| 8.9°C Dublin

'I walked off air one day because I was annoyed and i was afraid what i'd say'

As an Ireland AM presenter and Q102 DJ, Aidan Cooney is a very familiar figure on morning TV and voice on the radio.

However, most people don't know the personal story behind the man who famously stomped off the TV3 set one morning, enraged by the subject of Government allowances and pensions. He doesn't do the social circuit, nor is he given to tell-all interviews, which is why I was delighted to meet the genial and socially aware 51-year-old for tea at Bewleys' Hotel in Newlands Cross.

It was there that he spoke about his regret at losing his parents Joan and Tony before their time – his mother from cancer in 1986, and his dad six years later, from a heart attack.

"People have said that it's a pity that my parents never got to see me on TV, but to hell with that – my big regret is that they never got to see my children," he says.

FUNNY

"My mother was only 48 when she passed away, and it left a horrible, horrible void. I'm the eldest of three boys, and my youngest brother David was only 15 when she died. I was 23, and the middle brother Brian was 20 and in first year at college. I was so angry that she had died, because when I turned 48, I had everything going for me and loads still to do."

Aidan's mum, Joan, developed ovarian and breast cancer, and had a hysterectomy and mastectomy. However, while she was given the all-clear in May 1986, it came back in August and she died in October. He remembers her as a funny, outgoing and caring mother, who was a fabulous cook, and never smoked or drank in her life. She was amazing, he says, because when she was dying, she was so worried about how her family would cope that she brought Aidan to Tesco to teach him how to do the shopping.

She also left instructions on how to operate the washing machine and microwave.

"I didn't know what to do or how to cope when she died, but my dad couldn't handle it at all," he says. "He was completely lost, and I used to listen to him crying himself to sleep at night, which was awful.

"The first Christmas was a strange one. Brian thought he had inherited my mother's culinary ability, so he said he'd make Christmas dinner, but when it still wasn't ready at 9pm that night, it was a miracle that he survived Christmas. And I remember finding shirts on the floor of my bedroom months after my mother passed away, and wondering why they weren't ironed."

Six years later, Aidan's civil servant dad died aged 59 from a heart attack, but the brothers remained tight and are all great pals today.

"Brian is the academic, David is the good-looking dude, and I got the big mouth," he laughs.

"Maybe it's an Irish thing, because I'd never tell them, but I'm so proud of them both. When something like that happens, it teaches you to appreciate things and be a bit softer, not harder, in your approach to people. I think life defines you by the knocks you get along the way."

Growing up in old Ballymun, Aidan describes himself as an "extremely cheeky gobshite who thought I knew everything".

He got into trouble regularly for small things, and was sent home from school for messing or copying someone else's homework.

Aidan fell in love with radio when he was 15, and managed to blag his way into a summer job with pirate radio station, ARD, which led to work on Radio Dublin.

He got a full-time job with the station at 17, but alas his parents didn't quite view pirate radio as a proper job.

So he was, shall we say, strongly encouraged to take a position in the Revenue Commissioners.

He was fortunate because his boss there turned a blind eye when Aidan sneaked out every day to do a 12-2 slot on the Big D radio station. He spent nine years in Revenue, and was selected to train as a computer programmer, where it was quickly discovered that "our man Aidan Cooney" wasn't quite suited to the job of writing computer programmes.

"I might as well have been looking at Japanese," he laughs. "I finally had to go to them and say it wasn't happening. They kicked me back to my old department, where the boss I had at the time went nuts and told me I was a waste of space. He said he was going to give me the sh*ttiest job possible to teach me a lesson. It was a low point for me personally, because I felt like a failure."

POSITION

Aidan believes that maybe his mother was looking down on him (although he doesn't believe in God) because shortly after that, he was offered a series of radio jobs that ultimately led to him being offered the position of sports correspondent at 98 FM.

As for the Civil Service, he reckons they may have been even happier than he was to part company with him, but one good thing came out of his time there. He met his wife Audrey in 1982, when he was around 20.

"Audrey was this beautiful young one who sat opposite me at work," he says.

"I fancied her rotten, but she didn't want anything to do with me. I never had the balls to ask her out, because while I was very forward, I was shy around women and didn't even have any female friends." Eventually, on a work night out and after a few pints, Aidan plucked up the courage to ask Audrey out. Romance blossomed, and they got married 11 years later, after Ireland AM's Mark Cagney prodded his colleague into action.

"Cagney beat me into it," he admits. "He said, 'Look, you have a beautiful lady there. Do you not think you should either say yea or nay and stop messing around?' So I thought about it and realised he was right."

Leaving aside the revelation that Mark Cagney has a Marjorie Proops alter ego, Audrey must be very patient, I surmise? "Ah yes, she has a lot to contend with," Aidan admits. "She's definitely the driving force behind what I do and how I do it. She's great and we work well together. Where I get excited, she gets calm and formidable. Our daughter Rebecca is 15, and she was born the day Princess Diana died in 1997. And our son Robert is now 12."

Aidan stayed in 98FM for 11 years, and was then offered a job in TV3. He started reading sports news, presenting Champions League and Sports Tonight. TV was a different vehicle, and after a while he was advised that he looked too serious on screen, and to smile a bit more. "And then the calls came in saying, 'That fella is always grinning. What's wrong with him?'" he laughs.

He was then asked to become part of the breakfast show, Ireland AM, and while he thought that they were mad asking him to tackle subjects like gardening and cooking, he soon found he was a natural all-rounder. He also presents a weekday drivetime programme on the radio station Q102, which he loves as he gets to play tunes, and chat to interesting people.

PUNCHES

Aidan and his fellow TV3 presenters are like a family, and he feels that if he ever needed anything from advice even to money, there would be people on the team who would instantly help him.

"Cagney's a genius and can talk about anything, and Alan Hughes has a great creative eye," he says. "Sinead Desmond is one heck of a 'female editor' in that she came from the female pages of The Sun newspaper, and has managed to translate those types of enjoyable or heartbreaking types of stories and interviews to TV."

So given that he is well-known for his strong opinions and hatred for bad manners or bullying, does he get into hot water for expressing his frequently strident opinions? "I don't get into trouble, but I get advised on maybe approaching things from a different angle," he says. "I walked off air one morning because I was so annoyed with the Government that I was afraid of what I'd say. But what makes the show is that we all have different viewpoints, and sometimes we can have ferocious differences of opinion."

Given that Ireland AM had carved out such a strong niche, were they thrown off by the arrival of RTE's Morning Edition? "Morning Edition has around 8,000," he says [the average audience to date is 13,600 viewers according to RTE's own figures]. "I don't mean to sound pejorative or dismissing of them, but they might as well deliver it by DVD, and save all the hassle.

"We've worked our arses off at TV3 and don't have the same resources as RTE does, so I like to think that the team here punches above our weight. It's a great company with a very strong management team, and they've managed to keep our little ship afloat.

"If you look at the BBC, they get the licence fee but don't take advertising, which leaves the pie to be divided among the other stations. We at TV3 have this cartel down the road who is both getting the licence fee and selling advertising cheaply, so at times we sit back and think, 'Look at what we've done, we've consistently delivered'."

Catch Aidan on TV3's Ireland AM, weekdays, 7-10am and on Q102 from 5-7pm.

strident: Aidan Cooney has strong opinions on the radio and television, but says his wife Audrey (below) is the driving force at home


Privacy