Meet the Irish star of Channel 4 hit The Supervet, Noel Fitzpatrick
Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30
Growing up on a farm surrounded by animals in rural Co Laois in the 1970s, Noel Fitzpatrick always knew he wanted to be a vet. Instead of pursuing a vocation in agriculture livestock like many of his contemporaries, the 48-year-old chose to focus on small animals, largely though not exclusively, dogs and cats.
Moving to the UK in the early 1990s, he trained in orthopaedic surgery and in 2005, established Fitzpatrick Referrals in Surrey. The company is a specialist animal clinic focusing in advances such as synthetic cartilage transplant and limb prostheses - methods previously unheard of in veterinary medicine.
In 2010, his pioneering endeavours attracted attention from the BBC who produced a one-off documentary series about Noel and the hospital in The Bionic Vet. Four years later, the good doctor and his award-winning team found their revolutionary efforts to save previously incurable animals, who up until very recently would have been euthanised, the subject of Channel 4's award-winning, The Supervet. Now in its third season, Fitzpatrick finds himself a household celebrity and reluctant sex symbol but remains steadfastly single thanks to a passionate devotion to his calling.
I grew up on a farm and always had a natural affinity with animals, a gravitation. They were the only creatures I felt I could relate to. It's where I learned that animals in our lives show us why we are human at all, why we care and why we love.
My work is my addiction. It's what I live for. I sometimes sleep at the surgery because I want to be close to the animals. I probably survive on four-and-a-half hours' sleep a night. I don't know what that does to you. It probably isn't normal. And it's not conducive to the greatest work/life balance.
I have yet to see or hear a rational reason why not to advance in veterinary medicine. So when people are disparaging, it's generally for reasons of money, ego, power or glory. And that means that they are not working for a bank I want to work for. I want to work for a bank of integrity.
It hurts me a lot when people say bad things [about my methods]. I take it very personally. I like to think I mean good in the world and I just want to do the right thing. Mainly for the right thing for the animal but also for the people who care for the animal and the bigger picture of medicine.
The cameras used to be frustrating when we started out but now it's like talking to my friend. I'm talking to Mary in Cobh or John in Limerick. And I'm thinking: "If I was talking to my best friend, how would I explain this situation to them?"
I get emotionally invested in every case and I have purposefully not switched that off. I think the one thing that can change medicine forever is compassion. That's what I say to my interns and residents. Whether you're the mother of a child who has cancer or a guardian of a dog who has cancer, you want someone to hold your hand.
Every time I go into surgery, I face death. You can't be a surgeon, unless you're prepared to look in a mirror and accept the responsibility that it is your fault. Because even if you fail and it wasn't your fault, you still feel it's your fault.
Losing an animal is the hardest thing to pick yourself up from. It's like falling in love, when it breaks up. You cry, and you miss it. Except it all happens at 20 or 100 times the speed of a relationship. It's intensely painful. You blame yourself, even if you did your best. You have to look back and think, "you did the right thing". That's the only redemption.
I grew up in Catholic Ireland but my spirituality comes from nature. And ultimately believing what goes around comes around. I think you get out of anything what you put into it. I believe if you put badness into the world with malicious intent, ultimately that will come back around to bite you in the ass.
I'm intensely proud to be Irish. I strongly believe that we were given an ethical code that was a wonderful thing. But it comes with a responsibility to not be an idiot. And Ireland has had a number of people come into it and corrupt certain aspects of society for avaricious gain. I deplore that. The guy on the street is a good person and we are part of a society that should be pulling together. If you're Irish anywhere in the world, you're generally respected as a good person. We need to look after that, and we need to not allow that to be corrupted.
Bono was a big hero for me growing up. I've missed meeting him by about two seconds, three times in my life. Well I actually once shook his hand while he was coming out of the toilet, which I'm not sure was the most hygienic thing to do! He won't in any way, shape or form remember me.
Freddie Mercury is my biggest inspiration. When I saw him perform at Slane Castle, that was the very first time I got inspired that one person can make a difference. He held my heart in his hand for two-and-a-half hours, and I never ever wanted him to let it go.
I don't take fame seriously. And I have no time for our culture of self-congratulation. You're going to die, you have to sleep and you have to piss. It's as simple as that. When I've been on chat shows, like The Late Late, I sit in green rooms with celebrities and some are quite affected. And I think to myself: "You're not doing open heart surgery on babies in Ethiopia and you're not saving women from war in Darfur and you're not on the frontline fighting extremists in Syria. Get over yourselves."
'The Supervet' airs on Wednesdays at 8pm on Channel 4
Interview: Stephen Milton Photo: © Channel 4/Jude Edginton