Richard Chambers: Without humour the last year or so would have swallowed me whole

'When younger journalists ask me for career advice, I always talk about the importance of vulnerability'
Richard Chambers: Without humour the last year or so would have swallowed me whole

Richard Chambers photographed in the news room in Ballymount. Picture: Marc O'Sullivan

I was born in Belfast in '89 and moved to Lahinch when I was four. My dad was gone at a young age. It’s myself, my mam and my brother. The three of us are all we've ever needed, we've been through it all together. My older brother has been sick for a number of years with cancer and my mam has her own health issues as well. They've been worried sick through Covid and have been cocooning from the get go. It's been hard to keep the eye on the ball at work, while also being really worried about how it was affecting the family at home.

I saw them very, very little during the pandemic. One of the few times I did get to see them was over Christmas. I've never spent a Christmas away from my family. We had Christmas morning out the back in Rush, turkey sandwiches and exchanging presents with no hugs or anything. Then I jumped into the car for four hours down to Louise [O’Neill] and the new family in West Cork. In the ten months since then I could probably count on one hand the times I've seen my family. That's been really tough.

I've always been very Covid conscious. I think you have to be when you're out there covering it every single day. When people start recognising you as well, you really want to make sure you're setting a good example. One time I was driving across the Midlands for work and I pulled up in a petrol station in Kinnegad and two lads jumped out of the car and started filming me. I asked, 'What's going on here. What are you doing lads?' They said 'you're outside your 5k.' I was like, 'I am wearing my mask and I'm on my way to work so best of luck with that one.'

I don't really believe anybody is born to be anything. I think people can go a million different ways depending on whatever circumstances present themselves. There's a huge degree of chance with everything as well. I felt a strange pressure when I was in school, to go and do something with Leaving Cert points. The whole points race economy had a huge impact on how teachers advised me and how I looked at what I needed to do after school. I wasn't really thinking about myself and what I wanted to do. I went to study Law in UCD and I didn't enjoy that at all. I ended up doing journalism as a little bit of a hobby.

One of the greatest challenges I've faced professionally was getting my start in journalism. There's so few options. I was firing out CVs to everyone, and cold-calling people. It was a very depressing experience just being told no repeatedly to your face. I was very close to having to give up entirely when there was no money coming in, and I was just trying to keep on the straight and narrow. Things could have gone badly off the rails at that point, so I was lucky that the breaks came when they did.

Richard Chambers says the person he turns to is his author girlfriend Louise O'Neill. Picture: David Keane
Richard Chambers says the person he turns to is his author girlfriend Louise O'Neill. Picture: David Keane

I'm most proud of where I come from. I'm proud that I've never had anything handed to me in life. Everything has been a bit of a scrap. I'm proud that I've been able to show initiative to get me to where I am. I'd like to be remembered for honesty of effort and for never being a sellout or fraud. There's been opportunities along the line where I could have gone a different way but it wouldn't have felt quite like me and it wouldn't have felt honest for me to go and do it. 

I'd like to be remembered as staying true to myself. I’d like to be remembered as always turning up, 90% of everything is just turning up I think my best quality is my lack of cynicism. There is a difference between questioning and cynicism. Cynicism is such a toxic thing and it drives me up the wall. Why would people limit themselves with cynicism and train themselves to believe the worst in any situation? I always look at things logically, but also with a degree of optimism. I like to think I have a decent sense of humour as well. I think without humour the last year or so would probably have swallowed me whole. I think it's important to sort of keep some level of humour throughout and that's one thing I've leaned on.

The person I turn to most is Louise O'Neill. She has just amazing wisdom and an enormous well of empathy. She's great for advice at every opportunity. You can always go to her and have an honest conversation with her. I could talk to Louise about anything over any number of hours.

When younger journalists ask me for career advice, I always talk about the importance of vulnerability. I think there's strength in opening up or admitting you feel a little bit out of your depth and feel like you're struggling with things, I think that's really important. This is an enormously stressful career path and I think people don't look after themselves enough, and that's as important as anything professionally I can tell them.

When I look back on the last year or so, it surprises me how quickly everybody adapted to being in the most abnormal situation of all time. We're in the strangest set of circumstances, absolutely everything we knew about the world completely changed, and for the most part, everybody made a really good go of it. The ability for humans to just take what's thrown at them and go, ‘alright, here's where we are now let's, let's have a go of it’ - that's pretty amazing.

  • Richard's first book, A State of Emergency: The Story of Ireland’s Covid Crisis, published by Harper Collins is in bookshops now 

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