Meet The Liberator

Sunday Independent, 29 April 2012

He’s a Karate Kid from the Liberties who suffered sexual abuse, poverty and a long list of personal tragedies. Despite these obstacles, Derek O’Neill has transformed countless lives worldwide and now rubs shoulders with Christina Aguilera and Simon Cowell. Here, he talks about following in the footsteps of Bono and Winston Churchill…

By Dave Kenny

You’ve never heard of Derek O’Neill. By his own admission, he is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. But for the past 15 years, Liberties-born Derek has been quietly transforming the lives of countless people.

After witnessing devastating poverty in India, he set up the charitable SQ (Spiritual Quotient) Foundation to build schools, hospitals and other practical institutions in the world’s poorest regions.

It now operates in 11 countries, and 97 per cent of all money raised goes directly to source. Derek absorbs most of the administration costs. To date, he has helped more than 35,000 children.

He should be a household name for his humanitarian work, yet most of us have never heard of him.

Derek’s also an author, transformational therapist, motivational speaker and adviser to some of the world’s top business leaders. He rubs shoulders with Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Christina Aguilera. Oh, and he knows Simon Cowell. If you don’t think that’s an impressive CV, then keep it to yourself. You don’t want to annoy Derek: he’s also a master of the martial arts.

Next Sunday, Derek will be honoured with Variety International’s prestigious humanitarian award at its world conference gala dinner in Dublin. Past recipients have included Winston Churchill, Bono, Henry Kissinger and Frank Sinatra. The accolade may finally bring him out of the shadows where he’s been labouring so long.

Forty-eight-year-old Derek is not what you would expect in a man who was raised by an alcoholic widow and has braved poverty, sexual abuse and the perils of kung fu fighting. He is gentle, eloquent and has surprisingly small hands for a warrior. They look more suited to arts and crafts than the craft of martial arts. His neatly cropped hair is a reminder of his time in the army.

“I was born with a full mop of black hair – they called me the fifth Beatle when I popped out of my mother on the dance floor,” he jokes, referring to the fact that he was born at Dublin’s Rainbow Club disco.

One of seven siblings, Derek comes from a classically poor Liberties background. “My dad worked in Jacob’s earning just the basic wage. There were nine of us in a one-bedroomed ‘artisan dwelling’. We took turns sharing the bed,” he laughs.

He was a loner as a child and would sit by himself in Patrick’s Park or down by the Dodder all day, meditating. His love of solitude and the outdoors earned him the familial nickname of “Nature Boy”. It also earned him some unwanted – and scarring – attention.

“We lived close to the Iveagh Lodgings and there would often be ‘dirty old men’, destitutes, hanging around. When I was six, I went to the toilet in Patrick’s Park and was sexually assaulted by one of them.”

Teenage sweethearts: Derek and Linda pictured in Arizona

His experience of sexual abuse didn’t confine itself to St Patrick’s Park. Derek’s brother Brian was raped and beaten in the notorious Letterfrack Industrial School.

He had been sent there for three years after “borrowing” the local butcher’s bike. He was eight years old.

“Brian was a fun-loving boy and just wanted a go on the bike. The butcher thought he was trying to steal it. He had a horrible time in Letterfrack and used to be beaten with a hurley and sexually abused.

“Brian developed alcohol and drug problems in later life. He was one of the first people to sue the religious orders and won his case in 2004. He left the courtroom and had a heart attack. A few days later, he died. It was as if he had been holding on for years to have his day in court.”

In 1970, the O’Neill family moved to Tallaght. His father was told, in neo-Cromwellian fashion, to go to the fields of Belgard or lose his job.

“It was like an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Liberties. My mother absolutely hated it. She was a real Liberties woman. I, on the other hand, loved it as I hadn’t been ‘Libertised’. There were open fields and rivers, and I made new friends.”

The O’Neill’s new house had all the ‘mod cons’. “We had a cooker with an electric ring. Back in John Dillon Street we had had a gas cooker. I remember my sister once put me up on the gas rings to tie my laces. They hadn’t cooled down fully and I burned my backside. I’ll always remember that gas cooker.”

Derek’s new life in Tallaght wasn’t all idyllic. At the age of 10 he was sexually abused a second time.

“One day this man followed me into a toilet to rape me. I could feel him between my legs. I ran home and told my dad. He didn’t believe me.” Brian eventually persuaded him to investigate Derek’s claim. The abuser subsequently moved out of the area. Derek later heard he had died of cancer.

“Years later, when I was 18, I spotted the man on a train. He was supposed to be dead. I asked if he knew who I was. ‘Sort of’, he replied. I lost control and started beating him. The older me was finally able to stand up for the younger me.”

Shortly after this, Derek entered the army. He hated it and left after six years, in his mid-20s with a wife (Linda) and two kids (Gavin and Orla) to provide for. “I did a bit of everything I could. I cleaned windows, cut grass…” His gardening work led him, indirectly, to seek psychotherapy.

“I had a terrible phobia about wasps, so I went to a psychotherapist. During our session I remembered that there had been a wasp in the toilet when the man tried to rape me. That was when I knew I needed therapy to deal with the abuse.

“I didn’t have any money and discovered that it was cheaper to study to become a therapist than pay for more sessions. There were social welfare grants.” Three years later, Derek was running a successful practice with a nine-month waiting list.

In 1998, Derek and Linda travelled to India for a holiday. The journey would change their lives. “We flew into Madras and while we were pushing through the crowds, we noticed a group of street children. We thought they were playing in a sandpit. It turned out they were amputees. We were told that criminal gangs inject these children with bleach to deform them. It makes them more valuable as beggars.

“Linda and I decided that, from then on, we would just take what money we needed to live on and give the rest to charity.” They went on to raise millions for the impoverished children of the subcontinent.

“The worst thing I have ever seen was a toddler with leprosy. I picked him up and his flesh fell off – practically his entire arm. There were villages full of children like him.” Derek’s spiritual nature and psychological training helped him to cope when faced with such horrors.

Yet another horror – 9/11 – drew Derek to New York, where he held his first ‘More Truth Will Set You Free’ psychology-meets-spirituality workshop. He now tours the United States, sharing his experiences with thousands of people and “empowering them to help themselves, as I have done”.

He even helped Spiderman find his mojo again. Derek was called in after the disastrous opening of Bono’s Broadway musical to “harmonise” the show’s cast and producers. The show went on to become a success.

Between their charity work and Derek’s burgeoning US career, the O’Neills appeared to have it all. That all changed on August 25, 2008.

“I fell in love with Linda when I was 18. We just knew we were for each other. Less than a year later, we were married. She was my right arm. Four years ago, I got a call from Orla who said Linda had a headache and didn’t look great. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home.

“Three days later Linda was dead. She was only 47.”

How do you move on from the death of your teenage sweetheart? Derek’s answer is, unsurprisingly, philosophical: “Death is part of life. We should cry when someone is born and celebrate when they die. Heaven is your rest after the hell of this world.”

I confess to being sceptical about aphorisms like this and the New Age methods of healing his website offers. I tell Derek I have an aphorism of my own, for would-be criminals. “It’s better to find the joy locked inside yourself, than find yourself locked inside The Joy.”

He laughs and it’s easy to see how he attracts thousands to his workshops. He’s instantly likeable. When he says that receiving the Variety Club gong will be the “proudest moment of my career”, there is no doubting his sincerity.

The award came about after a chance meeting with Kevin and Betty Wall of Variety Club Ireland.

“They told me they wanted to buy a Liberty Swing. These enable paraplegic kids to experience the playground thrill of swinging. I was so moved I promised to buy one for every county in Ireland. Kevin (who has since passed away) nominated me for the award. I didn’t think I had a chance of winning it. Hopefully, it will raise awareness here of the SQ Foundation,” he says.

Hopefully, it will raise awareness of this extraordinary Dub as well. He deserves to be recognised.

We shake hands and he leaves to enjoy a day off at Punchestown races. No one takes any notice of this ultimate “secret millionaire” as he exits the bar. Nobody knows who he is.

They do now.

dave@davekenny.com

Advertisements

Owner of iconic Dalkey bookshop recalls 36 years among the covers

‘I once discounted a book for Colin Farrell. He looked like he was on his uppers,’ says Bono’s bookseller

Irish Daily Mail, 17 April 2012

By Dave Kenny

He’s sold books to Bono and Maeve Binchy, and been mentioned in despatches from the Middle East. Declining book sales, however, have forced Michael Simonds to turn the final page on Dalkey’s iconic Exchange Bookshop.

“This is not a decision I’m taking on a whim. I’ve been here since 1975 and would have liked to have carried on. The books trade is in a state of flux. Sales are down 30pc on two years ago and more people are buying online. I don’t blame them. I think people want to support their local bookshop, but sometimes it’s just not convenient,” he says, with trademark charity.

Despite the popularity of Kindle and iPad, he still believes in the “technology” of books.

“One of my customers showed me a 14th century book he owns. That technology has stood the test of time. Even a stone house will eventually fall down. Where does that leave emails in the future? People were trading books hundreds of years ago. My misfortune was to be born at the end of 500 years of publishing.”

With the closure of the Exchange, the Dalkey Book Festival will find itself without a bookshop this year. In June, thousands of tourists will flock to the village to spot their favourite authors. Maeve Binchy, Neil Jordan, Declan Hughes, Martina Devlin, Brian Keenan, Joe O’Connor, Don Conroy and Sarah Webb, all live within walking distance of the shop. As one local sardonically points out, “you can’t throw a stick down the main street without hitting a writer. And there are plenty of writers we’d like to hit with sticks around here…”

Michael is concerned that his departure will leave a literary void. “The library is closing for three months too. The village won’t have an obvious book outlet for the festival. It will be a bit odd.”

Closed book: Michael Simonds locks up his world-renowned bookshop

His shop – which has featured in several books, including BBC journalist John Simpson’s autobiography – has served some literary giants over the years. Curmudgeonly playwright, Hugh Leonard, was a regular.

“He exchanged books here right up to his death. He was great, but could be quite brusque sometimes. Once, I didn’t get him a book he wanted and he wrote about me in his column. I thought it was like cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer.”

On another occasion, the widow of a legendary politician gave him a tongue-lashing over his accent. Michael comes from a privileged, Anglo-Irish background and professes to be “West Brit, but Irish”. Referring to the War of Independence, the lady told Michael that “we should have shot the lot of you”.

The vast majority of celebrity customers have been pleasant, however. “Bono has come in a few times, but I wouldn’t necessarily recognise him. I’m very short-sighted,” he explains.

“One day a young man came in and bought a book about a French actor. He was scruffy and very Bohemian-looking. I thought he was a poet on his uppers, so I gave him a discount. Someone later told me he was Colin Farrell.”

Once, Michael witnessed a world-famous customer being ‘collared’ by the law. The actor had parked his BMW outside the shop.

“Minutes later the door opened and a guard asked whose car was on the double yellow lines. Pierce Brosnan popped up and said ‘it’s mine’. The guard made him move it. Fair play to him, he didn’t care that he was James Bond.”

Celebrities and locals alike are saddened by the passing of the Exchange. “People around are lovely, they’ve been so kind,” says Michael, pointing to a row of wine bottles behind the counter.

“We’re losing an institution. Dublin lost Green’s and Dalkey is now losing Michael,” said Liz, a local lady stocking up on last-minute bargains. Her fellow resident, Ryan Tubridy agrees, and believes the picturesque village is losing its “nerdy hub”.

“Losing a bookshop from a village like Dalkey is like having the brain removed. It needs a nerdy hub like the Exchange. It’s one thing ordering a book on Amazon, but Michael spoke to customers about authors, titles and the village itself. I hope some local has the sense to invest in the bookshop.”

Author, Brian Keenan, says he is “stunned” at the closure of his favourite shop. “The Exchange is one of the reasons I come down to the village. I can’t believe it’s closing. My abiding memory of the place is the day, years ago, when I went in to use the photocopier. I looked up and there was the journalist, Robert Fisk, asking Michael for directions.”

They hadn’t seen each other since Beirut, where Fisk had spent years writing about Keenan’s captivity in Lebanon.

“I said ‘what are you doing here?’” said Keenan, “and he said ‘What are YOU doing here?’ We both laughed.”

Fisk uses the shop as a post office, according to Michael. “He has his mail sent here when he’s away reporting.”

Michael has a particular affection for journalists, especially those who used to bring in review copies of books over the years.

“Many years ago I applied for a wine licence. I think wine and books go well together. A lot of the journalists who came in were heavy drinkers. I thought, if they came in with a book, for an extra three pounds they could trade it for a bottle of wine.”

Dreams of Bohemian hacks sipping wine and reading Maeve Binchy in the shop were quashed by the aptly-named Judge Hubert Wine.

‘Bohemian’ is word that sits uneasily on Michael’s shoulders, although he is undoubtedly a ‘creative’ himself. Prior to being a bookseller he was a published songwriter. Music runs in the family and his sister Clodagh has played with the likes of Thin Lizzie and Mike ‘Tubular Bells’ Oldfield. There is always music playing in the background at the Exchange. A box of tin whistles is perched on the higher reaches of shelves at the back of the shop. Ballad books sit alongside whimsical histories of Dublin and Lady Gregory’s Irish folk tales.

“It seems odd, as a bookseller, not to be ordering in new stock,” he says wistfully, looking at his soon-to-disassembled shelves. “I’ll be giving a lot of those books to charity.”

After 36 years of selling books, Michael plans to spend the next chapter of his life writing and publishing them. He has already produced two glossy tourist guidebooks which sell for €3. He will miss chatting to his customers though.

“Kids I sold to back in the 1970s have grown up with the Exchange, and now come in with their children. I’ll miss them all.

“I’m sad to be closing, but I’m looking forward to retirement. There are a lot of things I’d still like to do. I’d really like to learn how to play golf,” he says, clocking up his very last sale on the till.

“Let’s say €8.00 for that,” he tells his final customer, discounting a book by 50pc. He walks them to the door as a group of locals arrive with a book-shaped cake. Even in retirement there is no getting away from books. Inevitable gags are cracked about “eating his words” as Michael says his farewells.

He turns the key. Another chapter in Dublin’s history comes to an end.

* If you have any memories of the Exchange Bookshop, I’d love to hear them. Please write them up on the comments page, below. *

Stir crazy: Dublin coffee shop charges 20c for plastic spoons

Longer version of Irish Dail Mail article, 14 April 2012

Dave Kenny

They’ve suffered the Electrical Equipment Levy, the Income Levy and the Household Levy. Now Dubliners are being asked to pay another ‘tax’ … the Spoon Levy.

Commuters at Pearse train station are being driven stir crazy by the apparent ‘tightness’ of its café. ‘SoBu’ is now charging an extra 20c for spoons to stir their lattes with. On top of recent fares hikes, it’s left many travellers ‘frothing’.

So, are these spoons made of finest Newbridge silver? Or could this just be Ireland’s meanest café? The Irish Daily Mail decided to investigate.

There was no sign of Dublin’s most expensive spoons at the cash desk as we queued for our fix. What would they look like, we wondered? Then we spotted them – well out of reach of spoon thieves – behind the counter.

“That will be €1.80,” said the pleasant assistant, handing us our regular tea. Do you charge for spoons, we asked, pointing at the stirring implements.

“Well actually, yes, sorry.” Was this charge based on a desire to save the environment, we asked? Like the plastic bag levy?

“No, everyone asks for a plastic spoon, so management said to charge 20c for each of them.”

But surely the price of €1.80 for a paper cup, sugar, hot water and a teabag (with optional splash of milk) should also cover a spoon? Is it not a bit mean, we asked.

“We have to pay for the spoons,” he patiently explained. “If you buy food – for example, soup – then we can give you a spoon for free.” We didn’t like to point out that it’s rather difficult to eat soup without a spoon.

Not wanting to embarrass him any further, we asked if we could see the manager. Unfortunately, she wasn’t available to explain the ‘levy’.

We took our plastic purchase outside to examine it. There was no gold leaf or added embellishment for our 20c. Disappointed, we decided to ask our fellow commuters what they thought of the Spoon Levy.

“Were they being stolen by junkies to ‘cook up’ their fixes?” one traveller asked. We explained that this was unlikely, given that plastic spoons tend to melt with the application of flame.

Is it to do with litter, asked another. We hunted the platform for discarded spoons. There were none. Perhaps punters were taking them home, as we did, planning an evening of egg-and-plastic-spoon races.

By now, we were eager to know the true value of our spoon (for insurance purposes). Google revealed that a pack of 100 plastic dessert spoons costs €2.17 on http://www.easyequipment.ie. That’s a miniscule 2.2c each, which means that SoBo’s spoons could be yielding up to an 890pc profit. There’s money to be made from spoons  – in spades.

So, is SoBo the meanest café in Ireland? We tried, but were unable, to get a response to this from the company behind it, Sanrex Pearse Trading.

We did note, however, that the Dublin firm is based at a seemingly appropriate address: Ebeneezer Drive.

From rubber spears to Jesus being banned from the canteen…

Daily Mail, 22 April 2010 (Good Friday)

Over 40 things you never needed to know about those Jesus-related blockbusters that TV rolls out every Easter

* Islam and Judaism both consider pictorial representations as idolatrous. Strictly speaking, therefore, all Hollywood portrayals of God/Jesus – from ‘The King of Kings’ to ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ – are blaspehmous.

* Our Lord first ‘appeared’ on celluloid in ‘The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ’ (1902). It was made by the Pathe company and concludes with a (very wobbly) ascension to Heaven.

* 1912’s ‘From the Manger to the Cross’ was the first religious epic to be shot on location in the Holy Land. It was a huge success and made profits of $95m in today’s money.

* In Cecil B de Mille’s 1927 version of ‘The King of Kings’, the actor playing Jesus is over 20 years older than the actress playing his mother. (It’s a miracle!)

* With the exception of Morgan Freeman in ‘Bruce Almighty’, God has generally been cast  as a white man. ‘The Green Pastures’ (1936) bucked this trend when it featured an all-black cast, with Rex Ingram playing “De Lawd”. The film began with a ‘disclaimer’ to make it palatable to white audiences: “Thousands of Negroes visualise God and Heaven in terms of people and things they know in their everyday life…”

* Pub trivia question: what did the ‘B’ in ‘Cecil B de Mille’ stand for? Answer ‘Blount’. So now you know.

* Cecil B de Mille liked the story of ‘The 10 Commandments’ so much that he filmed it …twice. The first version in 1923 and the second in 1956. (The second should really have been called ‘The 20 Commandments’.)

* Charlton Heston was chosen for the role of Moses in de Mille’s 1956 version because he bore a resemblance to Michelangelo’s statue in Rome. Some say his acting bore a resemblance to the statue too – only less animated.

*  Heston was not de Mille’s first choice for the role of Moses. He asked William ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ Boyd to play the part. Boyd turned him down, fearing his cowboy image would damage the film. Imagine the script: “Mosey along there, Moses…”

* Yul Brynner (Ramses), hit the gym hard during the filming of ‘10 Commandments’. He was worried that his figure would be outshone by Heston’s famous physique. (The latter’s nickname should have been ‘Charlton Athletic’.)

* It took a gruelling three weeks to film ‘The 10 Commandments’ orgy scene. Charlton Heston, who played Moses, later wrote that he overheard one female extra cry: “Who do I have to sleep with to get OUT of this movie?”

* For years, God’s voice in 1956 Commandments was believed to be that of Donald Haynes. Charlton Heston later claimed he was the voice of God. (He was head of the NRA at any rate.)

* In 1953’s ‘The Robe’, the Messiah is played by film’s (anonymous) second unit director. This meant the unfortunate man had to perform his normal duties in full costume. Worse still, he wasn’t allowed eat in the canteen. Studio chiefs felt it was inappropriate for Jesus to be seen munching a sandwich in public.

* Comedy legend, George Burns, gave us one of the most likeable portrayals of a cigar-chomping Deity in ‘Oh God’. He’s not the only Hollywood legend to have puffed on a heavenly cheroot. Robert Mitchum also played God as a cigar-smoker in 1992 Benelux comedy, ‘Les Sept Péchés Capitaux’.

* ‘The 10 Commandments’ was the highest-grossing religious flick of all time ($500m) until ‘The Passion of The Christ’ passed it by in 2004. Mel Gibson’s ultra-violent film earned $611,899,420 worldwide, making it the top-grossing indie movie ever.

* TV cartoon series, ‘God, the Devil and Bob’ – starring James Garner and Alan Cummings –  portrayed the Almighty as a beer-swilling, ex-hippie, not unlike Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. The uproar from fundamentalist Christian groups in the States caused the plug to be pulled after just three episodes.

* Given this country’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the role of Jesus’ mum had to go to an Irishwoman at some stage. Belfast-born Siobhan McKenna landed the part in 1961’s ‘King of Kings’. The film has a few noticeable gaffes. In one scene, as the Romans enter Jerusalem, the tops of their spears flap about because they were made of … rubber.

* Despite being Jewish, Jesus is often played by actors with blue eyes. The most striking examples are Robert Powell (Jesus of Nazareth),  Jeffrey Hunter (King of Kings) and the exceptionally Scandinavian Max von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told).

* American TV network ABC has aired The 10 Commandments every Easter since 1973. The one year they chose not to – 1999 – they logged more angry calls than for the entire previous season.

* Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ caused a furore when it was released in 1979. Thirty-nine local authorities in the UK either imposed an outright ban or an X certificate. It was banned in Ireland until 1987. Aberystwyth council held out the longest. It finally allowed the film to be screened in 2009 – only after cast member, Sue Jones-Davies, was elected mayor of the town.

* ‘The Life of Brian’ is the only ‘religious’ film ever to feature a stoning scene with men dressed as women dressed as men. In February 2007, the Church of St Thomas the Martyr in Newcastle held a public screening of the controversial movie. Along with the song sheets, church staff also gave out false beards for female members of the audience.

* In ‘The Life of Brian’, six cast members play 40 various characters.

* Singer Alanis Morrissette played God in action-comedy ‘Dogma’ (1999) after Holly Hunter and Emma Thompson passed. Morrissette/God features prominently but doesn’t get to speak. Considering she’s made her living from her voice, that was – in her own words – a touch ‘ironic’.

* James Caviezel’s role as Jesus in ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (2004) was an easy gig. He was accidentally whipped twice (he now has a 14-inch scar) and dislocated his shoulder when the 150lb cross dropped on him. He also suffered hypothermia during the crucifixion scene.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he was struck by lightning during the Sermon on the Mount. Most people would have taken the celestial ‘hint’ at that stage.)

* The crucifixion scene in ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is so brutal that it has been blamed for the death of at least one person. Peggy Scott, a 56-year-old advertising sales manager, had a heart attack while watching it in Kansas on its first day of release.

* Zombie Jesus! (2007) is one of the sickest comedy twists on the Jesus story. It has Christ returning from the dead to feast on human brains. Tagline: ‘Prepare to be converted.’ This should have converted … over the bar and out of the field.

* The promo poster for ‘Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter’ shows Our Lord posing with groovy go-go dancers. Hard to define this one: it’s been described as a splatter movie and a martial-arts-cum-Mexican-wrestling musical. It’s also been described as “utter cack”.

* ‘The Gospel According to Matthew’ (1964) is still critically acclaimed as a groundbreaking, left-wing description of Jesus’ life. It was directed by the homosexual, atheist, Marxist, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Given his unorthodox credentials, the movie’s dedication is surprising. It’s to the man who inspired the film: Pope John XXIII.

Pasolini was murdered in mysterious circumstances in 1975.

* ‘I don’t care if it rains or freezes, as long as I have my plasticene Jesus’, should have been the tagline for ‘The Miracle Maker’ (2000). Ralph Fiennes voices Our Lord in this Wallace and Gromit-style film. His plummy voice prompted once critic to ask why Jesus would speak with a posh British accent. Fair point, considering Jesus was born in a stable.

* The always-offensive South Park surpassed itself with ‘The Passion of The Jew’ – a send-up of the reaction to Mel Gibson’s film. In short: anti-hero Cartman cons Jewish kid Kyle into seeing Mel’s movie. This leads to Kyle wanting all Jews to apologise for killing Jesus.

Despite its provocative content, the episode was praised by the Jewish newspaper ‘The Forward’, which called it “perhaps the most biting critique of ‘The Passion’ to date”.

* Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s UltraChrist! Made on a budget even lower than the director’s IQ, ‘UltraChrist!’ reinvents Jesus as a superhero. Our Lord legs it around New York in his sandals, fighting crime with a utility belt. Guaranteed to make your brain melt faster than an Easter egg on a radiator.

* ‘Toxic Avenger IV’ (2001) features one of Hollywood’s more shocking portrayals of God. The Almighty is played by frequent Howard Stern guest, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf.

Hank/God is bitter, lecherous, rude and rails against the Pope for “not really knowing Him at all”. He has only allowed 16 people into heaven. Hank is now deceased. We’ll never know if he was number 17…

* It’s God Jim, but not as we know Him. In 1989’s ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ Kirk and crew “boldly go” to the planet Shakari in search of (cue drumroll) God.

The Creator is in a foul mood and demands that the Enterprise takes him off Shakari. This leads to, possibly, the best ever God/man exchange in a film: “Excuse me, but what does God need with a starship?”

* When Will Ferrell’s ‘God’ gets excited in ‘Superstar’ (1999), he exclaims: “Oh. My. Me!” He also likes to point out that Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’ is “about Me”.

* Our Lord has made an ‘appearance’ in every Monty Python film. ‘He’ started out in the BBC series as an animated photo of Victorian cricketer, WG Grace. (An appropriate name for a Deity, we think you’ll agree.)

* 1973 musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ featured Ted Neely as an all-singing hippy Christ. Christian fundamentalists were even less amused by King Herod parading about the place in white swimming togs.

The latter got to deliver the show’s killer line: “Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool.”

* ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was first performed in Europe on Christmas Day, 1971. It was staged in Vilnius, Lithuania which was then part of the Soviet Union. The musical was subsequently banned and the KGB persecuted the performers.

* In 1969 musical, ‘Godspell’, Jesus’ followers are a right bunch of fools. Literally. In the original production the company are a troupe of clowns who follow Jesus in an abandoned playground. Later productions have been set in an apocalyptic world and even a McDonald’s restaurant. (Ronald McDonald/clown etc.)

* Godspell’s biggest hit song was 1972’s ‘Day by Day’. The number rescued Ben Stiller’s character during an awkward moment in ‘Meet the Parents’. He recites the lyrics when asked to say grace before his first dinner with the family.

* Director George Stevens hired 550 Navajo Indians to play Roman legionnaires in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’.

* Martin Scorsese filmed ‘The Last Temptation of  Christ’ between ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’. True to form, he used tough guy actors in the lead roles: Willem Dafoe as JC and Harvey Keitel as Judas. There’s no truth in the rumour he’s planning to film ‘Raging Papal Bull’ or ‘Godfellas’ any day soon.

* Telly Savalas shaved his head for his role as Pontius Pilate in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ – and never looked back. His billiard-ball head ultimately landed him the role of TV’s most famous cop – Kojak.

* Simon The Zealot in ‘The Greatest Story etc’ was played by Robert Blake of  TV cop show, ‘Baretta’. Blake’s career went off the rails, but he found fame again in 2005 – when he was accused of murdering his wife.

* Film nerds love to point out the mistakes in ‘Ben Hur’ (1959). Two favourites are the camera’s shadow on Jesus’ back and the sight of a galvanised steel stand during the chariot race. The most quoted gaffe is the one about the chariot herald wearing a Rolex. Sorry, but it’s not true. Look closer, it’s actually an unfortunately-placed shadow.

* No round-up of Easter film trivia would be complete with mentioning The Duke. John Wayne’s role in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ lasted under 60 seconds, but gave Hollywood its most quoted religious movie line of all time. Centurion Wayne looks up at the cross and says: “Truly this man is the Son of God.”

Legend has it that the director said, “That’s fine Mr Wayne, but could you give it more ‘awe’?’

Wayne replied: “Awwww, surely this man was the Son of God…”

Amen.

A gag that’s not funny… and is a threat to democracy

Sunday Tribune, April 5

Picture this: Bertie Ahern picks up the Sunday Tribune, sees a portrait of himself in the nude on page one and immediately despatches his art dealer with a brown envelope to buy it. Bertie doesn’t want an unflattering picture of himself in the public domain. The only aras he wants the public to connect him with is the one in the Park.
Plausible? Highly. True? Unfortunately not. The preceding scenario formed a newspaper’s April Fool’s gag last week and I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell for it. That’s the thing about Bertie – you wouldn’t put anything past him. For a man who loves the limelight, he’s fiercely protective of his privacy. He doesn’t like the papers showing him up. That is probably why, under his stewardship, the VAT on newspapers rose to 13.5% – the highest in Europe (Britain has zero VAT). It probably also explains why his administration published a Privacy Bill in 2006 to curb the power of the press. Naughty press, Fianna Fáil will learn youse.
That bill was subsequently ‘parked’ to give the now year-old Press Council time to prove itself effective at dealing with media complaints. Last week, another Ahern – Dermot – announced that he is going to introduce the legislation. Why? Because “there seems to be a growing disregard for the privacy of the individual”. Note the word “seems”. According to who? Who has been calling for a privacy law? Was it Dermot Ahern himself?
Ahern knows the value of privacy. For example, the equality minister now knows it’s better to keep his views on homosexuals private. Back in 1993 he agreed with Fine Gael’s Brendan McGahon that gays were deviants. Once the press highlighted this, he was branded homophobic.
His dealings with the family of terror chief Michael McKevitt might have been kept private if the press hadn’t reported that he forwarded an email on his behalf to Michael McDowell. The press hasn’t done Ahern any favours. Could this be personal?
The new law forbids “surveillance”, “stalking/harassment” and “disclosure of documentation” – all legitimate weapons in the journalist’s armoury. Documents that can’t be published will include publicly available material from, among others, county council planning files and the Land Registry Office. Without the disclosure of such documents, the extent of planning corruption in north Dublin may never have come to light.
Without “stalking”, the documentary that led to the beef tribunal might not have been made. In that programme, journalist Susan O’Keeffe approaches beef baron Larry Goodman for a comment as he is leaving mass and pursues him until he drives off. Under the new rules, Goodman could have got an injunction and halted production. Similarily, Brendan O’Brien’s legendary “stalking” of Martin ‘The General’ Cahill might not have been aired. The print labours of Veronica Guerin would have been hampered too.
With the new restrictions, Seanie Fitz might be able to get an injunction against a newspaper revealing that he’s enjoying a nice holiday in Spain.
The new law states that invasions of privacy are justified when they’re in good faith, the public interest and fair. Sounds reasonable? It isn’t. It’s ‘Catch 22’: for an invasion of privacy to be justified, you must invade someone’s privacy to prove it. However, you can’t invade someone’s privacy because that’s not justified without proof. A reporter who is stymied by an injunction can be found to have broken the rules just because he was unable to finish his investigation.
So, again, who has asked for this privacy law? Take a guess. Last year, Dublin City University released a study which revealed that two-thirds of all privacy complaints over the past 25 years had come from public figures, chiefly politicians.
The hypocrisy at the heart of this law is staggering. In February, minister Ahern was forced to introduce new European legislation requiring telephone operators to store details of all calls made for two years. Under Irish law, they had to store them for three years. All your calls, emails and internet usage are logged by the government. How about a privacy law against that?
Ahern’s announcement last week was all the more telling because of its timing. It came just weeks after this newspaper broke the Brian Cowen portraits story. This was a clear threat to the press. It was a slap on the wrist for getting uppity and a direct attack on the fundamental right to freedom of information.
We don’t need this law. The press ombudsman is doing a good job of correcting rogue journalism. It’s independent, fast and binding. As it’s free, the public aren’t put off complaining by legal costs. That’s good for democracy, unlike privacy laws and VAT on newspapers.
This brings us back to Bertie, as it was his administration that dreamed up this nonsense. When I read the April Fool’s portrait gag about him last week, it struck me that the words ‘Ahern’ and ‘gag’ were entirely appropriate given the decision to silence the press.
Forget about Cowen: Bertie deserves to be hung in the National Gallery.
I’ll start building the scaffold…

dave@davekenny.com