exercise and good food.

A memorable moment:

Sitting in my office in January 2012 and getting a call from the Irish President to ask me to be on his ‘seven personal nominees’ was a totally unexpected honour and privilege. It has been an incredible experience from attending historic events such as the first Irish presidential visit to meet the Queen at Windsor Castle, to hosting one of the President’s first visits to the North.


I have been in paid employment since I was thirteen years old. I had a Saturday job working on the record counter in Woolworths in Banbridge and I loved it. The only downside was the blue and white checked dress nylon dress that gave you an electric shock every time you touched metal. Regulation also stated brown nylons, arghh. I did try black but it was a no-no. American Tan or nothing!


I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after I left Banbridge Academy, but fortunately my mother’s strong belief often reiterated that a little education was easily carried. She didn’t try to push any of us into certain careers or paths in life, but felt that it was important to have as many choices as possible.

After coming top of my degree in Social Policy I went on to complete a PHD in the same subject. From then on my path was in academia, moving from a part-time lecturer to Pro-Vice Chancellor of Communication. Being made a Professor is a major milestone in academia and I can remember dancing around the sofa with the letter in my hand and my children looking at me as if I was quite bonkers.

Shortly after I started teaching in University I quickly realized that I didn’t know how to teach and was keen to learn. I completed a postgraduate certificate in Education, followed by a Masters in Education. I was thrilled when I was awarded a Distinguished Teaching Award by Ulster University followed by a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy, as it meant that the hard work had paid off.

I count myself as very fortunate to have found a career that was made for me. I am still fascinated by politics, political systems, healthcare and education – and I now write and research in all of these areas. I have just co-authored a book on the healthcare policy in the UK and there is still a great sense of achievement to get your work published.

“I can remember dancing around the sofa with the letter in my hand and my children looking at me as if I was quite bonkers”

The piece of advice:

There is no blueprint for success and happiness. Success comes in different guises and your whole identity is not defined by your career. Success is not just about work: I am a mother, daughter, godmother, wife, sister, mentor, friend, volunteer, and the list goes on. Work is a huge part of who I am, but it is not the only thing.  

A valued friend of mine once told me: “In life you should measure twice and cut once” and these words of wisdom have proved to be invaluable. Never act in haste but think carefully before embarking on a course of action.

Advice you’d give your younger self:

Don’t waste your time trying to be someone else, be the best version of yourself. Also being healthy does not mean losing weight, or looking a certain way, it’s about accepting yourself and embracing the elements that make you unique.

Advice you’d give to students:

Be kind. Intelligence is a gift and many of you are fortunate enough to be blessed with intelligence, but kindness is a choice. People will not always remember if they met you, but they will remember how you made them feel. It costs nothing to be kind.


Many women remain reluctant to declare that they are ambitious as it can still hold negative connotations such as selfishness, pushiness and arrogance. Ambition has to be discussed in hushed tones as though it was a guilty secret. There are more opportunities than ever for women and they shouldn’t be afraid to discuss their goals and pursue them without guilt.


The quest for perfection is exhausting, unrealistic and unattainable. We know this and yet its still possible to spend a lot of energy thinking about it. In truth most of us are drawn to people who are authentic, down-to-earth and seem a little disorganised. It’s easy to get sucked into “we are never, rich, thin, beautiful, kind, tall, dynamic, popular, accomplished enough”. One of the greatest challenges is to accept our own worth.

Let’s talk about ageing…

I believe that when it comes to style or indeed almost anything else, age is just a number. If you are lucky, ageing is part of life and we should embrace it rather than let it define us. If you feel good, it radiates through. My 40s have been by far my best decade and I’m grateful to be here. The passing of time doesn’t bother me – I still feel 24! Lamenting about getting old or ageing is just a waste of time. It wasn’t so long ago women over 40 had to cut their hair, go grey, ditch the jeans, wear a girdle and sensible shoes. We’ve come a long way!

Gender pay gap:

Paying men and women differently for the same job is illegal. Having a gap between average pay for men and women is not. However every time this debate is reignited we hear the same old tired myths trotted out.

Women choose to be in part-time junior roles, it’s not really that bad, having children is a lifestyle choice, women are too meek, they just need to lean in and ask for more money. Iceland’s move is a recognition that there is a systemic problem which needs to be addressed. New legislation was required as the old laws were inadequate. Unequal pay is already illegal in UK, but Iceland is requiring employers to demonstrate that they have proactively addressed the issue. Long term we need to address gender stereotyping, review recruitment and promotion practices, ensure information on pay is published and review parental policies. Childcare in Northern Ireland is amongst the most expensive in the world. It is a shocking six times the maximum payable in Sweden. We were promised a regional childcare strategy to tackle affordability and availability of flexible childcare which would support economic growth by 2013. But guess what? It never materialised.

The 30% Club was founded in the UK in 2010 to ensure that more women progress through the executive pipeline. I am a member of their working group on Higher Education which focuses on diversity in universities and aims to address the gender pay gap across the sector. It is crucial that we value women for their talent and ensure that their gender is never a barrier to success.

100 years of women voting:

The 6th February 2018 is a momentous day as it marks 100 years since (some) women finally gained the right to vote (and coincidentally it just happens to be my birthday!). We should mark this centenary and celebrate the achievements of the women’s movement, whilst recognising that in some cases progress has been remarkably slow. I voted at the first opportunity that I could and at every opportunity since. For me, it is a central exercise in democratic rights and duty. It speaks to my sense of self and is a crucial part of being a citizen. Yes of course you can be disillusioned, disaffected by politics, and feel excluded, but democracy is not a spectator sport. Stand up and be counted.

Photo Shoot Creative Team
Photography by Hernan Farias
Styling by Jenny Taggart
Hair & Make-up by Olivia Muldoon
Location: House, Belfast
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