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changing times TV legend Julian Simmons suffered homophobic abuse when he first came out

Legendary UTV man a massive hit with fans at music festival

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Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

TV legend Julian Simmons says he's feeling the love in Northern Ireland after suffering homophobia when he first came out.

The former UTV continuity announcer was mobbed last weekend when he introduced superfan DJ Swoose at the AVA musical festival in Belfast.

He believes anti-gay abuse has been relegated to the past and his new generation of fans are a sign of a better future.

"As far as being gay is concerned, Northern Ireland has adjusted and embraced it," says Julian.

"I remember the catcalls on the street and people spitting on me from a van.

"The younger generation are not like that at all. Children are being taught tolerance in schools. People think I'm a gay icon now, but I don't think I'm an icon."

And Julian, who came out over a decade ago, says the trans community needs the same level of love.

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 Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

"The big thing now is people who are trans. That's when the eyebrows go up, but Belfast is embracing it.

"I wouldn't live anywhere else in the world and I think it should be compulsory for people to spend six months away from here to see what a wonderful place we live in."

It's been a year since Julian made his final continuity announcement on UTV and six years since he was last on screen, bowing out with style in a tuxedo.

He was the longest serving continuity announcer on any TV channel in the UK and Ireland, clocking up 30 years and a huge fan following for his quirky soap introductions. Julian once told viewers a dodgy Corrie character had a 'nose like a cooker hood'.

But fans greet him like he's still on screen and his reception at the music festival was no exception.

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"The kids were telling me I'm a legend," he says. "It makes me realise I'm very fortunate. Younger people like me, senior citizens seem to like me, and people who have been watching me since their childhoods. I'm a very lucky person.

"I was in Portmarnock recently and it was like being in the middle of Donegall Place. There were people from Dublin and Limerick and there were people saying they missed me off the telly.

"I have one of those horrendous faces that people never forget, because it looks like someone has sat on it."

Julian, a former Air Canada flight attendant, says he's used to being recognised, and his oddest experience was in Hong Kong.

"I was on an escalator in the Hong Kong underground when suddenly this whole load of Chinese schoolchildren are saying 'you're Julian.'

"They were all boarding at schools in Belfast and they were home for the summer and recognised me on the underground."

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Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

Julian Simmons meets music fans at the AVA Festival in Belfast. Pic Pacemaker

He admits he misses the old days of UTV when he was based in Havelock House, before it was bought over by ITV and moved to Clarendon Dock in Belfast.

He's currently got a few new projects and hosting invitations bubbling under and is ready for anything that life throws at him at the age of just 42 and three quarters.

"If I can deal with a bishop's wife getting off a plane who has done everything in her pants, I can deal with anything. I said to her 'it could happen to a bishop'," he recalled.

"I put her in the shower, and she travelled on in a surgical gown split up the back with her coat buttoned over it.

"I also helped a woman give birth in Terminal 3 in Heathrow in a lift. She was wearing a burqa through the whole experience, so I never saw her face, but I saw everything else."

DJ Swoose, the international house and techno artist who got the unexpected introduction from Julian last weekend, says he's been a fan for years.

The performer, whose real name is Danny Simpson, had a similar Simmons surprise for his 30th birthday two years ago when his parents travelled from Belfast to his London home with bespoke T-shirts printed with pictures of Julian striking a disco pose.

"I always thought he was hilarious introducing the soaps. He is a Belfast legend," says Danny.

"He's flamboyant and he's out there and people love him because he does what he does, and he doesn't care about anyone else."

Julian isn't sure if he'll become a regular festival fixture, but he's a big techno fan from his Ibiza days.

He's making the most of his free time by revisiting his favourite haunts around the world.

Madeira and Dubai are on his current travel itinerary and he's planning his first trip to New Zealand.

"In Dubai I'm meeting up with a friend who started in Heathrow the same day as me. I'd transferred from Belfast and he's transferred from the post room, and now he's a vice president of Emirates.

"Travelling has been a part of my life for years and I love flying. I'm going to keep doing that until they put me in a box," says Julian.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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