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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Not holding back

'Meg Ryan was a rude twerp': This is what Parky had to say about that infamous interview

The beloved presenter also explains why Muhammad Ali should not receive a knighthood.

BBCWorldwide / YouTube

MICHAEL PARKINSON HAS interviewed 2,000 people for 800 television shows in his decades-long career.

But none have been more talked about than his exchange with Hollywood actress Meg Ryan for the BBC.

Reversing roles this morning, Parky – as he is affectionately known – tells Miriam O’Callaghan exactly what he thought of the actress.

“…She wasn’t difficult. She was a twerp,” he says.

“I mean, she let herself down very badly. She was rude. She didn’t want to come on.

She was at the end of a tour for a film which she committed to which she knew was a turkey [Proof of Life]. It wasn’t a very nice film at all. And she knew that. She was at the end of the tour trying to sell the notion of this movie and it wasn’t working.

“Russell Crowe had walked out on her so that didn’t help her mood. And apart from which, she’s one of those kind of actresses who had a neurotic.”

He describes going to her dressing room ahead of the broadcast as he’d never met her before and encountering her entourage being at the other end of the room with their backs to their boss.

“I knew that something was amiss,” he continued. “She was very rude to [fellow guests] Trinny and Susanna, ignored them and then tried to pretend she hadn’t heard what they had been saying. She was sitting in the back of the set, for God’s sake.

I started looking at her and thought, ‘I don’t like you very much’. And she was looking at me thinking, ‘I don’t like you very much’.

“So we had a little flash. She doesn’t send me Christmas cards and either do I.
We don’t miss each other so that’s alright.”

Ryan isn’t the only one to catch his ire as he discusses growing up in an English mining town, the swinging sixties, the internet and modern-day fame with the RTÉ presenter.

Trying to illuminate a point about how the internet can be an untrustworthy source of information, Parkinson reveals that he doesn’t believe Muhammad Ali should receive a knighthood from the British monarchy.

“[It] is not a good idea for many, many reasons. He was a spokesperson for the black Muslim movement. He was a racist.

“I interviewed him four times. On one occasion, if I had said what he said to me, I would have been arrested at the studio.”

TheFlexEffect / YouTube

However, he adds that he does believe Ali was the ‘greatest fighter and showman’ he’d ever seen.

He was an extraordinary entertainer. But there was a side to him that was not pleasant.

“But if you actually saw his life via the internet, you’d actually understand why they want to give him a knighthood. But that’s not the truth about him at all. There is a more complex man there. Only the pleasant stuff is there. The public want to see the jovial, funny, outrageous man.

“They don’t want to see the guy that was the paid servant of the black muslim movement and used all his skill to actually promote a message in the 1970s which was tasteful: ‘Black men mustn’t marry white women. Or white women dress foolishly.’”

“This was a man with a, let’s say, conventional sex life. There was a deal of hypocrisy in what he was saying.”

A lucky man

Parkinson, now aged 80, has been given the all-clear after a battle with prostate cancer and speaks to O’Callaghan about how he has been lucky throughout his life and career – from being born to parents in a mining village who had ambitions for him and would have “kicked him up the arse if he went down” the mines after his father.

Of being a journalist at age 16 because he walked into a newsroom and said that’s what he wanted. Of coming to Dublin for the first time to interview Brendan Behan to see what happened to his expensive set of false teeth, paid for by the Daily Express through the NHS (Behan gave them away to a man on O’Connell Street who sold trinkets with a Hollywood smile). Of getting a job in the BBC despite his accent because of the Northern revival thanks to the Beatles, George Best et al.

He has stories of flirting outrageously with Lauren Bacall and introducing Fred Astaire to an audience who had only ever seen him on a giant screen 30-feet high.

“It was a wonderful, exciting time to interview these people,” he says, noting that movie stars were mysterious because their lives were not played out in front of us as they are today.

“They were great days. I love that time in my life.”

Read: 10 of the most awkward television interviews ever

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