Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Anderson: The day I asked George Best to apologise to us and felt ashamed

We look back at some of the late Gerry Anderson's wit and wisdom during his time as a Belfast Telegraph columnist

Yesterday’s tragic death of George Best is a sad reminder of the inevitable consequences of a troubled free will. George never made excuses about his drinking, nor did he blame anybody else. He just couldn't stop drinking and admitted as much — a non-recovering alcoholic.

I knew him slightly, having interviewed him on television a couple of times. I found him strangely shy, courteous, funny, well-read and articulate. I also sensed a degree of wistfulness and an air of sadness about him, as if he retained some great secret which could never be revealed.

I once observed him standing in a corner of a room signing autographs for those skilful enough to get near him. Unaccountably, the queue to meet George Best temporarily dried up, and he was left standing alone for about 30 seconds. Realising he was momentarily alone, George seemed to visibly deflate. He stood there immobile and limp, like a puppet on a coat-hook. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen.

It was also during an interview with George that I first felt dirty on television. It is a feeling I have tried to avoid since. Once is enough.

It happened a number of years ago, in the early ’90s. Because George had recently appeared drunk on television, the director of our show thought it would play well if George apologised to the people of Northern Ireland for his behaviour. I thought this odd and said so.

I didn't see why George should apologise to the people of Northern Ireland for anything. I knew a lot of people who got drunk regularly but seldom felt the need to address the nation when they sobered up.

George Best was an ex-footballer, not the Castlereagh Ambassador to the Court of St James.

Anyway, I was green then and thought others knew best. Someone (I know not who but it wasn't me) suggested that George apologise on air when prompted by my good self. Apparently, he agreed. I was supposed to discuss the televisual drunken incident live on-air and, in conclusion, say to him: “Well, George. Don't you have something to say to the people of Northern Ireland?”

He would then apologise to all and sundry.

And he did.

I was ashamed of myself.

It was then I realised that running the risk of feeling dirty on television more than once has a price-tag.

The price is that one gets used to feeling dirty until, eventually, it feels the same as being clean and, then, after a while (and they're on the box for all to see if you look hard enough) one becomes one of the lost ones. And, sadly, the lost ones make loads of money, become very famous, and die contentedly in the sun.

So, in an odd way, I reckon George did me a favour.

Even though frail in his latter years, and obviously tortured by demons within, I always thought of him as being, well, indestructible. I thought maybe George would pull through this time until I bumped into his father at Belfast City Airport a couple of weeks ago.

The look in his eye when I inquired about George's health told me it was over. The pigeons had finally come home to roost for George Best.

There will never be another like him.

And wasn't it ironic to note this week that pigeons come home to roost not only for giants, but for |pygmies too.

Secretary of State Peter Hain's Herod-like purge of our councils came as somewhat of a shock to some of the many little jumped-up pocket generals who have been sucking the lifeblood out of Northern Ireland for years.

If I can coax an honest, gifted and charismatic George Best into apologising to the people of Northern Ireland for no good reason at all, what could I not accomplish if I got my hands on some real villains with plenty to hide?

Now, let's have a look at that list of quangos.

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