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Advice to my 18-year-old self - George Hook

I WAS given the wrong advice growing up because my parents were poor, so they thought if I was an accountant I'd have a nice safe job.

And that was downhill for me because I was an utter failure at business. Looking back, the advice I would have loved to have received at 18 is that it doesn't matter what you do, so don't worry about it. If you want to be a pianist in a brothel, then do that, but make sure you're the best pianist in the brothel.

I go back to Pres in Cork every year, and give the sixth years a talk under the title, The Leaving Doesn't Matter. I tell them that there is life besides going to university and I talk to them as someone who made disastrous career choices. I always say that your mother is the worst person to advise you, although I don't know how the mothers feel about that.

I don't know if I'm a fatalist or what, but I believe that everyone gets a chance. The problem is a lot of people don't recognise it and they make a balls of it. It's quite interesting if you look at Newstalk 11 years ago when I started there, as Dunphy was on it and David McWilliams was on it. And George is still there.

Always giving your best is very important. If it's not good enough, fine, but I prepare like crazy for everything, no matter what it is. Even if someone at work wants a meeting with me, I will go away and prepare for what they might say in my head. I had no radio experience at all when I started my show. I knew I could talk – but what I discovered was that George could listen and listen very carefully to what someone is saying, and that was new to me.

I've realised that age is an unbelievable asset to me where radio is concerned and my experiences have made me what I am. There are very few advantages to being bald and toothless and old, but if there is a secret as to why I've been on the air for 11 years, it's because I'm old.

A lot of people on radio talk about bankruptcy, but they've never been bankrupt, and they talk about house repossessions, but they've never sat in court with the building society trying to take their home off them. They talk about abortion, but their wife has never been pregnant, and they've never thought about what they will do if a scan comes back and tells them that this child has Down syndrome or whatever. By and large, I've lived, and I bring that experience to the radio.

I've realised that being poor was actually quite a good thing. A lot of people mightn't agree with that. I can give you the month, the year and the place where I had my first steak. I was 19, for Christ's sake. I remember the first time I went into a restaurant, Folen's on O'Connell Street, at 15. My father got me beans on toast, and I thought it had three Michelin stars. But now I have eight-year-old grandchildren saying, "I think I'll have a prawn cocktail, but light on the mayonnaise." The thing is, if you give a child everything by the age of 10, what's left?

I'm quite conservative in my views on bringing up children, marriage, family life, discipline and structure, and about the importance of high standards and dress codes. I remember my father said to me, "You have holes in the soles of your shoes, but that doesn't mean you can't polish them." I can remember my first kiss, and my children laughed when I said in my book how old I was when I lost my virginity (24). Alison famously said, "Pop, I'm not waiting that long."

When I was a rugby coach, I used the phrase "keep the faith" a lot. I meant that if you practised to play the game in a particular way, then keep playing that way even if you're losing, because ultimately it's going to come good for you. When I was suicidal, Simon, the same guy who brought me down to Dun Laoghaire pier to the scene of the crime, said to me, "You have a talent, which is your voice. You're just not using it. Sooner or later you will." So you keep the faith.


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