FACETOFACE with Noel Thompson; Music Much in the Mind amid All the Questioning

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NOEL Thompson is far too interesting to waste time talking to about politics. Besides, how do you question the question master? Much safer, easier and enjoyable to find out what the face of BBC Northern Ireland politics gets up to when the studio lights go out.

There's the 19th century French poetry, the choral music, the 17th century history and the time he jacked in his job at the BBC and headed off around the world for starters.

Belfast-born Noel seems to find more hours in the day than most people. Despite his huge commitments to presenting BBC Newsline four nights a week and then Hearts and Minds every Thursday, he regularly performs in the Castle Ward Opera Society, strums his guitar and has taken up the piano.

It's a different keyboard than most journalists are used to, and the Cambridge graduate admits he's only dabbling.

"I played the piano when I was nine but was useless,' he says. "My wife wanted to learn the piano and we bought one last Christmas and I have been playing half-an-hour a day since.''

He leaves to get coffee and sings to himself in the kitchen. He is renowned around Broadcasting House for his unofficial soundtrack.

"Music is part of the fabric of my life,' he says. "I do something every day. I sing all the time. People round the BBC say they know it's me before they see me because they can hear me coming.

"Music is how I unwind. It's something I have always done. I'm a half- decent chorus singer. It's not about achievement " it's about being part of something else.''

He is part of a quite significant something else. For 20 years, he was in the Belfast Philharmonic Society and now makes do with appearing for the Castle Ward Operatic Society.

"It's my 10th year as a member. It's fantastically enjoyable but hard work at times,' he says.

"There's a big commitment for two-and-a-half months. From the start of the year, there's rehearsals and then, into April, the musical director will come along and whip us into shape and then there are the 14 or 15 performances at Castle Ward.

"For all of us, it's a big commitment, trekking down there at the end of a day's work.''

If he ever lost the passion for journalism, Noel would definitely like to branch out into music in some way.

"One of the lovely things about my job now is I try to do a little work with the BBC music department. I get to be beside the best musicians in the world,' he says.

"I have been five feet from the likes of Barry Douglas.

"You get these amazing opportunities to see these people up close. To be around all these talented people is so uplifting. It's fantastically exciting.''

He is similarly passionate about other aspects of his life. His latest yen for history came out of a discussion with his brother.

"I'm very fond of history. I have been trying to read factual books instead of novels. I have been reading about the Stuarts in the 17th century.

"My brother and I were having a discussion when he was over one July. …