Friday 30 September 2016

Life lessons with Ronan Collins: The kids joke that I have OCD because everything is in its place

Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30

Ronan Collins: Even now, my shoes are stacked on shelves, and the right shoe must always face outward and the left inwards. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ronan Collins: Even now, my shoes are stacked on shelves, and the right shoe must always face outward and the left inwards. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Music man: Ronan Collins. pictured with Imelda May, has been on radio for thirty years.

Having begun his career as a showband singer, RTÉ's Ronan Collins (63) has been on air and screen for 36 years. He's the third eldest of six, and grew up in Phibsboro in Dublin. He's married to Woody, and they have three children, Jessica, Lisa and Damien.

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I am gooey over our amazing first grandchild Caleb, who is 11 months old and the centre of our lives. It's a double whammy seeing this perfect, happy, healthy child with his mother Lisa, who's my little girl.

We do a lot of entertaining at home around Christmas and I enjoy every minute. This is a special one as it's Caleb's first, but we're missing our son Damien as he's working abroad. On Christmas Eve, we had all my family over along with their children for a meal, and we're having more friends over for a meal today.

I think I'm probably a better father now to Jessica, Lisa and Damien than I was, because I'm around more. I worked very hard and travelled five or six nights a week for years with bands, and Woody kept everything going at home. I know that children are not yours though, and are only given to you for a while.

I have absolutely turned into my late father Des, who was a retired army officer with a 'thundering velvet hand'. He was a man who didn't like change and wanted things to be on an even keel, and I have all of that.

It's scary how much I'm like my mother Ethna, physically, though. We have a photo of me at home that I actually thought was of her. She was great, and she died peacefully this year in March, aged 95-and-a-half. By her own admission, the half was too far, but she was fine until a few days before she died.

The kids joke that I have OCD because everything is in its place, although I'm not as bad as I used to be. I used to drive myself mad with it, but it's not a compulsion for me any more. I get a lot of consolation from knowing everything is where it should be.

When I was working on TV, I had 50 suits and I knew exactly where they were in the wardrobe. When I was in work early, I could pick them out in the dark and didn't go out looking silly. Even now, my shoes are stacked on shelves, and the right shoe must always face outward and the left inwards.

My late mother-in-law Vera told Woody that she shouldn't be with me, because I was a man and she was a girl. She was 18 and I was 23 when we started going out in 1976. I was attracted to Woody's strength, and she has a great personality.

Her mother warmed to me after a while when she discovered I didn't drink. She came from an area where a lot of men drank, so I went up a notch in her estimation. Woody's parents were great though, and they have both passed now.

Woody and I had a famously disastrous honeymoon in 1978. We drove to France, but we had no money and were young and naive. The bickering was non-stop for 14 days, and on the ferry going home, I looked Woody in the face, which I probably hadn't done while we were away, and said, "Can we start again?" We did.

I haven't been involved in any scandals, although there were things that hurt me. I tapped against a car 15 years ago, and got out and checked but there was no mark on the car so I drove off. A garda then delivered a summons to me with 12 charges on it, including leaving the scene of an accident, and the newspapers wrote about it. They used the phrase 'hit and run', which hurt me terribly because I hadn't done anything wrong.

My whole reputation was on the line with that incident. I presented the Lotto draws, and the reason I stayed doing that for all those years was because people trusted me and the company trusted me. The case went all the way to court, but the judge threw it out.

In this country you can almost be guilty by association. I was very friendly with Ben Dunne at one stage, and then people tried to implicate me in things that happened to him, including asking if I was in Florida? I wasn't and didn't understand why my friendship with a neighbour was being questioned.

I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when I was 50. I was drinking gallons of Diet Coke, 15 cans per day, and was over 19 stone but never thought I was that heavy. It was the other things that worried me, as I knew I shouldn't be so tired or sweating as much. I also had fuzzy eyesight and tingles in my feet, and had muscle wastage on my backside - my bum was disappearing!

With Woody's help, I started walking and cutting back on the amount I was eating. I lost two-and-a-half stone in a year, which stayed off. I feel much better now, and while I don't take insulin, I take an injection every morning that helps to control my appetite. If I eat too much of anything, this injection kicks in and makes me feel rotten. I'm on tablets too, and just see my specialist twice a year.

It's scary to think I've been on RTÉ Radio One five days a week for 30 years, but it's absolutely wonderful. I'm freelance, which means you have to negotiate your position every couple of years. It's great in one way because it keeps you on your toes, but you realise that the people who run the place make the decision based on your popularity, figures and behaviour.

The majority of my listeners are as old as I am or older. This was uncomfortable for RTÉ at one stage because everyone wants to attract new listeners, but I think they appreciate that you can't bombard people with drama and tragedy all day and there has to be some light and shade. I'm looking after the hundreds of thousands of listeners we've had for years, and I love it.

'The Ronan Collins Show' is on RTÉ Radio One, weekdays 12-1pm. Ronan Collins' 'Reeling in the Showband Years' with Brendan Bowyer and guests opens in The Helix, Dublin, tomorrow and tours nationwide until February 27, 2016.

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