Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

I found a lump and thought, that's it the party's over

By Gail Edgar

Belfast actor and director Dan Gordon has revealed he feared for his life during a health scare three years ago. The 47-year-old, who has just started a new column in Sunday Life, thought he had testicular cancer and worried that his days were numbered.

In a candid interview Dan also revealed:

  • he once visited Lourdes but came home sicker than he left;
  • he doesn’t believe in God although he used to take his children to church every week; and
  • he was once questioned by the USPCA over the treatment of animals during a play in the Grand Opera House.

The popular actor — famous for his role as Red Hand Luke in Give My Head Peace — admitted he’s had a lucky life and that even when ill health struck around three years ago he wasn’t as sick as he first thought.

But he admits he was frightened.

He said: “That was a bit scary. I had a testicular lump.

“I thought that was it — I thought the party was over.”

After an operation to remove the lump, Dan said everything was fine, although the experience put things in perspective.

“I used to sit on the edge of the bed before I went to sleep and think maybe I shouldn’t go to sleep, maybe I should stay up and enjoy the dawn because I might not be round for too many more.”

Dan also revealed he once visited Lourdes on a school trip, but came home in worse shape than when he left Belfast.

He had been on a mountaineering expedition in the Spanish Pyrenees when the group stopped off at the famous pilgrimage site on the return journey.

He recalled: “The roads were very busy and as I was walking across an entrance to a campsite this Belgian guy just swung in ignoring the pedestrians and he put me over his bonnet and I bounced.

“I was 17 and very fit because we had done a lot of training. We’d been to Kerry and climbed McGillicuddy Reeks before that. I picked myself up and dusted myself down and said what was that about?

“They must have known I was an east Belfast Prod! I wasn’t terribly injured, just bruised a bit.”

In spite of his injuries, Dan said he enjoyed the trip.

“It was quite an amazing experience being in Lourdes and seeing it all.

“One of the highlights was when I went to the grotto and looked up there and there all these crutches hanging and one of them said on the side of it Western Health and Social Services Board!”

Dan said he had a cosseted existence as a child growing up near Mersey Street in east Belfast and wasn’t affected by the Troubles. When he was seven, Dan’s parents David and Irene moved the family to the Holywood Road.

And after passing his 11-plus, Dan started at Sullivan Upper.

“I had a very good childhood even though it was during the Troubles.

“I went out my front door, got the bus to Holywood away from Belfast.

“I didn’t have to go into Belfast and went in very little in the Seventies and Eighties — the Seventies in particular.”

In spite of always wanting to be an actor, after school Dan enrolled at Stranmillis College.

“My parents had a working class mentality and lower middle-class money. There was a work ethic: working hard, getting your 11-plus and getting to grammar school and university,” he said.

It was at Stranmillis that Dan met his wife Cathy, now a special needs teacher.

He explained: “We were in the same drama class, but we weren’t going together.

“I went out with someone else for three years, then we got together.”

But being married since November 1984, Dan is shy when it comes to talking about romance.

“You have your own songs, maybe there was a bit of poetry floating about, and a bit of wooing went on.

“I think I’m getting embarrassed. I’m getting a bit red here!”

The couple have three daughters: Sarah (19), Hannah (16) and Martha (10).

“Cathy is very grounded and makes sure I don’t get any ideas above my station.

“It can be tough — often it would be ships in the night.

“The hardest was when I was in America doing A Night In November. Martha was four months when I left and she was eight months when I saw her again.”

Another difficult time was after the death of Dan’s father in 1992.

“Cathy’s very tolerant. I was being withdrawn and I wasn’t dealing with my father’s death very well.

“My father was a joiner and he served his time in the shipyard.

“He left it in the mid-Sixties then he went into suspended ceilings.

“He set up his own suspended ceiling business which he had for the rest of his life basically.

“He died of asbestosis that he picked up in the shipyard — allegedly, because they never admitted it.”

Dan said his father’s death hit him harder than he would ever have imagined.

“Things were tough. I just wasn't in a place where I could talk to anybody about anything and I immersed myself in my work even more.

“It was a difficult time. I think most people go through them — some people can work them out and other people can’t.”

The father-of-three also revealed that he doesn't believe in God — even though he used to take his children to church every Sunday.

“I’m agnostic. I don't believe there is a God around, but if anybody else wants to believe and that does them good and keeps them right, then go for it.

“I would love to have that faith that some people have.

“I like the whole moral education and sense of community and friendship that churches have, but there’s just too much badness in the world. I can’t accept that whole thing of a benign God.”

Dan, who admits to being a workaholic, even wrote a play about his lack of faith.

But not every play he’s been involved with has been a success.

And the play Eddie Bottom's Dream is a case in point.

“I did a show with Marie Jones — it was a disastrous show, everything about it.

“Marie would admit it and I would admit that everything about it didn’t click.”

The team were even visited by USPCA officials.

“It had two lambs in it. I’ve seen farmers handling lambs and they’re very rough. At the very last part of the play this guy hands me a lamb and he kind of thrust it and the lamb made a wee noise and a thousand people in the Opera House gasped.

“The next day the USPCA called out to see us but it wasn’t anything bad.

“All these sophisticated urbanites think we’ve been bad to a lamb!”

As well as his new job as Sunday Life columnist, Dan is also currently working on a film and is preparing for panto in the Waterfront Hall.

He’s also working on a project with the Ulster Scots Agency and the Lyric Theatre, sponsored by the Arts Council helping teachers to learn how to direct plays.

“I made a decision when my father died to stay here and do plays here, about people here, for people here.

“I’ve got my roots here. I love working in Ireland. I just love it.

“I love the connection you can make with people.

“In London, even if you’ve done a major piece of work you can’t make a difference, here you can.”

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