Friday 24 May 2019

Gay Byrne on the quiet joy of a smashing 'little' TV show, Mads Mikelson, and a chance encounter in the street

From early evening television to exercise, road safety, that Carlsberg fella and a chance encounter in the street, Gay Byrne keeps busy

Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen Watkins enjoying the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen Watkins enjoying the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mads Mikkelsen

My wife and I have sent letters at various times to Mary Kennedy and Anne Cassin to congratulate them and their team on Nationwide, which we believe is a smashing little programme. "Little" is used in our business to denote a sort of worthy non-headline-making programme: the sort of thing that goes on at 7pm to 7.30pm, as a sort of filler between the news and the real business of the evening - EastEnders or Fair City or the like. But generally speaking of "little" programmes, nothing is expected of them and very little is delivered.

Television, radio and the media in general must keep generating ideas, ideas and more ideas. And it strikes me that the team on Nationwide continue to do just that with remarkable consistency. In a very real way, the programme continues to introduce our people to our people - where they are, what they're doing, why they're doing it and how. And that requires constant foraging and digging and selection and then the enthusiastic engagement with it by the two presenters.

Invariably at the end of Nationwide, we sit there and say: "Wasn't that good, and didn't they do it well?"

Not a bad accolade for a "little" television programme.


Getting a bout of cancer is a pretty direct way to lose weight. It is not the preferred way, but weight loss comes with the chemo. Part of the package. No extra charge. At this moment, stripped, I am not a pretty sight. Hitler's mother on a bad hair day might be an apt description. Except I don't have any hair to have a bad hair day. When I look at myself in the mirror, I invariably think of the unfortunate poor souls depicted so dramatically in Rowan Gillespie's Famine tableaux down on the quays.

People are kind enough to tell me how well I look - if only I felt as well as I look, things might be a bit brighter. Anyway. Before the dreaded C struck, I had for many years maintained a little daily yoga routine which served me very well, but that all came to a shuddering standstill when I got sick. Kathleen joins a few lady pals each week for a Pilates session, with an instructor, and they seem to derive a great benefit and an even greater deal of fun out of the hour. I have not been invited to join, rather pointedly, I think. I missed my little exercise session, although it was no more than a bit of stretching and pulling and gentle breathing.

I wondered about a replacement. And then, scrolling aimlessly through the TV channels one day about two months ago, I came across Mick or Joe or Harry or Ben - I can't remember his name - and he was doing simple exercise routines limited to five minutes! Absolutely, positively no more than five minutes, with a stopwatch side of screen counting down the seconds. I'm sorry I can't remember the guy's name as I write - he's up there among the 200-300 Sky channels where I rarely venture because I'm terrified I'll never get back down again for Daithi and Maura. But he's just doing ordinary little movement exercises, stretching and pushing and occasionally jumping and how could you possibly begrudge five minutes? And you don't have to travel anywhere to do your five minutes or join a class or tog out in anything special - just somewhere private, knickers off, and do your five minutes. And the wonderful bonus is: if you're that mad keen, you can always do another five minutes later on! Who's to know? Are my muscles beginning to bulge? Are my abs beginning to soar? Naw. That'll take another half hour or so.


Many years ago, when I was chairman of the Road Safety Authority, we worked in collaboration with Rospa, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I seem to remember that one of the last pieces of their research which I read before I left the RSA said this: if you put a young man (and it is a young man's problem - thankfully, young women hardly feature in this report ) in the age group 17-24 in charge of a car, and he is joined by just two of his friends/colleagues/school pals/team-mates in the same age group, and there is no adult experienced driver present, the three lads have an 80pc greater chance of having a fatal crash. 80pc!

That's 80pc on top of all the other percentages which are already against him because he's in that age group! Then throw in drink/speed/supreme self-confidence in driving ability/late night/early morning/celebration/ dare-devilment and sense of fun, and you have one hell of an explosive mixture.

Now, am I hallucinating or have we not had several such dreadful crashes in this country in the past few months, in each of which one young man lost his life and, in the last smash, two young men died. Each smash precisely mirroring the Rospa research findings. When I first read the research, I thought they were wildly exaggerating but then I found that the figures and experience are the same for the UK, Ireland, America and pretty well right across Europe. Young men and cars are a dangerous mixture wherever you find them.

And what I've just written is the result of my pondering on the tsunami of grief and tears which come with each tragedy, and the effect it has on a family, a town or village, and a neighbourhood. Sorry about that - I'll cut it off now. It may not be what you wish to hear about on a Sunday morning. But if you have a young fella and a car in your family, watch him like a hawk.


As an illustration of the range of my thinking at this time - and remember, I'm still on 15 tablets per day - I sincerely believe that your man who does the Carlsberg ad (you know the one... come on, you "probably" do - and here's a picture of him to be sure), if he were to come to Ireland for a week, he'd pack every hall in the country. What doing, precisely, I have no idea; standing centre stage for two hours saying "we Danes probably..." doesn't sound too promising, but I'm sure he'd think of something - he's an actor.

Mads Mikkelsen

Actually, he's quite a well known actor, and a star in Denmark. His name is Mads Mikkelsen, according to my grandson Cian, who googled it for me. A former James Bond baddie, no less. Mads went for an audition for a TV commercial, got the gig, and overnight compounded his worldwide stardom.

He is hardly a walking sex-bomb, but there is something indefinably attractive about him, and women appear to fancy him like he was Laurence Olivier. They want to kiss the sliver of Carlsberg off his upper lip. (I've never tasted the stuff so I wouldn't know.)

I would love to think he has some sort of one-man show with which he could exploit his fame, because effectively there is now nowhere in the known world that he is not instantly recognisable. I know this is a state half the world seem to want to attain, if only for 15 minutes, but it doesn't work like that - once you're stuck with it, you're stuck with it. I keep telling you: showbiz is like poetry: it's not meant to be reasonable.


So there I was, walking along in Ballsbridge, directly opposite the RDS. And a man hailed me and asked for directions to the RDS main entrance. I had to tell him it was straight across the road from where he stood and he thanked me - and then, suddenly, face and voice matched for him and he recognised Gay Byrne! And in Gay Byrne, as it happened, reposed all his hopes and dreams.

Such street encounters through the years have always been for the most part pleasant, which is, in itself, encouraging. But at the moment of recognition this man was a) embarrassed and b) quite overcome. I'm almost certain he said he was Austrian, and he was delighted to see me up and about and hoped my health was improving - I was looking well and I seemed strong, and he hoped it would not be long until I was back on the air because "we miss you and especially do we miss our regular date on Sunday afternoons on the old Time Warp on Lyric FM". Who the "we" are in this case I have no idea, unless this man did a private survey of all 742 listeners to the programme, including those in Austria. Of all the gin-joints in all the world...

A thoroughly charming, gracious and mannerly man, and a lovely happy laughing encounter on what was otherwise a damp, windy and unpromising day. I felt a tiny shade less than your actual walking skeleton.

Sunday Independent

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