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Sunday 17 December 2017

'Fair City' star comes clean on his criminal past

Lynne Kelleher

Actor Tommy O'Neill plays one of the country's best-known detectives in the hit soap Fair City, but he has revealed he was once a wanted criminal in real life.

In a new documentary, Fair Cop, the actor and playwright tells how he gave himself up to gardai for armed robbery after having a conversation with God in his head.

The former alcoholic, who appeared alongside Vinnie Jones in his thriller The Riddle, says he can see the irony of playing one of the most recognisable policemen in Ireland on the small screen.

He said: "It is ironic that I am playing a cop.

"I like playing the John Deegan character in Fair City. At one time, I was on the run from the cops and here I am playing a detective and talking to Mrs Daly about her movements on Thursday night.

"I look at the other person and think: 'Was that me?'"

In the Would You Believe documentary, he tells how his life spiralled out of control in the late 1970s after he became hooked on heroin and alcohol.

He said: "I couldn't stop drinking. Once I drank, that meant the door was open to everything else. That meant heroin, coke, speed, anything.

"I would sometimes be drunk for 18 months and in the end it didn't matter what I put into me, I just needed to get away from Tommy and the farther away the better."

Although he is one of the most recognisable faces on television, the former alcoholic and drug addict has now made the brave decision to open up about his painful past and his conviction for armed robbery three decades ago.

He said: "It's tough waiting to be sentenced. In the end I got nine years, reduced to three."

The playwright, who wrote his first play about life after Mountjoy, said he believes his terrifying school days in Dublin contributed to his emotional problems.

"People were always telling me I was wild, but I just loved freedom. My worst memory of school is some young lad had his coat taken and I was blamed and they took me around every class and beat me in every class.

"The next day a woman came in and said her son had taken it home by mistake. That always stuck in my mind."

The actor, who left school at 13, was diagnosed an acute alcoholic at the age of 17 and became hooked on heroin in the Seventies after taking it at a party when he was working as a waiter in England.

He said: "I do have some regrets but I don't dwell on them. I love acting.

"Most of my friends died very young.

"A lot of people don't make it. I know I'm very lucky."

'Would You Believe, Fair Cop' will be shown on RTE One on Sunday, March 14, at 10.25pm

Sunday Independent

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