The TV presenter talks about his recent health troubles, recreating the Irish road trips of his childhood and why a career in television is like riding a bucking bronco
Eamonn Holmes readily admits he has been in tears twice over the past week; first with chronic pain, then thanks to some personal news from his son Declan and daughter-in-law Jenny.
“I’m going to be a grandad. It’s such joyful news,” the broadcaster says. The baby is due in July. “It has been a miserable time lately, so this is just wonderful. I am so, so happy now.”
The 61-year-old has previously documented his struggles with insomnia, but he says that the condition was nothing compared with the chronic pain he has been suffering recently. It got so bad he ended up in hospital last weekend.
“I mysteriously dislocated my pelvis and I don’t know how — it’s not as erotic as it sounds,” he says. “My back is now out of alignment as a result.”
Holmes shared his experience on social media and says the responses have indicated the “absolutely scary” number of people who live with chronic pain.
“Nobody knows what it’s like unless they live with someone who has it,” he says. “I’m in huge pain and nobody knows how to stop it. This hurts like hell and I need to find a way to overcome it. It has lasted a month and it feels like I can’t remember what life was like without the pain.”
Physiotherapy has helped ease the misery, so too have ice-cold showers, which he says, have left him feeling “invigorated”. “Though when the physio suggested them I told him to go run and jump,” he adds.
The experience has not dimmed his enthusiasm for his next TV project: driving around Ireland in a camper van and doing what he loves most: talking to people. His travelling companion will be Stephen Nolan, the BBC Northern Ireland presenter, and there should be something of an Odd Couple vibe.
It will be a huge change of scenery for Holmes after 26 years of presenting breakfast TV shows. Covid regulations permitting, the plan is to start filming the as-yet-untitled six-part series as soon as possible. He can’t wait to get driving around Ireland, a throwback to the summer days spent exploring new places with his brothers.
His father, Leonard, was a Belfast carpet-fitter and in the summer holidays he used to put two rolls of felt in the back of his van and drive the family around the country.
“I’m one of five boys so sometimes there would be three of us, sometimes four and occasionally all five of us in back,” Holmes recalls. “Throw in the suitcases and a picnic basket and off we’d go. We’d do the whole coast, stopping off at a bed and breakfast for the night. My parents never booked anywhere. We’d just stop wherever caught our fancy.”
Holmes has lived in the UK for three-and-a-half decades, making a name for himself on the BBC, Sky and GMTV, but he is relishing the chance to work again on this side of the Irish Sea.
“We are a nation that loves conversation and you just don’t get that on British TV so much because everything is tight time-wise and they get uncomfortable with long interviews,” he says. “But the Irish love to listen to people talk.”
Nobody does talk shows better than the Irish, he adds. Holmes owes his own name to another Irish broadcaster, Eamonn Andrews. His mother Josie — still going strong today at 92 — was in hospital after giving birth when she saw a magazine featuring the This is Your Life host. “He had this mop of curly hair and my mother said, ‘Just like my wee Eamonn,’ so I was named after him,” he says.
Holmes believes it is his “destiny” to one day host a revived This is Your Life. The title of his autobiography — This is My Life — dropped a hint to commissioning editors. He began his journalistic career in Dublin, on a building magazine based opposite the Four Courts. “It was the most boring job in the world,” he says. But he loved his new home. “Belfast had suffered badly in the Troubles, so coming to Dublin for me was overpowering and in a way awesome to be in this major European city,” he says. “There’s a great cultural feel to the city. I loved the theatre and going to see Seán O’Casey plays at the Abbey.”
He moved back to Belfast to work on a new northern edition of the magazine. He went on to become a reporter for UTV, first covering farming then sport, before moving to Britain with the BBC.
“A lot of people think I upped and left for England, but I’ve always had a house in Ireland and I have always come back,” he says. “Belfast is my happy place, Ireland is my happy place. I definitely feel Ireland’s call.”
For a decade, he fronted the Sky News breakfast show Sunrise, which meant a 3am alarm call four times a week. A recent on-air chat with Tommy Bowe on Ireland AM made him realise that there’s no going back to that punishing regime.
“Even getting ready for that interview with Tommy made me wonder if I could get back into the routine of breakfast TV,” he says. “I feel like I have done my stint, and it was an amazing privilege to do it. There’s nothing more satisfying than to wake up the country with the news they didn’t know about from the night before.”
Away from the world of television, Holmes’s life revolves around his wife Ruth Langsford — who was also his on-air partner on ITV’s This Morning — his four children and Manchester United. He counts Alex Ferguson as a close friend.
“People think Ireland is green or orange, but it’s actually various shades of red,” he says. “You have the red of Liverpool, the red of Arsenal, but mostly it’s Man Utd and in Belfast. A lot of that has to do with George Best.”
One of the proudest and most poignant moments of his career came in September 2005 when the family of George Best asked him to act as MC at the footballer’s funeral service. The pair had been friends and Best was Eamonn’s sporting hero.
Television work has taken Holmes all over the world, but his next venture promises to be a special one because it means coming home.
“I’ve reached the stage in life where I want to pack a lot in, get out of the studio and meet lots of people,” he says. “I’ve maybe spent too much of my life in the studio.
“People think it’s hard to get into television and, yeah, it is hard,” he adds. “But you know what’s harder? Staying on it. It’s like a bucking bronco. You’ve just got to hold on.”