Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Superstar Tommy Bowe had such a trying time in the rain, but was the perfect gent

Bowe belles: Ulster rugby hero Tommy meets his biggest little fan Katie and her mum Claire
Billy Connolly
Actor Gareth Bailey

Tommy Bowe has an abundance of skills that make him the top-flight rugby player that he is. So that's why my three-year-old daughter ranks him among her top three favourite players in her surprisingly extensive knowledge of the game.

In her little book, he's up there with Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll, who she loudly cheers on when she sees them on TV – but only when they're in Ireland shirts and never in club action against Ulster.

Katie's club man is Tommy. She loves going to Ravenhill, she loves Ulster mascot Sparky and she just loves cheering on Tommy Bowe, no matter which shirt he's wearing.

She has two flags hanging in her bedroom on either side of her Disney Frozen poster, Ulster and Ireland. She has a mini rugby ball, knows how to throw a pass and one of the first songs she could sing was Ireland's Call. For a three-year-old, she's a bit of a rugby nut. All, of course, flowing from the influence of a rugby nut father.

So the obvious place to spend last Friday afternoon was at a family fun day at the newly named Kingspan Stadium, which Ulster Rugby laid on as a chance for fans to come along and meet the players.

It's a brilliant idea, an event which saw the team walk around casually saying hello and stopping for autographs with a crowd of around 3,000.

We were on our way to the bouncy castle when Katie clocked her Ulster hero. Being Tommy Bowe, he had a bit of queue forming so we stood in line and waited our turn to meet him.

We were the gazillionth people he spoke to that day but you would never have known by the warm welcome we got when we reached the front of the queue.

Katie, like most of us do when confronted with a hero, went all quiet and wouldn't smile. So I lifted her up before Tommy tickled her to get her to laugh – which worked – and put his arm around me as the moment was captured (swoon!).

Nearby, Andrew Trimble was also successfully working his way through a long queue of excited youngsters, while Rory Best's line was so long he had a table and chair.

After a couple of hours enjoying the entertainment – including a barbecue, meerkats on leads (my favourite), a handshake with Sparky and Paddy Jackson taking a skills session – we happened to walk past where we left Tommy.

There he was, still signing and smiling, with a large queue still waiting for a moment with the legendary winger.

As I stopped to watch, amazed by his individual welcome for each fan, the heavens opened. As everyone fled for cover, the only man left standing was Tommy ... and his queue.

A woman handed him a golf umbrella, and on he stood, more than happy to say hello to everyone waiting in the torrential rain. It was a fascinating insight into the life of a world-famous rugby player, someone who must encounter strangers coming up to ask for an autograph every single day.

If one of the skills needed to be a top flight player includes patience, he certainly showed it. He looked like a man pleased to be playing his part in a worthwhile occasion.

Well done to Ulster Rugby for organising such a fun day and raising at least £26,000 for Cancer Research UK. It was a great afternoon that left me with a sense of the club's genuinely strong appreciation for its army of fans.

What do you think I'll be watching...?

Yippee. It's my television highlight of every year – a new series of Who Do You Think You Are? on the BBC.

After 10 years and 100 episodes, tonight marks a brand new dig through the roots and branches of family trees belonging to the likes of Julie Walters, Brian Blessed and Billy Connolly.

Come 9pm, I'll be settling down to find out who has a bigamist hiding in their ancestry, a murderer or a war hero.

Every series unearths a couple of riveting stories and it's not really the celebs themselves who make it interesting, but the secrets hiding in all our pasts.

The women set to lift the roof off ...

Has anyone checked if the roof of the Grand Opera House is still attached?

The ceilings of the grand dame of theatres are taking a bit of stress and strain at the minute as thousands of excitable women pack in for the West End arrival of Dirty Dancing.

Belfast audiences are being brilliantly badly behaved at the show – one of the best things I've ever seen on stage – no less when Johnny Castle (Gareth Bailey) comes out of the audience and leaps on to the stage to say 'that' line before 'that' lift. If you haven't been yet, what are you waiting for?!

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