Hume struggles to cope with weekend of plaudits

 

The Nobel laureate plans to keep his word and fly to Brussels today for a plenary session of the European Parliament. But then again, he may not. For the weekend has been like no other for Mr John Hume, and he may, for the first time in his political career as an MEP, send his apologies and get some well-deserved rest.

Mr Hume went to bed on Thursday night as leader of the SDLP and woke up as Nobel prize-winner. Since then, his political life has taken an upward turn. On Friday night, after stopping at Belfast's Dominican College for his long-standing date with the political societies of the Dominican and Victoria Colleges, he travelled to Dublin to appear on The Late Late Show.

The SDLP leader is well used to fighting his political battles but he was clearly moved by the endless plaudits he received from members of the public, politicians and pop stars. His eyes moistened after U2's Bono's tribute: " . . . I'm so privileged to live in this island, with this man". Sinn Fein president Mr Gerry Adams also paid tribute, saying if anyone deserved the Nobel prize, it was Mr Hume.

Afterwards, Mr Hume was overheard saying to a party colleague: "I didn't know what to say. Everyone was so kind. I'm so used to having to defend myself. What do you say in a situation like that? How do you behave in a situation like that?"

But for a man who has been in politics for nearly 30 years, he is adept at handling the media. There "wasn't time to take a breath" as he conducted one press interview after another. Showing exemplary patience, the Nobel laureate conducted 30 TV broadcast interviews, including ones for CNN, NBC and Newsnight, until well after midnight on Friday night.

More than 24 hours after being declared prize-winner, Mr Hume warmly received congratulations from SDLP colleagues at the party's fund-raising dinner in Dublin. The drinks and music flowed in the "early hours" as the SDLP celebrated its leader's achievement. It is understood members sang a rendition of Mr Hume's favourite song about his native Derry, The Town I Loved So Well.

These were stirring times, but it was back to business for the Nobel laureate yesterday morning, and another round of press interviews. After exchanging congratulations with his fellow recipient, Mr David Trimble, on Breakfast with Frost, at 8.30 a.m., the next business was another broadcast interview on Sunday with Adam Boulton, on Sky television.

Mr Hume left Dublin yesterday around midday for a five-hour drive home to Derry, where he will "take a look at his diary".