Saturday 1 October 2016

John Masterson: Why God decided Ireland's not ready to go without Gay

Gay Byrne's ticker twinge put the heart across us all last week, writes John Masterson

John Masterson

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

IMPACT: Gay Byrne’s personality makes a lasting impression
IMPACT: Gay Byrne’s personality makes a lasting impression

There are few things in life more important than putting a smile on Gay Byrne's face. So here goes. This is the real story of what went on last week when he put the heart across the lot of us. It began like this...

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John Lennon is not a morning person.

"This better be good, No.1," he growled, sleepily.

God had been a Beatles fan so he cut John some slack on the over-familiar tone. Lennon is good company, and most of the people God would like to socialise with are in the other place.

"It's Gay Byrne. Wants to do a Meaning of Life with you. Says he will do absolutely anything to get the interview."

A flash of recognition crosses the moptop's face.

"Our first time on the box was with that Irish geezer. Started with the best, we did. Never came across another telly bloke as good .... SIX in the AM !!!! No sense of timing, has he?"

Timing is something Gay has in spades. If your ticker is going to twinge, what better time than hours before dawn a few hundred yards from an excellent hospital?

The 'Stand on a Stage for Two Hours Show' that he and Kathleen have played to packed houses throughout the country is a masterclass in comedic timing.

Mention the words 'Gay Byrne' in Brendan O'Carroll's hearing and he will wax lyrical about how Gay is the best straight man in the business.

He is also a wonderful storyteller. I suspect he will get great yarns out of his latest adventure.

I count myself fortunate to have worked with him, and spent down time with him. There are always some laughs. He took me to Michael McIntyre. I took him to Mrs Brown's Boys. Lines of people appear, wanting their 30 seconds with Gaybo. He is unfailingly affable. Despite kickstarting much of our own history, he was unable to stop the invention of the camera phone.

With Ursula Courtney and Donal Scannell, I arranged a lunch for Gay and Kathleen when they hit the eight zero. We assembled a dozen or so people that they enjoy. Out of nowhere, Crona set the ball rolling with a speech that showed preparation, rehearsal, wit, and, yes, impeccable timing. Both parents, and sister Suzy, beamed. It was a happy day. We all said our few words, soon realising that we were all saying the same thing... that we learned more in a few weeks watching him work than in the rest of our life experience put together.

All of us probably think of Gay at some time every single day. He is a big personality and makes a lasting impression.

Many of us get slightly irked when people say Gay is very 'professional'. He is a unique combination of talent, curiosity, fun, a sense of the absurd, showbiz, an interest in people, family, friends, and a work ethic and a memory that have to be seen to be believed.

But back to what really happened.

Lennon senses that God is not all positive about Gay.

"It's about the business," No.1 explained. "There are a few thousand empty rooms here since he started all that road safety stuff. It has come to a pretty pass when the Irish stop saying 'Have one for the road'. Who would have thought it?"

The former Beatle is not that positive either as he has the best suite upstairs and suspects he might be asked nicely to move to less salubrious quarters if a bigger star checked in.

"He's a very fit old buzzard. What did you do to him?" John asked, just to keep the conversation going and forestall that particular outcome.

God explained the situation, feeling a little miffed at the way Lennon treated him as an equal.

"No 1. That is a piece of cake to you. I recommend the 20-year-plus rebore. I've been listening to the Old Time Warp on Sundays and Gay is more of a Paul guy, I think. Macca can do the interview."

God concurs, but still needs to have to final word.

"OK. The 20-year rebore it is. Ireland isn't ready to go it alone yet."

In a few weeks, he will be back playing awful jazz on Sundays. But you have to listen to hear what he says in between.

It all sounds so effortless. Anyone who has seen him toil knows of the rehearsal hours that bring the magic moments.

I look forward to him telling me this piece was a load of old twaddle.

And to a sunny motorbike day and lazy lunch. Hearing what he gets out of McCartney.

And a lot of laughs.

Sunday Independent

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