Thursday 2 October 2014

'The Irish think better of you if you succeed from a distance'

Terry Wogan talks to Stephen Milton about family, his 'lucky' career and his hopes for retirement

Retirement seems to be a word that sits rather uneasily with Terry Wogan. Each time it's mentioned, he squirms slightly, wounded by a silent bullet.

But the glinting grin remains ever intact as he chronicles his slow ebb away from our small screens, 50 years after answering an advert in this very newspaper scouring the country for able announcers on Radio Eireann.

There's still his loyal commitment to Children in Need, a charitable extravaganza that comes once a year, and a Sunday morning breakfast show on BBC Radio 2, 'Weekend Wogan'.

But a throwaway remark suggests a desire for a something meatier, a little more challenging.

"For two weeks, I'm a precious commodity for the BBC when Children in Need comes round," he pointedly comments in those smooth, velvety tones, "and then they forget about me the rest of the 12 months. It's an odd change of pace. . ."

So I propose a few comeback ideas; the resurrection of legendary chat show 'Wogan', after its cancellation in the mid-90s? "I've actually been approached about coming back several times, but my time is done on that."

Perhaps a long-awaited return to Irish television screens? A homecoming for the prodigal son, as it were. "If I started doing something on television back in Ireland, you'd almost immediately get the 'Oh, he's not as big as he used to be.' Much as I love Ireland, the Irish think better of you if you succeed from further distances."

All that leaves then is. . . "Please don't say 'reality television'," he cutely interjects, rolling his eyes.

"I've been offered a lot of money to go on 'I'm a Celebrity' but I just can't do it. I'm not going to fling myself into the jaws of a crocodile for television. If you do something like that, you're with the D-list in the boondocks."

A hardly surprising response from a man who spent 16 years stirring eight million British listeners from their slumber on his signature morning show, 'Wake Up To Wogan'.

And despite the rejection of some slightly farfetched suggestions, it's still impossible to imagine him fully retired from the limelight. One pictures the last rites being read in a soundproof studio.

"No," chuckles Wogan, "I'll have to retire completely, because I'll have no choice. Everyone has to call it a day.

"There'll come a time when my thought process starts to slow down and I'm not reacting as I should and I want to recognise that before everybody else.

"Something like 'Children In Need' is about spontaneity. Everything I do is about spontaneity and I don't want the public to cotton on before I do.

"My family will tell me when they recognise it, and that will be the heartbreak."

Most know the story of the grocer's son done good from Limerick's Ennis Road. The Jesuit education at Crescent College; his move to Dublin at 15, and the early years as a clerk at Royal Irish Bank,

"It said, 'Announcers wanted for Irish radio. Requirements: Gaelic, foreign languages.' I didn't have much in the way of either, but I could fake it and look like I knew what I was doing."

The handsome veneer, the likeable confidence, those mellifluous vocals; young Terry graduated as one of the first faces of Radio Telefis Eireann, but a small pool meant restricted opportunity.

Irish Independent

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