Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Books

the bruising memoirs of a

loveable rogue

Irish Traveller and 2011 Celebrity Big Brother winner Paddy Doherty tucks into a chip butty as we meet to chat about his latest high-profile venture, which is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The time he bit off someone's finger, had part of his own ear gnawed off, went through reconstructive surgery after having his jaw shattered and narrowly escaped death when he was shot in the head are just a few of the anecdotes featured in the former bare-knuckle fighter's brutal life story, Hard Knocks -amp; Soft Spots.

The fact that he can't read or write didn't put him off launching his ghost-written autobiography, which leaves no gory stone of his life unturned.

Meeting him today, Doherty's scrubbed up well in a navy Ralph Lauren shirt, pressed jeans and shiny leather shoes, but the scars on his face are an undeniable giveaway of the violence and hardships he's lived through.

Yet Doherty (53) won the hearts of millions when he showed his softer side in Celebrity Big Brother, becoming confidante to the likes of Kerry Katona and forming an unlikely friendship with Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

"I am what I am," he says of his relatively new-found celebrity. "I suppose I'm famous but I had problems coming to terms with that for a long time. When thousands of people vote for you, you have to become somebody."

He and Bercow went on to appear in a Wife Swap-style documentary, When Paddy Met Sally, and are about to start filming a new around-the-world series of adventures together for Channel 5.

"When I first met her I loved her voice. She made out she was rough but she wasn't. She was what we Travellers call a horse of a different colour, she wasn't what she made herself out to be, and we ended up having many interesting conversations."

Bercow and her three children have since been to stay with Doherty and his family at his chalet on a campsite in north Wales, he's visited the Houses of Parliament and they remain good friends, he says.

He believes TV shows like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding have changed the public's perception of Travellers and vice-versa.

"My community loved it. We didn't act it out. Then when I won Big Brother, the response of celebration I got from thousands of Travellers was unreal. I took a big gamble and came out trumps."

But there were criticisms from some Travellers who felt the gypsy series misrepresented them, I suggest.

"Listen, you put 500 apples in a barrel and you are going to get three or four rotten ones. It don't mean the 500 are rotten, does it? The ones who criticised weren't the ones who were in the programme."

He says there is a lot of secrecy within the travelling community as to their cultures and traditions. Children are brought up in the strict Catholic faith, men are the breadwinners, women keep the home and families stick together, whatever happens.

However, his admissions in the book about the barbaric violence, scrapes with the law and some of the methods used to make money will surely not endear him to law-abiding citizens.

Selling dodgy cars at auction, burning piles of tyres to reclaim the steel inside them to sell for scrap and using stolen rings on his wedding day are among the many events recorded.

"My honesty will get me into a lot of trouble," he says, laughing. "But that's the life I lived." Doherty had a nomadic upbringing in the North and Midlands, moving from Manchester to various sites in and around Birmingham. Beyond the gates of the travellers' camps encountered hostility.

His grandparents posed as his parents during his early years and it wasn't until Doherty was a teenager, and sent to live with his 'sister' Maggie and her family, that the truth emerged - Maggie was actually his mother.

But, as she'd been unmarried when she had him, it had been kept quiet to avoid bringing shame on the family. While much of the book focuses on the violent side of his life - the brawls, bare-knuckle fights, gangsters and protection rackets he endeavoured to stop - Doherty has also experienced great human sadness with his wife of 34 years, Roseanne.

After having five healthy children, their next four died from a rare genetic disorder called Fraser syndrome.

The first time it happened, doctors said afterwards they could test for the condition during the early stages of pregnancy, but as Catholics the couple didn't believe in abortion, so opted not to.

Roseanne carried all the babies to term and nearly died from complications during one of the births.

Her last pregnancy, with twins, ended with one being stillborn.

"She had a couple of breakdowns through it all," Doherty recalls. "You get to the stage where you are sick of all the white coffins and you want to escape from everything, but you've got to put a smile on your face and pretend that you're okay."

The family was dealt another massive blow when their eldest son Patrick (18) was killed in a road accident with his cousin and a friend in 1996. Doherty sought solace in drugs and alcohol.

"I didn't cope with it. I'd sleep at the grave, go down there and play his music and escaped from everything by hitting drugs. I was on cocaine, Ecstasy and LSD."

As grief enveloped the family, he and Roseanne drifted apart.

"Roseanne would come to me and cry but I couldn't cry to her. I'd always been told not to show my emotions so I'd walk down the road and roar my brains out when I was alone."

His weight plummeted from 17 stones to seven as he continued to drown his sorrows.

Then one day in 1997 he saw an advert for the Manchester marathon and it reignited his fighting spirit.

"It felt like a small light had switched back on inside me. I had a purpose. Each day I trained a little more and each day I felt a little fitter. The fog in my head was gradually clearing."

Doherty completed the marathon in under four hours and has never again touched drugs.

His marriage is now stronger than ever and he remains close to his five surviving children and 15 grandchildren.

He has also found God and, as a born-again Christian, says he couldn't have survived without his faith. "If I didn't have God in my life, I'd be dead now."


From Belfast Telegraph