Michael O'Doherty: My unbearable sadness at the loss of VIP's most photographed man
Tribute: Tragic Niall McCrudden was inspiration for my first Herald article and so much more besides
He always was, and to me always will be, the 'optician to the stars'. Niall McCrudden, who died so tragically on Saturday evening, was the founder of Insight Opticians and, having sold his business recently, set up his new online store, sunglasses.ie.
He was the inspiration for my first ever article in this newspaper two years ago, in which I talked about the 'so and so to the stars' phenomenon. I wrote how Niall had got his label on the tenuous basis of once having sold a pair of sunglasses to Jim Corr, an act which I suggested, strictly speaking, made him neither an optician, nor a supplier, to the stars.
While he liked the idea of having well-known clients for his business, Niall actually just liked being around people in general. A constant attendee at charity lunches and black-tie balls, he was one of the first names on the invite list for most social occasions.
He is probably the single most photographed man in the social pages of VIP over the years -- far too comfortable for a straight man in front of the camera, he was always immaculately dressed, and groomed, ready for his close-up.
Everyone liked Niall and I was no different partly because, if I turned up to an event he was at, he'd take the heat off me in terms of the well-worn accusations that get lobbed in my direction.
Sporting a mahogany tan 365 days of the year, always dressed in his trademark black, and looking unfailingly younger than his age, Niall was just like me, only more so.
The photograph I unearthed of us, together with our mutual friend Sandra Byrne, reminds me of that day in the summer of 2007 when I turned up at a charity event, having just got back from Marbella, to find Niall not only more tanned than me, but also wearing the same suit. When I suggested that he was just trying to be like me he joked that, for all his problems, he still wouldn't wish that upon himself.
And yes, Niall had a problem. He fought a long and courageous battle against depression -- that merciless and life-sapping, invisible foe -- a battle he ultimately lost on Saturday evening, the day after his 45th birthday.
Though he was frank and open in talking about it when asked, you'd never have guessed from Niall when you met him socially -- warm, courteous, and always keen to help others -- what demons he was fighting for so long.
When I last spoke to Niall a couple of weeks ago, he was already looking forward to next month's VIP Style Awards and, with a shameless bribe that only someone with his charm could get away with, he sent a pair of sunglasses into my office just to make sure we didn't forget to invite him ...
His funeral in the coming days will be an unbearably sad event for so many, none more so than for his young son who he adored so much. But it will be also a time to share fond memories of a man who was so liked by so many.
And in attendance, no doubt, will be a fair number of Dublin's social set, models, entertainers and TV personalities, including some very well-known faces, all there to pay tribute to someone they genuinely considered to be a friend.
Do IFTAs hand out awards just to attract stars like Colin?
OK, some full disclosure about Saturday night's IFTAs. Firstly, I didn't get invited. Hardly a surprise, as four years ago I went for the only time. Sitting in a warehouse in the RDS for what seemed like 14 hours, surrounded by 1,000 drunken Irish set designers and assistant second unit camera men, and my ass numb with boredom by the time the shortlist for the 38th category was being called out, I slagged off the event to a journalist at the launch of my own event, the TVNow Awards. And I've never been invited back since.
Not that I miss it -- each year a procession of Irish TV presenters who attend both tell me what a chore it is to go to the IFTAs, and how they prefer everything about the TVNows.
In fairness to the IFTAs, they managed to get some decent stars to go this year, though a cynic (yes, my hand is up...) might suggest that the timing of this year's event -- the day before the BAFTA Awards in London -- was done to capitalise on the US stars who came to the UK for that event, and could therefore nip over for a night at the Burlo. Josh Hartnett didn't leave fly across the Atlantic just to attend the IFTAs...
But more worrying in my mind is how the winners are chosen. With the TVNow Awards, everything is done by public vote. With no public vote for the IFTA awards, it is easy to suspect that some are given out simply as a way of attracting stars -- do you honestly think Colin Farrell wasn't tipped off that he was going to win, as an inducement to get him to turn up?