TV REVIEW: Charlie Bird on the Late Late Show

This first appeared as a TV review in The Andersonstown News

 I missed  Charlie Bird, former RTÉ star reporter (and yes, Virginia, former pupil of mine) when he appeared on the LATE LATE SHOW (RTÉ ONE) some weeks back. Charlie, who has been a cheeky chappie as well as a much-loved reporter, has developed Motor Neuron Disease.

In this second visit to the Late Late, he looks OK but his speech is seriously slurred,  like that of a man with five pints in him. I’m sure Charlie wishes that were the case. This time he was back, providing some info on his ‘Climb with Charlie’ campaign. It seems Charlie and Mary McAleese and  Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and other well-knowm figures are going to tackle Croagh Patrick in April, and raise funds for those suffering from motor neuron and similar diseases.

While he spoke with Ryan Tubridy on the LATE LATE last week, Charlie sat with his dog Tiger on his lap. After a few minutes the dog transferred to Charlie’s wife Claire, who told how she’d organised it so Charlie’s voice was banked and then manipulated. The result, as we heard, was Charlie’s normal, more youthful voice appealing to people to join the climb.

Apparently Charlie wept the last time he was on the LATE LATE SHOW. No tears this time – sober and emphatic, getting past his slurred voice to tell people to sign up – apparently you can climb different places, not necessarily Croagh Patrick.

I always liked Charlie. He was a hopeless but loveable student – all of the girls and, I suspect, a number of the boys in his class were in love with him back then. His ‘Climb with Charlie’ has recaptured a national profile for him, something he clearly thrives on, and will, as he says, raise funds to help other people. 

And yet I feel uneasy. Why Croagh Patrick? Maybe it’s like the Camino di Santiago – what was once a pilgrimage route is now popular with non-believers and half-believers, as well as devout Catholics. But I feel about this one the way I feel about Red Nose day or the Children in Need stuff linked for years with the late Terry Wogan: it’s great that the money is being raised, great that the wider public is engaged. But is this how national health should be funded? And if we do decide to expend energy for a worthy cause, couldn’t it be directed at homelessness or poverty or research into motor neuron disease, rather than a futile Duke of York-style up-and-down-a-mountain climb? If we really loved Charlie, we’d skip the climbing lark and directly address the horrible disease from which he is suffering.

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