Charlie Bird reveals his greatest heartbreak and hopes for his legacy in new RTÉ documentary


Charlie Bird has opened up about his heartache that his terminal illness will mean the end of his relationship with his wife.

n the documentary Charlie Bird: Strong and Clear, broadcast on RTE1 on Monday June 13, the seasoned journalist reveals that his wife, Claire, is “the human being” closest to him.

“That’s what makes me so sad, I’m going to leave this relationship.”

In the feature film programme, she talks about how she would go about what she jokingly calls ‘bird watching’ with her friends in the RTE canteen before he invites her for a drink , and they clicked.

“I don’t know what it was, I was 37, Charlie was 57. My friends call it ‘the rugged ride,’ so there you go,” she smiles.

For his daughters, he feels great sorrow at losing their father.

“My two daughters are my life,” he told the cameras while walking with Croagh Patrick.

He also reflects on how his role as the country’s leading news correspondent for decades estranged him from his young family.

“Throughout the journey, there were critical moments in their lives when I wasn’t home.”

In the documentary, he looks back at the stories that mattered most to him – the Stardust tragedy, the IRA ceasefires, the NIB scandal, the election of Mary Robinson as the first female president and the referendum on marriage equality.

Incredibly, the most charismatic and tenacious journalist in the country recounts his terror when he arrived at RTE in 1974 because of his bad spelling.

“I failed my Inter (Cert), I failed my Leaving, I never went to university, I couldn’t spell.

“The day I joined RTE’s editorial staff, I was scared. I hid in my inside pocket a pocket dictionary.

“I would walk out of the newsroom, walk into a booth in the restroom, and look for a word I couldn’t spell.”

The complicity between the reporter and his RTE colleagues is evident in the documentary where he examines his outstanding reports.

In the opening minutes, behind-the-scenes footage shows Ryan Tubridy removing his microphone and hugging a defeated Charlie Bird in the back halls of Montrose Studios after his first appearance on The Late Late Show to speak to the nation about his motor neurone disease.

Of his legacy, he says, “My whole life was part of this whole story. I believe everyone has their time.

“I hope my legacy will be at least things I tried to do.”

It’s something the Irish public recognizes in the outpouring of support since his diagnosis. His wife, Claire smiled as she observed, “Everybody loves him. I can’t go anywhere without people giving her the biggest hug ever.

Charlie Bird, Loud and Clear will air on RTE One on Monday June 13 at 9:35 p.m.

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