Alan Hughes: 'It's shameful that Oliver Callan has hijacked a joyous moment for us and made it cheap'
Newly engaged Alan Hughes and Karl Broderick have been through heaven and hell since their civil partnership
When the historic Marriage Bill was written into law recently and it became legal for same-sex couples to marry in Ireland, TV3 presenter Alan Hughes decided to propose live on Ireland AM to his songwriter partner Karl Broderick, with whom he entered into a civil partnership in 2011. Karl was shocked and delighted when his partner of 22 years went down on one knee and popped the question in front of thousands of thrilled viewers.
"I proposed to the person I love on live TV, and that was a huge statement to show how comfortable I felt and how much the country has come on," says Alan. "I had the strength because gay relations were still illegal when we met and now we have full marriage equality. We had such an incredible response after our civil partnership and had people sending us messages, saying their sons or daughters had come out because we made it easier for them."
While there was a hugely positive reaction, negativity emanated from certain quarters, most notably from comedian Oliver Callan, who is also gay and publicly came out on The Saturday Night Show. He branded public gay proposals as "vomit-inducing" and wrote that it was "an act of self-promotion" from "the TV3 weatherman, who shows up at more free PR events than a salmon canape". He also said that Alan "looks like he slept in formaldehyde," but in the interests of balance, Alan countered by branding him a "bitter old queen".
"I really don't know where he's coming from," sighs Alan, who was motivated to propose publicly by a survey released last month, showing that almost 20pc of young LGBT people had attempted suicide at some point.
"There has been a huge battle for equality in Ireland and it's shameful that Callan has hijacked a joyous moment for us and tried to make it cheap. Karl was diagnosed in recent years with an anxiety disorder and depression and was hospitalised over it when it got really bad, so while I can take negativity like that, it's different for Karl.
"I knew that doing what I did on live TV had to come from such a genuine place, as if Karl felt exposed in any way, it could send him spiralling down."
Karl was terribly bullied at school, which is where his anxiety comes from, and finding someone like Alan, who was so comfortable with his sexuality, really helped him.
"I feel that we've helped a lot of our friends too," says Karl. "So many people had to leave Ireland for being gay and families come up to us and say it's great we're making it a thing to be proud of. I'm just a writer in the entertainment industry, but I feel pushed to be visible and vocal about our gay lifestyle because so many people have said we've helped them."
"I didn't even want to do interviews in case people agreed with Oliver Callan and thought this was all about publicity, but then I thought about it and it made me want to shout louder."
Alan and Karl are the most gorgeous, warm couple and they are wonderful company. Alan is funny and outgoing and always has great stories, while Karl is sweet and sensitive and hugely kind. In the first years of their relationship, they were offered big spreads in newspapers and magazines to capitalise on their relationship, but they refused. It was a different time in Ireland, prior to the passing of the referendum, and they were trying to protect their families, particularly Karl's, as Alan's parents had both passed away by the time he was 10 and he was raised by his sister.
There was also an element that it might adversely affect Alan's career, as when he worked elsewhere prior to joining TV3, he was advised not to be too open about being gay. His current employers and colleagues have been overwhelmingly supportive.
"I was sort of kept a secret for years and I nearly broke up with Alan over it," says Karl. "When we got engaged the first time, my mam wasn't happy, which upset me. Her initial issue wasn't with us, it was what others would think of it."
Alan and Karl broke up for a year and after they got back together, Karl decided to propose as he wanted to show Alan how much he loved him. Their civil ceremony took place at the Unitarian Church on St Stephen's Green in September 2011 and the reception at the Mansion House was spectacular.
Karl's mam beamed with pride and had a ball on the day. Their bridesmaids were Karl's sister Ann, who he says has always been an amazing support to him, and Alan's sister Doreen, who was ill with cancer at that time.
"Within six months, Karl's mam Una had died aged 70 and Doreen passed away aged 60," says Alan. "During the panto, they were both in hospital, as was Karl's dad Paddy, so we were running between shows to see our families. Karl's sister Josephine, who has Down syndrome, had to be put into respite care.
"It was horrendous and Karl got really ill and badly depressed after that. I should never have taken Family Fortunes on TV3 because it was straight afterwards and we were both going through hell at the time."
This time around, Alan and Karl plan to have a smaller wedding next year, because they have to get the Cheerios panto out of the way first. Alan will be reprising his role as Sammy Sausages in Beauty and the Beast at The Tivoli Theatre from December 9 to January 10, which Karl has written (see panto.ie). Michele McGrath will play Belle.
So have Alan and Karl discovered anything about each other in the past four years?
"That I love him even more and I definitely know that I want to spend the rest of my life with him," says Alan.
"There's a growing strength in Karl, and while a vulnerable part of him broke down for a while, he is getting stronger and I see a new happiness in him. He is definitely the kindest, most empathetic person I have ever known and I have never heard him badmouth anyone. It's just not in his nature."
Sunday Indo Life Magazine