Patrick Kielty: Marriage to Cat Deeley, losing his father and why home is where the heart is
As Patrick Kielty brings his stand-up tour back to Northern Ireland, the comedy star gives one of his most revealing interviews ever
Patrick Kielty is one very contented man. At 44 years of age, the Co Down comedian and television presenter is happier now than he's ever been. He tells me this without the slightest hint of smugness - if anything, Kielty still can't believe how fortunate he's been over the last few years and is half expecting the bubble to burst anytime soon.
"I've got to a certain point in my life now where I'm wondering 'How did I get here? Is this chance?'," he muses, as he relaxes in the Merchant Hotel ahead of next month's run of stand-up shows in Belfast and Londonderry.
"Then you do that Irish thing; 'Hang on a wee second, it can't stay this good for ever'. I'm kind of at that stage now."
Love, life and happiness will come under scrutiny when he takes to the stage for his latest show, Help. The Queen's University psychology graduate may be feeling pretty blessed right now, but he's still not sure he's got all the answers. His stand-up gigs will give him a chance to visit these topics and to discuss them - in his own inimitable, close-to-the-edge style - with the audience.
"What's funny is that over here we're very good at telling the truth," he says.
"Over here, we've got problems. The reason we have problems is because we solve problems, whereas in America they have 'issues' and issues are problems they don't want to solve.
"I thought that now was a good time to do a show where I'm basically saying 'Here's what I think I know, but I'm probably not right'.
"A lot of it is scripted, but there's an interactive part where I'll talk to the audience, ask them for advice, maybe give them advice."
Like a group therapy session, I venture?
"Yeah, a bit like that," he laughs. He may not be an expert on happiness, or affairs of the heart, but he's obviously found a recipe that works well for him. It's no coincidence, of course, that his sense of fulfilment coincides with his marriage to television presenter Cat Deeley. The couple, who became friends after hosting TV talent show Fame Academy together back in 2002, tied the knot in an intimate ceremony at St Isidore's College, Rome, on September 30, 2012.
News of the wedding came as a surprise to fans and media alike, particularly as the pair had only gone public with their relationship that May. Tabloid newspapers referred to the event as a "shock wedding", something which still amuses Kielty.
"I know, it was such a shock for me as well," he quips. "We were going out together and next thing I'm standing there and Cat turns up in a wedding dress and I'm like 'What the hell is this about?'
"Look, it's not as if we were telling our guests not to tell anyone about it. We just kept the guest-list so small that very few people knew. That's how we kept it a secret.
"The thing is we didn't want a big wedding. In our business, we get to go to a lot of functions in big rooms with round tables and gold-painted gold chairs.
"A lot of people, when they have a wedding, want all that. But that type of thing would've just seemed like work to us. We didn't want to get married, we wanted to be married. There's a difference."
The relationship between the pair had progressed fairly quickly, from the moment they started going out together to the day they were wed. Kielty proposed to Deeley within a few months of dating and the wedding was organised not long after.
So why Rome?
"We talked things through about how we were going to do it," he says. "We looked at different places. "There were loads of cities we could've gone for, but in the end, we chose somewhere that worked for us size-wise, was handy to get to and, as it was the end of September, the weather was still nice.
"We did it on the hoof, really. We just wanted to run off somewhere sunny and get married. There was no big planning, really.
"And it worked out great on the day. We just had immediate family and around six friends each. To be honest, we didn't really care where we did it, we just wanted to be married."
Once the pair realised they wanted to be together, they wasted no time in hanging around. "People wait, because they need to get to know each other first. Cat and I were friends for such a long time, a good 10 years, so we already knew each other very well."
Does being friends first make for a better relationship then?
"I can't say if someone's done something right, or if they've done it wrong. I just don't know. Everyone does what's right for them," he says.
"But I would suggest that it's probably best not to marry a stranger. I'm just putting it out there."
The couple divide their time between Kielty's home town of Dundrum, London and Los Angeles, where Deeley presents US show So You Think You Can Dance.
Contrary to Press reports, Kielty insists they do not have a long-distance relationship, but spend most of their time together when neither are on the road with work commitments.
Kielty describes his marriage to 38-year-old Deeley as "short-distance in different places" and says that, since they've been officially together as a couple, the longest they've spent apart is two weeks.
"It's a myth that we have a long-distance relationship," he says. "It's really not what people think. We're either both living over here, or we're both over there, or we're working.
"We sit there together, reading stuff like that and I'll say, 'Yes, this is a very long-distance relationship, now who's making tea, you or me?'"
Kielty says he thinks people would be surprised if they knew just how much time both he and "the missus" spend in Northern Ireland. Last year, the couple's plush home in Dundrum, with views over the bay and the Mourne mountains, went on the market for offers over £400,000, prompting speculation that Kielty was abandoning Northern Ireland permanently for sunnier climes. But the house was taken off the market again just before Christmas.
"We haven't sold the house in Dundrum," he explains. "Basically, we were looking to buy another house here and everyone assumed we were selling up and moving to America. But that wasn't the case at all.
"We had our eye on another place, but when it fell through we took our house off the market. We're happy there, but if something else comes up, then we'll see what happens.
"Since we got married, we've actually spent more time in Dundrum than in London. Cat's in Memphis this week and she rang me on Monday night, telling me it was raining there. She asked me what the weather was like at home and I told her the sun was shining over the Mournes."
It's interesting to hear Deeley describe Dundrum as home.
"The missus absolutely loves it here," he says. "When she rang the other night, she was asking if I'd been to the Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum, or the Buck's Head."
Kielty is hoping that his wife will be able to make it back to Belfast for at least one night of his upcoming stand-up tour. She was among the audience when he brought his Home tour to the Odyssey Arena in 2012 and has been known to heckle him from the floor.
He likes to try out his material on her, but says she laughs a lot at him - and not necessarily when he wants her to laugh. And, yes, Cat will get a mention in his new show.
Kielty never set out to be a comedian, he tells me. At St Patrick's College in Downpatrick, a talent for impersonations caught the eye of one of his teachers, the late Pat O'Hare, and he was encouraged to perform at the school's Christmas concert. Well, not encouraged exactly.
"I was never the class clown, or anything like that," he says. "I was good at doing impressions, you know, a few of the teachers, Billy Connolly, Barry McGuigan." At this point he launches into a perfect impression of the former world champion boxer and promoter.
"I hadn't see Barry for 25 years and then I saw him on television and his voice hasn't changed a bit," he mimics.
"Anyway, I used to do these impersonations at school football, at the back of the bus and Pat O'Hare says to me 'Kielty, you're doing this at the Christmas concert, or I'm dropping you from the football team'. I says, 'Is that a bribe, sir?' and he says, 'Only if people find out'. So that's how it all started."
While studying at Queen's, Kielty began his stand-up career, quickly making a name for himself at Belfast's first comedy club, The Empire Laughs Back. His satirical routines saw him poke fun at both republican and loyalist paramilitaries. His ability to laugh at the situation in Northern Ireland was all the more poignant as Kielty's own father, Jack, a leading GAA official, was gunned down in Dundrum by a loyalist gang in 1988.
I wonder if Kielty turned to comedy as a form of therapy following this pivotal moment in his life. But he says no.
"That just kind of happened," he says. "I do remember, though, not long after dad died, I went to the States, because dad had a brother and sister living out there. My aunt said to me, 'It looks like you're dealing with this very well. We're all very proud of you. But you have to realise that you're only 16 and you haven't had your quota of s*** yet in your life'."
"I think you did have your quota," I point out.
"Yeah, I think I did, too," he replies. "But then you look at other people and they have a lot worse things to deal with, so you think to yourself, 'I'm happy, everything's going to be fine'. All you can do is wake up in the morning and try and be happy, because nobody knows what's round the corner. You just have to be grateful and make the most of each day."
Kielty's ability to charm and provoke equally won him many fans and he soon landed a television show, PK Tonight, for BBC NI. He went on to host Channel 4's Last Chance Lottery before teaming up with his future wife as co-presenter of Fame Academy. In 2006, he returned to stand-up, with a sell-out UK tour and chart-topping DVD, Patrick Kielty Live. He later tried his hand at straight acting in Marie Jones' play A Night In November, receiving positive reviews and nightly standing ovations at the Grand Opera House. The play was so well received, it transferred to London's West End.
Kielty has since presented numerous television shows, including the much-maligned reality television show Love Island with Kelly Brook, Sport Relief and One Night Stand. He has also been a regular host on Radio 2. But stand-up is his first love and he can't wait to bring his Help show to Northern Ireland.
Surprisingly, he says he finds it easier now to come up with new material post-ceasefire. People have moved on from the past, he points out, so his material must reflect that, too.
"There's been so much change in my life over the past two or three years, so much good stuff has happened. I want to talk about those changes.
"It's funny, I look back on some of the old routines I used to do and I kind of wonder how I got away with it at the time."
It's not a comedian's job to be politically correct, he says, and he thinks the media must bear some of the blame for whipping up controversies around stand-ups like Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle, known for their outrageous gags. Kielty landed himself in hot water when he cracked a joke about missing child Madeleine McCann at a show in Dublin in 2007. Several members of the audience walked out and the Dundrum man later issued an apology.
"The way I see it is that people with no interest in coming to see me at all can now pick up a newspaper and see a headline like 'You'll be shocked and horrified when you read this'," he says. "But who caused the offence? Was is me for actually telling the joke, or the newspaper for serving it up?
"Stuff gets taken out of context, but you can't really let that affect you when you're writing a show.
"There are a million-and-a-half people living in Northern Ireland. Only a few thousand will come and see my show. It's not my job to try and please everybody. If people want to hear me, then they'll buy a ticket."
His regular visits to Los Angeles, a city where he spent three summers as a landscape gardener during his student days, also provide him with a rich source of jokes. He finds it hilarious that so many people in La La Land invest thousands of pounds having cosmetic surgery and pumping toxins into their perfectly honed bodies while refusing to eat anything other than organic.
"Cat has this little bend in her nose and when she first went out to Hollywood, they asked her to get it fixed," he says indignantly. "But she refused."
With her gorgeous tanned skin, perfect teeth and glossy blonde hair, British-born Deeley looks every inch the Californian girl. She has often featured in Most Beautiful Celebrity polls and was regularly voted by British lads' magazines as one of the sexiest women in the world.
When it emerged that she was romantically involved with Kielty, some commentators, rather unfairly, expressed surprise at the coupling.
But Kielty has plenty going in his favour, too, he's handsome, has a good sense of humour (obviously) and his cheeky chappie personality never fails to win people over.
He laughs at the fact that Deeley went to Hollywood 10 years ago, where she was surrounded by beefy, bronzed hunks, yet ended up with "a pasty, white Irishman".
"I tell Cat that she's very lucky," he says. "She could have had a Hollywood hunk, but she got herself a pasty Co Down man instead. I tell her this when she's sitting in the Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum, eating fish and chips. And do you know something? She couldn't be happier."
That makes two of them then.
- Patrick Kielty brings his Help show to the Grand Opera House in Belfast from Wednesday, April 8, to Saturday, April 11, and to the Millennium Forum in Londonderry on Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25. To book tickets, ring the Grand Opera House box office on tel: 028 9024 1919 and the Millennium Forum box office on tel: 028 7126 4455
Kielty's top tweets:
"Last time a yank got killed that quickly in Belfast was in Game of Thrones. And still.... @RealCFramption - Proud of you our kid!"
On Carl Frampton's recent defeat of Chris Avalos in Belfast
"RIP Joan Rivers - Wishing God luck when he tells her she's supporting Robin Williams."
On the death of comedian Joan Rivers
"Thank you Gerry Anderson. For giving me a break. For giving fools a home. And for sharing your genius with us all. RIP."
On the death of TV and radio star Gerry Anderson
"Great Emmy draw for the Missus. If she gets out of the group, it's Costa Rica in the quarter finals. #gothewife."
On wife Cat Deeley's Emmy nomination for So You Think You Can Dance
"Shock as new butler in Downton Abbey revealed."
On a photograph of Martin McGuinness in white tie and tails