‘I’m like: Be careful. I know what you’re getting at and I don’t care much for the insinulation’
The old dear looks absolutely horrendous, and I mean that very genuinely. She squeezes my hand and goes, “Thank you for being here – both of you.”
The old man goes, “I must say, this is all very cloak and dagger, Darling. Are we to be told why we’re here?”
Here, by the way, is the lobby of the Double Tree Hilton. It’s lunchtime on Wednesday. I’m thinking of possibly having a pint.
“I’ve endured the most awful week,” she goes. “Phone calls from journalists at all hours of the day and night. These frightful paparazzi people taking photographs of me as I’m putting out the recycling bin – with no make-up on, Charles!”
The old man pulls a face. He woke up beside her every morning for 30-something years. He knows what that looks like.
The newspapers all had the story last weekend about her trousering millions of yoyos in charity cash over the course of the last 25 years. She’s there, “The abusive calls have been the worst. I answered the phone last Sunday and a voice on the line told me I was a disgrace to the human race and I had a face like someone was secretly contaminating Sharon Osbourne’s drinking water.”
I have to turn away from her. That was actually me. Sorcha suggested we bring her to Roly’s for dinner – just so she wouldn’t feel like a prisoner in her own home – and that was just my usual way of breaking the ice. She put the phone down.
The old man shakes his head. He goes, “What I don’t understand is how did these so-called journalists get their hands on the story in the first place? I mean, Ross, you did shred all of that paperwork, didn’t you?” I’m like, “Be careful,” pointing my finger at him. “I know what you’re getting at and I don’t care much for the insinulation.”
“Ross, I wasn’t suggesting . . .”
“You were suggesting that, instead of destroying all of that incriminating evidence, that I possibly photocopied it and sent it out to every newspaper in the country.”
“I’m not saying that’s what happened, Kicker. I’m saying it’s as if that’s what happened. Good Lord, Ross, I think I know you well enough to know you’re not capable of doing something like that!”
I kept one or two bits back, by the way, just in case the story dropped out of the news for a day or two.
“Well,” the old dear goes, “it’s immaterial how they got it. They have it now and there’s only one course of action left for me – and that’s to resign from the board of all my various charities.”
“No!” the old man goes. “Fionnuala, you can’t! Too many people rely on you. The sick. The hungry. All of these people living in these terrible bloody countries.”
She sad-smiles him.
“Charles,” she goes, “there was suffering in this world long before I dedicated my life to good works. And there’ll be suffering long after I’ve passed on the torch of humanitarianism to someone else. I’m just glad that I’ll have you two sitting alongside me when I make the announcement.” I’m about to go, “Er, sorry?” when the old man suddenly gets in there before me. He’s like, “I beg your pardon, Fionnuala?”
“I’m about to do a press conference,” she goes. “They’re waiting for me in the Eglinton Suite.”
I haven’t seen the old man look so uncomfortable since the IRFU forced us all to go to Ballybough. He’s there, “The, um, thing is, Fionnuala, well, you and I aren’t married anymore and, um . . .”
“Charles,” she goes, “you were my husband for 30 years. You’re a patron of a lot of these charities.”
“Yes, that’s, um, rather the issue, I’m afraid. Look, cards on the table – quote, unquote – I’m back in the political sphere again, as you know, with New Republic. We’ve promised the electorate a break from the old way of doing politics . . .”
“Oh – and you’re frightened that being seen sitting next to me while I’m resigning in the face of allegations of financial impropriety might hurt your electability?”
“Well, something of that order, yes. You have to understand, Fionnuala, we’re trying to come across as different to the other crowd. That’s our thing , as these spin-doctor chaps call it.”
“So New Republic doesn’t believe in standing by old friends who were useful to them in the past?”
“We do, Fionnuala. We’d just prefer not to let people know until after the European and local elections.”
She nods like she understands, but her eyes are full of tears. She goes, “Then I’ll have to face my accusers on my own,” ever the drama queen, and she turns around and storms off in the direction of the Eglinton Suite. We stand there and watch her go. She has an orse like the boulder that almost killed Indiana Jones.
The old man sighs. I’d nearly feel sorry for him. He’s obviously conflicted. After maybe a minute of, like, wrestling with his conscience, he goes, “Well, let’s at least be in the room when she makes her statement. We owe her that much, I think.”
By the time we reach the room, she’s already sitting at the table at the top of the room, reading from a prepared statement, flashbulbs going off, TV cameras and reporters everywhere. “Regrettably,” she goes, “the personal witch-hunt that the media has engaged in with regard to me has the very real potential to hurt many of the very worthy causes that I have worked tirelessly and selflessly to support. Therefore, I have decided to tender my resignation from the board of the following charities. The Foxrock and North Cornelscourt Friends of Abidjan. The Foxrock and Deansgrange West Friends of Ciudad Juarez. The Foxrock and South Sudan Joint Partnership to Eradicate Onchocerca Volvulus. The “Move the Set of Fair City to the Northside” Advocacy and Action Group. Dublin 18 Aids Awareness. Dublin 18 Hailey-Hailey Syndrome Awareness. Dublin 18 Tree Bark Skin Disorder Awareness. The Give A Child Hope Foundation. The Give A Child Skis Foundation . . .”
The old man turns to me and goes, “I’d better go and join her, Ross. She was my wife for 30 years. And she knows enough about me to put me back in Mountjoy for another 10.”
ILLUSTRATION ALAN CLARKE