Celebrities line up to honour charity workers

Ireland’s celebrities lined up last night to honour three people for their tireless charity work in Ireland.

Louis Walsh presented awards to Caroline Downey Desmond, Derek O’Neill, and Dr Fin Breatnach at the Variety Humanitarian Awards Gala ceremony at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin.

Dr Breatnach is a retired consultant paediatric oncologist and humanitarian and was honoured for his work in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where he has offered healthcare advice in haematology and oncology.

Caroline Downey Desmond was honoured for her fundraising efforts with the annual Childline concert and her work as director of MCD events.

Mr O’Neill is a humanitarian and philanthropist. He was named Irish Autism Person of the Year last year and received a Pride of Éireann award from Hearts and Minds in Manchester on St Patrick’s Day. His clients include some of the most influential people in Hollywood.

Mr O’Neill last night said he was honoured to receive the award. “It was like, ‘oh my God, oh my God!’ I couldn’t believe it. I never thought I would even be nominated, let alone win it. My first reaction when Variety showed me all the people who had received it was that they were all famous. There wasn’t one of them that wasn’t well known and I started laughing, thinking someone must be asking, ‘who is Derek O’Neill?’”

Born in the Liberties in inner Dublin in 1964, Mr O’Neill nonetheless said he had an affinity with the outdoors.

“I used to be known as ‘Nature Boy’ because while all the other kids in school were playing football, I would go off fishing or just see what nature had to offer. I liked being by myself.”

Driven with a passion to better people’s lives, he first decided to change his own and, as soon as he left school, he joined the Irish Army, learning self discipline, then studying psychotherapy at Griffith College in Dublin, qualifying at 27.

Mr O’Neill is a self-described transformational therapist — a kind of Mary Poppins for adults. “In the therapeutic business you have to have rapport, you have to connect with the other person and have the ability to listen at a deep level.”

He coaches, cajoles, and encourages music and Hollywood stars, CEOs, and powerful politicians, offering them the same kind of practical compassion he saves for needy children in India.

“I deal a lot with celebrities and they also need help, he says. “It can be difficult for someone to make the transformation from an ordinary life to extraordinary wealth. The important thing for them is to learn coping skills to help them deal with whatever life has to offer.”

As well as aiding celebrities, he has charity projects in 11 countries: Bolivia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, England, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Peru, Scotland, Tibet, and the US.

More than 35,000 children have been helped with food, education, clean water, shelter, and nurturing due to his efforts.

Since the death of his wife Linda two years ago, family life consists of downtime with his son Gavin, 27, daughter Orla, 26, and 16-month-old granddaughter Electra. “She already has me wrapped around her little finger. I love her to bits,” Mr O’Neill said.

Now he joins a glittering gallery of Variety recipients that includes Winston Churchill, Henry Kissinger, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Sammy Davis Jr, Roger Moore, and Simon Cowell.

Children’s charity Variety was established in the US in 1928 and is dedicated to promoting and protecting the health and well-being of children around the world.

Variety Ireland was formed in 1954 and has been assisting disabled and disadvantaged children across the country.


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