A chat that barely scratched the surface... and a few follow- on questions would’ve been good too, Ryan
There is, always, a danger in an interview with a politician on what essentially is an entertainment show – not least for the politician. A tightrope must be walked, and when the chat switches from the public to the personal, the trick is to avoid sounding trivial. The world we live in has become polarised to an extent unprecedented in my lifetime, and where once the mythical man in the street only could criticise a politician privately, it can now be done publicly, in the crudest way imaginable, on social media.
That’s why, no matter how much you dislike the actions of an individual, it is hard not to feel grudging admiration for anyone putting himself or herself out there to be held up to public opprobrium.
And so it proved on Friday night, when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar went on The Late Late Show to talk about homelessness, the HSE, Brexit and, er, Kylie Minogue, and was kicked from here to Christmas on Twitter. If I were him, I certainly wouldn’t have been up at the crack of dawn yesterday to scroll through the comments.
Mr Varadkar has something of an image problem. Whether through shyness or diffidence, he comes across as oddly unempathetic at times, which is rather odd for a former doctor who presumably had to develop something approximating to a bedside manner in the former day job.
Ryan Tubridy is a skilled interviewer and a politics nerd, but he too is constrained by a format that forces him to move things along, and what that means is that discussion seldom does more than scratch the surface. As you might expect, the first subject on the agenda was homelessness and affordable housing, the greatest twin-headed social crisis the country has faced this century.
The Taoiseach said we built 20,000 houses this year, the highest number since 2009, but the follow-up question – how many of those are social houses? – was not asked. It allowed Leo to bat to touch the claim that Fine Gael is ideologically opposed to providing social housing, a view many of us harbour.
He was on safer ground when asked his opinion of his fellow party leaders, and while he was a little barbed, he was, overall, complimentary of Brendan Howlin, Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald, even though she called him ‘smug’. Maybe sometimes there’s no point trying to refute the obvious.
He was also asked about a tweet he sent out this week refuting a claim that he and his friends had enjoyed a free meal in the 3Arena before Monday night’s Kylie Minogue concert, when in fact they only had drinks that he paid for. He has been savaged for responding, but actually it is perfectly understandable. As he said, you can attack him, but not his friends, and I actually admire him for sticking up for himself. Sometimes, it’s the little things that sting, especially the personal ones.
Where he really came to life was when he was asked about his partner, Dr Matt Barrett, and the importance
The Late Late Show Ryan Tubridy only skimmed the surface with Leo Varadkar – until they spoke about Dr Matt
of domestic support and having someone to confide in. Only then did we get a real sense of the man, and it would serve Mr Varadkar a great deal better if he showed that side of himself more often.
What, though, if the only company you had, day in and day out, was that of your partner, and you had to go up to three months without talking to another human being? Wayne Adams and Catherine King live just like that, building a floating farm in an isolated part of Canada they have dubbed Freedom Cove. They featured on Channel 4’s World’s
Weirdest Homes, but their home wasn’t weird – it was fantastical, a series of interlocking structures, including a lighthouse and a ballroom, multiple greenhouses and vegetable patches.
Living completely off grid, with electricity supplied by solar panels, they were the picture of happiness. When they wanted a nice dinner, Wayne opened a trapdoor in the living room and simply dropped a rod into the water while his dogs barked at the fish. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but it certainly seemed idyllic.
Far less so was the Dubai home of 16-year-old YouTube star Rashed Belhasa, known to his followers as MoneyKicks. The son of a billionaire property developer, Rashed’s claim to internet fame is excess – limited edition trainers, sports cars wrapped in Louis Vuitton decals, visits by superstars such as Mariah Carey and, disgustingly, a private zoo filled with over 500 animals, including lions, giraffes, tigers, zebras and bears.
While Rashed beamed a megawatt smile still retained by teenage braces, the animals looked utterly miserable, and even had to be physically manipulated by zookeepers to answer the most basic calls of nature. The contrast with the simplicity of life for the Canadian couple, and their respect for the natural world, could not have been starker.
Humanity in its most beautiful form also appeared in Walking The
Walk, an RTÉ documentary about Fr Tony Coote. The south Dublin priest was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last April, and by June it had progressed significantly, leaving him wheelchairbound. ‘It’s difficult when you were six foot one and suddenly just four foot,’ he said wryly.
Far from allowing the condition beat him, Fr Coote took off on a charity walk from Donegal to Kerry with the aid of volunteers all along the route and it made for an inspirational hour of television.
With all that’s wrong in our world, you often have to remind yourself that people basically are decent and kind, and none more so than Tony Coote himself.
Relying on a wicked sense of humour instead of self-pity, and clearly drawing on his personal faith, he showed what can be achieved when you dedicate yourself fully to a task in hand. In that, there is a lesson for us all, not least the man who sat in the Late Late hotseat on Friday.
World’s Weirdest Homes Catherine and Wayne are living off the grid, and loving it
Walking the Walk Fr Tony Coote’s irrepressible good humour was inspirational