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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ireland's Top Bird

Interview with Dustin the Turkey published in this Friday's Irish Examiner...

He has spent 20 years as Ireland’s top TV bird, scoring No 1 singles, running for president, and mercilessly roasting his star colleagues along the way. As Dustin the Turkey looks back on two plucky decades in showbiz, he seems as determined as ever to keep ruffling feathers in the small world of Irish celebrity.

Case in point: “I was in RTE the other day and I saw something that read, ‘Celebrating 20 Years of Comedy’,” he says. “I thought it was about me. Turns out it was about Fair City.”

So what is the secret of Dustin’s success and longevity in the business? “Everyone always said it was

me good looks, and I have to agree,” he states. “It’s a bit like Sharon Ni Bheolain and Amanda Byram: they’re bimbos, and they don’t have a brain in their heads, but at least they’re a bit of eye candy.”

Statements like that come thick and fast in a conversation with Dustin, so one can only assume that his poor manager, Darren Smith, has to spend many hours apologising and smoothing things out with offended celebs behind the scenes? “Oddly some people tend to get more upset if he doesn’t have a go at them,” Smith explains. “Bob Geldof actually sent back the first recording of their duet ‘Rat Trap’ because he didn’t feel Dustin was slagging him enough. Dustin was then only too happy to oblige.”

Be that as it may, Dustin must have made at least a few enemies over the years? “Well, there’s yer man Twink, and Anne Doyle, who I’m genuinely quite scared of,” Dustin admits. “Obviously there’s The Plank [Pat Kenny], and as for The Twig [Ryan Tubridy]: he’s a human bookmark with feet. If the camera adds ten pounds, does Tubridy actually exist?”

So is it safe to say that Dustin won’t be appearing on Tubridy’s inaugural Late Late Toy Show Friday week? “Well, The Plank never wanted me on,” Dustin states. “Gay Byrne, God rest his soul, always turned a blind eye when I showed up. I don’t get on with Tubridy, but I’d like to show up to wish all the boys and girls a happy Christmas.”

Dustin’s time in the spotlight has also coincided with the careers of other ‘animated’ stars, such as Wallace and Gromit in the UK (also celebrating their 20th anniversary this year), and, of course, our own Zig and Zag, and Podge and Rodge.

“You know, I’m happy for Podge and Rodge’s success, but they were only ever riding on my coattails,” he states. “I still see Zig and Zag a bit, but I can’t understand their English accents. They’re Brits. They sold out on the Irish people. They came to our planet from Zog, which is a place without any humour - kind of like Carlow. The Irish people embraced them, and they betrayed us by fobbing off to Channel 4.”

That hasn’t stopped Dustin from doing some work in the UK himself. “I did a few episodes of The Xtra Factor recently,” he admits. “What can I say? Holly Willoughby was all over me.”

No matter how big his success, Dustin never forgot his human comrades either. “Me old bud Eoin Dempsey was my favourite,” he reminisces. “I’ll never forget that Eoin Dempsey. He has his own radio show now, which is brutal, but fair play to him.

“[Ray] D’Arcy stitched me up though. We planned on forming a boy band. Now, the hardest thing D’Arcy ever had to do was to pick which sister to take to the debs, him being from Kildare and all. He said he’d take me RTE payments to get the band off the ground, but he just knicked me money and left RTE. I don’t talk to him anymore.”

Dustin’s interests have extended beyond pop culture too: he contested the 1997 presidential election, but he isn’t sure if he’ll bother running again. “The problem is, I don’t know how much more money there is left to be ripped off,” he says. “Is it worth me while? There aren’t that many brown envelopes going around anymore.”

Of course, Dustin has also had an illustrious pop career: six No 1 singles, six albums, and duets with the likes of Ronnie Drew, Joe Dolan, Chris De Burgh and Bob Geldof, not to mention, his (in)famous, and ultimately failed, entry for the 2008 Eurovision, ‘Irlande Douze Points’. He has seen off many pop contemporaries, and he knows exactly why. “I open my beak and a magical sound comes out. It’s unique. It’s like when people say Ronan Keating can’t sing. They’re right, but it’s still a unique voice, ya know what I mean?”

*Dustin - Twenty Years a-Pluckin’ is out now on DVD.

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