Tuesday 20 March 2018

Life lessons with Terry Wogan

Terry Wogan:
Terry Wogan: "Usually when I get home for dinner I have a dry Martini with vodka. Strong. You trot a mouse across it". Photo: Richard Saker
Terry Wogan and wife Helen in 1970

Born in Limerick and raised in Dublin from his mid-teens, Sir Michael Terence "Terry" Wogan is now considered a British National Treasure. A star on British TV and radio since his debut on the BBC's Light Programme in the summer of 1967, in the world of broadcasting, he has pretty much done it all.

Terry was educated by the Jesuits in Limerick and Dublin (Crescent and Belvedere colleges) but says that while he respects those, such as his wife of many years Helen, who have "the gift of faith", he has been an atheist for some time.

The couple have three children, Alan, Mark and Katherine. Their first child, a baby girl called Vanessa, died just weeks after she was born in 1966. It was a tragic loss that the broadcaster says led a crisis of faith.

Knighted in 2005, Sir Terry has lived in a large country manor on 12 acres just outside the village of Taplow, Buckinghamshire for many years. The "Wogan Homestead" is 30 miles from London, on the banks of the Thames.

Terry (77) has recently finished filming a TV series for the BBC which saw him travel all around England in a London taxi (driven by cabbie Mason McQueen), sampling local food and markets.

I do get asked to do a lot of things for TV, occasionally weird and wonderful. You are always getting invited to do all sorts of reality shows, Strictly Come Dancing, stuff like that. But it's not for me, not at this stage of my life. When I do get offers, I try to pick ones that just sound interesting, that will take me to places I haven't been before. What tends to pique my interest is new experiences.

I can't work in an atmosphere of confrontation. I never have been able to, and my instinct, when that happens, is just to walk away.

You have to be able to get on with people in my business, or in pretty much any work situation. I've found from working in radio and television that you can't work with an antipathetic crew, or with people who make an environment toxic. That just poisons the atmosphere and you will never get the best out of the people working with you.

I know a lot of people in the public eye complain about selfies, and people wanting to have their photo taken with you, but it's the price you pay for the position you have. Somebody wants to have their picture taken with you? So what? It's no big deal. If you are on TV, you are not a Hollywood star, you're not some glamorous, distant God. You are a part of their lives and people feel they can approach you.

It can get a little strange sometimes. On this series, we were in Winchester with the crew, and a woman came up to me and just burst into tears. She just stood there in floods of tears. What is this strange power I have over women?

There is also the flip-side to this. We were filming with a woman who didn't know me at all, and she said: "They had to tell me who you are." Imagine that, going up to somebody and saying: "That man over there had to tell me who you are." So… I don't really know what you are supposed to say in that situation.

I really thought I knew Ireland. I have been away for quite a few years now, but I did a series for the BBC (Terry Wogan's Ireland) a few years ago and it was a revelation. I knew Ireland had changed a lot in the 40 or so years I have been living in the UK, but I learnt that I didn't really know Ireland, outside of Limerick and Dublin, at all. And it was a fantastic experience for me, personally, to travel around, meet people and see Ireland in a way I never had before.

It was a very similar experience with this new series. Living close to London and working there, I haven't really gotten out to see the rest of the country as much as I should have. So going to Yorkshire, Wales, to the south coast, gorgeous little harbour towns, it was all new to me, which is something I really enjoy.

I used to like the sun but I don't anymore. I just can't sit there and toast myself all day. I think that as you get older, you don't need the sun that much anymore. We have a house in the south west of France, it's been our family holiday home for about 18 years. So we like to go down there when it's not too hot, and I love to swim, I'd be in the water all day if I could. That's why I have this racing snake figure.

I'm very highly strung, a ball of nerves. I do kick-boxing and pilates several times a day to burn off the nervous energy. So that means I can eat whatever I like and preserve this boyish frame. (It should be noted that this was said with trademark Wogan twinkle.)

We ate a lot on this series. But there wasn't much drinking. People would make us these fabulous feasts and present us with a glass of water! Usually, when I get home for dinner, I'll have a dry martini with vodka. Strong. You could trot a mouse across it.

There are still lots of places I want to see. But at my stage of life it's a question of; "Well, where's easy?" A gastronomic tour of Italy would be something I would love to do. Maybe next year, if I'm spared.

'Terry And Mason's Great Food Trip' begins on BBC2 on Monday at 6.30pm

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