Patrick Kielty: 'Leaders of the UDA, the group who killed my father, sat at the front during my gigs and I shook their hands'
Comedian Patrick Kielty has revealed that he hasn't forgiven his father's killers.
But the Co Down funnyman said he had shaken the hands of UDA leaders who sat in the front row of his gigs.
John 'Jack' Kielty was shot dead by the UFF - a wing of the UDA - in his home village of Dundrum on January 25, 1988.
He had been due to give evidence in court against a protection racket when his killing was ordered by the loyalist terror group.
"The people who commanded the organisation of those that killed my father have sat in the front row of my gigs and I have shaken their hands," he said.
"Do I accept what they've done - no I don't. Do I accept that times have changed - yes I do."
Speaking candidly in a forthcoming Irish TV interview with broadcaster Eamonn Mallie, Kielty also revealed:
- That he feels "100% Irish" but A Soldier's Song may no longer be an appropriate national anthem.
- That he would turn down a knighthood if offered.
- How he convinced his wife - stunning TV presenter Cat Deeley - to marry him.
Kielty revealed that the impact of his father's murder "comes and goes, it changes".
The Dundrum-born comic said: "I get very embarrassed talking about it, if truth be told.
"I think that I am now a 44-year-old man. I think that my father died when he was 45. My father was killed when I was 16, and I think there's a lot of people who have gone through the same things.
"I was never ashamed of what happened. I was never ashamed of telling anybody what happened to my father, but I think there comes a point when things have moved on that whenever you start talking how you feel about things, there's almost a self indulgence to it.
"As I get a bit older I recoil from it - but I think that it's made me the man that I am."
Asked how, Kielty answered: "I think, in a sense of always remembering where you come from, and in a sense that the world is not a perfect place."
Asked if he had forgiven his father's killers, he replied: "As time goes on I don't think I have. There was never going to be this moment where you sat down and you say, 'I forgive you now and my life is going to get better'.
"If you accept that this is what happened, this is part of the process moving forward, that people who killed people are now out of jail, that what we have now in this country is because of it, I'm accepting of it."
Asked if he could shake hands with his father's killers and treat them as normal human beings, Kielty said: "The people who commanded the organisation that killed my father have sat in the front row of my gigs.
"And I have shaken their hand.
"Do I accept what they've done? No I don't. Do I accept that times have changed? Yes I do."
Although he has worked in England for most of his career, Kielty revealed he had no doubts over his identity. He said: "I see myself as Irish, first and foremost. And I think it's a strange one having lived in Britain for so long and being brought up in Northern Ireland and the Britishness that Northern Ireland makes you feel.
"I have two passports - I'm a bigamist! I'm either full of contradictions or a hypocrite, depending on what way you look at it." But he added: "I feel 100% Irish."
However, he insisted that he doesn't feel the need to shout about being Irish - and questioned fundamental traditions.
"If people down South believe that we've made a peace and we're now in a new future, well why should there be A Soldier's Song?" he asked.
"I find this very interesting as we come up to 1916, and we can pocket our little sing-songs.
"If you look at a lot of the tunes, you know Sean South From Garryowen is pretty much the same tune as The Sash if you actually musically take it apart.
"I think if we're going to move forward, it's very, very tricky... A Soldier's Song is a good old rebel-rousing song and yet the people who are happy to stand for that would see themselves as moderates. And I think if we're actually going to talk about flags and songs, everything should be up for grabs."
Kielty agreed that there is some bigotry in everyone, but appeared to have a solution to sectarianism.
"The only way to flush that through is to travel. And it's not good enough to turn around and say, 'Well I was brought up this way'," he said.
"For me, I was in many bars where you would hear folk songs, and then at a certain time of the night, a folk song would turn into a rebel song.
"We can't just keep handing this stuff down. We actually have to let the next generation and the generation past that start with a fresh slate. And I don't see that as being anything less than 100% Irish. But I see it as we have a special set of circumstances here that we have to address."
Kielty also briefly opened up about his married life to the Emmy-nominated host of hit US reality show So You Think You Can Dance, Cat Deeley.
Recently they announced they were expecting their first child.
The couple first met in London over 10 years ago while presenting Fame Academy.
Although they weren't romantically involved at the time, they kept in contact and he maintained that "there was always something there".
Asked how he 'pulled' her, Kielty joked that the key to success in life is to "find a woman who is out of your league and convince her she isn't".
But he added: "I was the one that got down on the knee and bought the ring and did all these things that you have to do." Unlike other Irish entertainers who have enjoyed success in England, Kielty said he wouldn't accept a knighthood if it was offered.
"I wouldn't. I'm not anti-royal but I don't believe in the royal family. I genuinely wish them all the very best," he said.
He recalled with a smile though that he has enjoyed a few pints with some of the royals.
"I've met Wills and Harry, I had a drink with those lads. I'm trying to work out who bought that drink!"
After spending so many years moving among the great and the good, he said one of the main things he learned is that "everyone's attracted to a bit of stardust".
"That's their big dark secret, everybody likes it. If you look at politicians they like to be beside rock stars, rock stars like to be beside politicians. Everybody wants to be seen in a context where they're slightly more important than they actually are," he said.
At 44, Kielty still has the same healthy and chirpy presence that audiences fell for when he started his TV and comedy career more than 20 years ago.
He calls himself a lifelong fan of country music, something he first picked up from his father Jack's earlier career as a showband promoter.
Along with Jim Aiken, Jack Kielty was responsible for booking many of the big acts of the day, such as Engelbert Humperdinck at the Hilltown Hall in south Down, and Roy Orbison in the Dundrum Hall.
Kielty remembers hearing about his father handling a disastrous Hilltown booking with the world champion boxer Joe Frazier.
"He actually did a singing tour after winning the world title. The streets of Hilltown were lined with boxing fans, they put him on a coal lorry and they drove him up and down the street. It took him two hours to get to one end of Hilltown to the other where the hall was. Everyone wanted to see Joe Frazier the boxing champion.
"My dad thought this was great, but when he got to the hall it was empty. Everyone wanted to see Joe Frazier the boxing champion - but no one wanted to hear Joe Frazier singing. He came off stage after an hour and my dad couldn't pay him."
He still considers Dundrum his home and said his childhood was spent in a "happy house".
"We grew up beside the football field and the chapel. We had a boat and we were back and forward from the beach all the time. We kept the jerseys and the balls for the football and it was me and my brother's job to get the flags and lines drawn for the GAA," he said. "The language in the Kielty house was fairly raw and we were never chastised, but we knew when you were out and about you didn't do it."
In contrast to TV presenting gigs such as the National Lottery, Kielty still relishes surprising audiences with his provocative stand-up style, lampooning the Troubles and lacing his set generously with expletives. But he maintains that swearing is far less offensive in Ireland.
"For me there's a turn of phrase, the closer you get to home, 'there's mountain language spoken at the foothills of the Mournes'," he said. "It's only when I moved to England that I realised what swearing was.
"English people use swearing as a punchline, like I'm going to call you a 'b' or a 'c'. But we use them as connecting words, like we were walking down the effing road. I quickly realised in England I couldn't really talk like that."
On his frequent visits home he came to appreciate the more colourful quips from family friends.
"Someone would say: 'Well young Kielty you're back, you're like cowsh***, you're never off the road'."
Asked if his dad would have approved of his sometimes blue language on stage he replied: "He wouldn't have given a damn, I actually remembered doing gigs with the odd swear word before he died."
He denied having any masterplan for the rest of his career, only that he picks jobs depending on what makes him happy.
"I don't make my decisions based on money," he said. "It's hypocritical to say I'm not materialistic when there are things around me that I enjoy.
"But look at Russell Brand who tried to get involved in the general election. He has money and he was painting himself as some sort of socialist revolutionary, that's very difficult.
"I don't chase money, I think decisions career-wise should be based on whether or not it will make me happy."
Asked if he lives by any life philosophy, Kielty kept it simple: "Be good, be nice. Do your job and be nice. Do a good job, you can only make yourself happy".
Eamonn Mallie Meets Patrick Kielty will be broadcast on Irish TV at 10pm on Sunday night. It is available on Sky and Freeview at channel 191, Freesat channel 400, and at www.irishtv.ie. The show is re-broadcast on the following Wednesday at 11pm