John Boyne on Sinéad O'Connor: 'I’d been half in love with her for a large portion of my life'
Listen to Sinéad O’Connor and you will hear the story of Ireland. The troubles. The sadness. The rebirth. She may not know it, but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas author John Boyne has shared his life with her. The Sinéad superfan takes us on their voyage
It ‘was the era of lip-syncing, and it was obvious that here was a girl who had no interest in faking anything’ – John Boyne recalling his first sight of Sinéad O’Connor
‘Perhaps she recognised the determined look on my face because she glanced left and right nervously, looking for a getaway’ – John Boyne recalling his first encounter with Sinéad O’Connor
At last November’s Irish Book Awards, sometime between the starter and the main course, I glanced across the room and my eyes landed on the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life. I say this as someone who hasn’t found myself attracted to the female form since around 1991, and even then, the girl I fancied turned out, on closer inspection, to be Chesney Hawkes.
But this woman was something else. People were on their feet, mingling, and so I made my way across, brushing Booker Prize-winners away with my left hand while fending off air-kissing chick-lit authors with my right. I felt like I was back at a school disco, only instead of being an anxious kid liquored up on cider, I was a grown man wearing a tuxedo, a tie-clip, a pocket square and holding a glass of champagne. Classy.
She turned as I approached her and our eyes met. Perhaps she recognised the determined look on my face because she glanced left and right nervously, looking for a getaway. If she walks away, I told myself, I’ll follow her. If she runs, I’ll leap over the tables. I’ll rugby tackle her to the ground if I have to. (I didn’t go to Terenure College just for the beatings.) I’d waited a lifetime for this moment and she wasn’t getting away from me without a fight.
“Hello,” I said, uncertain whether or not I should reach for her hand or simply throw my arms around her and hug her tighter than a tube top on a majorette. “I just wanted to say . . .”
“Hi,” she said, interrupting me and managing to turn one syllable into something commanding with her husky Glenageary voice. She was looking at me with a challenge on her face. Fine, you’ve got me, that expression was saying. I can’t escape. So either say something interesting or fuck off.
“Yes,” I said, nodding as if I was in full agreement with her. “Absolutely. I just wanted to tell you that I’m a huge fan.”
“Thanks,” she said, unimpressed. In fairness, this was a literary awards ceremony. She might have hoped for something a little more original than that.
“No, I really am,” I insisted, as if she’d accused me of lying.
“Yeah, thank you.”
I was struggling now. Actually, it was exactly like being back at the school disco. I searched my brain for something intelligent to say. “I’m friends with your brother,” was what I came up with. I’d probably used that line on some poor unfortunate Our Lady’s girl back in the day too.
“Which one?” she asked.
I thought about it. I didn’t know she had more than one.
“Joe,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, shrugging a little.
To her left, a red-haired man appeared and stood next to her protectively. I recognised the poor unfortunate creature as a social diarist; I’d seen his picture in the papers standing next to the type of person you see on Celebrity Apprentice. He must have overheard my pathetic attempts at conversation because he was staring at me with withering contempt and was this close to telling me to go back to my table, wait for my meal to arrive and prepare to lose to Derek freakin’ Landy (again). My heart sank. When that guy looks at you like you’re worthless, you know the jig is up.
“Alrighty,” I said, like a character from Fargo, offering something between a bow and a curtsey. “It was great to meet you.”
“Thanks,” she said.
I wandered back to my table with all the grace of Mel Gibson at chucking-out time. I put my head in my hands. I ate some chicken. I lost to Derek Landy (again). Then I got royally drunk and tried to put my humiliation behind me.
HALF IN LOVE
I’m not usually intimidated by famous people. I’ve met a few over the years and for the most part, I can take them or leave them. They’re great for an old Facebook picture but let’s face it, you don’t really want to get stuck in conversation for too long with David Beckham or some girl who made it to Judges’ Houses on The X-Factor in 2007. (And for what it’s worth, using “I’m wearing your underwear” as an opening gambit to Beckham comes across as creepy rather than amusing.)