Next week will mark the twentieth anniversary of one of Ireland’s most loved actors, Dermot Morgan.
On a random night in London, a 17 year old from Dublin, with a borrowed BBC Radio 1 mini disc recorder interviewed one the most famous TV priests, for a pirate radio station, that was perhaps his last interview ever.
So to get to that night in February 1998, let me tell you how it began.
I started in radio when I was 14, some of my friends started up a radio station in their garden shed. They were way ahead on their time and had a great gender balance, they asked if I wanted to do a show. I jumped at the chance and so it began.
Freedom FM was a pirate station, but it was bigger than some of the legal stations and when it wasn’t on air – because most of us were in school – they relaid BBC Radio 1. I had a very keen interest in the station because my cousin, Chris Moyles was a DJ on overnights there. So after Ralph – a Freedom DJ’s who had a nightly mad trance show – BBC Radio 1 would come on and I’d get a chance to listen to Christopher’s show.
He was one of the many reasons I loved radio. Over the years people who worked in radio with me would take the piss because I proudly told anyone who would listen that he was my cousin. Christopher was not only the reason I wanted to work in radio he was the reason that I ended up at the season premiere of Fr.Ted and getting to interview the cast.
I had gone to visit London for a few days with my Auntie Vera, Chris’ Mam and that evening Christopher was going to this press event and said I should go with him as it’d be a bit of craic. This is how he operates, he’ll tell you you’re going somewhere with him and when you arrive, it’s one of those pinch me moments. I had another similar one this summer, dinner with Chris Martin, in Croke Park but that’s a story for another day.
When we arrived, I couldn’t believe we were going to see the preview of the latest season of Fr, Ted. Everyone was talking about it. It was literally the best thing on TV. I can’t remember where in London the screening was, but it was packed. After the screening the cast were dotted in different parts of the venue doing interviews, press mulled around and the place was heaving.
I was completely taken in by the excitement of it all, there was such a buzz and there in front of me was the cast of Fr.Ted ,the biggest TV show at the time, just sitting there, like right there!
This is when Christopher comes into his own. He was chatting to a colleague from Radio 1 and took their mini disk player, turned to me and said “go and get some interviews for your show”
“What?!?! I can’t do that”
“Why can’t you?”
Before I knew it, there I was, fumbling around with a national radio stations mini disc player sitting in front of Ardal O’Hanlon trying to pretend I had a clue what I was doing. Ardal was so sound, he answered my unprepared, probably stupid questions with patience and a wry smile.
Then before I knew it, they told me it was time to wrap up, I was slightly relieved as I had been a little star stuck and shook but they ushered me over the the far side of the room where I was greeted with a huge smile and “sit down, sit down, what’s your name?!” Frank Kelly is to date, one of the nicest gentleman I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing.
Asking me where I was from and telling me he didn’t know Freedom FM but he’d tune in. He was so patient and kind, he answered my questions and said it was his favourite interview of the night, along with a “Feck, Arse, Drink, Girls” for good measure. Time was up and my interviews were finished. The PR girl said Dermot was feeling tired and heading home, so I wouldn’t be interviewing him.
He had probably been sitting in the same corner for about two hours, maybe even three hours, interview after interview and he looked tired, like most do after junkets. I’m sure he was looking forward to finishing for the night. I walked pasted him on my way back and smiled, he acknowledged me and continued his interview.
That was enough for me.I was so grateful and still a bit shook from my interview debut with real stars, I was glad to be back to Christopher and catch my breath while still shivering with the adrenaline and excitement. That night is one of the reasons I loved Radio and interviewing people, it’s a real rush, especially people you admire.
Then something happened, one of the PR girls appeared over and said Dermot says he’s a few minutes to spare but you need to be quick and just like that there I was, a 17 year old, from Dublin with a BBC Radio Mic and Mini Disc recorder, introducing myself to Dermot Morgan, the man who’s impressions filled the soundtrack to my childhood Saturday mornings, he was one of the most recognisable men in Ireland, the UK, he’s Fr.Ted for God sake!
I was shaking, this was a big deal. This is Fr. Ted Crilly!
As I sat down and thanked him for his time, he said it was no problem but he was tired and heading home straight after we chatted, it had been a long night. Then he asked;
“Whats your name?”
“Oh It’s Suzie, th, thank you so much for doing this, I know is it’s been really busy….”
“That’s okay, where are you from?”
“Oh em, Freedom FM”
“Yes, its a radio station in Dublin but I’m using Radio One’s microphone…”
“I don’t know it, I’m on the breakfast show on Radio One on Monday though, but where in Dublin are you from?”
“Oh, Sorry, Yeah, Templeogue?!”
“Ah, yes. I know it well”
“I’m just visiting, my cousin, he works for Radio One, anyway, thanks again” I babbled.
When time was up, I told him how my Dad loved him and we used to listen to Scrap Saturday every weekend. He laughed and said “I bet you wanted to listen to something else”, and I told him I liked some of the voices. He smiled, said his goodbyes.
I couldn’t believe my luck, I’d made it. Well in my eyes I had. I was buzzing, I couldn’t wait to ring home in the morning and tell my Dad and I then tell the lads in Freedom FM, we’d interviews with the cast of Fr.Ted.
I left the event with a signed FR.Ted press release under my arm and my mini disc of interviews. I was walking on air and felt ten feet tall; “Dermot Morgan, the actual Dermot Morgan chose to speak to me, me! Can you believe that?!” I couldn’t stop talking the whole way back to the hotel. As my Auntie met us in reception I went into full verse about the night and what had happened.
“That’s brilliant Suzie, well done. I can’t wait to hear them.” My Dad was as delighted for me as I was for myself. I was so excited to make the phone call home and tell him. “Dad, Christopher took pictures on my camera, so I need to get them developed straight away, okay?!?”
Over breakfast the next day Christopher joked how I had got the exclusive before Zoe and Kevin, Dermot and the cast were due to be on the Radio One Breakfast show, it was a really big deal. Kevin Greening and Zoe Ball had millions of listeners and secured the biggest guests, but Christopher said “you interviewed them first.”
I couldn’t believe my luck.
A few days later, back in Dublin, still buzzing from my few days in London my Dad told me that Dermot Morgan had passed away. I was really taken aback. At 17 I didn’t fully understand grief or the tragedy of Dermot’s passing, for me, I was just so sad that a man who had been so kind and taken those minutes to talk to me had passed away. I think the whole country mourned a loss with Dermot, he was liked and I suppose loved by so many. It’s only in later life I realised what the sadness of a man, as young as Dermot dying really meant.
Ironically, years later his voice echoed around my dads hospital room, as I said, my Dad loved Scrap Saturday and one of his friends had brought in tapes and a tape deck for my Dad to listen to while he was in hospital. I still get overwhelmed when I hear those voices, it reminds me of my Dad and of the Dad, Dermot that his three sons lost too soon.
The day the news of Dermot Morgan’s passing filled the news, Christopher rang and like me couldn’t believe what had happened. “It’s mad to think, you’re probably the very last person to ever interview Dermot Morgan” he said.
“Yeah, I suppose so. Wow.”
Twenty years have passed since that night and the days that followed. I still hold those interviews as a personal highlight, I’m still so grateful that they all took the time and gave me a chance.
It was a honour, an absolute honour.