Meet the PSNI Chief In­spec­tor who’s set to play a panto dame

Ian Magee, who’s based in Col­eraine and headed up the Colin How­ell dou­ble mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, tells Ivan Lit­tle why he’s de­lighted to be swap­ping his uni­form for a dress and make-up to take to the stage in a Wizard of Oz fes­tive sea­son show

Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE -

Ello, ’ello, ’ello — top po­lice of­fi­cer and for­mer mur­der squad de­tec­tive Ian Magee cer­tainly won’t be in plain clothes next month as he takes cen­tre stage with an ar­rest­ing new role on a very dif­fer­ent beat in Portrush. In­stead, the PSNI chief in­spec­tor will be dressed up to the 999s as he dons a wig and dress to prove there ain’t noth­ing like a dame when he swaps his pants for panto.

Ian (50), who headed up the Colin How­ell dou­ble mur­der in­quiry, has copped for one of the lead roles in a Christ­mas cracker of a Yule­tide show in the Port’s Town Hall.

And Ian, who is based in Col­eraine, hopes au­di­ences will give up their right to si­lence to heckle him so that he can pay back their stick in spades.

Ian’s no stranger to pan­tomime, which is ac­knowl­edged as a very spe­cial branch of the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness.

This time he’s play­ing Aun­tie Em in a fresh twist on the clas­sic Wizard of Oz story. But as his new iden­tity is pa­raded in front of packed houses, he won’t be play­ing it just for laughs.

For Ian wants his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the panto to be seen as a pos­i­tive for the PSNI. Even though Ian will be heav­ily dis­guised, vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence will know who he is and what he does in his day job.

He says: “I take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity I can to pro­mote the PSNI. I’m show­ing peo­ple up here the softer side of polic­ing. And I like to think I’m con­stantly en­hanc­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of the force and break­ing down bar­ri­ers by let­ting ev­ery­one see I’m a fa­ther, a hus­band and that I’m just like them.”

Ian says he al­ways seeks ap­proval from PSNI head­quar­ters about his the­atri­cal ad­ven­tures. “I get won­der­ful sup­port from the PSNI, even though I’m al­ways slag­ging off ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing my­self and my po­lice col­leagues who I will some­times get up on stage.

“I al­ways take a wee peek out into the au­di­to­rium be­fore the cur­tain goes up to see who’s in and who I can pick on. They love it.”

What Ian would do if the Chief Con­sta­ble Ge­orge Hamilton turned up in the Town Hall out of the blue isn’t clear.

How­ever, as St Nick’s big day ap­proaches, law­man Ian con­fesses that he’s been do­ing a lit­tle bit of nick­ing of his own.

The man who’s had star­ring roles in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in the past ad­mits that he’s stolen a few ideas from the grand­est grand dame of them all, May McFet­tridge.

Ian says: “I model my­self on May. I was at the open­ing night of the Grand Opera House panto last week in Belfast to see May in Jack and the Beanstalk.

“And he was his-or-her usual hi­lar­i­ous self. So much so that I am bor­row­ing one or two of May’s best lines for our show, though I won’t be go­ing as near the knuckle.”

For Ian and his col­leagues it will be their fourth Christ­mas show since the panto idea was re­vived in Portrush af­ter a 20-year in­ter­mis­sion.

Ian, who has al­ways played the dame, says the sup­port that the Portrush Theatre Com­pany has been re­ceiv­ing from spon­sors in the town has been over­whelm­ing.

And he says the idea is to try to get as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble from the Port squeezed onto the Town Hall stage.

“We’ve got teach­ers, stu­dents, busi- ness peo­ple and bar owners on board,” he ex­plains. “The re­sponse to our ini­tial ap­peals for ac­tors was very en­cour­ag­ing.

“The in­ter­est in theatre in these parts is bril­liant. And don’t for­get that Jimmy Nes­bitt started in ama­teur pro­duc­tions up here. I’ll be look­ing for his sup­port the next time I see him at a Col­eraine foot­ball match.”

Ian says that not ev­ery­one in the Portrush Theatre Group has de­signs on star­dom, adding: “We are ex­tremely lucky to have tal­ented and will­ing peo­ple do­ing the mu­sic, the chore­og­ra­phy and the tech­ni­cal work as well.”

And his 10-year-old son Archie, who has ADHD and Asperger’s syn­drome, is play­ing one of the Munchkins. Ian says: “He en­joys get­ting up on stage. And it’s a great way for him to so­cialise. It’s fan­tas­tic for me, too, to have him on stage. He’s been in the shows be­fore and we have a bit of ban­ter be­tween us.”

One of the panto shows will be a free ‘sen­sory friendly’ per­for­mance for chil­dren with ADHD. The lights will stay up and the sound will be turned down to al­low the young­sters to do what­ever they want.

“It’s al­ways a fan­tas­tic night,” says Ian, who adds that panto fits The Bill for him per­fectly.

“I love ev­ery­thing about it,” says Ian. “I en­joy pranc­ing about the stage and I gen­uinely get a kick out of bright­en­ing up peo­ple’s lives. I know that sounds a lit­tle trite but it’s good to bring some light into the dark nights of win­ter.” For­tu­nately, Ian has been able to call on ex­pert help to as­sist him in his per­sonal prepa­ra­tions for panto. Grant O’Neill, who’s a drag queen in Portrush and play­ing the Scare­crow in the Oz show, helps Ian with his make-up.

And Bertha Huey, who’s pro­vided cos­tumes for Game of Thrones, makes the dresses for Ian whose life has taken a new di­rec­tion from his days as a pri­mary school teacher. He stud­ied at Stran­mil­lis Train­ing Col­lege in Belfast where he was pres­i­dent of the stu­dents’ union and where he got his first taste of theatre. How­ever, Ian even­tu­ally de­cided to swap the se­cure world of teach­ing for the se­cu­rity forces.

And he has gar­nered a wide range of ex­pe­ri­ence in the PSNI and be­fore that in the RUC.

He started off in uni­form in Lis­burn be­fore join­ing the pub­lic pro­tec­tion unit and he then moved to Mus­grave Street in Belfast as a cus­tody sergeant.

He worked in Bal­ly­cas­tle be­fore he was en­listed into the ma­jor mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion unit at May­down in Lon­don­derry.

Ian was one of the high-pro­file de­tec­tives in­volved in the Colin How­ell and Hazel Ste­wart mur­der case in Col­eraine. He was the PSNI of­fi­cer who gave ev­i­dence dur­ing the ini­tial court ap­pear­ances of the ac­cused who were later con­victed of mur­der­ing their spouses Les­ley How­ell and Trevor Buchanan and were jailed for life.

Nowa­days Ian is what is known as the En­gage­ment Chief In­spec­tor for the Cause­way Coast and Glens re­gion, which cov­ers a huge area in the north of the prov­ince.

His re­mit cen­tres on neigh­bour­hood polic­ing and com­mu­nity re­la­tions and he is reg­u­larly the pub­lic face of the PSNI.

He says he couldn’t be hap­pier in Col­eraine, adding: “We have a re­ally great

I al­ways take a wee peek be­fore the cur­tain goes up to see who I can pick on

team up here and it’s a fan­tas­tic sta­tion with good peo­ple. And our aim is to make a dif­fer­ence.

“The polic­ing work is re­ally var­ied. One minute you are deal­ing with runof-the-mill things and then you have some­thing like the North West 200 on your hands.

“And next year we have one of the big­gest sport­ing events on the planet com­ing with the Open golf at Royal Portrush.”

Ian, who lists cre­ative writ­ing as one of his hob­bies, has been re­cruited as one of the PSNI’S team to en­gage in li­ais­ing be­tween the or­gan­is­ers, po­lice and other in­ter­ested par­ties.

Ian plays the oc­ca­sional round of golf for fun. “I have my clubs in the back of the car and while I’m not very good, I like go­ing out on a Satur­day af­ter­noon for the craic.

“I used to play rugby and hockey but the more se­date pace of golf is bet­ter suited to men of a cer­tain age like me,” says Ian, who is very much at home on the north coast.

He says: “We bought a car­a­van at the start but quickly de­cided to get our­selves a house and that was 15 years ago. My wife Catherine and I are glad we put down our roots here.”

The only down­side for Ian is that he has a lot of trav­el­ling to do if he wants to watch his favourite foot­ball team Por­ta­d­own FC.

“I’m a fa­natic,” he says. “I have great me­mories of the good times with Ron­nie Mc­Fall’s red-and-white army. And I’m hop­ing they can get back into the big league from the Cham­pi­onship.

“I’m also look­ing for­ward to big things from my other team, Liver­pool.

“Oh, yes I am…”

The Won­der­ful Wizard of Oz will be staged at Portrush Town Hall on Jan­uary 11 and 12 and on Jan­uary 16, 17, 18 and 19. The Jan­uary 16 show will be a free ‘sen­sory friendly’ per­for­mance for chil­dren with ADHD

Fit­ting the Bill: Ian Magee at his day job and (left) incos­tume for panto


All dressed up: PSNI Chief In­spec­tor Ian Magee and (top and be­low) as the pan­tomine dame Aun­tie Em in Portrush Town Hall’s pro­duc­tion of TheWon­der­ful Wizard of Oz

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