Thursday 20 June 2019

Miriam's warmth and intelligence make for fine radio

Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The most interesting thing about that famous Leo Varadkar interview on Sunday with Miriam (Radio 1, Sun 10am) was this: the bit that everyone focused on wasn't actually the most interesting thing.

Don't get me wrong - it's great that Ireland is now a society where a Cabinet minister can come out as gay, and really, the country barely bats an eyelid.

The most common reaction seemed to be, "Well that's grand - but what about the hospital trolley situation?"

In the same week as Donal Óg Cusack - a famous sportsman and something of a gay icon himself - produced a fantastic TV documentary on homophobia, Leo's revelation marked another stepping-stone on the road to equality. Hats off and best of luck to the man.

But his sexuality, while obviously someway newsworthy, is just a part of Varadkar - indeed he says this himself - and, as it happens, not remotely the most fascinating part. He's half-Indian, for starters. His parents met in Slough; Leo playfully recalled of his dad: "He always tells us that he arrived in England (from India) with £50 in his pocket, the shirt on his back and nothing else. . . but he did also have a qualification in medicine, which helped."

Varadkar Junior is a doctor himself, which further marks him out from the usual ex-teachers and lifelong political apparatchiks who inhabit Leinster House.

He's also that new breed of politician - and person - who can be classed as neither left-wing nor right, being conservative on some issues and liberal on others. Hilariously, Leo confessed to Miriam O'Callaghan that, aged seven or eight, he had declared an ambition to be Minister for Health - not the normal dream of young lads.

"I was asked what I wanted to be when I grow up," he remembered. "I think you're supposed to say an ambulance man or footballer or soldier or something like that and I told all my mother's friends that I wanted to be Minister for Health. She was mortified, needless to say."

The point is, this was a wide-ranging interview, covering childhood memories, personal life, professional ambitions, the travails of his current posting, broader themes of Irish politics - even former colleague Lucinda got a mention. Varadkar's homosexuality was but a fraction of the story, which is just the way it should be.

And no better woman than Miriam to draw it all out. She's got that blend of warmth, perceptiveness and emotional intelligence that makes people relaxed and trusting.

It makes them honest, and that in turn makes for fine radio.

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