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Seán Moncrieff: I have no idea why a woman at a dinner party decided to tell this untrue story about me

Nothing brings people together like knowing another person who is a bit of a melt

Seán Moncrieff: The dinner party was on the southside of Dublin, and many of the attendees didn’t know each other that well. Photograph: Getty

Back in the 1990s, I was plucked from very late-night television on RTÉ2 (as they called it then) to present a Saturday night summer-run chatshow on RTÉ1. This decision generated quite a bit of publicity at the time as most people had never heard of me; including a lot of people in RTÉ. It wasn’t a roaring success. But that’s another story.

This story is about the fact that my name was in the papers quite a bit that summer, and so I came up in conversation at a certain dinner party. I wasn’t at this dinner party. I was told about it afterwards. It was on the southside of Dublin, and many of the attendees didn’t know each other that well. It was one of those Celtic Tiger events where the hosts may well have invited a dozen people just to show off how big their kitchen table was.

But when my name was mentioned, one of the people there claimed to be a friend of mine. Best friends, in fact. She said she knew me and my partner, and that we were searching for a place to live together. According to this woman, my partner was a man.

There were some people at this dinner who did actually know me: and knew that I was a boring old heterosexual and that I wasn’t searching for a place to live. But this woman had described our supposed friendship with such utter conviction that they opted to say nothing and instead do a bit of eye rolling and undertable nudging.


I have no idea why she decided to tell this story. It could have been mistaken identity or she could have been a fantasist or she may have chosen to make something up so she could place herself at the centre of the conversation. Because gossip is a kind of currency. When my father was alive and I’d go down to visit, he’d always ask me: so, what’s happening in Dublin? Meaning: any gossip? Specifically, about politicians or media figures. I’d save up titbits to share with him. I never worried too much if it was true or not.

Nowadays, I try to be a bit more restrained in my gossiping. I try to be aware of the fact that it involves real people and that an awful lot of it is exaggerated or – when filtered through multiple tellers – completely untrue. Yet there seems to be an irresistible human urge to do it. According to one study, we spend at least an hour a day yakking about other people: and it’s a form of bonding. Nothing brings people together like knowing another person who is a bit of a melt.

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Of course, gossip is also big business. And while there have been celebrity tattle magazines for decades, there seems to have been a more recent explosion of it: in part due to the internet, but also the pandemic. When we were all bored and locked indoors, the likes of Popbitch and the anonymous Instagram account DeuxMoi saw an explosion in popularity, which continues today. It’s driven by a hunger for prurient judgment and (probably) by many of the celebrities themselves who engineer disputes and minor controversies to get clicks. It’s also very generation-specific: a lot of it seems to involve people I’ve never heard of who have disrespected each other in ways I don’t quite understand.

More importantly, it’s also a fantastic source of distraction. A university in Chicago has started running a course entitled Are We Doomed? – a response to a not-unreasonable perception among young people that the future might not be so rosy. There’s climate change and culture battles, and mass migration and hateful nativism, the bubbling threat of war. No wonder they’d rather think about the state of a celebrity marriage or the bad outfit someone wore to the shops. You really can’t blame them.