St Patrick's Day part 3 - Feargal Sharkey

March 17, 2018

"You can't come in. You have to go and get a comment from Feargal Sharkey about his parents being held hostage by the IRA so they could carry out an ambush."

It's late at night  in Sheffield and Martin Ross, the news editor of The Star has just delivered one of the most dramatic announcements I have ever heard. It is snowing hard and I have just rushed to a pub where a colleague's leaving party is taking place, having watched a lacklustre and short gig by the former Undertones frontman.

Martin has already found out where Derry's finest is staying, so I head off like the dutiful reporter I am. And sure enough I arrive to find the lobby full of hacks and stringers for the nationals, some of whom have braved blizzard conditions to cross the Pennines from Manchester. National journos don't have much time or respect for local reporters such as me, so I settle down to wait with a reporter from the New Musical Express. And wait. And wait.

Then about midnight a group arrive with Feargal Sharkey in their midst. The press pack descends on him but he is hurried to a lift and his entourage ensure that he is not accompanied by any of the reporters. Cleverly, the stairs are blocked and the lift stops at every floor so there is no chance to doorstep him in his room. When the lift returns to the foyer a man gets out and announces that Feargal Sharkey has a cold and sore throat, and will not be talking to anyone this evening.

Gradually the reporters drift away. It's now far too late to go back to the party but I desperately want a drink, and as the NME guy is staying in the hotel I persuade him to come to the bar for a few whiskies, which he does.

About half an hour later the man from the lift appears, has a good look round, goes back out and returns a few seconds later - with Feargal Sharkey.

For a reporter there is a special surge of excitement at a moment like this, tempered by a little fear. The story's right there, like a salmon approaching a fishing line. All you have to do is catch it and reel it in, but  that's easier said than done. You need guile, skill and quick thinking. So I immediately hatch a plan. I will approach him as a fan would.

"Sorry to disturb you so late in the evening Mr Sharkey, but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the show."

"Thank you," says a very polite Feargal Sharkey.

"It was quite a short set. Was that because you had been upset by your parents being held hostage by the IRA?"

"No. you can't give in to things like that," says Sharkey. "I didn't think about that all. I have a cold and a bad throat."

"Yes, but it must have been upsetting to hear about your parents? " I continue. Now Sharkey is looking at me suspiciously and he's becoming a little annoyed.

"I had a show to do and I focused on that. You just have to get on with things. Now if you'll excuse me."

I've  spoken to him but how to prove it?  I have a train ticket in my pocket so I get it out and say "can I have your autograph please?" which he gives me.

I'm in the office at six the next morning. Martin Ross is already there and a few other reporters are looking a big bleary-eyed from last night's party.

"I hear Sharkey was a no show last night," he says as a way of greeting.

"Who told you that?" I reply and hand him the train ticket. It takes a moment for the penny to drop and then there are a flood of questions. I haven't got much, I admit, but I am asked to join crime reporter Dick Taylor (I'm not making this up, honest) to work on a front page story, which is duly published with a headline along the lines of 'Pop singer says show must go on after parents' IRA drama.' My name is inexplicably left off the story but I get a nice note from Martin Ross about my professionalism and tenacity. And that should have been that.

But it wasn't, and for what happened next  I owe Feargal Sharkey a huge apology. 

Dick Taylor was doing shifts on The Daily Mail at the time, and he was working for them the following day - a Friday. And on Saturday the Feargal Sharkey story appeared in The Mail under the headline 'No surrender to the IRA says pop star.'

He clearly said no such thing and the headline was not only irresponsible, it was highly dangerous too, not least to Sharkey's parents. These were very dangerous days in Northern Ireland, and you didn't mess about with the Provos. I have only been ashamed of two stories I have done, and this is one of them.

So on St Patrick's Day, Feargal, please accept my most sincerest apologies.




























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Dominic Roskrow


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