herald

Monday 23 April 2018

I'm still opening all the messages from well-wishers – John

THERE is a huge bag of letters and cards in the front room of the home of John Murray.

So vast is the mailbag, the RTE star is only 10pc through reading the messages from well-wishers that have arrived since he returned to the airwaves on November 4 after a six-month absence battling depression.

"Looking at the letters from kind people remind me, now I'm back on the radio, I'd better stay there," Murray told the Herald. Watching the 49-year-old at work, one would never guess any of this had happened at all. Despite a lost taxi delivering John to the outside broadcast in a Santry sports hall minutes before he is due on air, the RTE star is now calmly working around a huge circle of finalists for Operation Transformation, one by one getting their stories.

Fellow broadcasters often say there's no one better at drawing people out than Murray. And you would have to agree after watching him in action.

"I was drinking half a bottle of wine a day," one woman tells John.

"Who was drinking the other half?" he asks. "I was," came the reply. Cue laughter in the hall.

But the "dread and anxiety" suffered by the broadcaster last April were enough to take him off the air as depression, in his own words, "took up residence for several months".

But despite being a high-profile RTE face, he said members of the public he met during that time proved sensitive.

"Most people who approached me would say 'how are you doing?'. Very few would say 'what's wrong?' The expression people would use is burnout, people would say knowingly as in my brother/sister/mother/father had a bit of that," he revealed.

But John named it depression, not burnout, when he returned to the airwaves earlier this month, in an on-air address that made front-page news.

John said: "The fact that I had been out for six or seven months prompted lots of speculation in the media over what was wrong with me so I wanted to set the record straight."

He was widely praised for the frankness of how he spoke about his condition but said he didn't labour for weeks over the words used.

"No I didn't spend that long on it. It was once you make a decision to say something like that, because it's very private, then you need a few words to convey to people you have been through a tough time but you're back," he said.

Anxiety

However he admits he almost never made that first broadcast back. As the day approached that he would return to RTE, so did the anxiety.

"A few days before I came back I was thinking, 'Oh God, I've to do it again after being out for so long'."

Among the messages John received on his first day back was one from Pat Kenny, who departed to rival station Newstalk during his absence.

"It was lovely to get a message from Pat but at the same time, I think Sean (O'Rourke) is doing a great job," he said.

In the days that followed he was swamped with letters from well-wishers and messages of support from other broadcasters. Declining offers from the Late Late Show to talk further on the subject, all he wants to do now is get on with his job as a broadcaster.

"I am keen now to change the focus with things like talking to the leaders on Operation Transformation on my radio show and hearing their stories. It puts things in perspective," he said.

hnews@herald.ie

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