Belfast Telegraph

Friends rally round Hugo Duncan after taxman bankrupts BBC radio star

By Ivan Little

BBC broadcaster Jackie Fullerton has said his friend and Radio Ulster colleague Hugo Duncan will bounce back after the country star was declared bankrupt at the High Court in Belfast.

"Hugo has overcome adversity before, and he'll do it again," said Fullerton.

Father Brian D'Arcy also expressed confidence in his friend, and urged the public to show Hugo the love he shows them.

"I've known Hugo for a lifetime. He has come through some difficult times in his life - even more difficult than bankruptcy - and he has come back stronger than before," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"He has an amazing amount of good friends, beause he does an amazing amount of good for so many people. He's well thought of for a reason.

"He also has a happy disposition, and he's extremely charitable in the work that he does for all sorts of organisations, he has helped many of the charitable organisations I've been involved in down the years. He's the first to offer help, and he's very, very generous both with his time and with his talent.

"Hugo has that great phrase 'Your Uncle Hugo loves you!' Well, I think it's time now for all of us to love Uncle Hugo, and make sure he comes though this in a positive way."

Another friend from the music business said the presenter of Radio Ulster's most listened to entertainment show had already received messages of support from fellow musicians and fans. He added: "They call him the wee man from Strabane, but he has a big heart and a huge spirit"

Contacted by the Belfast Telegraph last night, Hugo was reluctant to comment about the bankruptcy decision.

Told that showbiz pals have been rallying round and are hoping he'll bounce back from yesterday's decision, Hugo said: "So do I."

But he refused to be drawn any further, saying: "I don't want you to think I'm holding out on you or anybody else, but I just want to do what the legal people have told me."

The 67-year-old singer faced proceedings over tax arrears related to his private entertainment company.

The order was based on a petition by HM Revenue and Customs.

Under the terms of the court adjudication, the entertainer is expected to be discharged from bankruptcy in 12 months' time.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Duncan confirmed that he was "subject to a bankruptcy order in relation to his private entertainment business".

"Mr Duncan will fully co-operate with the order," he said.

The singer's lawyer said: "He will work closely and co-operate with the insolvency service over the coming weeks."

Mr Fullerton said he was shocked and upset "for my old friend". But he added: "Hugo is a strong-willed man and a fighter. He is self motivated and he has shown the sort of man he is by tackling his alcoholism many, many years ago.

"Hugo is one of the people's favourites in Northern Ireland and I know his thousands of fans will be wishing him well, as I do.

"I also know that he is a man who is very capable of bouncing back."

Hugo is renowned as one of our hardest working entertainers. He clocks up thousands of miles every year travelling to Belfast to present his afternoon radio show. And he later heads out across the province to sing at night.

The presenter also helps local charities and is acknowledged as one of Children in Need's most tireless champions.

Yesterday he did a special outside broadcast for Christmas from the foyer of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

He showed no sign of stress as he talked to staff, visitors and patients and sang Christmas songs with country and western friends like Boxcar Brian and Curtis Magee.

He has spoken candidly in the past about the demons he has faced in his life.

In one interview he relived the painful memories of having been born out of wedlock; of how drink threatened to wreck his life and his family, and of how a recording of republican songs came back to haunt him.

The man who used to be called 'Drunken Duncan' has written frankly about his troubled past in an autobiography that revealed his mother Susie was unmarried.

And he said that in the Fifties the shame of illegitimacy, particularly in a Catholic town like Strabane, made life difficult.

But Hugo, who once confronted his father for confirmation that he was his son, said his mother worked hard to make sure he had everything he needed. But she died two weeks after Hugo got married.

He was working in a factory and singing part-time with The Melody Aces showband, but he quickly went fully professional with a band called The Tall Men and they had a raft of Top 10 singles over a four-year period.

But Hugo started drinking and friends said he was soon out of control and his family life suffered.

He said that he regularly drove while over the limit and had 17 crashes.

But after he was caught drink-driving in 1983 he kicked the booze and hasn't touched a drop since.

In the late Eighties he got a job as a BBC radio presenter and set about learning how to overcome his life-long inability to read.

However, just nine months into the job he thought he might be sacked after a tape of rebel songs he'd recorded in the late Seventies was unearthed by the DUP's Ian Paisley jnr, who complained to the BBC.

Hugo said he was sick with worry, but the BBC stood by him after he apologised for making the recordings and distanced himself from the sentiments in the songs.

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