Baby joy after trauma of my wife’s health battle
Investigative reporter Donal MacIntyre talks about facing up to the dangers his work brings, his wife’s brain tumour and the third baby they feared they’d never have. Gabrielle Fagan reports
Donal MacIntyre's running scared — there's a tough little character out there and the only option may be to crack and offer her a sweetener.
A renowned investigative journalist who's reported from war zones, gone undercover infiltrating criminal gangs and sex-slave traffickers, and endured death threats, kidnapping attempts and assaults, is patently no match for the tenacity of youngest daughter, four-year-old Tiger.
She's loudly voicing her desire for an ice-cream, and one for her nine-year-old sister, Allegra, and he finally laughs indulgently as he gives in, hands them over and beats a hasty retreat to talk in the quiet of his study at home.
“Kids!” says Dublin-born MacIntyre.
“Now they're a real force to be reckoned with. They're so upfront about what they want and sometimes the noise levels can be a bit punishing. I have a feeling Tiger and Allegra have sussed out that dad's a bit of a softie.”
It's a vulnerable off-screen side to his character that he carefully conceals when working on often-demanding and dangerous projects.
During 10 years of undercover work from 1993 to 2003 for the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel Five, he sealed his reputation as a reporter who was unafraid to venture where few dared to tread.
The international trade in endangered animals, trafficking of sex slaves, illicit arms trading and care homes are just some of the issues he's explored. Increasing public recognition made the anonymity necessary for undercover investigations virtually impossible, so he's turned to documentaries.
Recently, he's returned from reporting in South America and the Philippines, and closer to home — Manchester — he's been investigating the riots.
But today MacIntyre (45) acknowledges the personal price that he — and most shockingly his 35-year-old wife Ameera — have paid for his award-winning activities.
He's moved home 50 times in the last decade, seven times since he married five years ago, to avoid reprisals from those he's exposed but it was an attack on both him and his wife two years ago in Surrey which rocked him.
“It was an awful, horrific time which was shocking for me but devastating for Ameera,” he says quietly, recalling the assault which was linked to his work 10 years ago on exposing Chelsea football hooligans for his BBC One series, MacIntyre Undercover.
“I've been assaulted many times and, even though it's never justified because I'm lawfully doing my work, I've had to cope with those hazards of my job. But it crosses a line when my wife gets caught in the crossfire.”
Last November one man was jailed for two-and-a-half years for the revenge attack which left the couple severely shaken and with cuts and bruises.
Worse, the assault happened when he and Ameera, who has a brain tumour, were out for the evening prior to her having a scan the following day.
“She's had a pituitary tumour for
several years which is small, non-malignant and dormant. It's stabilised with medication but she has to be monitored regularly and has regular scans to make sure it isn't growing,” he explains.
“That's always a tense, uncertain, worrying time for her but she copes with her condition very bravely.”
The pituitary gland sits in the centre of the brain and is vital for producing hormones. If tumours occur there they are mostly benign but can grow and exert pressure on the brain and the optic nerves.
While he's humbled by his wife's coping with such a potentially life-threatening condition, he's also inspired by the courage of his mother, Peggy, 74, who as a single parent brought up five children while struggling with chronic eye problems.
“Mum's an amazing woman who worked all the hours God sent bringing up us kids despite nearly going blind twice,” he says.
His paternal grandmother suffered from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), generally seen in those over 60, and the most common cause of vision loss.
Figures in 2010 showed that almost 1.5n people were estimated to have the early form of AMD. A cure has not been found.
Soon, MacIntyre and the family will have cause for celebration. Ameera's tumour interferes with hormone levels and in January doctors warned she was only a few months away from becoming infertile but against all odds she got pregnant. The couple are having the third child they've long yearned for in November.
“It's a boy and we're even more thrilled because it's a bit of a miracle. We'd tried unsuccessfully for more than two years for a baby and were on the brink of attempting IVF when we found she was expecting.
“I feel so lucky for everything I have. I've been fortunate to have the career I do, and very lucky to have survived the more dangerous scenarios ... but I have my health and that's the most precious thing — aside from my family.”
For more information on AMD visit www.ncbi.ie/news/events.