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Saturday Night Live!
When Pat Kenny steps before the cameras every Saturday, he attracts an audience-rating which is increasingly likely to threaten the long-standing supremacy of The Late Late Show in Irish broadcasting. But despite his popularity, the host of Kenny Live remains something of an enigma. In the first part of a wide-ranging interview he talks about everything from his first kiss to, well, the meaning of life. Interview: Niall Stokes
Niall Stokes, 20 Oct 1993
Gay Byrne is clearly Ireland's most powerful broadcaster - but in 1993 in terms of pervasiveness and influence, Pat Kenny is not very far behind at all. Indeed, given that he is fifteen years younger than the host of the Late Late Show, it is quite conceivable that Kenny may yet surpass the extraordinary level of success achieved by the man who has at times brilliantly defined the terms of Irish broadcasting for the past 30 years.
If so, it will be a result of a markedly different set of virtues - and values. An engineer by training, with a third level education under his belt, Pat Kenny is highly intelligent, reflective and analytical, qualities which saw him naturally gravitate towards the current affairs side of radio and television. He was a long-standing regular on RTE's anchor television political programme Today Tonight, while also holding down a regular daily radio slot for the bulk of the working year.
But Pat Kenny was a product of the '60s, with a passionate interest in music, honed in the folk clubs of Dublin, where he performed his own songs alongside contemporaries like Brendan Grace, Clannad, Triona and Micheál O'Domhnaill and dozens of other less well-known and less successful aspirants. Having established his credentials on RTE 1, he was a natural for 2FM therefore when the national music channel opened, presenting The Outside Track on Saturday afternoons - a discerning blend of album reviews and credible music that has never been adequately replaced following its departure from the schedule in the early '80s.
That background was to prove crucial to Kenny's trajectory in his television work. For the past decade, RTE have been trying to identify a logical successor to Gay Byrne, in anticipation of the final decline of the Late Late Show. Given the breadth of his experience, and his interests - encompassing music, current affairs and all points in between - Pat Kenny became an obvious contender, taking up the challenge of a weekly chat show some six years ago . . .
That the Late Late has chugged along merrily, oblivious to the extraordinary changes taking place in the world around it, and in Ireland in particular, all the while can by this stage be seen to be supremely irrelevant. Gradually, Pat Kenny has left the formality of current affairs behind him, slipping ever more assuredly into the Kenny Live brief, and fronting a show which has built in popularity to the extent that it will certainly challenge the Late Late Show for supremacy, in audience rating terms, at some stage this season.
His growing success, and the familiarity it brings with it notwithstanding, Pat Kenny remains an enigma. An armour of studious professionalism remains, and to date he has revealed little of himself either via his own television and radio appearances, or in interviews in other media. That he is loosening up, however, is certain - a process which has probably been accelerated by his marriage a couple of years back to his wife Cathy, and the subsequent birth of their first child Christina.
He arrives for the Hot Press interview armed with pages full of notes but ultimately feels no need to consult them, gradually settling into an examination of his past, his career, his motives and his motivations which by any standards are exacting. His language is precise and his answers are finely balanced. You get the impression that he has learned something in terms of diplomatic skills from the politicians who have so often been his quarry in his current affairs work.
Except that with Pat Kenny you are quickly convinced that there is a fine intelligence at work - and that he is ultimately intent on getting to the real answers.
Lights, cameras - in 30 seconds we'll be on air . . .
NIALL STOKES: What's your earliest memory?
PAT KENNY: My earliest clear memory is of catching the heel of my foot in the back wheel of my father's bike. Now I don't know how old I was - I must have been two, I'd say, and I was on the back carrier. My foot slipped off the little foothold and went into the spokes and for what seemed to me like months afterwards I was brought to Dr Steven's Hospital to have the wound dressed, and my mother used to have to go by circuitous routes because, if I thought I was going there in the buggy, I would start to scream from the moment I left the house. So she used to head for the Phoenix Park and then cut across to end up in Steven's Hospital. That's my earliest clear memory.
So what was life like at home in the Kenny household?
The Kenny Household? Well, my father worked too hard. He worked seven days a week. What's new, y'know? I work seven days a week. But he had a tough, tough life. He used to have a half-day on a Friday and that was his only time off in the week. He worked in Dublin Zoo as the elephant keeper, so Saturday and Sunday were the two busiest days. That was tough. He went to work all his life on a bicycle, never owned a car. My mother eventually got a car, but as young children growing up we didn't know the meaning of a car. It was, I think, a very happy house. The only time I remember my father really becoming furious with me was when myself and my brother were out and we taught our younger sister, who was seven years younger than me and five years younger than my brother, we taught her to say 'feck' (laughs). It wasn't even 'fuck' it was 'feck', and he took off his belt to us. But there was tremendous respect between my father and my mother, and they really had it tough. There wasn't any money at all. Those of us who went to college got scholarships, y'know, Primary Scholarships and Inter Scholarships and Leaving Scholarships and all that. The Christian Brothers were the instrument by which all this was achieved, with some pain.
So in retrospect, what's your attitude to the Christian Brothers?
I've very mixed feelings. I think that they kind of gave us the leg up that we needed educationally - and intellectually, probably too narrow a view of the world. Happily I went to college because that allowed a little bit of expansion of the intellect. Whereas, I think if I'd gone straight from the Christian Brothers into the working environment I would have been a very odd person indeed.
On a day to day basis, what was it like?
There were some great times but I wouldn't want to put any child of mine through what I went through with the Christian Brothers. I hated going to school. Every single day of my life I hated going to school. I was good in school. I passed exams, but I hated it.
What was your worst experience in school?
Humiliation I think. Fear and humiliation. Like everyone being told to stand up and face the blackboard, and we'd have a long poem like The Lady Of Shalott, y'know it's 15 hundred verses. And the Christian Brother would pad around behind us, and he would just touch a person on the back to continue with the next verse. And like, 50 verses of this thing, you'd have it off by heart. And the fear as you could smell the Christian Brother approaching - it was a mixture of tobacco smoke, 'cause they all seemed to smoke, and chalk dust, and I think they used to eat a lot of cabbage because there was always a slight odour, an institutional reek of cabbage. You'd almost feel the heat of their breath as they approached between the various desks, and then touch you on the shoulder, and you were hoping, and your mind was scanning ahead: 'I know the next verse. He's coming, I hope he gives me the next verse'. And then he'd just touch someone's shoulder and he'd say 'Devitt, continue', and Devitt would continue. And you'd be saying, 'Holy God, what's the next verse?' I found it humiliating and demeaning.
What about the corporal punishment?
We regularly got beaten, three on each hand or whatever. But it wasn't that, it was the mind games which I didn't like. When you look back some of the bad experiences sound amusing, like a fella being lifted up by his ears - but you wouldn't do it to a dog today, so why would you do it to a person?
Was there a sexual element in the way the Brothers operated?
Oh I don't think that we were conscious too much of that. Looking back on it afterwards there are questions, but I must say at the time it wasn't an element. For me it was pure fear, it wasn't sexual fear. It was pure, ordinary everyday fear - fear of humiliation and just terror, routine terror. We had to move classrooms for a religion class, and the last three guys every day would get slapped whoever they were. Now someone had to be last. That's the way it is. You can't all arrive in a room together, and the last three guys get slapped. That's just ritual cruelty.
Do you believe in God?
I do. I'm not sure exactly what form He or She takes, by the way. I was looking at a thing in Time magazine last week about the origin of life and they were speculating as to the building blocks and where they came from, and how they have got this RNA molecule which can replicate itself and so on. But the big question is: what's the spark that suddenly makes a very complex molecule, or even a simple molecule, a living thing and another a non-living thing. That's where it all begins and ends. Whether it's a bacterium or a human being these are things which reproduce. We're back to sex again. Maybe God is sex because that's the life force, and how it came about is beyond me. We're only a tiny part of a huge galaxy, and we know that there are more galaxies out there, so who's to say that this little world of ours isn't just a tiny dot on the head of a pin in an atom in another galaxy? Maybe what we think is sophisticated, like the complexity of nature, which inspires awe in me, is a doddle by another God's standards. Creating that stuff? Creating earth? Pah, I could do that in one day, never mind seven.
Do you practice religion?
In terms of religious practice I wouldn't be the world's best. I enjoy churches. I like the solitude, the peace of churches. And I like religious ceremonial: I like hymns and I like a lot of the pomp and circumstance. I don't like silly sermons, and I don't suffer them. If I think a priest is thick, if I think he is saying stuff that is irrelevant, I don't think anyone should have to sit through it. I don't think I've ever been greatly illuminated by any sermon I've ever heard because most of them are not particularly good. But I have a constant dialogue with myself. Maybe it's one of those things that happens to you when you get educated by the nuns and then by the Christian Brothers: that you can never leave it alone.
Would you regard yourself as a Catholic?
If I was ever asked to sign a form, I would put down Catholic. I would never say 'Nothing!'. I know that even my disagreements have been formed by Catholicism. We had a joke the other day: someone was talking about something in the canteen and said 'Are you going to the match?', and the reply was 'Is the Pope Catholic?'. Then someone said, 'Based on the current encyclical he's the only Catholic.' I would have to say that I am not the kind of Catholic that the Pope would want me to be.
So, what's your reaction to Veritatis Splendor?
I think it is something that most people don't perceive to be relevant to them, certainly people of my generation or younger.
What does that say to you about the infallibility of the Pope?
He has drawn back from that. He was advised, it seems, by some of the people close to him that that might be a mistake. So he no longer is saying that this is infallible. I know what's going on in the church. I follow these arguments very closely. They are looking at the rise of Islam. If you look at this in strictly marketing terms, Islam is very authoritarian. You know where you stand. You do this and you commit a grave violation and so on, very tough, and they're making huge expansionist moves and they're very popular. The Catholic Church has gone all milk and watery. Its numbers are declining, certainly in the western world, and probably in other parts as well. They're losing converts to Islam in other parts of the world. The product that is on offer is not a particularly attractive product to simpler people who want certainties. I think that's where the market is, not here in the western world where we're all à la carte Catholics to some degree.
What do you make of the virgin birth?
You're getting down to the nitty-gritty of particular phenomena! I believe that many of the Biblical stories are parables, they're apocryphal. I don't have any difficulty with the idea that Mary had a family, which some of the evidence suggests that she had. Virginity no longer has the cachet it used to. I don't think that putting Mary on a pedestal as a virgin in some way makes her superior, in motherhood terms to my mother, who had five children. I always had a great difficulty with that idea because it seemed to run down my own mother. I think it's like many of these ideas that change. I'm not sure how long it will take that one to change, but I think it's essential that it should be so. I don't care whether she was or not. I wouldn't criticise her for not being a virgin.
What do you make of transubstantiation?
I also think that is symbolic.
But the Catholic Church, precisely, says otherwise?
But it has to be symbolic, no matter what they say. Nowadays you can actually check atoms and molecules and you know that the wafer is not anything other than made up of the molecules of bread. So how can it be other than symbolic? I don't think that there's any argument over this. We can scientifically prove that this is still the same wafer, so it has got to be symbolically the body if it is anything. It cannot actually be the body of Jesus Christ because therefore it should be made up of the kind of molecules that make up flesh and blood. There is a problem of language here. There is no word that can describe what they mean, because it is clearly not, physically speaking, transubstantiation. The substance is still the same atoms and molecules. So what do they mean? I'd need a theologian to explain it to me, because it ain't changed.
That would be considered heresy, and you are a Protestant because you are participating in a specific heresy - just as you are in refuting the virgin birth.
I could very well be, in that I would be protesting the logic of something which seems to me not to stand up and I would welcome a debate with a theologian who would explain to me, using the English language as I understand it, how it does stand up. In transubstantiation the substance is not changed. Then they will maybe debate me on what does substance mean, but I am talking about atoms and molecules arranged in a particular order, and that does not change. So, what is substance? I can understand symbolism, where you say that this is symbolically the body and blood, but it quite clearly, substantially, is not the body and blood.
If there are so many of these unsustainable elements involved in Catholicism, how does it hold together?
The fundamental thing of Catholicism is belief. Belief is not something that you can buy. It's not something that you can work on. They will tell you that you must inform yourself, and you can read the Bible and so on. But if the Bible is, as it clearly is in many cases, a set of parables, a set of lessons, written in a particular historical time, and there are some gruesome things in the Old Testament that no one will stand over today. Reading the Bible may elevate you and exalt you in terms of the spiritual feeling you get from it, but it doesn't help you with things like this. If you have difficulty believing, how can you be led to believe?
How do you come to terms with the fact that the Catholic Church pursued its ends through violently expansionist means?
I don't actually come to terms with the Catholic Church in that regard. It's very difficult to accept some of the things that were done either in recent or in distant times here. Is it Christian to take a 12-year-old and put him in the Christian Brothers? I think that is the very antithesis of compassion. One could look at the Magdalen laundries situation, about which we have heard so much. I'm not sure whether I carry, in my set of beliefs, the weight of that Catholic history on my shoulders. When I have people on quoting x,y and z, I will always throw Galileo and the Inquisition out as ways in which the church was wrong. But I'm not a theologian. I can't defend them. Nor am I very much part of them.
Is it just that you're afraid to cut the link?
Maybe it is that. The indoctrination is pretty thorough. I have always had what I would regard as a very healthy dialogue with my religious convictions, such as they are, always sceptical. Anyone who knows me knows that I have always been kicking against the goad. Perhaps it's the consolation that I see it offers so many people, including my mother and my father, to say a prayer over someone's grave. I think the problem is organised religion vs personal religion, and the fact that organised religion has committed so many offences in the name of God, the same God that you're supposed to be praying to. That is the problem, and I'm not sure that there is a resolution to it. It's an on-going debate. I joined the Legion of Mary, which I was a member of when I was in school, for social reasons, I have to confess.
Surely the point about it is that most people attend most religious practises for all sorts of reasons which have nothing to do with the essence of the religion?
Absolutely. If you go to any rural mass, particularly, the lads are at the back. They arrive in as late as possible. They shuffle their feet, and they get out as quickly as possible to the pub if it's the last Mass of the day. The quality of their devotion would have to be examined before you pass a total judgement on it, but it is clearly not the deepest spiritual communion with the Lord. I think there is a lot of going because the neighbours go, and I think that's why the practise of religion has gone down because the Valley Of The Squinting Windows syndrome doesn't exist anymore. People don't care if the people next door went to Mass or not. They're not counting the children out and the children back from nine, 10 or 11 o'clock mass. The pressure's off.
So how many times a year would you go to mass?
Several times. That's about it. And it would be on occasions. I wouldn't be the staunchest practitioner. If I go I would put my heart into it. I don't believe in going for the sake of showing the face.
What about Communion?
That would be my business. If I would feel moved to do it, I would do it. If I felt it was inappropriate or hypocritical I wouldn't do it. That's all I'd say about that, because I'm not sure how much people are entitled to know about my deepest feelings. I might do things for the wrong reasons sometimes. If someone dies I might find myself going to church. Maybe that's a good reason, maybe that's a bad reason. Maybe it's intimations of mortality.
People will probably say Pat Kenny is a rich man. Are you?
I'm not a rich man, not by a long chalk. I have a house, which I built, which is heavily mortgaged. I would have built up a certain amount of pension contributions but it still would not be enough if I dropped dead to ensure that the family could live in any kind of comfort. That's the difference between being a staff person in RTE and being an independent, which I am. I'm far more affluent than my father or my family growing up was. I don't worry about where the next pint is coming from, and I drive a reasonable car and all that sort of stuff. But the real criterion of richness, I think, is whether or not I could shuffle off this mortal coil and leave the rest of them comfortable. And that ain't so, yet.
Do you ever feel a sense of embarrassment about your relative wealth?
I don't really, based on how hard I work. I've worked hard for 20 years - six days a week, sometimes seven days a week. Working on radio and television, sometimes driving up and down the country. When I was working in television in magazine programmes, coming back to do Nightbus on radio at night and then the next morning getting the train again to continue filming for RTE. So I don't have a sense of guilt about that. I just feel lucky.
Do you have any sense that the redistribution of wealth is the biggest issue?
I don't think that redistributing my wealth, or even Tony O'Reilly's or Tony Ryan's wealth is going to make a lot of difference to the ultimate fate of the country. I don't want to put myself in the same bracket as them because I'd be in the ha'penny place or the farthing place compared to fellas like that. But it's not the solution. I pay massive amounts of tax every year, through either my company or my own personal taxation. You're giving away more than 50 percent, 55 or 56 percent, so the more I earn, the better the exchequer does by a mile. It's a highly unfair system of taxation, I believe, for everybody. I think it's extremely unfair on the very low paid, that they should hit this level of taxation so early. It's a total disincentive to work. Even for people like me, sometimes you wonder is it worth working seven days a week; five days on radio, and afternoons on television. Saturday doing TV runs into Sunday, spend most of Sunday reading the Sunday newspapers preparing for Monday's programme, and so on.
Can you elaborate?
As I get older and my family gets older and larger and demands more attention and more of my time, maybe that equation won't make sense any more. But I think the fundamental thing is employment. Giving people a decent job to do in life. Everything is defined by what you do. I'm a broadcaster. You're a journalist. I'm a nurse. I'm a doctor. What are you? I'm on the dole. That's a demeaning thing for anyone to have to say, and I despair that there really are any solutions. I honestly think that taxation is at the root of the problem. How can you get people to work when they will be worse-off going to work? You've got to make it worthwhile for people to work and make it cheaper for employers to employ them.
Do you ever feel that privilege does affect your ability to do the work as a journalist and a broadcaster as effectively as you might have done it when you were less privileged?
I've often thought about this. As I get to drive a nicer car, or as I get to live a certain way, have I changed? I feel that I'm still the same person. I've rather more cares and responsibilities with Promedia employing around 10 people, which is the average employment that it has; trying to generate work for them. And you wonder why do I bother, because it doesn't make me any money? Relatively speaking, besides the odd job I might do for which I would be paid as a professional, I've got nothing out of Promedia. That's one of the responsibilities I have. I could walk away and say 'That's too much hassle. I'm not going to do that anymore'. But I feel that because I started the company and because my name is involved in it that I have a responsibility to keep those people in employment if I can.
What about your own work, as a broadcaster?
I think I still care as much, but only other people would be able to judge. Obviously there is an element of cynicism which comes with age, and I don't think it's particular to presenters, or journalists, or footballers or whatever. I think there is an element of cynicism because you've been there, you've seen it. You see cycles repeating themselves and you do become slightly cynical. You've to fight against that.
Isn't there a sense in which people are invigorated by the need to struggle and to fight, which, for example, your own children mightn't be, coming from the background they do?
Absolutely. It's one of the worries I have. My ethic is a work ethic. I wish I could relax more. I wish I could more easily spend money on myself and luxuries and things like that. I still have twinges of guilt. The whole question of children growing up and taking everything for granted: on one level it's terrific. I wouldn't like them to ever feel guilty about asking for money. On the other hand I would like them to know that money has a value, and that someone has to go out and earn it. But mindless spending - maybe I need to go into rock 'n' roll for a few years to understand how to do that!
You came to having a family relatively late. Does it worry you that you will be an old parent?
I think about the fact that I will be an old parent. My knee is banjaxed at the moment from too much running on concrete over the years. Paul McGrath's knee is banjaxed as well but he's a lot younger (laughs). I don't worry about it because I probably won't know too much about it, but I have this vision of myself being codded up to the eyeballs by the kids. 'We're just going down to a friend's house', when in fact they're going off to a rave to take Ecstasy and get drunk, and I won't have a clue because I'll be befuddled. That's one vision I have, which I view fairly humorously. I hope because of the work I do that I'll stay in touch. But I do worry that I mightn't be able to do all the things that I should be doing with them, that physically I'll be too old.
How many kids would you like to have?
I came from a family of five kids, and I liked the hubbub all around the house: Growing Up On Frys. Although that's lovely, I think at my age that's unrealistic. I would not like to raise a child in isolation though. I'd love twins. Twins would be great. Cathy would find that a little bit more trying because we had a fortune teller predict we were going to have twins, and she said after Christina was born, 'Do you have any idea? Twins is more than twice the trouble'.
Were you there for the birth?
How did you find it?
Fantastic. I'm a curious bugger anyway. I wanted to see it. I wanted to be there with Cathy. I just found the whole thing fascinating. It was wonderful. It happened too suddenly to get worried about: three weeks premature, and sitting at home on Sunday and Cathy said 'I think I'm on the way'. And she rang the hospital, where she works anyway, and just told them her symptoms and they said 'You better get in', and the child was born four and a half hours later. It all happened so fast. Even me, though, with all the programmes I've done over the years, certain things surprised me, like the colour of the umbilical cord. I didn't expect it to be sort of bright aqua-marine, bluey green. I didn't expect that at all.
Did you think of taking in a video camera?
No. Oh no. I took in an ordinary stills camera. It's strange. For someone who works in television, I don't like video cameras. I don't like home videos. You're looking at two hours of videos to get three little vignettes. So I prefer a still photograph to just capture that moment. And I didn't take the birth. I was too busy enjoying the moment. But immediately afterwards we took a shot and then I got the obstetrician to take a picture of me cutting the cord, for posterity, like I was opening a supermarket or something (laughs).
Were you ever very upset at the extent to which gossip columns entered the domain of your private life?
I sometimes get upset because I believe that 95 percent of my life is in the public domain, and that there's five percent that's left for me, and that I should be entitled to have that five percent. I used to be very sensitive to things that were written in newspapers about me, like television column criticisms, radio criticisms and all that. I used to mentally write letters to the papers who had criticised me, giving out about them and explaining why they were wrong. But I never actually sent those letters because wiser counsel would prevail. The hurt would die down after 24 hours, and then I'd say 'Shag it. I won't bother'.
Were there any completely unfounded allegations printed about you?
Not really. There are often snide things in various publications. Particularly when I was the country's 'most eligible bachelor' and stuff like that. Like aging; people trying to get at me. After a while you just don't pay any attention, but there are some things that were . . . When I was planning to get married to Cathy there was an article that linked me with the then Miss Ireland, Amanda Brunker. It suggested she was going out with an RTE person, and it mentioned three people; Miles Dungan, myself and someone else . . . the link was that we played squash, and it mentioned that Miles Dungan was a squash player, Pat Kenny was a squash player and I was called 'the Lothario of the locker-room'. Normally I would have laughed, but because I was actively planning on getting married to Cathy at the time, I felt that her parents might wonder: 'What's our daughter getting into here?'. My mother , she wouldn't say it maybe, but she'd be conscious that people maybe thinking it: 'What's this Lothario of the locker room stuff?'. It's when it gets hurtful that I get annoyed, but I wouldn't do anything about it, at the same time.
What about the insinuations about the timing of your marriage and the timing of the birth of the baby?
Ah sure I wouldn't mind that at all. I got married, first of all, in Edinburgh, several weeks before I got married in Paris. So even if you do your sums that way, maybe the baby, never mind being premature, would have been a 'legal' baby, y'know. I think we know when she was conceived. It wasn't quite Paris, it was just after, when we got back from Paris. I wouldn't worry about stuff like that.
Why did you get married in Edinburgh and then in Paris?
To get married in this little church in Paris where we wanted to get married, you have to be legally married first. We could have got married in Molesworth Street here but then the cat would have been out of the bag. So the only place that we could actually go to arrive on the day, get married and leave, is Scotland. And, Edinburgh's a lovely city. We actually stayed a few days in Edinburgh and got married, just to have the document. And you get a document from Foreign Affairs, and armed with these two things you go to Paris and you get married there. They won't marry you in a church wedding unless you have been married in a civil ceremony.
Why did you want to keep it a secret?
I didn't particularly want a media circus. Being hyped as the most eligible bachelor in Ireland for years, finally throwing in the towel, this kind of line that was attached to me - there would have been a big media circus. And also a big public thing - say in Dalkey church or down in Kilkenny where Cathy's folks are from, it could have been a big jamboree. We decided that we just wanted to do it quietly for ourselves, so we did. We had a wedding with two witnesses, two friends of ours, in Edinburgh, and in Paris we had a couple of pals and the family. It was fantastic: just 25 people, some of my friends who live in France and Brussels, old college friends, family and that. And then once the cat was out of the bag, we had the big party, which we all enjoyed.
So did you get up and shake your thing?
I didn't. They never asked me, the buggers. I have been known to, at times. I used to sing in the folk clubs where I was a contemporary of Brendan Grace, Micheal O'Domhnaill and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Eilish Moore, Andy Irvine, Clannad - all those people. We were all aspirants in the old days in the Swamp Folk pub and O'Donoghues' pub and places like that. I was never a good guitar player though. A few years back my guitar was stolen, so I never replaced it.
Do you still write songs?
No. I haven't written a song for years and years. In fact, what irritates me is I've lost some of them. I had tapes which I recorded onto, and lyrics of songs which I wrote, and they're all gone. Maybe I could've had that song that would make me two million.
Do you ever think that you were at least as good, if not far better than the people playing today?
No, when I think of some of the songs I wrote, they were simple. They were in a folk idiom. Maybe if I developed and kept going I might have written a good song. The one thing I know is that it's not a mystical process, because I've done it. But a great song is a mystical process. There are great songs, like 'Every Time We Say Goodbye', which as a marriage of music and lyrics is hard to surpass. It's beautiful and it's profound. "You know how strange the change is from major to minor." It just says it all. It's a musician's metaphor as well, which is even lovelier. So I don't think I could ever have written a song like that.
Do you remember your first kiss?
I do. It was a girl who lived briefly near us, called Angela Lombardi of Irish-Italian extraction. It was a peck, but I remember that as if it was 91/2 Weeks (laughs).
What was your early sex life like?
It was pretty non-existent, compared to kids today. Well, I have to rephrase that because of AIDS and all that, but the knowledge that kids have. We knew the superficials, we didn't know the details. Kids today have everything from fallopian tubes and ovaries right down to erogenous zones, taught to them in school. We didn't really have a clue. Certainly I was grossly inexperienced, leaving college even.
So was making love for the first time a real trauma?
Absolutely. Totally. I can spare every Irish girl's blushes, because it was a Finnish person. But I'm not sure I really want to go into this. My wife will even have the capacity to be jealous of someone who is probably an oul' wan by now (laughs), in so far as I'm an oul' fella. I don't think it's fair to her to go back over these early experiences because we're not contemporaries. There's 14 years in the difference between us. I think it's an irritant that when she was making her Communion I was out on the town. It's bizarre but it's true.
In terms of what makes the person, their sexual experience is a very integral element, and your's is very different from 75 percent of people who end up married.
Oh yeah. I suppose the simple reason I didn't get married earlier is that I hadn't met Cathy. But I couldn't have met Cathy, in a sense, at a time when most people get married, say early thirties, because she would have been 15 or 14 or something like that. But I simply wasn't ready to get married. I was working too hard. I was too self-absorbed in terms of work and career. In my case it was beautiful, that when I felt that I could get married, I met Cathy. I wonder if I had met her earlier or later would we have gelled the same way. We're very similar people, so I think maybe we would. If I had got married earlier, say when I was 25 or 30, would I be split up by now, like so many others who did, who work under pressure? Our broadcast medium is littered with separations. Maybe it was caution. I would never want to be separated or divorced. I respect other people's rights to have those provisions for unhappily married people, but my ambition would be to get married and stay married.
Do you think that there is a sense of destiny when it comes to love? That there is only one person for everyone?
No, I don't think that at all. I've never thought that. You can get very technical about pheromones and all these secret little scents that attract people but I think, well, statistics show that you are likely to marry someone in your own medium - someone from work or someone from the tennis club or someone from whatever. So there's got to be loads of options.
Do you think people have the capacity to fall in love and truly love three people, five people, 10 people during their lives?
I think they have, but I think there would always be different degrees. And I think it would also depend on how the loss of the other person occurred. If you lose someone through death, for instance, it may be impossible ever to replace them. Every person is different, and I think the qualities they bring, your set of qualities and their set of qualities, would forge a different quality of relationship.
Would you describe yourself as very rational in relation to these things or a romantic?
I can rationalise just about anything because of my job. And my training. My unpredictability would be predictable, in a way. If I was to walk in with a bunch of flowers for Cathy, for no reason, she would probably say 'That's really nice', but it wouldn't be outside the range of unpredictability for her. If, on the other hand, I walked in and said that she was to put on her coat, that we were going down to the supermarket, and instead put her on a plane to Paris and brought her, I think that would be outside my range of unpredictability, at the moment. But I'm working on it. I'm trying to be more spontaneous!
So if you go out in Dublin, some great music comes on, and you want to strut your stuff?
It's a bit difficult sometimes, a bit difficult. After a few jars, maybe, you think 'Who cares?'. Sometimes it's a bit difficult though.
Do you feel that you're constantly under scrutiny?
I know I'm constantly under scrutiny. It's something that you get used to. In fact at the match, there were loads of people shouting 'Hey, Pat. Hope you're talking with Jack tomorrow morning'. And I love that, the craic. As long as people have the sense that if it's obviously a private moment, like a dinner for two with Cathy, that people don't suddenly invite themselves to the table. There have been times someone will take a bottle of champagne, plonk it on the table and pull up their chair. It could be your anniversary. It could be a row. It could be a big decision about something. It could be just a quiet moment away from the baby. But by and large it's a good thing.
Gay Byrne had a reputation for being mean, so what would you say your reputation is?
Gay always said that he was careful with his money because he grew up that way. There was never any money to spare. I wouldn't say I'm careful with my money. I would be shrewd in how I would like to look to the future, in terms of setting up a pension fund and all that, but I wouldn't be tight with my money in buying drinks and all that sort of thing.
Are you still ambitious?
I'm still ambitious in different ways maybe. I wouldn't like to think of myself doing Kenny Live in 20 years time at the age of 65. I would like to think that I would be doing something else. Because I think I would have the capacity to become bored. I will have six years done this year, at the end of this season. I could see maybe doing another four seasons.
What about working abroad?
I like it here. I could make, maybe, substantially more money over there but there is a penalty in the lifestyle, as well. Ideally I'd like to mix the two. My ambition would be to do less work here and to do some in the UK, to have a better balance. At the moment all my eggs are in one basket, and if someday RTE decide that they don't like the fit of my face, then I find myself gone, or scrambling around for a bit of work here, a bit of work there. I would very much like to have a better mix, where I would be working part of the year in the UK, and generating part of my income there and part of my income here.
Doing what kind of broadcasting?
There's a third thing I would like to do, by the way, which is to get involved in movie production with my company. Promedia have a number of projects in development for which we've got funding for development purposes, not for actual production. I'd like to get more involved in that. In terms of my programming in the UK, the thing I did in the UK for BSB was a quiz called Intellect, which was like a cross between The Krypton Factor without the athleticism and University Challenge. I was able to do 40 shows in three weeks, which meant that I did quite a lot of work very intensively and then stopped. That's the kind of thing that I'd like to do. I would also like to set up an independent documentary unit here, a bit like World In Action. Maybe that time will come when RTE commissions more programmes. But I'd really like to do that and get back, not in front of the camera but in terms of my interest in current affairs, to investigative current affairs. But I'd like to do that as an independent producer, not as the fella knocking on Ben Dunne's car window, 'Ben, speak to me'. That is definitely a job for a fella with sound knees (laughs).
Is it the case that what's possible in Ireland always involves the frustration of the talent of the best people?
To earn a good living here certainly involves the over-exploitation of people's intellectual resources and emotional resources. I think that we are reasonably well rewarded for what we do, but it does involve doing an awful lot of work. Last night we were going to the theatre. I came home, showered, changed, back into the car and came from Dalkey. At Stephen's Green I said something to Cathy and she said to me, 'Do you know they're the first words you said to me since we left home?'. I didn't know that. I was just wiped. I was driving along. It was raining. I was concentrating on the driving and I didn't notice that I hadn't actually said a word to her, but I was totally mentally wiped out.
If you got into film production would you see yourself making films like My Left Foot or whatever?
Oh yeah. Quality drama is what I would like to get into.
Would you see yourself potentially as directing films?
It's something I wouldn't have even thought possible ten years ago. As I get older and understand more, I think I possibly could do it. It's probably 20 percent absolute creativity and 80 percent organisation and hard work, and selecting the right team, lighting cameraman and so on. I have to learn the 80 percent first of all, and then see if I could generate the 20 percent in myself.
Who, in a broadcasting sense, would be your favourites, or your heroes?
It always goes without saying that Gay is a giant. He defined so many things about Irish broadcasting. If he wasn't there The Late Late Show in other hands certainly would not be around 30 years later. Certainly the great issues of the day may not have been debated in a popular forum. The format can have one minute Foster and Allen singing, and the next minute a pair of lesbian nuns, and the next minute a give away of a bag of coal for everyone in the audience - it's a hugely popular, populist format, and yet some of the great social changes, if they weren't initiated, they were certainly reflected on the show. He, as producer and presenter, has to take a huge amount of credit for having the doggedness and the courage to go ahead with all these things. But if you asked me what would I most miss if it never appeared on the air again, I would have to say Alistair Cooke's Letter From America. They're two polar opposites, if you like. He, to me, is a quintessential radio broadcaster.
There's an argument that U2 are so dominant and powerful that they suppress or overshadow the activities of other people in rock 'n' roll here. Is there a sense in which Gay does that in broadcasting terms in Ireland?
I think so, yeah. I think that he is the yardstick. Changes in the RTE radio schedule depend on Gay. What happens in the summer depends on when Gay goes on his holidays. What happens to TV depends on Gay when his TV programme finishes. But then, who am I to say? Because I'm becoming almost as pervasive. And to younger broadcasters I would appear to have it sown up, and Gerry Ryan would appear to have sown it up, with five days of radio programmes and a television programme at the weekend.
What's your response to the Hume/Adams talks?
My first response was that I thought John Hume was shafting Joe Hendron, because if he's talking to Gerry Adams that means Joe Hendron is kind of marginalised in some way. Secondly, I thought that the messages being given by John Hume not just to the unionist community in Northern Ireland but to the moderate Nationalist community north and south of the border was very confused. I mean, what is going on here? The bombs are still going off, the bullets are flying, there are talks going on and the point of the talks is not entirely clear. Why is this man giving political respectability to someone who is a political pariah? As it's panning out I'm fascinated because it may turn out that the IRA are actually sick of the bomb and the bullet. Maybe John Hume knows more about this than we can possibly do from the south. Maybe people are pissed off with planting bombs and looking for new 14 year olds mad enough to take pot shots at British Soldiers, risking their own lives. My first instinct was this is crazy, but maybe there is an opportunity there.
Would you still be opposed to Section 31?
I've always been opposed to Section 31. Principally I think people hide behind Section 31. I think that if Sinn Fein is a legal political party which it is, they should have the right to be interviewed. If the Government doesn't want to hear their views, let them ban Sinn Fein. That's always been my view. You can't have it both ways.
If Section 31 was removed tomorrow would you have Gerry Adams on Kenny Live?
I wouldn't have him on Kenny Live necessarily because I don't necessarily think that that's the forum for him. I might though, in a one to one in the dark and ask him certain questions. I mean there are a lot of questions I'd love Gerry Adams to answer for me. The format might be too short. This man has got, how many years of Section 31? There is an awful lot of silence to be made up for. There are an awful lot of questions that have to be . . .
Would you do a special programme, if it came to you? Would you ask for an extension of a half an hour and take it?
I would love to do it. There are fundamental questions which I want to hear Gerry Adams answer. One is: who exactly do you represent? The bombers exercise a veto on political progress on this island. Who gives the mandate? It's not any kind of a majority. It's not any kind of a sizeable minority when you take the island as a whole. That's the first thing. The second thing is, really irrespective of what the British Army have done and what crimes against humanity they may have committed, how is that a justification for the taking of innocent lives in places like Enniskillen and Warrington which were not condemned by you or your organisation? And finally, at the end of the day, the 32-county republic which is the Holy Grail, what's going to be so special about that? What is going to be better about the 32-county republic in terms of ordinary people's lives and the way they live.
Would you see a united Ireland as being the ideal end solution?
Since the EEC the united Ireland is an irrelevance. The monarchy in Britain is irrelevant, defence pacts between Northern Ireland and Great Britain are irrelevant . They don't need radar stations anywhere - technology has made that defence link obsolete. With a common market for produce produced within the EEC, with GATT effecting us both equally, what's the difference?
Is it not true that there was a fierce abuse of power and privilege on the part of the Unionists?
There is no question about it. Historically there was tremendous discrimination against Catholics. It was enshrined in the law, enshrined in the electoral system, the gerrymandering and so on. And even the most hard-line Unionist would probably concede that, at this stage.
Was the Treaty a mistake? There's a very fundamental question in Irish history!
Yeah, it's a bit like 1916. We were just talking about it today, and Patrick Pearse, he was making the blood sacrifice and it became something bigger almost in spite of him because the British government executed himself and the rest of them. If they hadn't done that, it could have been a storm in a tea-cup, so that's a great 'if'. And what would we be now? We might have had home rule. We might have had our britches bombed out of us in World War II. Our fathers might have fought in foreign fields and you and I might not be here. The treaty was a great gamble. Did De Valera betray Collins? Or was Collins stupid? Was he bluffed by Lloyd George? I cant answer it, I really can't. I'm fascinated by it but it's the great 'if' in Irish history - and we survived World War II without great suffering, as a result of all that happened.
What in your entire life in terms of what you've done, are you most proud of?
I just think, I mean it is a very normal kind of a thing, I just think getting this far, I wish my father was alive to see the kind of success I've had. When other councils might have said to me when I had my engineering degree and compounded my mistake by getting a second one! And I went into this broadcasting lark and people were saying to me now would you not think about giving this up and getting an engineering job and all that, and my father said to me "You're young son, do what you like", you know if you're enjoying it keep at it. And I wish he was alive to see the kind of success that I've had since then. Just getting this far. I've been lucky.
Part Two next issue:
Broadcasting in Ireland, Charlie Haughey, how Pat Kenny votes, The Angelus, Terry Keane and the erotic - among other things!