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The Troubles with Patrick Kielty is . . .

HIS spats with Fame Academy judge Richard Park have become the stuff of TV legend. His wry observations of the celebrities holed up on ITV's Love Island were as ruthless as they were funny.

But whatever you do, don't call Patrick Kielty a TV presenter. He hosted both programmes - and there is a difference.

"When I read that I was a TV presenter I wanted to go out and shoot myself. There's a big difference between a host and a TV presenter," says the affable Irishman who was born in Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland.

He explains: "From Monkhouse to Tarbuck . . . it wasn't a coincidence that all these old-time hosts were comedians who could go out and work an audience."

Relaxing in the lounge of the SAS Radisson on the Royal Mile, the 35-year-old who, for the record, started off as a stand-up comic in his homeland, is in the mood for a bit of craic ahead of the final date of a nationwide tour which brings him to the Queen's Hall tomorrow.

"That was one of the reasons I wanted to do this tour," he says. "People saw me coming from nothing, I was suddenly there on the telly. But I wanted them to see where I was coming from."

To discover the roots of his success it is necessary to go back 14 years to Queens University, Belfast, where Kielty studied psychology.

A "pretty good mimic", he was persuaded by his flatmates to enter a competition at the student union - he won a keg of beer. That win encouraged him to start The Empire Club, a weekly comedy night.

"I didn't want to work, I liked the student life," he recalls with a grin. "I'd done a few gigs in the union and that, but there was nowhere else to go, so we set up The Empire Club. I would compere and people like Lee Evans, Bill Bailey and Ardal O'Hanlon would come and play."

Despite the popularity of the club, Kielty insists that compering the night was never about a "want to be in the spotlight".

"It just started as a fun thing to do. Then, on the day after a gig you look in the mirror and realise that women are treating you differently, and you think to yourself: 'Well, hang on here, it's not the FA Cup ears and nose like a cooker-hood that's getting these women'," he quips.

What makes Kielty's story different to those of other comedians who discovered their ability to make people laugh while at university is that he learned his trade in Northern Ireland during the Troubles - the same Troubles that robbed him of his father.

"My dad was murdered when I was 16," he explains.

"He was a Catholic businessman who ran the local building firm in our little village. At that stage there was a lot of tit for tat going on. One side would kill an innocent Protestant, so the other would kill an innocent Catholic. Because he employed both Catholics and Protestants he was a target.

"That, to date, was the first and last thing that ever happened in Dundrum. And that was one of the really weird things about Northern Ireland - the ordinariness of it, and yet it wasn't ordinary.

"I realise now, looking back on it, that it wasn't ordinary; that the police station in the village looked like a fortress in Baghdad and that it wasn't normal to be getting frisked before going into Woolworths."

The death of his father, says Kielty, changed him as a person, forcing him to grow up more quickly than he otherwise might have. Consequently, it has been reported that his comedy was a direct response to his father's shooting, but he insists that is just not the case.

"One of the things that has been written about me in the past is that I used to be Lenny Bruce and that I'm now Bruce Forsyth.' I was never Lenny Bruce and I'm not Bruce Forsyth, I'm somewhere in between. This notion that I was some sort of comedy crusader - well, that never happened.

"The reality on the ground is that if you go into a drinking club with a bunch of hoods and you're telling jokes about them, they're laughing at it but you're not challenging them. Your job is to get in there, get your laughs and get out without somebody putting you against the wall in the toilet."

Not that all his material was appreciated by everyone.

"People talk about: 'Aw, it was rough playing working mens' clubs'," he says. "Working mens' clubs in Belfast were paramilitary clubs. You'd go into these clubs and be doing political material slagging off the IRA or the UVF. The act would never change, but the places where the laughs came would."

HE admits: "It was tolerated because the reputation of the Empire Club in Belfast meant that they knew what they were booking. But yeah, I had guys coming up to me all the time in Belfast telling me that they weren't happy with my stuff and that I needed to behave myself and be a good boy and stuff like that.

"They were definitely serious threats, but I would say: 'Look lads, I'm a decent comic I'm not fantastic, but if you want to turn me into Lenny Bruce, are you really at the stage where you are starting to pop comedians now?'

"And then, also, there was a certain amount of licence that I had because of what happened to my dad. That meant that no-one was able to say: 'Well, you're just this upstart'."

Kielty's reputation as a stand-up soon landed him the job of warm-up act for BBC Northern Ireland's Anderson on the Box. When this show was axed Kielty got his big break presenting its replacement, PK Tonight, which in turn led to his first network prime time show After The Break on BBC1. However, it was the Channel 4's Last Chance Lottery that made him a household name.

These days, he is best known for fronting the BBC's Fame Academy and ITV's Celebrity Love Island.

Which brings us back to that verbal sparring with Richard Park. "To be honest," says Kielty, "the first time that Park went for it I thought: 'Here we go. He's obviously trying to make a name for himself. He's trying to Cowell himself up a wee bit'.

"I didn't like that because when you're dealing with a member of the public in a talent show, they're not equipped for the nature of what is coming to them. So if someone is getting too much stick just to make good telly I don't like that and will defend them."

That said, Kielty admits he has no such qualms about having a go himself at the celebs who agree to be cast away on ITV's Love Island.

"On that you are dealing with a particular type of celebrity, one who puts themselves in the limelight and is the type of person that purposely goes out three or four times a week to get in the paper.

"Now I'm not saying that presenting that show was like shooting fish in a barrel, but it was either shoot the fish or look in the barrel and go: 'Hey, pretty fish'. So, attitude-wise, I was allowed to be more myself on Love Island than I was on Fame Academy."

More of that "attitude" is what audiences can expect from Kielty tomorrow in his show, No Woman No Cry.

"It's not life-changing comedy. There's a lot of very loose, light, fluffy stuff, but it would be wrong of me not to talk about stuff that is relevant to me," he says.

And as for the title, well, sheepishly he reveals: "My first ever stand-up show was called Stir It Up, and then I did a tour called Get Up Stand Up, which was the most obvious name for a stand-up tour. Then somebody said to me 'Do you know that the first two things you've done are Bob Marley numbers?' And so, because I'm 35 and single, I thought, call it No Woman No Cry."

And with a big grin, he adds: "It was either that or I Shot The Sheriff, but when you're from Northern Ireland popping policemen is a bit last season."

• Patrick Kielty: No Woman No Cry, Queens Hall, Clerk Street, tomorrow, 8pm, 12-14.50, 0131-668 2019

 
 
 

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