From Highway 61 along the N17 and onwards to 2009 with TG4's Daithi O'Se

OVER THE past decade, Baile na hAbhann-based Irish language television station TG4 has produced many notable presenters including Grainne and Sile Seoige, Hector Ó hEochagáin, Aoife Ní Thuairisg, and Manchán Magan.

Yet no one has quite got the hearts throbbing - at least not among the housewives of Ireland - like Kerry charmer Daithi O’Se. In 2006 he was named runner up at RTÉ’s You’re A Star Charity Special and since then his career has gone from strength to strength.

This year was one of his busiest years to date as he presented a six-part series tracing the blues route of American music in Daithi Ar Highway 61 and was also a guest presenter comedy show The Panel.

Thy Kingdom Come

On his journey towards becoming a well-known Irish TV presenter, Daithi has worked many jobs such as a stint as a butcher and as a bouncer. Were not for a simple twist of fate O’Se could have been lining out for his native Kerry against Tyrone in the All-Ireland football final in September.

“I would’ve played underage football with Darragh and Tomas O’Se with my home club An Ghaeltacht,” Daithi tells me. “I went to primary school with Dara O’Cinneide - who captained the winning Kerry side in 2004 - and would have played football with him all the way up.

“It’s great to see all the lads running out on to the Croke Park field and lifting the Sam Maguire Cup. One of the big down points for me last year was seeing Kerry being beaten in the All-Ireland final because I really thought they would have played better on the day.

“I’m proud to say that I’ve two County Championship Division One medals with An Ghaeltacht. I got very badly injured when I was about 16 and I never really got back to football full-time after that. I suppose every person dreams of playing for their county one day but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I got side tracked by other things.”

From Highway 61

In late autumn 2007 he presented Daithi Ar Route 66, which charted his journey from Chicago to LA and the people he met along the way.

“Our initial thing was to do it on a Honda 50 but then I figured I’d have an awful pain in my arse after eight weeks on the bike!” he says. “I suppose there’s all the movies and songs and literature associated with that particular highway so it was something I always wanted to do. In the end we decided to do the journey in style in an open top Mustang and sort of capture the essence of the Route 66 that Bob Dylan sang about.”

Following on from the success of his Route 66 adventure, the presenter then set about travelling along Highway 61 from New Orleans to Chicago in early 2008. This particular stretch of road is referred to as The Blues Highway and throughout the series there was a strong musical element.

Along the way Daithi got to meet and interview music legends such as Kenny Rogers, Chuck Berry, Percy Sledge, Paul Simon, and Ben E King.

“Kenny Rogers is probably one of the biggest country music stars in the world and I’m glad to say that I found him so nice to talk to,” says Daithi. “After our interview his manager rang my producer and thanked me for being so professional and not asking Kenny about his plastic surgery – apparently that’s the first thing American journalists ask him! I hope to go see him either in Castlebar or Killarney early next year and maybe meet up and say hello.

“Percy Sledge – who sang ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ – was really nice also and we even ended up having waffles with him the next day. Ben E King [‘Stand By Me’] was a half hour late for our interview but was very humble and very apologetic.”

Daithi was impressed by his experiences of meeting his musical heroes but some stars proved more difficult than others.

“Chuck Berry was a bit of a pain in the arse!” says Daithi “He made us wait around for almost nine hours and then when he eventually arrived he said he wasn’t doing an interview. It had been agreed beforehand that we’d do 20 minutes with him but in the end we only got about nine minutes out of him.

“When he actually sat down and got rid of the bulls**t and talked he was really cool. We talked about him being the first black artist to bring country sounds into rock ‘n’ roll and how he sort of invented rock ‘n’ roll.

“Then when we met Buddy Guy during the Chicago Blues Festival he was just in one of those moods. The place was packed and to be honest I don’t think he had very much time to spare. Although we set up our cameras in his Legends Club and suddenly BB King walks in and gets up on stage and starts playing. That was a real pleasant surprise.”

Another chance encounter occurred in Clarksdale when they happened upon Paul Simon almost by accident.

“We were talking to this guy who makes his own guitars and suddenly we spotted Paul Simon over at the next table,” says Daithi. “He was there with his son and I suppose he didn’t really want to be bothered. He wouldn’t agree to do an interview but we had a bit of craic with him out in the parking lot. It was unbelievable that we’d stumbled upon him.”

To the N17 motorway

These days Daithi has swapped Highway 61 for the N17 and N63 as he searches the west of Ireland as part of his role as a judge in RTÉ series The All-Ireland Talent Show. The other judges confirmed to date include Dana, John Creedon, Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, and Boyzone’s Shane Lynch.

“There are five different regions – Ulster, Connacht, Munster, Leinster, and Dublin,” says Daithi. “We all did our own auditions independently so each judge doesn’t know what the other is going to bring to the table. The standard in the west was very, very high and it was incredibly hard to choose between them. However, I think I’ve picked five contestants that I think really represent the west very well”

The show is modelled on Britain’s Got Talent and will be hosted by Grainne Seoige. The prize for the winning act is €50,000.

Daithi’s 2008 soundtrack

O’Se has is a keen fan of music so what did he make of the new music released in 2008?

“I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of X Factor but any time I heard Leona Lewis on the radio it was just wow,” he says. “I got the new Guns‘n’Roses album recently and I’m going through that at the moment. Growing up I would’ve listened to Appetite For Destruction and Use Your Illusion and that’s what I play most of the time.

“I’d be a big fan of AC/DC too and was very impressed by their new Black Ice album. I think their lead single ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Train’ is as good as they were 30 years ago. Snow Patrol’s new album is brilliant and the stuff by Damien Dempsey and Declan O’Rourke is excellent. Then you have ‘Galway Girl’ with Mundy and The Sharon Shannon Band being the biggest Irish single of last year. It’s all really good stuff, and it’s all Irish.”

Although his beloved Kingdom failed to achieve three victories in a row last year Daithi is hoping for his own hat-trick in 2009.

“Of course I won Ireland’s Sexiest TV Star this year for the second year in succession so I’m hoping for the three-in-a-row next year”

The All-Ireland Talent Show begins on RTÉ on January 4. Glor Tire, filmed in The Quays, will be screened the following week on TG4.


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