The Grown-Up Test: Ardal O'Hanlon

Gillian Rowe / 22 January 2019

The star of BBC One’s Death in Paradise, who shot to fame as hapless priest Father Dougal McGuire in Father Ted, is 53. But, asks Gillian Rowe, how old is he in his head?

What did your parents teach you?

They told us children to respect people and don’t judge people too harshly. That was a very strong message in our house. If you came in with some scandalous story they would say: if you didn’t see it, you don’t know the full story. Give people a bit of leeway, you don’t know what they’re going through.

Childhood pet?

I had a budgie called Kiki. She was a much-loved bird but possibly not the most cared for pet in the world. She got stuck behind the radiator once, so I had to push her down and she appeared from underneath and strutted across the room as if nothing had happened. I had her for seven years and talked to her when I came in from school.

Biggest fashion mistake?

It’s more my mother’s fashion mistake… when I was very young, she had crazy notions about how her sons should appear in public. She bought me a coat, which was kind of made of plastic with a fake-fur collar. I looked like a baby Russian oligarch. I remember being mortified at having to wear that in public.

Have you always been a show off?

I think I have. I came from a part of the world where showing off was anathema. It was about the worst thing you could be. But I was a third child, so I don’t think I had much choice; it was the only way to get noticed in the house. I just remember entertaining my aunts with tall tales from a very early age.

Even though I was a pretty shy kid myself I had this streak where I would do crazy things – I guess I was just looking for attention. But I think all performers have a little bit of the show off in them – as long as you’re aware of it I don’t think it’s too serious.

What piece of music will get you on the dance floor?

Surprisingly, I’m pretty quick at getting on the dance floor, but anything from the Eighties –from Madness, like One Step Beyond, to The Beat or The Specials, The Cure – I would be up in a flash.

Which decade are you most nostalgic for?

The Seventies without a shadow of a doubt. I was born in 1965 and by 1972/3, I was following British football; I knew my team. I remember all the players and get very nostalgic for that period. Later, in 1976, I got into punk and new wave, and it was like a real awakening for me as well.

I was an avid news reader and I would read newspapers all the time, cover to cover, so I remember all the key events very clearly, like the oil crisis.

Are you on social media?

I avoid it as much as possible, because it is very distracting. I just think with Twitter and things you can get into too much trouble. I can totally see the attraction and the fascination with it, but it’s a bit shrill for my liking and when you try to express yourself in soundbites the message can get garbled.

How often do you look at email?

Oh, about 20 times an hour. It’s a terrible habit, and I can get very easily distracted.

When did you last drink too much?

Last Saturday night with friends, which is a very regular occurrence. However, I have got into the habit of not drinking much during the week and letting go a little bit at the weekend. I’ve just discovered Martini and tonic and it’s improved the quality of my life.

Hangover cures

Who is your oldest friend?

It’s my wife, I’ve known her since we were 12. We grew up in the same town and got together in our late teens and have always been together, so she knows me better than anyone else. She’s someone I can confide in and share everything with, the good and the bad.

Have you stuck to your New Year’s resolutions?

No, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I oppose them because I think they all lead to heartbreak and disappointment. I tend to break them on 2 January and January is a terrible time to be making them. The cold weather and post-Christmas doldrums means people are in a bad place and it’s not a time to be making sweeping resolutions. I have always been suspicious of Dry January. I think it’s self-centred and if we all did it, barmen would be out of a job and we can’t have that!

Why you shouldn't diet in January

When did you last forget something?

I’m so forgetful. I recently landed back at Dublin airport and got a taxi home. In the taxi, I remembered I had parked my car at the airport two days before. I was too embarrassed to say anything, so I carried on home and ordered another taxi to take me back to get my car.

How was it for you turning 50?

I think the key thing for me was I felt that I no longer had to strive, but I don’t mean to strive for success or strive for money, but rather to strive to impress anybody. I felt I could relax and let my guard down a little, and that was really liberating. I think I’m more confident in expressing my opinions as well.

February 2019 sees Ardal O’Hanlon start his UK tour with The Showing Off Must Go On.


As a 53-year-old who is still discovering new tipples, who enjoys showing off and who hankers after The Beat and The Cure, we think part of Ardal will forever be an Eighties’ teenager.

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