herald

Monday 23 April 2018

The onesie and only Wogan

LEGEND: Terry Wogan tells Keeley Bolger about the secrets of his success . . . and his fondness for a cosy romper suit

BEAR ESSENTIALS: Terry Wogan shows the collection of Pudsey Bears designed by celebrities at London's St Pancras International Station. The bears are to be auctioned to help Children in Need
BEAR ESSENTIALS: Terry Wogan shows the collection of Pudsey Bears designed by celebrities at London's St Pancras International Station. The bears are to be auctioned to help Children in Need

They're the all-in-one romper suits loved by teenagers, members of One Direction and reality TV stars. And so widespread is their appeal that even velvet-voiced broadcasting veteran Terry Wogan is a fan of the garment known as the "onesie".

"I have a onesie that my daughter gave me for Christmas," he says, chuckling. "I wear it all the time, of course. They're comfortable, not to get out of, but once you're in, you're in."

Although Wogan jokes that he's "twiddling his thumbs 11-and-a-half-months of the year" before springing into action for the fortnight surrounding annual televised fundraiser Children In Need, his busy diary suggests there isn't much slack for lazing around in a onesie.

As well as his Radio 2 show, Weekend Wogan, there is a new collection of his Sunday Telegraph columns, Something For The Weekend, to compile and a one-off special, Terry Wogan Presents The Very Best Of The Ed Sullivan Show.

The show will see 75-year-old Wogan looking back on the highlights of Sullivan's popular American series, which was broadcast from 1948 to 1971 and featured early appearances by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

"It's the show all others live in the shadows of in terms of variety because he had every star, every kind of star and not only that, all the people we regard as stars now," says Wogan, who lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, Helen – the "present Mrs Wogan".

He adds: "If you hadn't been on The Ed Sullivan Show, you hadn't made it."

Like many of his generation, the Limerick-born star saw only snatches of the news, but remembers the "furore" over Elvis's "waggling of the hips" when he was a teen.

GENTLE

So did he find watching the old clips like a trip down memory lane? Wogan laughs at the suggestion, pointing out that he has remained in that era.

"I've never left the bank," says the presenter, who started his career as a cashier before becoming an announcer for RTE five years later.

For 27 years, on and off, he soundtracked the BBC Radio 2 audience's mornings with his gentle breakfast broadcast, Wake Up To Wogan, which was scoring eight million listeners a week before it ended in 2009, making it the most popular morning radio programme in Europe.

Then there was his commentary for Eurovision, his chat show Wogan and, of course, Children In Need, which is broadcast later this month.

Wogan, who has two grown-up sons and a daughter – another daughter died shortly after birth – is immensely proud of the enduring telethon.

"Ever since 1980, the British public have given us nearly 700 million quid for Children In Need," he says, noting that he has been touched by the generosity of British, especially during the "economic disaster".

"Isn't that fantastic? It's the people's charity, you see, it's the odd 50p here and there," he says.

He's still very much in tune with the mood of the British nation, watching programmes that his fans watch, commenting whimsically on life through his columns and shows and joking that if he were to make cakes for a Children In Need bake sale, Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry would "probably find a soggy bottom".

His bakes might not be up to scratch, but he's a big fan of the BBC cookery contest. "It's exciting and extraordinary that baking is the new rock and roll. What next? I imagine possibly an interior design competition? Who paints the best wall?"

Although he doesn't rate himself as a "tremendous conversationalist" – something his army of TOGs (Terry's Old Geezers/Gals) would dispute – Wogan makes for warm company, laughing freely and sharing plenty of gentle jokes.

He regularly had his radio audience in stitches with his trademark giggles, which would erupt as he read innuendo-filled letters from one of his millions of faithful TOGs on air.

Another regular segment on Wake Up To Wogan was Janet and John, a series of stories narrated by Wogan involving newsreader John 'Boggy' Marsh getting into trouble with his wife, Janet.

LAUGHTER

Laden with Carry On-style jokes, his narration would often get lost in a flurry of uncontrollable laughter.

"I'm not a big rehearser. I felt I should be reading Janet and John in the same way that the people listening to it [were hearing it], so it just came out as a nasty shock to everybody," says the grandfather of five.

When it comes to humour, he has an easy route to success. "The greatest teller of stories I ever knew was an Irishman called Tom," says Wogan. "He always used to break down and laugh before he got to the punchline, and that made everybody else laugh."

He attributes a great deal of his happiness to Helen, a former model to whom he has been married for "47 or 48 years". "I've got to get this right because whenever I say how long we've been married, she always corrects me.

"I've had a very happy marriage and I've always been an optimist. I've been lucky with my temperament. It'd probably irritate most people in the morning, but there you are, I'm cheerful.

"And my wife has been my rock. She's always been straightforward, she's always been faithful and she's always been kind. She's as near perfect as I deserve."

The couple haven't sketched out plans for their 50th anniversary, but Wogan's own wishes for the special day are modest. "I'm planning on staying alive," he says.

As for his career, he's pragmatic. "There's a time to live and a time to die," he says. "There's a time to make an entrance and a time to head for the exit. I'll try and stretch it out as long as possible."

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