Champagne. Dickie bows. Bright lights. Cufflinks. Polite conversation and sirloin steak. An Irish celebrity love-in of a literary awards ceremony.
The Old School Tie
‘Jeffrey Archer is a loss to politics’ gushed George Hook in introducing the disgraced former peer, the recipient of some sort of international achievement award at this event. Amazingly, this was one of the least ridiculous statements by ‘Hooky’ as he paid homage to Archer, whom he compared not just to Charles Dickens but to nearly ever other great dead author he could think of, his voice getting squeakier with every superlative he wantonly hurled at Archer. He might have even thrown Tolstoy in there in listing the greats that Jeffrey Archer ranks alongside. I can’t be certain as I was scrambling for the exit by that stage. When I returned, Jeffrey himself was on stage and relaying a yarn which delighted the audience.
“About a decade ago, I was walking down O’Connell Street when I was stopped by an old man. ‘Archer’ he said to me, grabbing me by the arm, ‘do you have any Irish blood in you?’ ‘No’ I replied. ‘That surprises me’, said the old man, ‘for you, sir, are a Seanachai [story-teller]’.”
The old man was right; Archer certainly does spin a good yarn. So good, in fact, that in an earlier version of that anecdote I’ve heard relayed by Archer, that very same old man was actually a young tramp. ‘You Irish greet complete strangers as if you saw them only yesterday and bid them goodbye as if you will see them again tomorrow’. Delightfully condescending.
I couldn’t resist the urge to chat with the former Lord Archer because he is an old boy of my former secondary school, don’t you knay? I asked him if he ever returned. Well, he does get invited back to do the annual prize giving every so often, don’t you knay? And he’s met the new headmaster and he’s a bloody good chap. Moreover, he attends the annual old boys’ dinner in London every year, don’t you knay? Funny, this is the first I’ve heard of that event … my invitation to that annual shindig must have gotten lost in the post these last few years.
Roddy Doyle, like me, was nominated for an award having ghost-written a former footballer’s autobiography
That footballer, of course, was Roy Keane. But Doyle was full of praise for the book I wrote with Alan McLoughlin, and said it should have won. That was nice. And he’d actually read the thing. I returned the compliment. I think we were both a little miffed that The Rugby Book book took the prize. Brian O’Driscoll’s ‘The Test’ was safe, dependable stuff from a national treasure. And safe, dependable stuff from rugby itself: a game which, unlike football, doesn’t have a persistent image problem. A safe, dependable read from a safe, dependable guy.
One thing Roddy Doyle and I have in common, we discovered, is a guilty pleasure in ‘researching’ footballer autobiographies. They are a great bedtime read. They might be lowbrow as literary works, but who cares? We discussed the crop from former Irish international footballers: from Niall Quinn (very good) to Frank Stapleton (shite). One thing’s for sure, Roddy’s made a pretty penny from his sojourn into the genre.
Every year my brother buys me a Daniel O’Donnell calendar or diary
These come complete with Daniel wearing pastel-coloured sweaters and smiling into the sunset. Every year my brother gets me with this routine. Every year have to put up with people’s faces contorting into a worried frown as they step into my office and notice the Daniel O’Donnell diary atop my desk. I’ve stopped explaining at this stage. Which I suppose makes me a fan. So what better way to repay the favour to my brother than to get not only the autograph of wee Daniel from Donegal but also the autograph of his lovely lady wife Majella. That should put a stop to the Daniel O’Donnell tat – I think I’ve won now.
Majella’s book came as a freebie in every goodie bag on the night. It’s the story of an unassuming Tipperary girl who meets the man of her dreams and then goes on to get her head shaved on live TV. Gripping stuff.
I couldn’t think of a single thing to say to Graham Norton so I started talking to Paul Galvin instead
I’ve always liked Galvin because being only half Kerryman, I’m a fair-weather fan of Gaelic football. And Galvin is everything the Gaelic footballer is supposed not to be: image-obsessed, a snappy dresser, a bit of a ‘trendy’. He lived up to this – wearing a granddad shirt with his dinner jacket and sandwiched in between a couple of stunners. He was very complimentary about my young cousin Fearghal, a footballer who he’s played alongside and against. And his bushy black beard is looking great.
My doctoral supervisor Michael Laffan was at my table
And it was great to catch up with Michael, whom I love and respect. His book, a biography of WT Cosgrave, was a labour of love five years in the making – a brilliant academic work which is also very readable. It didn’t win. Proof, as if it were needed, that this awards was all about celebrity and not about literary talent. For all that, though, it was – I’m sure – better fun than the Wellington School Old Boy’s London Dinner.