Saturday 23 June 2018

George Hook: 'I got my kicks from wearing women's knickers in bed'

The affable Newstalk presenter opens up about sexual confusion and his thrills ahead of his new lunchtime radio show - just don't ask him to spoon, writes Niamh Horan

STILL MAKING WAVES: George Hook and Niamh Horan talk knickers, love and about his 47 years of marriage to the ‘lovely Ingrid’. Photo: Tony Gavin
STILL MAKING WAVES: George Hook and Niamh Horan talk knickers, love and about his 47 years of marriage to the ‘lovely Ingrid’. Photo: Tony Gavin
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

For the past year, George Hook has been going to see a psychotherapist. He wants an answer to the age-old question: 'who am I?'

As one of Ireland's foremost broadcasters, he has shared his most intimate thoughts on The Right Hook for the past 14 years. So perhaps the public would like to think we have him pretty sussed: cocksure, loud-mouthed, brash, an old-school alpha-male - what's left?

It turns out, for every trait we see in the former rugby pundit, there is what Jungian psychologists call a 'shadow side'.

For instance, he says: "My therapist has told me I am the least confident person she has ever met."

Those who work on his radio team could have told him that for free.

They have to feed him daily reassurance - with the help of an in-studio text machine - that people are tuning in to his show.

When the JNLR listener figures are due, despite the fact that it has been the station's number one performer since inception, he goes through the same routine.

"I lie at home with the pillow over my head until the numbers come out and someone rings to say it's safe to come in. It's been like that for 14 years," he says.

All George wants to really be told is that he is good enough.

So when Newstalk's new CEO, Tim Collins, called him into his office to discuss his much-publicised retirement - he didn't have to mention money to entice the station's biggest star to stay.

The magic words had George convinced: "He said, 'I think you're very good.' Nobody in Newstalk had ever told me that before…," he shrugs, "I'm human."

It's Friday morning in Dublin's Westbury Hotel and it's hard to believe this 6ft 3in former rugby coach has a delicate side.

But then it turns out there's a lot of things we don't know about George.

At 75 years of age, even he is trying to play catch-up on himself.

That's why he is attending a therapist (it may surprise you to hear he is taking advice from a woman) to help him work through those messy 'wasted' years.

"They lead you along, and you try and find out what makes you happy and I think that exercise is worth doing."

Another side to George you might not know is that he once had a penchant for wearing women's knickers.

"I wore ladies' underwear when I was a schoolboy. I was 14. I used to steal them from the drawers of a mother of a school friend of mine."

He used to slip them on and wear them to bed so his mother wouldn't catch him.

Why did he do it?

"I did it because I liked it."

He believes if it happened today things might have turned out a lot differently.

"It was really interesting as to where I might have gone at that point - at 14. Now, there was no way I could have gone anywhere else if I was gay, I'd go to jail because it was illegal, and you never heard of a transgender person in 1956, so I wasn't going anywhere."

These days, he says, "at 14, every second person you meet is gay, so wearing women's clothes isn't a problem anymore. If I was 14 now and wearing women's knickers, who knows that I wouldn't be transgender? The reason I wasn't was because of society".

He sees the humour: "Lucky for me like, I think I wouldn't. Like, it would've been a bit strange in a dressing room after a rugby match."

But, he says: "I understand completely a woman in a man's body. I get that."

Did he ever go past the underwear? Was there ever anything else he tried on?

"No, I only wore knickers. It was difficult to steal too much stuff. And I could hardly go and buy it."

It was years later, in his 40s, when George was abroad, that he decided again to indulge his secret fetish.

"I think I was in Birmingham and I [went into a shop] and tried it but it didn't have the same effect."

So what effect did it have on him when he was 14?

He looks me in the eye and says matter-of-factly: "Are you trying to ask me how I masturbate?"

Well, was it for comfort or was it sexual?

"It had nothing to do with comfort," he says.

Growing up, his mother was the dominant force in the family. She controlled the purse strings.

"My father came home and handed his wage envelope over to her, unopened."

She would then hand his father back "a couple of quid for fags and drink".

Although Hook speaks at length in many interviews about his mother - as he says "to understand me you would really have to meet my mother" - he rarely discusses his father.

But it turns out the pair were incredibly close.

His steely blue eyes glaze over when he recalls the memories. After Sunday Mass, the pair used to link each other, arm-in-arm and walk for two hours while musing about the world around them.

His father gave him his love of history books, current affairs and a passion for sport.

George has fond memories of the pair creeping down to the kitchen at 5am to put their ear to a crackling radio. Together they listened to live commentary of the English cricket team in Australia as well as Joe Louis' world title fights.

It formed cherished moments in a house filled with poverty.

As he says himself: "I could not have done radio without my father."

But his mother was the driving force in his career and education, and put all her worldly ambitions into her son.

"She didn't go to a movie or buy a dress in my time as a schoolboy so she could pay for me to go to school."

The class photo of him, clearly the poorest boy in a fee-paying school, is still painfully etched in his memory.

The message at home was in no doubt.

George had to get "a safe pensionable job", and so a young Hook went into insurance.

During all that time he said: "I never did what I wanted to do."

He believed that is what ultimately knocked him and instilled in him a lack of self-belief: "In all that time I had no confidence… when you work with kids you've got to understand that the most important thing [to tell them] is to do what they want to do."

"If you want to be a piano player in a brothel, be a piano player in a brothel… but make sure you're the best."

I wonder if in relationships too, he had trouble finding which path he wanted to take.

Did he ever have a gay experience? "What kind of an interview is this," he baulks, "where's my solicitor?

"If you had the kind of feelings that we had, you never acted on them because of the law first of all, because there was no difference between a gay and robbing a bank. So a lot of men confused friendship with love, because friendship between men is extraordinary. You can't understand because you're a woman."

He tells me about one boy who stood out from the rest: "I remember being in London, I remember it all, names and everything. And I often think of this guy, I wonder if he's still alive. His name was Mike Nichols. His initials were MRG." He goes on: "We worked together and we were incredibly friendly. And I'm confused. I don't know whether he's my best friend or I'm in love with him, I don't know."

At this stage George was 20 and playing rugby. An older friend, a man in his 40s, came to see him and the pair went for a couple of pints after the match.

Afterwards, they were walking down Fortfield Road and George decided to reach out to him for help: "I'm really confused about Mike," he said. "And [his older friend] explained to me the friendship; he explained what I'm telling you about, that the friendship between men is such an extraordinary, powerful thing that you don't confuse it with love. And that's been with me all my life.

"Now if you're a young person in 2016 it's very easy to confuse friendship for love and I'm absolutely convinced that some people are gay not because they were born gay but they're confused because they aren't as lucky as I was, that I had somebody to explain to me the difference between friendship and love.

"So the short answer to your question is: I have never sucked d*ck!"

It would be seven more years until he met a woman and lost his virginity. She was 38: "It was consummated in the Midland Hotel, Birmingham, and then I went to Mass."

Eventually he found his way - after some last-minute jitters on the morning of his wedding - he got married to the 'lovely Ingrid', with whom he found the connection he says he was looking for.

By his own admission: "I had a slightly confused idea about marriage. I thought marriage was like living with my mother. I just thought a different person was cooking my meals. I thought I could go to rugby on Saturdays and come home whenever I wanted to. It took me a while, like 30 years to understand the responsibilities of marriage and all that sort of stuff."

Ingrid has stuck with him in the darkest times. When things got "a bit tricky" as George puts it, the banks were coming to take his home and car and loan sharks were calling to his door to break his legs.

"It's a bit difficult to be all lovey dovey when there's two fellas standing at the door with baseball bats."

But they got through it - safe to say, not without giving each other their own space. For most of their marriage they have slept in separate beds, he tells me, and sees the look of crushing heartache on my face: But what about spooning? Do you not miss the spooning? I ask.

He looks perplexed. I explain the process to him, while adding that I doubt he would be the little spoon - though sometimes he might like it.

And he eventually comes back: "I never swooned or spooned in my life!" For George it was always "a wham bang 'I'm your man' type of thing". The thought of cuddling visibly annoys him: "This is more of this horseshit propagated by women. Every marriage is different. Every couple creates a relationship around them. When I come home tonight after work and I go in and I'll see Ingrid and Ingrid smiles at me, then my legs start to go [funny].

"But I don't need a lecture from Niamh Horan or the editor of Cosmopolitan about the life I should have with her. I love this woman. I asked this woman to marry me on our second date. And I've loved this woman for 47 years, is that love? I don't have to be swooning."

He continues: "I can't explain it, she can't explain it but she can't live without me and I can't live without her.

"We were in Cork, we went down to see our new grandson, I have to take pills, I've an irregular heartbeat, and I forget to take the pills but she remembers to pack them, she remembers to say, 'did you take your pills?… if you love her you don't need anything else, you don't need sex, you don't need holidays, you don't need anything."

So what is love?

"Love is where you're prepared to stand in front of her if there's an oncoming train coming for her. That's love. I care more about her than life itself."

These days one way he makes an extra effort for Ingrid is to ensure she never has to go through a financial nightmare again.

In recent years, after his broadcasting career took off, his best friend, a top stockbroker, took him for a slap-up lunch to celebrate.

Afterwards he brought him to meet three young men who wanted to invest his cash pile: "If you added their ages together they would have still been younger than me," George recalls. They spoke of the money he could make from shares in Nicaraguan gold and Arabian oil. Leaning across the table, George balled one of the men's shirt and tie in his fist, pulled him close and said through gritted teeth: "If you lose a fucking shilling of my money... I'll kill you."

He kept most of it in cash - and survived the downturn.

Now sitting pretty in Newstalk's lunchtime slot, the future is his for the taking - in a job that he truly loves. He even has a nice hefty pension pot put away for himself and Ingrid to retire comfortably whenever he sees fit.

His mother would be so proud.

George Hook's new lunchtime programme will air Monday to Friday - noon to 2pm - from early September. His final 'The Right Hook' show airs this Friday.

Sunday Independent

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