Wednesday 22 November 2017

The letter I wish I'd sent: Miriam O'Callaghan, Francis Brennan and Stefanie Preissner reveal all

 

Francis Brenan decided that cricket was not for him. Photo: David Conachy
Francis Brenan decided that cricket was not for him. Photo: David Conachy
RTE presenter Miriam O'Callaghan.
Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll

Life is full of those little regrets, things left unsaid, letters left unwritten. We never regret telling someone how much they mean to us; we do regret not telling them. We never regret thanking someone, but we can be haunted by those we never thanked properly for all they did for us. And sometimes you can only see it in retrospect. This summer, we want you to get closure. We want you to write the letter you wish you had sent. We will publish the best of your letters in the Sunday Independent and there will be prizes for the nicest letters. To give you some inspiration we asked three of our favorite people - Miriam O'Callaghan, Francis Brennan and Stefanie Preissner, to write the letters they wish they had sent. Send your letters, including your address and contact details, to The Letter I Wish I'd Sent, LIFE magazine, Independent House, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1

Miriam O'Callaghan

I agonised over who to write to. I decided against another piece on my late sister and even my Dad - so I wrote this letter to a man I loved who I worked with when I first went into TV. I meant to write to him before he died but I didn't realise he was so ill and I had a tiny baby at the time and had just become a BBC producer - excuses, excuses. I have always regretted not writing to him

September, 1987

My dearest Eamonn,

I think about you all the time and miss working with you greatly. I have heard you are a little ill right now, so I just want to let you know that I am thinking of you and that I hope you get better very soon. Thanks again for the beautiful gift you gave me for my baby daughter Alannah. Believe it or not, she is already 10 months old. I am loving every part of being a mother, as you said I would.

Life in the BBC is very interesting and I am enjoying being a producer here. I have made lots of new friends, but if I am honest, I desperately miss the camaraderie and friendship on This Is Your Life when I worked with you and the team as a researcher. I miss it every single day. I miss all of the team, especially Malcolm and Brian and Irene and Angela, but most of all I miss you, Eamonn.

I have been meaning to say to you for a few years now, so this seems as good a time as any, that I have never forgotten your kindness to me on the very first day I walked into the This Is Your Life office in Thames TV four years ago. I was incredibly nervous. At just 23 years old, I was a Dublin solicitor who had never worked in television before, and you were at the time - as you are now - one of the biggest stars, if not the biggest, in the British TV firmament.

I had just replied to an ad in The Guardian media pages looking for a researcher on This Is Your Life, and, lo and behold, totally unexpectedly, those two great producers you still work with on a daily basis - Brian Klein and Malcolm Morris - took a punt on me, for which I am eternally grateful. You were the boss, though, still are, and you could have easily asked what were they doing employing a very young Irish lawyer with zero TV experience to work on your big entertainment show, which is still nearly always the top show. But you didn't - in fact, you were my mentor, my minder, my feeder even, from day one.

You were always asking me if I was eating well (I am) - very like my kind Kerry father would do. I distinctly remember being in Hollywood with you three years ago, where we were doing the life of screen legend Alice Faye, and you insisted on me eating a large steak every night to build me up. You were kind and caring and loving - for that, Eamonn, I will always love you.

I also loved the moment when we were on that same Hollywood trip, and you rang my hotel room phone at some unearthly hour on the Sunday morning. The whole team, including myself, had just about gone to bed after a very late night shooting the breeze - and you rang and said, in a pretty firm but kind tone, that you would meet me downstairs in the hotel lobby at 8am, as we were both going to Mass off Sunset Boulevard.

Even if we were in Tinseltown, you - and you were going to make sure, I - were never going to lose the run of ourselves, or forget our roots and where we came from. That life lesson has served me well, Eamonn, and I hope in years to come, that whatever career I end up in, especially if it is in television, that I never ever forget it.

We had such great times together, really memorable ones that even now a good few years on and aged 27, make me smile. One of the first big This Is Your Life shows I got to do all by myself with you was Bob Geldof's. I know you persuaded the team that I would be able to do it, so thank you for that.

It was a momentous time with Live Aid, and I had to spend time with Bob's wife Paula Yates, who I really like, and also time in Dublin with his wonderful dad, Robert Senior, and Bob's sisters. It was such an exciting show and such a privilege to be part of it, as most of the big acts involved in Live Aid were on our show. Thanks for placing your trust in me, Eamonn, it gave me the confidence to believe in myself.

Mind you, I think I liked that show we did on the goalkeeper Pat Jennings even more. I remember so well you walking out on the pitch at White Hart Lane after a massive Spurs game with the red book to nab Pat. As the crowd went ballistic with joy, I was blown away once again by your calmness as you headed out on the pitch. You taught me everything I need to know about live TV. I know it will stand to me forever.

Most of all though, Eamonn, I just want to say how much your kindness, care, selflessness and guidance has meant to me, a young woman living away from home. You minded me and for that I am eternally grateful. I have also learned so much from you, not just about television, but about life and what matters.

I watched closely the way after each show when we would all be having a drink and some food in the Green Room with the families involved and guests, some of them huge stars, you spent as much time talking to the waiters and waitresses serving us, many of them Irish, as you did with the biggest star. You never forgot who you were and treated everyone you met with kindness and respect. I try to live up to your standards every day of my life.

So thank you so very much for everything and I know our friendship will go on for as long as we both live.

So get better soon Eamonn and we'll go for another lovely lunch in Chiswick.

Lots of love,

Miriam

Francis Brennan

21st March, 1966

Dear Aunt Annie,

Hope your trip back to Cork was uneventful and that you enjoyed your weekend in Dublin. I never shared with you how my first day ever at sport turned out.

As you know I am not at all sporty, but being in First Year at Catholic University School, Leeson Street, afforded me lots of choice. Now, not liking the rough and tumble, rugby was out. However, the sport of cricket caught my eye. Of course, I had no clue what it would entail, except that I had seen the players dressed in style on TV, so it was much to my liking!

I headed off to Elvery's, one of Dublin's top sports stores, and I viewed what was on offer. Within 30 minutes I was fully fitted out - white short-sleeved shirt, V-neck striped sweater and wonderful-looking Gatsby-style long, white trousers. The appointed hour of engagement was after school at Anglesea Road Cricket Ground, under the full eye of Fr Matthews, our German teacher at school. Well now my 'Klein' and 'Heil' were never great, so I could see a big challenge ahead.

We all assembled, say 15-20 of us, when Fr Matthews arrived. I had expected to be immersed in the theory of cricket, but no, we were all dispatched to various positions about the 'pitch', or whatever they call it! I found myself out on the periphery of things, close to the banks of the River Dodder. Now it was March, and as any Dubliner will tell you there is a wind that comes off the Three Rock Mountain that would 'skin ye'.

Well there I was being 'skint' while everyone else seemed to be very busy, at what I didn't know. After about 40 minutes of inaction, where I might be like Lot's Wife and freeze up, suddenly I realised the ball was heading my way at a pace.

As it got closer, there were hoots and hollers from the assembled 'team', but I, finding the better part of valour, decided that a ball at that speed could do damage and stepped back to watch it hit the wall and sail off into the Dodder. Whereupon a huge roar went up and I turned to see what for, for as far as I was concerned someone might have scored or something, I was as ignorant of the rules as an elephant!

The roar was accompanied by a stampede of lads, led by Fr Matthews, in my direction. When the horde arrived, Fr Matthews pulled me up off the ground by my new sweater to his face level and says: "What the f**k do you think you are doing? You are supposed to catch the ball and throw it to number five!"

I did not even know people had numbers, and could see none visible on anyone. Also, I was in shock at the thought of a priest using bad language! For I come from a background of no bad language in any of my encounters to date. So, I replied to Fr Matthews: "Did you use bad language?" "Yes," he said, "and I'll use a lot more of it if you don't catch the ball." Then he hit into me to 'effin' get over that 'effin' wall and retrieve the ball or else! So, I replied: "Or else what?". Whereupon he went for me. Only, I jumped back and said: "Fr Matthews I have decided that cricket is not for me. First of all I'm frozen, secondly, I was nearly knocked out by a flying ball and thirdly, I am not keen on the use of bad language. So I'm finished!"

I then walked off the pitch, to stunned silence, as no one ever seemed to have stood up to Fr Matthews previously! I changed my clothes, came home and so ended my sporting life.

See you soon,

Francis

Stefanie Preissner

Dear Copper Face Jacks,

I know we haven't seen each other in a while and I didn't really give you any warning that I was going to disappear. I guess I didn't really know myself that our last night together would be our last night together. I've been keeping an eye on you and honestly I'm thrilled for you to see you doing so well. I remember laughing at that cloakroom idea, but you really proved me wrong. Fair play.

I'm writing to you to take responsibility for my part in the crazy relationship we had, but I'm also going to highlight to you how you could have succeeded in your attempt to destroy me if I'd let you.

Firstly, yes, I was the one who made things get too serious too fast. You were intoxicating. I couldn't get enough of you. But you knew what you were doing with your nostalgic 5ive Megamix and 90s music and your 'Free in before 10' deals. I should have stayed content with seeing you one or two nights a week, but you knew how to make me feel at home, and you benefited hugely from me practically moving in. I must have bankrolled your existence while we were together.

In the end, there was just too much false hope with you. You promised me everything. You promised me happiness and freedom from stress, but all you ever gave me was a headache and overpriced plastic keyrings with photos of me and strangers in them. You promised we could dance. I imagined it like it is in the black-and-white movies where two strangers happen to know the exact same jive routine and slot right into each other. What I got was torn ligaments and a punch in the back of the head by a Mayo supporter attempting the Macarena.

You were so inconsistent. We'd spend some nights together and they are still the happiest of my life and then others, for no reason, you'd get your friends in their suits to drag me away from you. What was that about? I was a delight to be around on those nights.

Too many of the boys you hang around are absolute knobs. Seriously. Your friends are gross. I know I may not have greeted them with all the warmth and integrity of a British butler, but at least I didn't grab them by the ass or stick my tongue in their mouths without their consent. You should do something about this going forward. In your defence, your friends in suits stepped in when they witnessed these tete-a-tetes. Also, can you teach your male friends how a queue works? You might also bring them to a dance class while you're dealing with my earlier point. I have tried to assist more men with what I thought were fits of epilepsy than I care to remember.

I know it's not trendy to play the blame game but I have to blame you for one more thing. I'm approaching my 30s, Coppers, and my bank account looks like an emergency phone number. At this point in my life, it would be great to have some semblance of a savings account so I can do the expected adult things like get a pension, or a mortgage, health insurance or gym membership, but you've made sure I'm as unstable as the drinkers who hang on for your rendition of the national anthem at the end of the night. Did you have to go and get your own ATM machine? Really? Would it have been so awful to leave it at cashback? At least then we had the chance to be talked out of the decision by surrounding barflies. Getting your cash machine and putting it over in that nasty little corner of shame meant that I could secretly chip away at my future security without interruption.

Giving me a gold card was a clever move. You gaslighted me. You made me think you were doing this kind, virtuous, generous thing, but you knew. You knew you were the only one who was going to profit from it and you let me make a fool out of myself in the process. Well the joke's on you. I brought my own drink in Capri-Sun pouches. So there. I'm not proud of that either, but I need you to know you didn't get everything out of me.

Anyway, I should have been mature and explained this a long time ago. I'm sorry if you feel abandoned. Although, I've been keeping an eye on your social pages and it seems like you've found loads of new girls. I was jealous at the start. Now I'm OK with it. Please mind them and make sure they're safe. They put a lot of trust in you. I had some great times with you, Coppers. Let's keep it that way for your future flings.

Anyway, I better get back to my less fluorescent, less headachey life.

I see you've dipped your toe into settling down? You're open to daytime activities like lunch and coffee and jumping on the cleaner living buzz. I admire you for that and I wish you every success with it. Maybe I'll come by yours for that €5 lunch some day. You do know that chicken Kiev isn't healthy though, don't you? SORRY! I'll stop being negative. You're doing great, Coppers. May we never cross paths again.

As Adele says, 'I wish nothing but the best for you-u-u'.

Stef

PS: Any chance I could get those three jackets back? I called but you didn't answer. Even though it was Tuesday between 5-7.

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