Brendan Courtney: It’s really tough without dad, but he’s left an amazing legacy
Facing into his first Christmas without his beloved dad Frank, Brendan Courtney knows it’s going to be tough.
Anyone who watched his documentary, We Need to Talk About Dad, earlier this year will have some insight into his relationship with his dad and the closeness of his family; mum Nuala, sisters Deborah and Susan and brother Daniel.
The moving doc charted the family’s struggle to find appropriate home care for Frank after he was left paralysed by a stroke.
It highlighted the problems with the government’s Fair Deal scheme which provides funding for nursing home care but not for care in a person’s own home.
After it aired on RTE the government announced a public consultation on home care. The Consultation on Home Care Services has now concluded and is the first step towards establishing a statutory home care scheme.
“I’d like to think we had a small part to play,” says Brendan, who is proud of the fact that more than 3000 people participated to the consultation.
“The government basically now do the research and development to make sure they’re getting it right and they’ll issue that review early next year and then a home care package is put together. And then I’ll run for Presidency!” he laughs.
It’s great news, but it’s bittersweet for Brendan. His dad passed away in June, five months after the documentary aired.
However, he’s extremely proud of his legacy, even though he admits he was “terrified, absolutely s****ing myself” about filming it in the first place.
“On the eighth watching of it with my dad he was like, ‘Relax, it’s grand!’ but I was really nervous because I drove it. I was driving it with my public profile, with all these people who have never been on telly before, and one of them was dying! Great! It was terrifying.”
He admits he felt relieved when it aired and “nobody was offended” and looking back now he feels really proud of it.
He adds, “It’s something great to have. It’s lovely for us to have. It’s a hard watch for us now at the moment though. It’s tough.
“I’m so proud of him. He’s not even six months dead yet. It’s a strange time. The first Christmas without him is going to be pretty hard.”
Brendan also lost his "best best buddy" suddenly to a brain aneurysm this year at the age of just 46. Other members of his family have been touched by illness too.
“It’s been a really tough year," he says. "People keep saying to me, ‘Are you okay?’ Yeah, I’m healthy. I’m really great. I’m really good. I have a beautiful husband who I love very much and a great little life. These things make you so grateful for what you have and also give you an unbelievable sense of perspective. I don’t sweat any of the small stuff anymore. I literally don’t care.”
Since his father’s death the family has become particularly close although he jokes they’ve always been close, “oddly close”.
“I used to think a little too close sometimes!” he laughs.
He’s spending a lot of time with his mum, Nuala, who he says expects him to accompany her everywhere now; “I’m not your new boyfriend! Stop picking me up! Go to your own s***!” he cackles. “She’s like, ‘What are we doing today?’ Get off me!”
Joking aside he says she’s good craic and easy company, and a bit of a “Joan Crawford”.
“She’s a movie star in her head,” he says. “She’s old-school my mam. My mother has never, ever been to a bar. She’s never stood at a bar and ordered a drink. She doesn’t buy a drink. Oh my goodness, no, you buy her a drink! You’re lucky to be in her company!
“I am at the centre and front of the battle for equality but that old school femme fatale glamour, there’s no place in the world for it anymore. I quite enjoy it.
“It’s quite funny, opening doors for women because they’re women and men paying the bill because you’re a man. It’s something that’s instilled into me. I’m gay and totally effeminate but I’m also still a man and I like to be sort of chivalrous still. I enjoy it.”
Brendan and Nuala sound like the kind of mother and son double act who could star in their own show. But Brendan has his hands full at the moment as one half of Lennon Courtney as well as his hugely popular new RTE series This Crowded House.
The four part series (which returns Tuesday night) aims to help adults in their 20s and 30 who are living at home with their parents to get out and gain, or regain, their independence.
It has been a ratings hit as the entire country struggles with the housing and rental crisis and its impact.
“I can’t get over the reaction. It’s nearly as big a reaction as We Need to Talk About Dad,” says Brendan. “People are really affected by it. It has really struck a chord. I was naïve, I think, about how many people it would resonate with.”
Usually Brendan sides with the parents on the show. At 44 he’s been there and done that and says he was guilty of moving home at 26 and reverting to being a teenager again himself.
“You do things like checking the fridge for food, leaving your dirty towels on the bed, s**t you wouldn’t do in anyone else’s house. You need a big wake up call – if someone is letting you live cheaply or rent free then you respect it like you’ve never respected anything,” he says.
Having said that, he adds, “At the start of filming I may have been a little bit cynical and harsh but when you spend time with these people and cast your mind back to when you were 24 and desperately wanting freedom you begin to remember and understand. When I was 17 about 95 per cent of my money went on my freedom. I literally didn’t care how much – I went without food to pay rent I wanted my independence so much. I remembered all those feelings."
He adds, “Now [finding a home] is out of your control and when you can’t control that it’s so frustrating, disappointing, upsetting and so depressing. I think people get really down about it. You’ve nowhere to go, nowhere to put your clothes, have nothing that’s your own.
“I’m very hard on millennials, I think they’re an entitled generation, snowflakes, all that kind of stuff, but on this issue I’m with them. It’s not too much to expect, in your late 20s, to be able to afford to rent a place of your own."
The show sees young adults repeatedly applying for rental properties only to be refused as tenants or, usually, completely ignored.
“You’re going in and out of apartments, substandard most of them I’ve seen, and treated with utter… I can’t really blame the estate agents because they’re so busy and when you see an industry under stress it looks like they’re being rude, when they’re just stressed,” says Brendan.
“But you can’t not be answering emails and not answering calls. These people desperately want somewhere to live. It’s not like they’re looking to buy something off eBay – you have to answer their calls and help them to move on.”
Regarding where we go from here, he says it’s about looking towards long-term solutions.
“I agree with Eddie Hobbs and David McWilliams – we have a deeply flawed political system,” he says. “The top level changes every couple of years so nobody is making unpopular long term plans to solve our problems. They’re making short term plans to keep the votes.
However, ever the optimist, he adds, “I’m actually very positive about the future of this country at the hands of the people there now. I am. They’re a younger generation. They don’t have the legacy politics, they’re not families of it. They’ve earned the right to be there so I’m curious to see how it plays out.”
This Crowded House continues on RTE on Tuesday November 21 at 9.30pm. The first two episodes are available on RTE Player. We Need to Talk About Dad is also available on RTE Player.