Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rory O'Neill: 'I have nothing against RTE - they're nice people'

Miss Panti
Miss Panti


He was at the centre of a media storm following his controversial appearance on RTE regarding marriage equality earlier this year.

However, three months on from the notorious episode of The Saturday Night Show which saw RTE inundated with complaints and eventually led to a public apology from the company, activist and drag queen Rory O'Neill said he is still in demand by the State broadcaster.

In fact, O'Neill, known by his stage name Miss Panti Bliss, has already been asked to reappear on Brendan O'Connor's show and has been filmed for the latest series of Gay Byrne's reflective programme, The Meaning of Life.

Determined to see through his campaign for marriage equality in Ireland, O'Neill admitted that he does feel pressure to be the "perfect gay" and said that he is not sure if marriage is for him.

During the course of an interview on The Saturday Night Show -- Mr O'Neill cited particular names -- columnists John Waters, Breda O'Brien and the Iona Institute -- in relation to a discussion about homophobia and it later emerged that RTE had paid financial compensation of ¿85,000 to the three parties for defamation.

However, O'Neill, who admitted that he has become the poster boy for gay rights in Ireland, said that the support he has received since the controversy has done wonders for his career.

"I have no problem with RTE," the Mayo-born performer told the Herald.

"I think they mishandled that situation, but I don't think they are bad or terrible people and I have been asked to do stuff with them.

"However, I can't say yes to everything at the moment.

Rory O'Neill aka Panti Bliss

"I have been asked back on the Saturday Night Show and I recorded an episode of Gay Byrne's show, The Meaning of Life. The people in RTE are fine," he added.

Despite the strong levels of support from members of the public, O'Neill said being pigeon-holed as a spokesperson for marriage equality in Ireland is not something that he always felt comfortable with.

"I feel there is pressure to always say the right thing and to be the perfect gay in some ways and that's a pressure I'm not always too comfortable with.

"I especially feel it as I made my living by being a bit irreverent and my job as an entertainer has always been to stick a pin in easy notions and conventional society.

"So to suddenly be expected to be this perfect spokesman, who always says the right thing, is weird because that's not who I am."

Currently single, O'Neill said he is open to finding love, but is happy with his companion -- his beloved pooch.

"I have slightly reclusive tendencies -- I am perfectly happy to stay at home for days on end and not speak to anybody," he explained candidly.

"I am very happy in my own skin and walking the dog, but I am totally open to meeting somebody again."

While he is a fervent support of marriage equality, O'Neill said that it is not a personal belief which is dear to him and he does worry about how a changing culture could reflect negatively on young gay couples.

"It's not something that I particularly yearn after, but I strongly believe that I should have that choice if that's what I want.

"One of the great joys for me when I came out as gay was that I didn't have the pressure that my straight brothers and sisters had to settle down," the Mayo man told the Herald.

"But I feel that with the marriage equality movement, there is a danger gay people are going to feel those pressures now -- that there is only one way to live your life -- to settle down and get married.

"I already see that young gay people are becoming more conservative in their outlook -- 18-year-old boys now want to find a boyfriend, take them home to their parents and settle down and get married.

"If getting married and settling down is what they want -- they should be able to have that.

"But for me, personally, I would worry that gay people are going to end up having the same pressure," explained O'Neill.

A regular performer on the Dublin social scene and in theatre venues around the country, O'Neill's latest show, a mix of his club and theatre antics, will take him to Dublin's Vicar Street on June 13, followed by the Cork Opera Theatre.

O'Neill, who will take his tour to Australia and the US later this year, said that he has become used to the demands of drag, although it is a tough industry to crack for young performers.

"Drag is physically demanding -- you are in giant heels and you're strapped into corsets, bras and tights," he told this newspaper.

"I see a lot of young drag queens and they all hope to make a living out if because they see myself and others making a living out of it.

"But there is not as much work as there used to be so you would always need some kind of back-up," added O'Neill.

Rory O'Neill will perform in Dublin's Vicar Street as Miss Panti Bliss this summer on June 13

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