Patrick Kielty's Borderline tour in Leeds and Huddersfield: Comedian on the Troubles and our polarised politics

Patrick Kielty is back on the road with his first tour in seven years. John Blow finds out why it’s the comedian’s most personal show yet before he heads to Yorkshire.

Patrick Kielty’s amiable smile is evident even in his voice as he speaks over the phone while looking out on the beaches of County Down, Northern Ireland, where he was raised during the Troubles.

He has done much since then, but the latter fact is relevant because his new show Borderline, which is coming to Yorkshire soon, explores the idea of nationality and division from the perspective of a man whose embattled homeland accomplished something rare: it found peace.

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It is Kielty’s first time on the road for seven years after he and wife Cat Deeley moved back to Britain from California, settling in London with their children, frustratingly, shortly before the pandemic began.

Cat Deeley and Patrick Kielty arriving at the 2012 Glamour Women of the Year Awards in Berkeley Square, London. Picture: Ian West/PA Wire.

Following major world events such as Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s a show he has been developing in his mind for some time.

“It’s probably the most personal show that I’ve done,” says Kielty, 51.

“There’s lots of comedy in there and there’s lots of other little bitter-sweet bits, which I think a lot of people weren’t expecting. The reaction has been really good.”

Despite his easygoing disposition, Kielty’s upbringing in particular was not one which lent itself to easy laughs.

Loyalist paramilitaries shot dead his father, Jack, in their home town of Dundrum in 1988, an event explored in his 2018 documentary for the BBC, My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me.

Though three men were convicted in connection with the killing, they were set free after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 – a deal for which Kielty voted.

He says: “The heart of the show is really about growing up in a little village that was heaven for a seven-year-old. Looking out on it now, you’ve got four miles beaches and you’ve got the mountains and all the rest and (back then) thinking that where you grew up was heaven.

“Then realising that place was actually in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, slowly realising that it wasn’t heaven, you know, when my dad got killed, very much realising it was the opposite of heaven.

“(And it’s about) how this place got itself into a mess by thinking that one side was right or the other side was right, and life was black and white. And there’s very few places in the world that actually make peace. So, my mind went to this place of: well actually, we did make peace and not only did we make peace, but that place flourished and completely transformed and now has 130 cruise ships a year coming in and is a tourist destination.

“So (it explores) the idea that you can fix something which is completely broken by giving ground rather than trying to take control of stuff, that was where my head was at the starting point of the show.”

The tour is described in promotional material as Kielty’s “personal take on borders, national identity and the future of the Union in a post-Brexit landscape”.

It comes to the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield on Thursday June 16 and Leeds City Varieties on Saturday June 18.

Trump was US president during his time living in the States, where he saw the rise of claims about “fake news” and toxic debate.

“You had that sort of Republican-Democrat thing. Coming back to the UK, people were being painted into a Brexiteer or Remainer box.

“If you look at what’s going on in the world at the moment, I think the world appears to becoming much more polarized and rather than saying ‘The truth is somewhere in the middle’, we sometimes like to dismiss stuff now.

“Like this idea of fake news is a weird thing. Fake news just seems to be a way of completely dismissing another opinion.

“And weirdly, people believe it.”

He adds that in 1980s Northern Ireland, “you kind of used to think that you were crazy, and everybody here was crazy and you go to England and people kind of thought that people here were crazy too”.

But actually, “we were just ordinary people going through a crazy time, who managed to rescue themselves from it”.

Borderline explores the idea that there is something that the country can tell the rest of the world, and say: “This is kind of how it goes really bad; and this is kind of how it gets better; and maybe there’s something in here that if you want to take away, things might change.”

It’s the morning after St Patrick’s Day when Kielty talks to The Yorkshire Post, but his head is clear.

“This is the saddest story of any Irish man ever called Paddy who was on stage last night at eight o’clock,” he says.

“Not only could I not drink because I was working but I was actually looking out at like 500 to 600 Irish people who had been drinking since lunchtime. And essentially, you’re looking at a room just slowly turning into the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, and you’re not part of it.

“That’s that’s why I’ve been able to actually do interviews today because if I hadn’t been working, there’s no way that a man called Paddy who is a Paddy would be doing anything other than nursing his head the day after Paddy’s Day.”

He did, however, find the time to enjoy being back in his native County Down during the tour’s run of Irish dates, which are still going on.

“It feels like a little bit of a mini-break, I’m not going to lie. Where you can have a little dad nap in the afternoon and in the morning, there’s not a four-year-old bouncing on your chest with Lego. So I’m feeling overly smug with myself. I know when I get home next Monday things are going to flip around, so I’m making the most of it.”

After more than a decade in America, Kielty, Deeley and their two sons, Milo and James, moved to London in January 2020.

Like most people, the following two years were spent mostly at home while restrictions were in place.

Kielty says: “The secret of comedy is timing, isn’t that what they say?”

It meant that all the things they expected to enjoy when returning to the UK had to be put on hold.

“It weirdly feels that we came back in January 2020 and our lives are almost just starting here in the UK again in 2022,” says Kielty. “And it sort of feels quite good.”

This year, he makes his screen acting debut in film Ballywalter and after finishing his dates across Ireland and Northern Ireland, Kielty comes to Britain in May, with Yorkshire near the end of his run. “The Yorkshire mentality is very much like the Northern Irish mentality,” he says.

“There’s a straightforwardness. You know where you stand when you’re playing in Yorkshire and you know exactly where you stand when you’re playing in Northern Ireland. So my way of doing things always fit very nicely whenever I’m there. I’m looking forward to getting back up.”

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