And then a hero comes along ... meeting your idol
Meeting your idol can be a mixed bag. Lee Henry talks to some famous personalities about the moment they came face-to-face with their role model, and asks if they were left feeling starstruck or let-down.
'I think I just met Olly 20 minutes too soon'
Cool FM presenter Rebecca McKinney (30) lives in Belfast. She says: My ultimate broadcasting hero is Holly Willoughby. I love her whole persona, her whole style. She's so personable when she's on This Morning, but she can get away with being a little bit naughty when she's on Celebrity Juice.
Not everyone can do that. I haven't had the chance to meet her yet, but I hope that I will one day. She's a great inspiration to me as a broadcaster.
Holly would be my professional hero, but in my job presenting on Cool FM, I have been lucky enough to meet lots of other people that I admire.
Recently I met someone who I actually quite fancy, the singer Olly Murs.
He was performing at the SSE Arena in Belfast, and I was there to cover it. My producer didn't tell me that we were about to meet him. I was sat backstage in the dressing room and all of a sudden he just walked in. He just appeared and I had no time to prepare myself.
He started chatting completely normally and I was trying to be very cool.
At the time, though, he hadn't been to hair and make-up yet.
He had a little while to go before he was ready to go on stage, so it was a little bit of a let-down, if I'm being honest.
But that often happens with someone you admire who you meet in the flesh and they don't sweep you off your feet. They aren't as charismatic.
Later, he walked past us to go on stage, with all his people around him, and he was a totally different character. He had his game face on.
So I think I just met him 20 minutes too soon."
‘Yoko was as gracious as you could hope for’
Playwright Daragh Carville (48) grew up in Armagh and currently teaches scriptwriting at the University of London. He lives in Lancaster with his wife, novelist Jo Baker, and their two children. He says: I love Yoko Ono. I haven’t always loved her. Like most people, I first became aware of Yoko through The Beatles connection, and I guess I initially absorbed the general sense of resentment of her as the person who somehow broke up the band.
The more I learned about her, though, the more I realised that this was not only untrue but beside the point. And I became aware too of the amount of sheer racism and misogyny that lurked behind that hostile perception. Yoko was and is an inspiring, ground-breaking artist and musician in her own right.
And she’s someone who has dealt with decades of hostility, not to mention witnessing the murder of her husband, John Lennon, in New York in 1981. So when I had an opportunity to attend the opening of a Yoko Ono retrospective at the Ormeau Baths Gallery in Belfast in the late Nineties, as part of the Belfast Festival at Queens, with Yoko herself in attendance, I leapt at the chance.
I remember the frisson of spotting David Byrne (of Talking Heads) in the crowd, the strange electric shock of seeing in person someone you’ve only ever seen on screen. And then there was Yoko — tiny, dressed all in black — being introduced to the gathered dignitaries as if she was royalty.
I was hanging back, watching, when I heard someone call my name.
I looked round to see Ian McGuinness, a photographer friend from Armagh. ‘Get in there,’ he said.
And so I stumbled forward and asked Yoko if she minded stopping for a photo. She was as gracious as you could hope. Warm too, happy to stop and smile and chat, none of the aloofness you might expect. I’ve never forgotten that moment, and never will.
Ian sent me a copy of the photo a few weeks later. It’s now on my desk, so that every time I look up from my work, every time I’m stuck on something, I’m reminded of the day I met Yoko Ono.
And I’m reminded of her long life as an artist, her years of dedication to her work. And so I keep going.”
‘It made no sense that someone like Bill Nighy was complimenting me’
Singer Dana Masters (34) lives in Lisburn with her husband, Pastor Andrew Masters, and their three children. She says: I actually grew up with one of my heroes, my grandmother Johnny-Ruth Jenkins. She wasn’t necessarily that famous, but she would have worked with a lot of very well-known people from South Carolina, where we grew up, and elsewhere.
She was a leader in the Civil Rights movement. I obviously spent a lot of my childhood with her and as I grew up I realised the kind of things she had been involved in. She previously worked with Martin Luther King Jnr and other leaders within the Civil Rights movement. I was very much in awe of her and her bravery. With regards to my career, there are lots of people whom I greatly admire but I have to admit that I don’t have a hell of a lot of heroes. I did get to meet my favourite actor of all time recently, though, the amazing Bill Nighy.
That was a crazy situation. I was actually working in London, doing backing vocals with Van Morrison at Nell’s, and Bill Nighy just happened to be backstage between the first show of the day and second. You got to the VIP section the same way us performers got backstage, and there he was. I decided that I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want to freak him out. I didn’t want him to think I was a weirdo. But as I was walking past him, without even thinking about it, I grabbed him.
I physically grabbed his arm and I said to him, ‘I don’t have a lot of favourites, but you are my absolute favourite actor’. He was such a hero. He actually complimented me back. He said he thought that I had a lovely voice, and in my mind it made no sense to me that someone like Bill Nighy was complimenting me. So I got really awkward, put up my hand and said, ‘No. I love you’. He was so lovely and courteous. He let me have my completely crazy fan girl moment, and if he was freaked out, he really didn’t show it.
I really love his work, and every time I watch something with him in it, I’m always floored with his acting ability on screen. Funnily enough, I actually ran into him again in London a few months later and completely messed it up. Again it was a backstage situation and I thought that I would just leave him alone this time, he’s such a busy man.
I walked past him in the corridor and he held the door open for me, and as I walked on he said, over his shoulder, ‘Yes, lovely to meet you again’. I was mortified. So every time I go to London these days, I always make a little wish that I’ll meet him again so I can put that right.”
‘When I was paired with Georgio I nearly fainted’
Leading chef and author Paula McInytre (49) is a regular contributor to Radio Ulster and BBC Radio 4. She lives in Portstewart. She says: For three years now, I’ve been a judge on BBC Radio 4’s Food and Farming Awards. It’s like the food Oscars. The first year that I judged it, we were judging entries in pairs. I was teamed up with Italian chef Georgio Locatelli and I nearly fainted.
Of course, I love Italian food, and Georgio is one of the great heroes of Italian cuisine.
I’d watched him on television, read all his books, even been to his restaurant, and there was I was judging with him, travelling back to our hotel sitting beside him on the Tube, and he even took me to his restaurant during the judging and cooked me lunch.
It was all very, very surreal for me.
Georgio is very down to earth and very friendly. I can’t say that I was tongue-tied when I met him — those who know me know that I’m rarely lost for words — but even if I had been, he probably wouldn’t have noticed because his English isn’t that good.
He had never met anyone from Aghadowey before, so I had to slow everything down a little bit.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy, so we spoke about the differences in cuisine between the different regions, north and south. I learned quite a lot from him and we exchanged recipes.
He taught me how to make a lovely eel dish, which I’ve made many times since. He’s definitely a hero of mine.
Since then, I have judged with English chef Angela Hartnett, who I’ve always really admired. Again, really great craic.
People often say don’t meet your heroes, but I think, in the world of cooking, where you’re at the top of your game, like these people, there are no airs or graces with them because they have nothing to prove.
Humour brings people together and if you can have nice food and a laugh, that’s a great leveller.
There have been a few occasions when I have met other people who I did admire and they turned out to be just revolting, complete plonkers, but thankfully that hasn’t been the norm.”
‘I admitted I had a poster of him on my wall and he was taken aback’
Sports reporter Denise Watson (45) lives in Lisburn with her husband David and her daughters Samantha (12) and Elizabeth (8). She says: Pat Cash was the only poster I had on my wall as a youngster, in the Eighties, alongside Adam Ant. I just was fascinated by him and the way he played, his serve and volley game.
In the tennis world, he was always one of those people you would have labelled a wild card. Nobody expected him to win Wimbledon, but in the year he won, 1987, he did the famous walk up into the stands to see his girlfriend up in the box, the first time that was ever done.
He was someone who continually defied the odds. He was regularly injured, he came up against really good players, and no one gave him a chance, and then he won Wimbledon.
After that I followed everything he did in tennis, but obviously he was a good looking guy as well. Rugged, with his chewing gum and his jewellery. He played guitar, too. I loved his Australian laid back attitude. He never sat on the fence, he was quite outspoken. I loved watching and playing tennis and I thought he brought something else to the game, so he really was a hero.
Before I actually met him, my sister and I were on the King’s Road in London once and we spotted him. ‘That’s Pat Cash!’ It was a real moment for me. So we started to follow him — I wouldn’t call it stalking — and it didn’t take long for him to realise that he was being followed and he turned around and gave us a wink. What a day.
When I was working for the BBC, in the mid-2000s, the Tennis Legends came to the SSE Belfast and Pat Cash and John McEnroe were playing at it.
I was working on Season Ticket and I told the team that it would be amazing to interview him because he was my hero, my idol, and the producer thought it would be brilliant. It was a really big deal for me.
In the event, he was lovely. The interview went really well, although as such a fan I already knew all the answers to the questions I asked him. I know where you live, I know your children’s names ...
At the end, I decided to admit that I had a poster of him on my bedroom wall and he was a little taken aback. ‘That’s... great,’ he said.
It was wonderful to meet my hero through the work that I do — I still rate him. I think he’s great as a commentator — but meeting him, I felt that I put my foot in it, to be honest.”
‘I’ve always found the Queen fun and friendly ... I think she’s a star’
Dame Mary Peters (77) won gold in the Pentathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. She currently lives in Lisburn. She says: My hero is Her Majesty the Queen, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting her on many occasions. In the early days, 40 years ago when I first met her, I perhaps would have been a little star-struck in her presence, but as she travels through life, meeting so many different people all the time, you realise that it’s probably more difficult for her to meet others than it is for you to meet her.
I didn’t meet the Queen when I was competing at the Olympic Games in 1972, but I did shortly after, when she hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace for the whole of Team GB.
I’ve always found her friendly and fun to be with. Over the years I’ve got to know her quite well and nowadays she knows me by name. Having served her for five years as her Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast, I always felt so privileged to have that role. It was the greatest honour that I’ve been given. I loved every day that I represented her.
We have managed to chat on occasion. Our conversations are often quite personal, but she always talks about Northern Ireland too. She’s a very knowledgeable lady and is always concerned with how things are going here and about the people.
When she came to Northern Ireland during her last Jubilee and did a tour around Stormont, as I said goodbye to her later that day at the airport, she turned to me and said, ‘Belfast did it best’.
Even in her advanced years, she works harder than most people that I know.
She always dresses so beautifully and she’s always so warm and friendly to everybody she meets, and I just think she’s a star. I’ve never been disappointed in meeting her.
She really is a hero of mine. For someone of 92 years of age to still be so fit and dignified and interested in people is remarkable. I hope I live as long as she has and continue to be as interested in life as she has been.”