Ea­monn Mal­lie on fam­ily life, his ca­reer and be­ing tee­to­tal

Award-win­ning jour­nal­ist Ea­monn Mal­lie (68) starts a new se­ries of his Face to Face in­ter­views on UTV to­mor­row night, with his first guest ac­tor Char­lie Law­son. He tells Claire McNeilly about the in­ter­vie­wees who have made the best — and worst — im­pres­sio

Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE - Claire McNeilly

Q As you look back over an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, which per­son left the big­gest im­pres­sion on you?

A I loved Ian Pais­ley. For­get his pol­i­tics; I ad­mired him as an in­di­vid­ual, as a hu­man be­ing, as a man’s man. In the mid­dle of in­ter­views he would take out the Bi­ble and read from it. I wanted to be his biog­ra­pher, and he asked me if I wanted to get him shot — a man from Cross­ma­glen do­ing Pais­ley’s bi­og­ra­phy. Then one day his daugh­ter Rhonda called to say her fa­ther would like me to work with him to do his mem­oirs. I spent about 30 hours with him over six months. It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence.

Q You’ve had a ca­reer full of high­lights — in­clud­ing that fi­nal in­ter­view with Ian Pais­ley and his wife Eileen in 2014 and the one with IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands at the Maze in 1979. Is there one scoop that stands out?

A Prob­a­bly the ‘back chan­nel’ one, when I proved that the gov­ern- ment was se­cretly talk­ing to the IRA — and de­spite the de­nials I stood firm and chal­lenged the then Sec­re­tary of State Sir Patrick May­hew week after week, even­tu­ally forc­ing him to ten­der his res­ig­na­tion.

Q You’ve in­ter­viewed a raft of fa­mous fig­ures, such as Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, Mar­garet Thatcher, John Ma­jor, Tony Blair, Gor­don Brown and Nel­son Man­dela. Do you have a favourite in­ter­vie­wee?

A Belfast poet Michael Lon­g­ley, such a witty man.

Q aND your least favourite?

A Mar­garet Thatcher and the late Charles Haughey were the two rud­est pub­lic fig­ures I’ve ever in­ter­viewed. They didn’t an­swer any­thing, they only said what they wanted to say. They were skilled at it, and yet they were fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple.

Q But aren’t all politi­cians adept at that?

A The great­est of all when it came to telling you noth­ing but mak­ing you feel good was (for­mer US en­voy) Ge­orge Mitchell, a master per­former. It was very frus­trat­ing but I had to ad­mire him.

Q What do you like most about be­ing an in­quisi­tor?

A I love in­for­ma­tion, I love polemics. I re­gret I didn’t be­come a bar­ris­ter. I like the act of per­for­mance. I am huge on ac­count­abil­ity.

Q A new se­ries of Ea­monn Mal­lie: Face to Face with... starts to­mor­row. Who will you be in­ter­view­ing?

A Char­lie Law­son (the first pro­gramme), Pro­fes­sor Jim Dor­nan, Eileen Pais­ley, Bron­agh Waugh, Ian McEl­hin­ney and Ni­amh McGrady.

QWho’s still on your wish list?

A I’d love to in­ter­view Pope Fran­cis so that I could chal­lenge him about the ap­palling state of the Catholic Church. I’d love to know why he’s not drum­ming out all the priests who are vi­o­lat­ing chil- dren. I also want to do an in-depth in­ter­view with Ar­lene Fos­ter. She’s lost an en­tire com­mu­nity. There won’t be a gov­ern­ment be­cause of her.

Q Is there any­one you haven’t clicked with, so much so that you came away think­ing you’d got very lit­tle from the ex­change?

A Sea­mus Heaney. I re­ally didn’t ever un­der­stand it. I am an avid reader of his work. I love his ca­pac­ity to write, I love his faith­ful­ness to the ver­nac­u­lar, I love ev­ery­thing about his ex­pres­sion. But he and I just didn’t click.

Q What has been the most re­ward­ing job you’ve had in four decades as a jour­nal­ist?

A My favourite story of all time was the birth of sex­tu­plets in the Royal Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal. That for me was the most beau­ti­ful story: birth, new life and so much life!

Q Do you be­lieve in God? Do you have a strong faith?

A I’m con­stantly wrestling with this. I’m in­creas­ingly aware of my mor­tal­ity. I’m prayer­ful but some­times I strug­gle whether I’m gen­uinely prayer­ful or in love with the lan­guage of prayer. I was brought up Catholic.

QWhat drives you?

A I love life. I love peo­ple. I’ve al­ways got an­other idea on the boil — an­other idea for per­haps a book or a pro­gramme.

Q What’s the worst thing you’ve ever been through on a per­sonal level?

A Three men close to me died by sui­cide aged 64, 34 and 54. There were no signs. When I’m in­vited to schools to talk to sixth for­m­ers I al­ways talk about self-harm­ing to re­mind chil­dren to look out for oth­ers. Also the death of my mother at 59. She was the hub; the lit­tle lady, five foot noth­ing, who drove me on.

Q You’re tee­to­tal. Any par­tic­u­lar rea­son?

A I’m very ob­ses­sive about ev­ery­thing I do. I don’t drink (al­co­hol) but if I were a drinker I think I would swim in red wine. I’m one of those peo­ple who al­ways likes to be in con­trol of my emo­tions. That’s the one great gift I brought to my mar­riage; not drink­ing. I don’t ever go home drunk and my fam­ily don’t ever have to worry.

Q You’re a big fan of so­cial me­dia, aren’t you?

A I love Twit­ter. If I had any in­flu­ence over a min­is­ter it would be to per­suade them to pro­vide ev­ery se­nior cit­i­zen with an iPad. Think of the reser­voir of life ex­pe­ri­ence those peo­ple have...

Q You’re 68 and mar­ried to home­maker Detta, a farmer’s daugh­ter from Gal­way. Tell us about her.

A I’ve just writ­ten a poem about her; it’s in my forth­com­ing col­lec­tion of po­ems called On the Til­ley Lamp. I read and ed­u­cated my­self un­der a til­ley lamp in south Ar­magh. We’d no elec­tric­ity so the lamp wasn’t just a source of light... of the til­ley lamp I say from where would I have got my light not to talk of my en­light­en­ment? That’s the last line in my poem.

QWhere did you meet?

A At a func­tion in Dublin in 1971. We got mar­ried on Jan­uary 3, 1976. I had moved to work with the BBC in au­tumn of 1975. Two weeks into our liv­ing in Stran­mil­lis a bomb went off in a house three or four doors down from us; that’s a way my life con­tin­ued for a quar­ter of acen­tury.

QWas it love at first sight?

A She was so Latin-look­ing. I’d been keep­ing an eye on her all evening and... so when the first cou­ple of songs had been played she was stand­ing there and I took her home and look at her now 46 years later.

Q You have three chil­dren — Ciara (41), Ire­land man­ager for Min­tel, Laura-Kate (37), a mar­ket­ing brand man­ager, and pro­ducer/di­rec­tor Mi-

chael (35), who works with you. You also have five grand­chil­dren: Ciara’s three — Kate (10), Anna (eight) and Rory (five) — and Laura-Kate’s two — Eve (four) and son Rian (12 months), whose name means ‘Lit­tle King’ in Ir­ish. What’s it like be­ing the daugh­ter or son of in-your-face jour­nal­ist Ea­monn Mal­lie?

A When our chil­dren were grow­ing up pol­i­tics sim­ply were not dis­cussed at the din­ner ta­ble. Ad­mit­tedly they were quite well shielded and gal­vanised liv­ing in south Belfast. They knew what I was do­ing but we didn’t make it an is­sue.

Q Your mum was Eileen and your dad Michael. You have three brothers — Michael (70), An­thony (in his 60s) and Peadar (in his 60s) and two sis­ters — Goretti (66) and Carmel (60). What did your par­ents do?

A My dad was a farmer, then a labourer in Eng­land be­cause there was no work in south Ar­magh, then he be­came a brick­layer. My mum reared six chil­dren, mostly on her own.

QAre you and your sib­lings close?

A All my brothers and sis­ters are alive and we’re very close. We’ve din­ner ev­ery sin­gle year — some time be­fore Christ­mas, brothers and sis­ters, hus­bands and ex­tended fam­ily, around the same ta­ble. It’s the high­light of my year.

Q You were born in south Ar­magh. A happy child­hood?

A We were born and reared in the Ring of Gul­lion in a rather iso­lated area. I came from Leg­moylin, Sil­ver­bridge. It was idyl­lic. I lived most of my child­hood days on the river bank fish­ing for trout and cat­fish.

Q You went to Abbey CBS Gram­mar School and Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin from which you grad­u­ated in 1974 in Gaelic and Span­ish.

A I love lan­guages, and I deeply re­gret the fact that I didn’t learn Greek. It closed the door on so many writ­ings and so much ed­u­ca­tion. I’m a con­sum­mate Euro­pean. I was a dis­ci­ple and pupil of the won­der­ful eru­di­tion of (SDLP founder and politi­cian) John Hume who ed­u­cated us to think and to un­der­stand the whole rai­son d’etre of the EU, ba­si­cally to make sure that at no point ever again in the his­tory of Europe would you have coun­tries fight­ing against each other and that is the fun­da­men­tal, in my opin­ion, which was missed out in the whole Brexit de­bate.

Q You worked as a re­searcher in Ir­ish Lan­guage for RTE. Then you trained as a ra­dio cur­rent af­fairs pro­ducer for the BBC in Belfast. You joined Down­town Ra­dio in 1976 as a re­porter and be­came po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent in the 80s. You’ve worked for: RTE, BBC, Down­town Ra­dio, Cool FM, ITN, Chan­nel 4, AFP, To­day FM, IRN, NBC, CBC, BBC Ra­dio Scot­land and BBC Ra­dio Wales, NPR, SKY, GMTV. Then, in 1989, you formed your own com­pany Ea­monn Mal­lie News Ser­vices. When did you start think­ing about go­ing into jour­nal­ism?

A Van­ity brought me into the me­dia world. We didn’t have tele­vi­sion when I left home in 1970. We’d no elec­tric­ity or run­ning wa­ter in our house. I used to watch Charles Mitchel read­ing the news on RTE and I was vain enough to say I could do that. In col­lege I lived with a fel­low who was work­ing in RTE as a pro­ducer when he grad­u­ated and I was vain enough to think that I could be a broad­caster. I got a job as a re­searcher in the Ir­ish Lan­guage for RTE. Then a job came up in Belfast as a trainee pro­ducer. Down­town Ra­dio hap­pened in the spring of that year. I got an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Gerry Tuite — an IRA man who was one of the most wanted men in Bri­tain and he es­caped from Brix­ton. It was just un­be­liev­able — he told me ev­ery sin­gle de­tail of how he got out. Then the Hunger Strike hap­pened and there was huge in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in North­ern Ire­land and I was broad­cast­ing scores of times in a day. I be­came a free­lancer in 1989, formed my own com­pany, and that con­tin­ued un­til re­ally eight or nine years ago, then the cease­fires hap­pened and North­ern Ire­land ceased to be a story…

Q What ad­vice would you give to some­one start­ing out in jour­nal­ism to­day?

A Start your own pod­cast, and learn short­hand and typ­ing. I deeply re­gret that I did not learn short­hand and that I also did not learn to type prop­erly.

QSo what’s next?

A There are two things I want to do. I’m try­ing to write a screen­play in­formed by a song. And I want to write my mem­oirs.

Q Tell us some­thing no one knows about you.

A I was the res­i­dent disc jockey in a night­club called The Squir­rel’s Nest when I was at Trin­ity.

Q What would you like on your epi­taph?

A An­cora Im­paro (I’m still learn­ing) and Abba To­dah (Thank you God).

Ea­monn Mal­lie: Face to Face, UTV, to­mor­row, 11pm

Ea­monn Mal­lie with Belfast Tele­graph’s jour­nal­ist Claire McNeilly

Tough in­ter­vie­wees: politi­cians Mar­garet Thatcher and CharlesHaughey

Funny man: Belfast poet Michael Lon­g­ley


Jour­nal­ist Ea­monnMal­lie dur­ing an in­ter­view with BelfastTele­graph’s Claire McNeilly in the Grand Cen­tral Ho­tel. Right: Ea­monn with Char­lieLaw­son and (below right) pic­tured in 1982

Ea­monn Mal­lie with Ian Pais­ley, who was the sub­ject of Ge­n­e­sis to Rev­e­la­tion, an in-depth in­ter­view with the politi­cian which also fea­tured his wife Eileen

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