'I'm just trying to give people hope'
The man known as "The Supervet", Professor Noel Fitzpatrick is back for another series and tells Susan Griffin what keeps him going, why the work's getting harder and why he's not afraid of failure
Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, known to millions as 'The Supervet', is bemoaning the fact he might have missed out on buying Metallica tickets. A massive rock fan, the man who's been too busy to take a holiday since "about 2000" treats these concerts as a form of vacation.
"Every time I go to a rock concert, I can escape absolutely into a world, which for me, is an epiphany of wonderment", says the 49-year-old Irishman.
"That's what I realised the first time I saw Freddie Mercury; that he can inject music into people's veins much more rapidly and easily than medicine, and in fact, it can heal the soul sometimes more effectively than medicine.
"What I'm trying to do with the show is what Freddie Mercury was trying to do - give people hope," he adds of his Channel 4 series, which showcases his pioneering approach to veterinary care.
The Supervet returns for a ninth series this month with more groundbreaking surgery, including bionic limbs, regenerative medicine and 3D printed implants.
Often the last chance for very poorly pets, Fitzpatrick and his team also offer care and compassionate support for both animals and their human families.
"We're supposed to be an advocate for hope", states the chatty and personable Fitzpatrick. "I never wanted to make a show about science. It's very important we show that, but it's more important we show the love behind it in a world that desperately needs it - when politicians are lying to us, when terrorism is putting us on high alert, when our families are more and more important to us because we realise the fragility of it all."
The surgery might be cutting-edge, but Fitzpatrick reveals the greatest challenge in making the series is ensuring the people who bring their beloved pets in are happy, with all their raw emotion being recorded.
"I would love there to be no camera, but you can't make a TV show that way and I often feel self-conscious that the camera's there, because it's such an intimate thing. It's real life, not made up s**t."
The show's reach is wide, and Fitzpatrick recalls a letter from a child who'd been flown from Syria and was staying with a charity worker in Germany. "This kid has seen his mother gang-raped and had her throat cut, and had watched Supervet on repeat in a foster home in Germany.
"Now if that doesn't matter in the world, then what does?" he says.
"That's an unspeakable horror in our times. It's a world that's lost touch with why we're human. What the show should be, and is about, is hope", adds Fitzpatrick. "For that kid, and another kid who's bullied at school, and another kid who's having a normal life but just wants to be inspired. And an old person who's got dementia and the show is the only thing that's made her smile for three years."
He says instilling this hope is "harder and harder" in a world "ever-more consumed by litigation."
"It's consumed with accusations I'm only on the telly because of my big ego, or whatever excuse people use to try and say; 'Well it [the show] is not as pure as it's made out to be'. Actually it is", states Fitzpatrick, adding there are three reasons he'll "never get egotistical."
"One, I will fail from time to time even though I do my best", he points out. "Two, my mum has no idea what I do, so she's a great leveller, and three, everything I do or have is bequeathed to The Humanimal Trust, the charity I founded, so I want to die penniless."
Born in Ballyfin in Ireland, Fitzpatrick has lived in Guildford, Surrey, since the early-Nineties - and it's here he runs his world-class veterinary practice, Fitzpatrick Referrals.
"I'm not a general vet", he says. "I used to calve cows, so I was a general vet for several years. That's not what I do any more. I know an awful lot about very little. You do exam after exam, but you know more and more about less and less."
He confesses this can prove "tough" for the production company behind the show, "because you go, 'Well, what amazing 'bionic-ness' are we going to see?'
"The biggest single thing we're going to see better in this next run than we've ever done before is failure."
It's important for Fitzpatrick to show the reality, warts and all, of his work, and he readily admits: "I'm only as good as the operation I did last night."
No stranger to stress, he reveals "there's a lot" of it at the moment. "Possibly because I'm taking on more challenging cases, and the question is, 'Do you put those animals to sleep or do you give them a chance?' And the line is moving all the time about what is possible. You have to do what is morally right. But you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
"Sometimes you say that and people resent you for not giving them a miracle, and other times, you try and give them a miracle and if it doesn't work out, they are very, very angry."
- The Supervet returns to Channel 4 on Thursday, April 20, 8pm