Belfast Telegraph

Let's talk

Chat king Gerry returns with a brand new show

Audrey Watson

AFTER 17 years as Northern Ireland's chat show king, you'd imagine that Gerry Kelly could have a conversation with anybody he chooses? but unfortunately for the self-confessed golf fanatic, a talk with his hero Tiger Woods is proving as elusive as a hole in one.

After 17 years as Northern Ireland's chat show king, you'd imagine that Gerry Kelly could have a conversation with anybody he chooses? but unfortunately for the self-confessed golf fanatic, a talk with his hero Tiger Woods is proving as elusive as a hole in one.

"Every year, I have offered researchers £100,000, cars houses or whatever if they can get me Tiger Woods," jokes the TV favourite who returns to our screens on Friday, with his new show.

"Tiger doesn't do interviews, but with the Ryder Cup being held in Ireland in September, I haven't given up hope."

It seems like no time at all since the final Kelly Show, back in December last year and Gerry, 56, admits that the prospect of the new series eased his sadness at his old show's demise.

"I kept up well for the duration of the programme. But it was the next day that I thought, 'Well that's that over'. But it was good to go out on a high and we knew we had this new project coming up.

"Of course I miss it. Friday nights aren't the same. You built your life round Friday night and now you don't have that and it's odd. But I'll get over it," he laughs.

And Gerry's not the only member of the Kelly family that misses the old show.

"My wife Helena misses it too," he reveals. "Although she only came up to the studio three or four times,

come 10.30pm, I'd get a phone call and everyone would be waiting with baited breath; 'What did Helena think?'

"Her opinion was always a good opinion - it was a viewers' opinion - and she was always honest. If Helena didn't like something or someone, more often than not she was right."

The new programme Gerry Meets... is a series of half-hour, one-to-one interviews with politicians, sports stars, famous people and at times, members of the general public who have found themselves in the news or in some sort of special circum stances.

"Guests don't always have to be major, major stars, though undoubtedly some will be," says Gerry. "The main thing is people who have a story to tell.

"Tiger Woods has a universal story to tell, but I'd like to think that there would be something Irish or Northern Irish about it.

"Some shows will be shot here at UTV; others will be out and about. But Gerry Meets... won't be an Hello magazine type of interview show.

"We won't be going to people's homes, looking around and going, 'Oh, that's nice'.

"It's an opportunity to talk to someone at length and find out a little bit more about them than the normal public perception.

"With The Kelly Show, you were only getting into people when you had to wrap it up, but that's the nature of chat shows and that's the way we designed it - we left you wanting a little bit more.

"But there were too many times when we all wanted a bit more."

Thanks to the popularity of the Kelly Show, Gerry is having no problem attracting guests for the 34-programme-series.

"Our knocks on doors and phone calls are always answered," says Gerry. "Guests know we are not going to let them down or be sensational.

"But if there are awkward questions to be asked, I won't shy away from asking them. And I won't plug things for the sake of plugging them, nor will I be told what I can or can't ask."

As well as the filming the new TV show, Gerry's going to be putting pen to paper and writing a book about the Kelly years.

"I was approached before Christmas, but as yet, I've nothing done. I really should have something down by now," he laughs.

"I just can't get started. It's not so much time, I just don't know how or where to start."

Will it be a warts and all account, revealing star tantrums and demands?

"I will put those sorts of things in," he reveals. And there'll be a little bit about myself.

"But I want to place Kelly within the context of the last 17 years, with the backdrop of the Troubles and some of the terrible and brilliant things that have happened over the years.

"Because we do pride ourselves on the fact that we reacted to things that were happening.

"We were broadcasting at a time when there were bombs and bullets and studio evacuations. We talked to victims' families and after the Europa was bombed, we went down and deliberately did the show from there.

"So we were part of what was going on and we were often seen as a little bit of light relief on a Friday night."

The first episode of the new show will see Gerry travelling to Dalkey to interview bestselling author Maeve Binchy in her home.

Former Celtic manager Martin O'Neill and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will feature in programmes two and three.

"Maeve Binchy's life story is just fascinating. You could listen to her all day. She has a magnificent story to tell," reveals Gerry.

"We went to her house and saw the huge table that she wrote her 18 bestsellers on. And her husband sits at the other end writing his children's novels.

"They do that from 7.30am until lunchtime every day.

"I asked her if they gave each other ideas? And she said, 'Yes. We have a 10 minute sulk every morning',

"He may say something to her, or her to him, and they'll will have a 10 minute sulk."

Despite interviewing some of the biggest names in the world, Gerry insists he has never been starstruck:

"There are some people I have huge respect for and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Garth Brooks and Michael Flatleys of this world," he says.

"But I've never been star struck. I suppose that stems from the fact that I'm doing a job that I never set out to do.

"I never saw myself as a chat show host and even throughout the 17 years of Kelly, it was always a job, it was never showbiz."

And he insists he has no ambition to leave the chat arena.

"I enjoy listening and talking to people and," he laughs, "It's the only talent I have!"

Gerry Meets... starts on Friday March 3, at 8.30pm on ITV1. If you would like to be in the audience write to: Gerry Meets..., UTV, Ormeau Road, Belfast, BT7 1EB or email:

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