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'I became withdrawn after the attack, I lost the impulse to chat' - RTE's Eoghan McDermott on the vicious assault that changed him

RTE star Eoghan McDermott talks to Barry Egan about Kodaline getting him evicted from his flat, his 'flirtation' with becoming a guard, the vicious assault that changed him, his girlfriend, and being so broke in New York that he ate customers' leftovers

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2fm radio presenter Eoghan McDermott. Photo: Mark Condren

2fm radio presenter Eoghan McDermott. Photo: Mark Condren

2fm radio presenter Eoghan McDermott. Photo: Mark Condren

Eoghan McDermott has lived in south county Dublin with his girlfriend Aoife Melia for three years. Life is relatively calm. It wasn't always thus. While working as a DJ in London for XFM in 2013, Eoghan got up to some high jinks. One story involved the band Kodaline's antics causing him to get evicted from his flat in Queen's Park.

"Kodaline were really kicking off in the UK and had played a showcase in Camden. I had recently moved," he explains. "We had been celebrating and I invited them back to my house. Not a crazy party or anything of the sort, just the five of us. All relatively civilised. A few drinks in, they started playing the piano and we sang a few songs.

"One of the lads fell asleep on the kitchen table, face-planted. The landlord, who was a friend of a friend, came down and was horrified to see all these strangers in the house and one lad passed out on the table. She decided the next day she didn't want someone who socialised week nights and brought random bands back for sing-a-longs in the house long-term, so politely informed me the arrangement wouldn't work and I had to promptly find somewhere else to live. I sort of blame Kodaline for that!"

Growing up in Knocklyon in Dublin, Eoghan can remember sitting in the back of his mother's old Volkswagen Beetle when he was four. "The reg plates didn't have the year displayed then but it was BZW 848, never forgotten it," he says, adding that because his parents were both teachers, "they always had the summers free, which meant we had really nice family holidays and time together. It took me a while to realise that most people's parents only got two weeks off in summer."

His father is Kevin McDermott, his mother Mary Fagan. "She never surrendered her maiden name," he laughs, "more power to her!"

As a child, Eoghan was "a little bit of an exhibitionist at home. I'd put on rubbish magic shows for relatives, that kind of thing. I was quiet enough in school I think."

His teens were dominated by his love of ice-hockey. Eoghan played on the first ever Irish ice-hockey team. "A former semi-pro American who abandoned the sport in favour of studying medicine and ended up in RCSI founded our amateur Dublin team that trained in the Silver Skate ice rink on the North Circular Road and trained us up. We went to Ireland's first ever European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1998.

"We were so far out of our depth, but it was phenomenal to wear the jersey for your country. I remember the Israeli team were staying in our hotel and had armed guards on their floor, with machine guns. Israel's complicated history was unknown to me then and I found it hard to square these teenagers like us needing armed protection."

Eoghan has an older sister Aoife, a professor of Business in Cardiff University, and a younger sister, Roe, a journalist, academic, Fulbright scholar "and the smartest person I know".

At one point, before his Leaving Cert in 2000, Eoghan considered joining An Garda Siochana. "I hadn't any direction at that stage!" he says, adding that it was "a brief flirtation because lots of family were in the guards. Uncle Sean, now retired, was a prominent member of the Criminal Assets Bureau. He worked a lot on the Martin Cahill case. My cousin Brian, who I am very close to, is a detective."

On Stephen's Night, 2016, Eoghan was attacked by random assailants.

"Some coward jumped me from behind as I was walking down the road last night, got knocked unconscious," Eoghan tweeted. "Brain scan, concussion. I'll find you!"

The attack is a funny one for me. Its legacy hasn't quite settled, but at the same time I don't dwell on it.

The culprits were never found.

"They had the assault on CCTV, two attackers," he says now, "too far away to identify. They were picked up by a taxi man and one of the assailants had cut himself in the attack and bled on the taxi seat, so the gardai have his DNA, so if he gets arrested in the future for something else, they could get him then. The taxi dropped them off at an estate in Liffey Valley, but he doesn't know where they went from there.

"The attack is a funny one for me. Its legacy hasn't quite settled, but at the same time I don't dwell on it. Luckily I don't remember it, so I don't get flashbacks or the like. A peculiar after-effect hit me in the six months or so after it, in that I became quite withdrawn. Not a recluse, but stopped actively participating in conversations with my friends and became more of an observer. Whatever the impulse to chit-chat is, I lost it, which was a little scary," says someone who earns his living by talking on the radio and TV.

One day, some months after the attack, a friend asked him about his descent into silence. The question, says Eoghan, "came as a great relief, having it acknowledged".

Eoghan "slowly shook that off". "But it took about a year," he adds. He believes that he was probably "masking that with a few too many nights out, as well as being agitated and fidgety in myself".

Aoife was "very accommodating around this time". The permanent consequences are loss of taste and smell - "which I view as a rude inconvenience more than any great injustice. I don't notice so much anymore. Mam did tell me the other day that I had left my oven on and the house smelled of smoke, so that wasn't great, not noticing that. Fair play to Dad, he was straight in with a new smoke alarm for the kitchen!

"I recorded a documentary for TG4 on random acts of violence and have seen people who have experienced similar attacks but ended up with far more severe and life-altering consequences, so I'm more grateful than anything else."

What makes Eoghan so good as a communicator, as a broadcaster, is that he is open about his life and his emotions. When I ask him about dark periods in his past, he doesn't fudge the question.

"I went through a period of self-harming in my late 20s. I've both reconciled and talked about that in the past. It was a low time but I've learned emotional and mental resilience and dexterity from it, and used it to good effect with some ambassadorship for Pieta House."

Eoghan was born on April 15, 1983 in Limerick. "My parents were teaching down there, but I never spent any time there," he says. "Straight back to Dublin a few months after my birth!"

He believes he inherited the major parts of his winning personality that has stood him on such good stead on the national airwaves from his parents.

"Mam has a wicked sense of humour and is very free in her occasionally spiky proclamations, so perhaps the bombastic side of my broadcasting comes from her," he says. "Dad is much more reflective and gentle, and I see more of him in my character as I get older.

"They've both worked with disadvantaged kids in their careers as educators and I think that empathy has bled into me. Mam was a home-school liaison, which involved helping kids from tricky and testing circumstances to survive the school experience. Not all of them did. Dad has recently been doing writing residences in Ballymun, where he'll work with the kids, writing novels and poetry, which he gets published for them. It's a gorgeous project and I see how ambitious he is for the kids. They're both incredible parents and role-models."

Asked how he got into the business, Eoghan says that while he was doing his degree in Politics and Irish in UCD, he "was running UCD Dance Society too and teaching dance, which I loved. Julian Benson was my first dance teacher. We met in UCD when he choreographed a charity show. He let me take his dance classes for free. That's when I started taking it seriously!

"Justin Timberlake brought out his first solo record Like I Love You and there was a dance sequence in that video which is still my favourite piece of choreography ever."

Eoghan found the name of the choreographer, Marty Kudelka, and applied to a dance college in New York where he was a guest faculty member. He got accepted and moved to the Big Apple for a year to study dance.

"Best year of my life," he says of 2006. "New York is an animal. Five of us lived in a tiny two-bed flat in Chinatown where cockroaches would pour out of the drains if it rained."

Eoghan waited tables in Rosie O'Grady's off Time Square and was "so broke for a few months that I used to trim the edges off unfinished steaks left by diners and take them home. Brilliant fun."

The Broadway Dance Centre was "the single greatest experience of my life. Some people, like me, were more there for the experience, but others were training for Broadway shows, for popstar tours etc. A guy in my class called Maho Udo, from Japan, has danced with JT at the Super Bowl, with Taylor Swift on her last tour and many more. Such a buzz to be around such a fearless bunch of talented young people from all over the world.

"When I came home from, I was cast in a teen-drama series on TG4 called Seacht, set in a performing arts school. When that finished, they offered me a role hosting their pop music chart show, POP4. It was off that I got my first radio gig on Dublin station Spin 1038 and away I went," says Eoghan.

Since then he has hosted The Voice of Ireland, was a weekend presenter on 2FM for four years, narrated ITV2's Love Island Australia and has done the prestigious breakfast show on 2FM since last summer. Eoghan will present - along with Deirdre O'Kane, Nicky Byrne and Jennifer Zamparelli - the charity fundraiser RTE Does Comic Relief on June 26.

"I've been to the 3Arena gigs as a fan the last few years and loved it," he says. "Huge respect to Deirdre O'Kane, she's a one-woman army pulling this together. It's not easy to cajole this many high-flyers into one project. The money will be distributed via the Community Foundation For Ireland, open to big and small charities who can apply for grants. I know a lot of charities have missed out on crucial fundraising during Covid, so hopefully this can ease the burden for some.

"Plus now I can stretch the truth and put on my CV that I starred alongside Saoirse Ronan and the Normal People gang in a production," he laughs.

He and Aoife have been together since 2016 - they had dated years before. Eoghan says: "She is an angel. She's incredibly grounded and grounding. She acts as a great counter to the sometimes disposable and self-absorbed media jungle, having seen and experienced things in her work as a doctor that are traumatic in their recounting and sobering in their perspective. Being around people in both great moments of grief and triumph over adversity has made her incredibly perceptive, kind and immensely strong.

"She's challenged me like no other person to develop the constructive parts of myself and shed the rest. I'm very grateful for her patience in that regard. She also happens to have the most infectious giddy laugh and be stunningly beautiful. I'm very lucky to have her in my corner."

Eoghan told Hot Press in 2015 that the first girl he ever kissed was when he was 13. "I was on a beach in Italy with the moon shining on the water and I thought, 'I'm a Lothario for life, man! This is how I'm going to roll!'."Clearly, that isn't how Eoghan rolls these days. Would he describe himself as a romantic?

"My dad is absolutely crazy about my mam and dotes on her all the time. He wrote her a poem for Christmas, the final line of which reads: 'And I will travel any winter road with you, wherever you choose to go, if you will light the way.' I've always appreciated that about them and hope I've inherited some of that ability to express affection and love."

I got to know Eoghan in May 2015, over whiskey at 35,000 feet en route to interview U2 in Vancouver. He is fascinating company. How does Eoghan see himself? "I've been actively trying to cut loose the parts of me I don't like or haven't served me well the last few years, so I think I like that progress."

How does Eoghan think the public see him?

"God, depends who you ask! Nice guy/clown. Pop-culture and current affairs enthusiast/liberal snowflake. Hopefully more good than bad, although I try not worry too much about other people's perception. The people who think you're the best are wrong and the people who think you're the worst are wrong."

In March 2015, Eoghan stood up for his friend Laura Whitmore, writing an open letter to VIP magazine publisher Michael O'Doherty over his criticism of her in a column in the Herald. "Myself and Michael have made peace and I'll not be dredging up old beef," he says. "All a bit of harmless panto!"

Is there anyone famous that you are not bessy mates with or does it just seem that way, I tease.

"I guess that - very slaggy - perception comes from when myself, Laura Whitmore, Bressie and Niall Horan all found ourselves living in London at the same time with exciting things happening for all of us and we became a close-knit group of Irish folk in a tough city and shared a lot of our exploits, like any friend group might. When you're in your 20s, of course that stuff is good fun, but no, most of my pals are not in media."

Eoghan studied politics and Irish at UCD. Does he have high hopes that the new government will work?

"God, I think it has disaster written all over it, particularly for Fianna Fail and the Greens. Leo and Fine Gael have the patriotic pandemic rally bounce, and if the economy fails to re-ignite under Micheal Martin's stewardship then Fine Gael get to blame it on them and if it does reignite then Leo is Taoiseach again heading into the next election with that 'recovery' momentum.

"That's if it even makes it to government - it could all collapse by the time this goes to print."

RTÉ Does Comic Relief is on June 26 at 8pm

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Wacko Jacko: the greatest album ever

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Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

"The first album I bought was Dangerous by Michael Jackson. I bought a bootleg cassette tape copy in Bodrum, Turkey. Dangerous is still to me the greatest pop album ever recorded. It has Black Or White, Heal The World, Remember The Time, Will You Be There.

"MJ's legacy is so murky and complicated these days, which taints it sadly."

And what was the first gig Eoghan went to?

"Michael Jackson, History World Tour in the RDS, 1997. My parents probably took me to shows before that, but that's the first one I went to myself. He was slightly past his physical peak then - but it was still a great show."

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