Hugh Wallace podcast: I danced with Freddie Mercury in Studio 54

Home of the Year judge Hugh Wallace opens up about his dyslexia diagnosis at 18, giving up alcohol and the impact of his father’s drinking on his childhood and meeting the love of his life 34 years ago in The George
Hugh Wallace podcast: I danced with Freddie Mercury in Studio 54

Hugh Wallace Weekend podcast

Home of the Year host Hugh Wallace is back on our screens for the programme’s seventh series. Having seen over 150 homes since it began, Wallace says he is still quite excited when he visits somewhere new.

“Every time the door opens I love it,” he tells Vickie Maye in ‘The Moments That Made Me', the Weekend podcast from the Irish Examiner in association with Green & Black's.

Wallace’s life journey has been an interesting one and his career path was influenced by a dyslexia diagnosis just weeks before he was to sit his Leaving Certificate when he was 18.

“I was the idiot in the school. My language skills were appalling. It was at Easter [before the Leaving Cert] that Greg Collins, my English teacher, said ‘I think we need to get you tested for dyslexia.” 

Wallace says if it wasn’t for that teacher’s intervention he wouldn’t have studied architecture after school and instead would have been a cadet in the army. “I was a very lucky man.” 

Alcohol was another hurdle to be overcome in his life, both his own problem drinking and his father’s too.

“My dad was a placid drinker. He got grumpy and maybe a little verbally abusive. I was an only child and my mum deeply loved my dad. It particularly affected my mother who had to handle that all by herself. Amazingly, after a row in the house with my mum, he got to the bottom of the barrel, signed himself in and never drank again when I was 17.

My mum and dad had a loving relationship and my dad was a gentleman, such a loving man but unfortunately he had a horrible disease. That disease is out there today. 

"My dad got better and I started to drink,” he says. “When I was 52 I went to the doctor at the bottom of the barrel and he said ‘you’re an alcoholic’. I was very relieved I wasn’t going to die because now I knew I could stop it. I knew what it was and I knew I could get help. I did counselling and went to the Stanhope Centre for rehabilitation."

He says “there were a couple of incidents” where he struggled with alcohol during the first lockdown. “People do slip and you can’t bash yourself over a slip. You have to say 'that was a slip’ and you need to talk to people. I’m very lucky with Martin. He doesn’t give out to me, he says ‘we’re on a journey’.” 

He met his partner Martin on Valentine’s Day in The George 34 years ago and they became close despite a 12-year age gap. “It didn’t matter because we were illegal then anyway. That was an interesting start to the journey and it was one of friendship - we just got on. Underneath it all, he’s my very best friend.” 

Wallace says he enjoyed the gay scene in the 1980s and 1990s, from being the ‘must-have’ guest at heterosexual parties to experience a brush with greatness on a famous dancefloor.

“In the 90s you became a must-have at a dinner party. Heterosexual dinner parties needed two gays to show how liberal they are. Now we’re homogenised. We used to be the cream on the top of the milk. All of a sudden you have to conform. I think that in an odd way, gay culture has lost an edge of rebellion socially. 

"In 1982 I was in Studio 54 in New York and was lucky enough to have a dance with Freddie Mercury. That fervour, that expression of liberalism or respect of sexuality, we don’t need to discuss that today. If you look at all the great dance music, the fashion, that all was driven from the underground, from gay culture and I just think that’s lost.”

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