Eoghan McDermott, the upbeat radio presenter, lost his sense of smell and taste as a result of a street attack, he tells
Caroline O’Doherty .
AS a pre-emptive peace offering, the colleague who approaches Eoghan McDermott in the RTÉ canteen to confirm he’s still on for subjecting himself to certain ridicule on the Podge and Rodge Show leaves a chocolate bar on the table.
McDermott attacks it with gusto — or at least as much gusto as a person can muster when they can’t taste what they eat.
“I still get sugar cravings,” he says. “So I’ll eat a bar of chocolate and the sugar craving will be satisfied but it could be mint chocolate or shit-flavoured chocolate and I wouldn’t know the difference.”
His sense of taste and smell vanished on St Stephen’s Night in 2016 when he was jumped from behind by two unknown assailants and knocked to the ground, his head slamming against the footpath.
Loss of the senses is a common, often short-term, effect of concussion but not for McDermott who still misses the scent his girlfriend Aoife wears, the zing of sea air, and the experience of new tastes when travelling.
“It’s almost like muscle memory — you’re anticipating tastes when you put things in your mouth and you’re anticipating smells and then, nothing.
“Meals are certainly a lot duller than they used to be which is a little bit sad, but, at the same time, I’m reconciled with it. It’s a rude inconvenience but it’s not anything I get worked up about anymore.”
Reconciliation came with time, but also with the realisation that things could have been much worse — a fact reinforced for him by a documentary he has made for TG4.
Tabú is a weekly series, each programme exploring a different issue in Irish life, and McDermott’s episode, which kicks it off on November 7, looks at random acts of violence.
In the episode, Eoghan meets with some of the survivors.
He is visibly taken aback when he meets the woman who ran to his aid on the night he was attacked and found him struggling to breathe. She turned him over and blood spilled from his mouth where his teeth had gone through his lip. He had no memory of the incident, of this good Samaritan who came to his rescue, or of the tirade of foul language his addled brain spewed out on her in return.
And yet he knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
“That’s the bit that hung with me the most, just the arbitrary nature of the outcome. I came to in a hospital bed after a few hours while somebody else never woke up. What differentiates the outcome for the victims?
In the documentary, he talks to a neurologist, a psychologist, and others who see the effects of violence to try to better understand what’s going on. “I’m just weirdly curious about the motivations. It’s just so cowardly and bizarre. Is it just aggression that’s not earthed, that has no outlet? Is it boredom?
“Alcohol obviously has a role. Drink’s a demon. Alcohol makes normally sane, decent people piss on the street, say things they wouldn’t say, walk out in front of cars, and punch each other in the face. It is a monster.”
Discussing the ills of modern society is not what McDermott is best known for. With his skinny jeans, pneumatic hair, mile-wide grin, dancer’s stride, and kinetic patter, he has the look and sound for the fun side of broadcasting.
A fluent Irish speaker, he has worked on a variety of youth-oriented and light entertainment shows in Irish and in English but The Voice of Ireland, which he co-hosted from 2012-16, introduced him to a wider audience at home where, for the past three years, he has also been the voice of afternoon drivetime on 2fm.
During the summer, he also took off for Majorca to be the narrator on Love Island Australia where his impact was instant.
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One reviewer gushed: “Night after night, this 34-year-old larrikin has managed to take footage of grown humans acting like children and elevate it to become something almost transcendent. Almost. Not quite. All we know for sure is that none of the contestants came close to equalling his level of universal popularity.”
A larrikin, for those not up on their Aussie slang, is a term for someone with a nose for mischief and a healthy disrespect for authority and convention.
The description is apt for a presenter who likes to mix a commercial playlist and comedic contests with discussions on the news of the day and interviews with performers and politicians alike.
It’s a deliberate ploy to throw a little heavy in with the light, to put the silly and the cerebral in the same package, and with his listenership up in the recent JNLRs, it seems to be working.
Now aged 35, McDermott wants to do more.
While aiming big here, he’s not shy about revealing his wider ambitions either and says he’s on a shortlist for “something in America”.
A “TV project” is as much as McDermott will disclose. “I won’t jinx it by saying more and it’s an outside bet because you don’t get 90% of the gigs you go for but it’s good to have broad horizons.”
It’s also nice to be home, though. In the past two years, McDermott has thrown himself into home ownership and a rekindled relationship with GP Aoife Melia whom he dated in university before the call of further studies pulled them apart.
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Yes, I'm punching! No I'm not wearing those shoes because I lost a bet! Congratulations to the most wonderful couple @tez2016 & @fionak12 on their beautiful wedding day. Great times with great people.
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“I have a mortgage and a Netflix account. I’m spending more time staying in now than I used to,” he says.
McDermott also says he’s taken his foot off the gas when it comes to social media, although his Twitter and Instagram accounts are far from dormant. “It’s been a relentless few years and I’m kind of in an energy-efficiency mode,” he says. “It’s good for the head. I get to read a few books and talk to people in real life which is nice.”
Knowing what’s good for the head is important to McDermott who, as an ambassador for Pieta House, has spoken of a period in his life when his mental health took a downhill tumble. He was 26 years old, living in London with a job he loved on XFM but a relationship ended and, as he says himself, he was blindsided by the emotional turmoil that followed.
He turned on himself and began to self-harm. Fortunately, he had a friend well-versed in mental-health issues who supported him through the bad times but he doesn’t want people to have to rely on luck.
He made a short video — My Social Media v My Reality — and tweeted it on World Mental Health Day last year to get across the point that we can all be vulnerable. “I do as much as I can — panel discussions, talking to schools, that kind of thing. I know there’s a lot of talk about it and the word ‘fatigue’ is creeping into the discussion but we’re not at a point where we can stop pushing the topic.
“I had a conversation with someone who had their own struggles and it has stuck with me. This person said to me, ‘It’s easy for you because you have a platform and you’ll instantly reach a wide audience and people will pat you on the back and randomly approach you in the street and give you messages of appreciation’.
“The general person doesn’t have that. If they come out to their office that they’re having difficulties, there’s a very real possibility they’ll still be stigmatised. No one’s going to pat them on the back and send them anonymous letters and say hey, you’ve really helped me. Instead, they might deny them a promotion. That’s still the reality of it.”
For McDermott, swimming is a good destresser. Despite having danced professionally, he insists he could no longer dance away heartaches or headaches. “Have you seen Strictly Ballroom? I’m like the dad shuffling around the kitchen at night,” he says.
That sounds unlikely but with a date with Podge and Rodge ahead, it was probably wise to practise self-deprecation. For the first time in the interview, he looks a smidgeon less than self-assured. “Yeah, Podge and Rodge,” he muses. “I’m in for it now.”
Abú, a TG4 documentary series, debuts with Random Acts of Violence/Foréigean Gan Choinne, presented by Eoghan McDermott, on Wednesday, November 7, 9.30pm.
Eoghan McDermott on...
I think some of the Big Brother stuff is a bit questionable — the way the rows are handled — and shows like The Bachelor where you’re supposed to get married at the end, that’s bizarre.
But the premise of Love Island is quite sweet really — boy fancies girl, will they, won’t they, do they, don’t they? You’re watching the formation of a relationship and, be they body beautiful or not, that’s the kind of thing we’re all interested in in real life.
Some are just going through the motions but then it’s a case of being really well-researched and being able to tap into something that might ignite them, or get a laugh from them. A laugh is as good an insight as anything because you’ve got through to them.
...compulsory Irish in schools
You have to put some value on what’s culturally rich but if I was Minister for Education tomorrow, I’d make the oral 80% of the exam. I’ve never met a kid who has gone to the Gaeltacht and left with less of an appreciation or ability or flourish for the language. Three weeks of immersion and you can learn more than 14 years of syllabus.
I have two sisters, both amazing. Roe, who’s younger than me, is a journalist and writer and a Fulbright scholar. Gender politics is her thing and she’s incredibly smart. Aoife has a PhD and is a university lecturer and she’s only a year older than me. So, yeah, I feel a bit of an underachiever.
…being claimed by Limerick
I have been described as a Limerick man and I was born there but only because mam and dad were teaching there. I think I was there about five minutes and they moved back to Dublin. Nothing wrong with Limerick but I’m a Dub.
If I could play one complete album on the show it would be Michael Jackson’s greatest hits. I’m a huge fan. But other than that I’m an indie kid.
I find it quite taxing. The default on Twitter seems to be real animosity without any civility. It’s a necessary evil.
…making more documentaries
It would have to be something I’m very interested in. I’m fascinated by American politics.
I flew to New York in 2008 for the announcement of the election results in Times Square and there was a lovely sense of young people being politically engaged and inspired by something.
Obama hadn’t achieved anything yet but he had used good rhetoric and made people feel good and now it’s the opposite — terrible rhetoric making feel terrible. I’d like to explore how that happened.>>
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