Wish upon a star – Alison Healy on unanswered prayers

An Irishwoman’s Diary on agreeing with Garth Brooks

Sometimes you just have to agree with Garth Brooks. No, not when he shows up in boots and ruins your black-tie affair. When he thanks God for unanswered prayers.

Who among us does not regularly give thanks that certain prayers went unanswered? I’m thinking specifically of my plan to appear on the Jim’ll Fix It show in the early 1980s.

Back then, Jimmy Savile’s Saturday evening programme was a must-see for every Irish child. You wrote to the programme with your request to do something extraordinary, and if you were lucky enough, the programme made it possible.

My sister and I combined our wishes in one letter. She wanted to do a dramatic swing from a massive chandelier, while I – somewhat boringly – had asked to read the news. In my defence, I was a very serious 10-year-old with aspirations towards news reading. The News for the Deaf report was the highlight of my day because you could read the news script from the screen aloud as Charles Mitchell was delivering it.


Walt Disney also had ambitions to work in the newspaper business and he too was repeatedly discouraged

Being chosen to appear on Jim’ll Fix It was not as unlikely as it sounds and some Irish children did have their wishes granted. However, our prayers were never answered, and the chandeliers remained undisturbed.

We only realised how lucky we were after Jimmy Savile died and was unmasked for what he was.

Yes, it’s a good thing that we can’t always get what we want.

Irish actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor knows all about that. In 2009, the actor auditioned in London for a part in a play that he really wanted. He was devastated when he didn't get it. However, it meant he was free to audition for a part in a new RTÉ drama, Love/Hate. He won the role of Nidge and the menacing character brought a whole new meaning to Sunday night fear.

Thousands of Irish children are probably relieved that Jeff Kinney's prayers went unanswered. He fervently wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist but spent three years getting rejection letters for his comic strips. He returned to the drawing board and came up with the idea of a long-form comic for adults about a hapless boy called Greg Heffley. After working on it for eight years, he showed it to a publisher who suggested it needed a younger audience. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was born, and Jeff Kinney is now richer than Croesus.

Walt Disney also had ambitions to work in the newspaper business and he too was repeatedly discouraged. He delivered the Kansas City Star with his father for six years and, according to the newspaper's website, he applied for permanent jobs as a cartoonist, a clerk and even a truck driver. He was rejected every time.

The newspaper has a knack for employing famous people, including two US presidents. Democrat Harry Truman spent two weeks in the Kansas City Star's mailroom, earning a princely $12.40 in the process. But there was no love lost between the local boy and the newspaper when he reached higher office. Truman constantly fought with the Republican editor Roy Roberts and once sniped, in an unmailed letter, that "if The Star is at all mentioned in history, it will be because the President of the US worked there for a few weeks" .

Former US president Teddy Roosevelt’s employment at the paper was a happier experience for all. He became a columnist in the twilight of his life, in September 1917. He dictated his last column on Friday, January 3rd, 1919, and died in the very early hours of the following Monday. He had met his deadline like any good journalist should and obligingly died at an hour that gave the evening paper enough time to prepare its coverage.

Writer Ernest Hemingway, who incidentally admired Roosevelt's outdoor skills, also joined the Kansas City Star in 1917, but as a cub reporter. He spent seven months there and left with a lean writing style that was greatly influenced by the newspaper's style rules.

While he was often kind about the newspaper, one of its writers was not as charitable about Hemingway’s work. In 1926, an unnamed reviewer claimed to be unable to finish his new book, The Torrents of Spring, because it was “dreary”, “interminable” and “boring”. And, for good measure, he added that Hemingway’s first collection of short stories In Our Time was “mordant”.

Happily for Hemmingway, many millions of readers disagreed, making him a household name as well as a Nobel and Pulitzer prize winner. Coincidentally, his fans include a few other US presidents such as John F Kennedy and Barack Obama, as well as the late presidential hopeful John McCain.

Yes, he has friends in high places, as that other presidential favourite Garth Brooks might have said.