Belfast Telegraph

Eddie McIlwaine proud to be 'still scribbling' for the Tele at 80 years young

By Eddie McIlwaine

Hate to admit it - but I've just turned 80. However, I'm proud of the fact that, at my great age, I am still scribbling stories for the Belfast Telegraph.

I'm the oldest columnist the Tele has ever had in its pages and I'm delighted it still wants my stuff.

I was paid a smashing compliment at my birthday party when I was told: "You still write like a young guy. Readers would never guess you are so elderly."

Those words were spoken not by any of the celebrities I've met over the years, but by my 32-year-old son, Edward jnr. It meant a lot coming from someone of his generation - especially when I know he meant it.

I'm a bit of an egotist, mind you: when well-meaning fans say, "I see you are still writing wee pieces for the Tele," I pull them up sharply, retorting that I only write big, important stories - most of them exclusives. I'm kind of joking, of course. Still they get the point.

Yes, I have met many important folk down the years since I began my reporting career with the Telegraph back in 1956 and became deputy news editor before moving on to the Daily Mirror for 14 years, returning to my first love in 1989 to write the Ulster Log.

I'm not going to bore you with too many star names - although there is one famous tale of Ian and Eileen Paisley and I that has to be related.

It was the summer of '71 and I was driving Peter Sellers around town at the height of the Troubles when he asked me to take him to meet the Big Man.

At the Paisley manse, Eileen answered the door and, when I mentioned the name of Sellers, she asked: "Who's he, anyway?"

"Come on, Eileen, he's a famous star," I informed her. It turned out Ian was at Stormont and I did manage to get him and Peter together briefly on the steps.

Years later, the Paisleys and I were reminiscing at a do in the Waterfront and she recalled the Sellers business, admitting she was a wee bit embarrassed not to be familiar with his name. "So I went off and got all his films on DVD and became a fan," she told me. It's quirky stories like that that have helped me reach 80 and which will keep me writing the Ulster Log until I'm 90.

When I'm feeling low, or depressed (which isn't too often), I slip into the study, park myself at the computer and start putting Logs together.

I get cheered up in minutes - especially when my wife and greatest critic, Irene, gives her approval.

Actually, she and I spent our honeymoon in Oslo as members of the official party when Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize. I was covering the great occasion and Irene was charming the prime minister and his cabinet at dinner.

I could go on and on - I nearly turned my back on journalism for good eight years ago, when my special friend, promoter Jim Aiken, died prematurely.

Jim and I travelled Europe and America together, meeting superstars like Pavarotti, who liked me so much he insisted on me sitting in the front row of his open air concert at Stormont.

Jim's death left a huge gap in my life and I miss his wisdom and chat to this day.

Other friends, like Jim's son Peter and ex-BBC controller Robin Walsh, persuaded me that Jim would have wanted me to carry on, which I'm glad I did.

I'll finish on a hilarious note about a happening that could have had a serious outcome and which I've never written, or spoken about, before.

I used to go into the Belfast Telegraph building every Sunday morning with copy in the early days of computers, when email from home was still in its infancy. The building on this particular Sabbath was silent and totally empty as I boarded the lift on the third floor at the start of my journey back home. And the elevator stuck halfway.

I was stranded for nearly an hour before, in desperation, I rocked it down nearly to ground level and created a gap through which I was able to squeeze to freedom. I've hated lifts and confined spaces ever since.

A final thought, though: I'm just another hack, a journalist who always loved his job and who will be saddened when I have to bring the curtain down. I hope my meanderings in the Ulster Log still bring pleasure and warmth to all my readers.

Belfast Telegraph


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