Life may be pretty hec­tic for Deirdre O’Kane, but frus­tra­tion con­tin­ues to fuel her work with home­less char­i­ties

Be­tween ‘ Danc­ing with the Stars’ and a new stand- up show, life is hec­tic for Deirdre O’Kane – but that doesn’t stop her tire­less work for home­less char­i­ties, writes Louise Bru­ton

The Irish Times Magazine - - CONTENTS -

It’s been two days since the Danc­ing with the Stars fi­nal and Deirdre O’Kane is al­ready onto the next thing be­cause Deirdre O’Kane never stops. For the last 20 years, O’Kane has been a house­hold name and fol­low­ing a seven- year break from stand- up com­edy, she makes her grand re­turn with A Line of O’Kane.

“Do you like me ti­tle?!” she faux pleads in a dra­matic fash­ion. Still on a high from mak­ing it to the fi­nal of Danc­ing with the Stars and hav­ing her 50th birth­day broad­cast across the na­tion – “Hav­ing lied about my age for so long it’s just gas. It’s like ‘ go on, Dee, an­nounce it to the bloody whole coun­try, why don’t you’.”

O’Kane’s life is hec­tic but that’s how she ap­pears to thrive. When she danced for Ire­land ev­ery Sun­day for three months, she didn’t press pause on the rest of her work. She hosted the IFTAs in Fe­bru­ary, wear­ing all black in sup­port of the Time’s Up move­ment, and she was one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the Paddy’s Night Comic Re­lief event that was held in the 3Arena. No mat­ter what hap­pened ev­ery Sun­day in Ard­more Stu­dios, she says, she was up mak­ing sand­wiches for her kids Holly and Daniel, on Monday morn­ing be­fore the school run. “That ex­pres­sion, if you want some­thing done, ask a busy per­son, is a tru­ism. We can all do so much more than we think.”

She hasn’t had the time to process the dancin’ just yet but it’s bound to be dis­sected in A Line of O’Kane. “Please God there’s half an hour in it. It will all come out then!” she hoots. “I thought that I would write – this is my naivety with Danc­ing with the Stars – I thought that I would write for four hours in the first half of the day and dance for the sec­ond half of the day. I was so green . . . That didn’t hap­pen.”

From Paths to Free­dom to In­ter­mis­sion, from rep­re­sent­ing the strong Ir­ish mam­mies who sported the Mary Robin­son ‘ do’ in Moone Boy to play­ing the chil­dren’s rights cam­paigner Christina No­ble in the 2014 movie No­ble, which her hus­band Stephen Bradley wrote and directed, it would seem that strong roles find their way to O’Kane. She’s quick to point out that it’s not that sim­ple.

“If it was about choice and it was that easy, I’d say yeah but I’m in an in­dus­try where 99 per cent of peo­ple in it are un­em­ployed at any given time so . . . A lot of it isn’t choice, it’s just luck and if you hap­pen to be right for a par­tic­u­lar role,” she says. “If you get to play strong, funny women, that’s as good as it gets in my opin­ion. If you can be strong and hu­mor­ous at the same time, that’s the gold.”

With the Time’s Up move­ment in full swing, she’s hope­ful things will im­prove for women in her in­dus­try. She com­mends the Ir­ish Film Board’s equal­ity strat­egy to in­crease diver­sity in film and TV but she adds that across the board, women are rou­tinely over­looked for their achieve­ments. She names No­ble as one of those women.

“One of my bug­bears is the Free­dom of the City. I think it’s three Ir­ish women that have re­ceived the Free­dom of the City out of 100,” she says with the ex­as­per­a­tion of some­one who’s had this con­ver­sa­tion dozens of time.

“She has fed and ed­u­cated a mil­lion chil­dren and do­nated her life to it – 30 years at t he coal­face. I mean, at t he coal­face, like in the gut­ters, in the ground and she hasn’t been given Free­dom of the City. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. In the cred­its [ of the movie No­ble], she had an OBE from the Queen and that’s the credit we put at the end of the movie. When’s that go­ing to stop?”

In 142 years, five women in to­tal have re­ceived Free­dom of the City of Dublin and it’s just one Ir­ish woman, Mau­reen Pot­ter, who has re­ceived the hon­our. “It’s outrageous. I am a great fan of both Bono and Bob Geldof be­cause they are hu­man­i­tar­i­ans when they don’t have to be. So any­one that does it, I ad­mire hugely, but they’ve got nice rock- star lives,” she lets that fact hang for a sec­ond. “Christina takes a mi­nus­cule salary, enough to get by on, and has com­mit­ted her life to it. So, for the love of God, I think time is up.”

O’Kane is im­pas­sioned about cor­rect­ing the wrongs around us so her in­volve­ment with Fo­cus Ire­land on Ire­land’s Great Get To­gether is a per­fect fit. With spon­sor­ship from Bord Gáis En­ergy, the Great Get To­gether en­cour­ages peo­ple to ‘ get to­gether’ – whether it’s a walk or a cof­fee morn­ing or just a few pals sit­ting around drink­ing vino of a Fri­day – and raise money to pre­vent fam­ily home­less­ness. O’Kane has a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity when it comes to do­ing some­thing – any­thing – to help. When she moved home to Dublin from Lon­don about three years ago, she saw the cri­sis out on the streets and along with the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis, it was an “ab­so­lute” turn­ing point for her and she took ac­tion.

Pair­ing up with Kite Entertainment’s Dar­ren Smith, who pro­duces Gog­gle­box Ire­land and Ire­land’s Got Tal­ent, they brought Comic Re­lief to Ire­land. This year’s Paddy’s Night Comic Re­lief event had Tommy Tier­nan, Panti Bliss, Ja­son Byrne, Dara Ó Bri­ain and Ali­son Spit­tle on the bill and they hope to sur­pass the ¤ 212,000 raised at last year’s gig once pro­ceeds are tot­ted.

Where O’Kane is mod­est in her in­volve­ment in the event, Smith fills in the blanks. “Deirdre O’Kane is to be avoided at all costs. An­swer­ing a call from Dee can re­sult in find­ing your­self knee- deep in con­fer­ence calls with lawyers, ac­coun­tants, peo­ple who reg­u­late char­i­ties and var­i­ous other very smart peo­ple who make you won­der why you didn’t just have a cake sale,” he says in an email. “Only she could assem­ble the line- up we’ve had for the last two years on our Paddy’s Night Comic Re­lief gigs and – to be fair – it’s not just be­cause she bul­lies the comics into sub­mis­sion but mainly be­cause she is ac­tu­ally a very thought­ful per­son who wants to do some­thing for those who are in real need.”

John Nolan, her danc­ing part­ner for 13 weeks, de­scribes her as “a grafter to the bone”. Back­ing up Smith’s sen­ti­ments, he says that while there’s a hard touch to her, she’s the soft­est and most car­ing per­son he’s met. “She’s ac­tu­ally go­ing to take on the na­tion, like, to change every­thing,” he says. “Dee, like, doesn’t want any credit, no noth­ing. She just wants to get in and get the work done. She isn’t into any of the ‘ I’m a Celebrity’ shite.”

There’s an im­me­di­ate no- non­sense ap­proach in how O’Kane car­ries her­self. She sees her work with Fo­cus Ire­land as a ne­ces­sity and doesn’t un­der­stand how more peo­ple aren’t up in arms about the fact there’s close to 9,000 home­less peo­ple in Ire­land. “Surely af­ter 10 years of re­ces­sion, we all

t‘ h‘ I think if e home­less char­i­ties weren’t con­tain­ing it, it would be a catas­tro­phe. I don’t think peo­ple re­alise how much the char­i­ties are con­tain­ing the prob­lem

know we’re only one step away from it. Like, one step away. You know, a bit of bad luck, a bit of ill health. You get a fright like that and you are one tiny, lit­tle step away from it,” she says. “And I think that ev­ery­body who went through the re­ces­sion kind of ex­pe­ri­enced that. I don’t know a per­son that wasn’t af­fected by it. It’s the feckin’ vul­ture funds. Get them out of our coun­try. Get them out.

“I don’t think we’re proud of the fact that we have a home­less cri­sis. It’s ab­so­lutely outrageous in my opin­ion. We are not a third- world coun­try. It just shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing. I do think ev­ery­one is try­ing to stop it. I think if these guys, the home­less char­i­ties weren’t con­tain­ing it, it would be a catas­tro­phe. I don’t think peo­ple re­alise how much the char­i­ties are con­tain­ing the prob­lem. That’s why I’m so happy to sup­port them. They need all the sup­port they can get. They’re un­be­liev­able. I do ac­tu­ally think that the politi­cians are try­ing. I just wish that they’d be faster.”

Ali­son Spit­tle once de­scribed O’Kane as un­flap­pable, an­other sen­ti­ment that Nolan agrees with, but this is the kind of praise that O’Kane can’t en­ter­tain. “It’s not true. Any­one that works hard knows that . . . It’s prob­a­bly the small things are the things that . . . It’s when the wash­ing ma­chine breaks,” she says. “You could be in cri­sis and you’re han­dling huge things and then your feckin’ wash­ing ma­chine breaks. My hairdryer ex­ploded in the mid­dle of Danc­ing with the Stars and I nearly lost my mind. I just didn’t have time to go to the shops to buy a new hairdryer and it was one of the things where you just go ‘ I’m gonna f*** in’ lose it now. It’s the f*** ing hairdryer that’s go­ing to kill me in the end’.”

Funny, sharp, kind and al­most com­pletely un­flap­pable, O’Kane puts her abil­ity to han­dle the big stuff down to ex­pe­ri­ence. “Age is a good thing too, isn’t it? You know that you’re lucky to be around,” she says. “And I think about the things that hap­pened dur­ing Danc­ing with the Stars. Emma Han­ni­gan passed away and I was f*** ing dev­as­tated about it and then you just go: ‘ Get on with the danc­ing show, like. Get your shit to­gether, like. It’s a danc­ing show. Try and en­ter­tain the peo­ple. Try not to take your­self too se­ri­ously. Work hard. Plaster a smile on your face and get on with it like.’” Ire­land’s Great Get To­gether is a fund­ing ini­tia­tive by Fo­cus Ire­land to raise vi­tal funds and com­bat fam­ily home­less­ness. Tak­ing place from April 20th to 22nd, the event is sup­ported by Bord Gáis En­ergy as part of its on­go­ing part­ner­ship with Fo­cus Ire­land. To reg­is­ter an event for Ire­land’s Great Get To­gether, log on to fo­cusire­land. ie to re­quest a reg­is­tra­tion pack


Co­me­dian and ac­tor Deirdre O’Kane: “That ex­pres­sion, if you want some­thing done, ask a busy per­son, is a tru­ism. We can all do so much more than we think”

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