Entertainment & Arts

Dermot O'Leary pays tribute to Sir Terry Wogan

Sir Terry Wogan and Dermot O'Leary
Image caption In March 2015 Sir Terry Wogan sang The Floral Dance during Dermot O'Leary's 24-hour dance marathon for Comic Relief

Dermot O'Leary stepped into his 'hero' Sir Terry Wogan's shoes in November, when Sir Terry had to pull out of presenting Children in Need for the first time since the TV event's launch in 1980. The Radio 2 DJ pays tribute to his friend, colleague and mentor.

I woke up yesterday morning, checked the news on my phone, and with great sadness, saw a familiar face smiling at me, the same old glint in the eye, the arch look, exuding that warmth, wit, intelligence, and that unspoken understanding with whoever he was broadcasting to at the time, that said:

"This is all a load of auld nonsense, and please God don't take anything of what I'm saying seriously."

All of that in one facial expression, one gesture, one beat. It was all he needed. Wogan was, a minimalist, he didn't do much to make you laugh, smile, cry, think. Because he didn't have to.

That's a rarefied skill on television, but on radio? That most unforgiving of mediums, where seconds can feel like an eternity, it's a gift.

Terry had many gifts as a broadcaster. Live TV, he could do in his sleep, not easy sometimes, when you've got five or six people talking in your ear, telling you you're talking too much, and to get to the next item; Radio, where he could fill hours from a couple of emails and had the ability to turn the show on a sixpence.

But all that would be irrelevant if not for the fact that he was everyone's friend.

That sounds a lot easier than it is, to be able to jump from interviewing, being interested by and being interesting to, say the Archbishop of Westminster on Thought for the day, to a Hollywood star on the couch, to a casual listener or viewer, and still find commonality in all, is a skill that can't be learnt.

And all the while, he had THAT look, which told us, "come on, this isn't real work".

One of Jeremy Vine's memories is still my favourite, when he met the Queen on a visit to Radio 2.

"How long have you worked here?" she asked Terry. He simply replied: "Your Majesty, I've never worked here."

Image caption Sir Terry Wogan greeted the Queen when she visited the BBC's Broadcasting House on the day before her 80th birthday

Terry meant a great deal to me, he was a friend, a colleague and a mentor. He was not only a great broadcaster, he was one of THE great broadcasters.

He was also an Irish broadcaster; growing up here in the 80's with him on the radio he was a connection to home for my parents' generation, and by extension myself.

Indeed in a time when it wasn't the easiest place to be Irish, Terry made it easier.

He was trusted. He himself confessed to being what he called 'A West Brit'. He loved and consumed the broadcasting and the culture of the UK at a time when that in itself may have been unpopular back in Ireland.

But that, for me, was an important part of his character, he was proud of being an Irishman, but always bridged the gap between the two countries. He was one of us, wherever you came from.

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Media captionSir Terry Wogan performing The Floral Dance for his friend Dermot O'Leary

Radio 2 welcome

When I started at Radio 2 it was an intimidating atmosphere, for no other reason than it was full of legends (and I don't use the term lightly) wherever you turned.

My first Radio 2 dinner I was introduced to David Jacobs (who when finding out my age, told me "I was still on my first wife then!") Bob Harris, Paul Gambaccini, to name but three.

Towards the end of the night I got talking to Terry, who knew who I was (extraordinary for me to find out your hero knows who you are) we talked about Ireland, my parents, Irish rugby, and what it was like to be at Radio 2.

As he and Helen made to leave, he leant into me and said, he'd not give me too much advice, but if there was one thing on radio it was to "Never be afraid of the silence".

In other words, stop, listen, don't feel the need to gabble, less haste, and less speed.

January has been a pretty rotten month, if we're judging it by losing icons.

And just as you can see Bowie's influence in music and fashion generations down the line, so too can you see Wogan's influence in the great broadcasters of today, the couches of Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton, Alan Carr, and James Corden would look and feel a lot different if Wogan had never been with us.

It's not my place to, but I'm sure I speak for many, when I say we've lost a hero, a voice, a presence, a friend. "Never be afraid of the silence". I'll try Terry, but it's deafening in your absence.

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