CORK shock-jock Neil Prendeville was part of a small group of Cork-based media who boarded a flight from Cork Airport at 4pm on Tuesday October 19.
They were flying as guests of the Cork Convention Bureau (CCB) and were due at 6.30pm to meet up with approximately 40 influential British travel agents who organise overseas conferences. The event, supported by Tourism Ireland, was taking place at celebrity chef Richard Corrigan’s acclaimed Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill restaurant in Central London.
Having landed in Britain, the group, accompanied by CCB chairman, Seamus Heaney, boarded the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station before being whisked by taxi to the Picadilly Circus eaterie.
The evening was largely centred around networking with Cork City Lord Mayor, Mick O’Connell and Cork County Mayor, Cllr Jim Daly giving pre-dinner speeches on what the city and county had to offer in terms of conference and tourism facilities. Cllr Daly provided a powerpoint presentation.
Members of the Cork delegation who were in the restaurant that night say that it was far from an alcohol-fuelled event and that it was more “a serious but relaxed” business networking event.
Mr Prendeville, who also owns a bar and restaurant in Cork city, gave an impromptu speech highlighting the importance of Cork’s indigenous food and drink companies, speaking about the likes of Barry’s Tea, Clonakilty Black Pudding and Jameson Whiskey.
On the menu for that night was an Irish-themed meal of Irish smoked salmon and Irish stew. The media present never got to sample Corrigan’s fare however as, accompanied by Mr Heaney, they had to leave Bentley’s by taxi at 8.30pm to catch the Heathrow Express again.
The night of October 19 was particularly wet and windy and upon arrival at Heathrow, the group discovered that the 10.15pm flight had been delayed for a half hour and they made their way to the airport lounge to pass the time.
However, after the group took their seats in the first aisle and up to the closing of all airplane doors, another 30 minutes elapsed. It was lashing rain outside and visibility was not good and take-off was subsequently delayed once again.
The plane eventually began to move off and it was while the plane was taxiing down the runway that a woman seated near Mr Prendeville and the air hostesses sitting opposite him observed what was taking place beneath Mr Prendeville’s in-flight magazine.
It was this activity and the subsequent lack of action by Aer Lingus that lead to the Irish Examiner article of Wednesday morning and what has become one of the most talked about stories of the year.
As the dust settles, however, it should be noted that there are many questions raised by the version of events offered by Neil Prendeville and his celebrity lawyer, Gerald Kean, in relation to the infamous events of October 19 last.
The day the story broke, Mr Prendeville took to the airwaves to make a statement, detailing how he had indeed travelled to the event at Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill restaurant.
How he remembered being in the restaurant, giving a speech and remembered being outside the restaurant.
His memory lapsed from that point on however.
He said he remembered nothing about the subsequent return taxi and train journeys to Heathrow or the subsequent plane journey — aside from ingesting painkillers before boarding the plane.
“I know that I arrived there [at the restaurant] by train and by taxi. And I do not recall how I got back to the airport. But I did get back to the airport and I did travel on the flight in question. And because of a persistent neck Injury I took those painkillers again prior to boarding the plane along with alcohol while at the restaurant.
“And as a result I remember absolutely nothing about the flight itself or even coming through the airport or even how I got home,” he said.
Mr Prendeville was very clear in his statement. He had taken three pain killing tablets before leaving Cork Airport at 4pm that afternoon. He hadn’t taken any other painkillers until “prior to boarding the plane”.
He only mentions drinking alcohol at the restaurant when he had full memory. He didn’t mention anything about drinking in the airport as he says his memory at that point was wiped out by Nurofen — except for the full recollection of taking the drugs before getting on to the flight.
In contrast, his solicitor had a fuller version of events.
On the Last Word with Matt Cooper on Today FM on Wednesday evening, Mr Kean initially confirmed his client and friend “had a bad neck for quite some time” and “was taking painkillers”.
“He was in agony” after the speech to the audience of 40 or so British travel agents at Bentley’s, Kean elaborated to radio listeners, and then took some more tablets.
Kean also said his client took a third dose of tablets on the way to the airport, “then took some more drink and can’t remember anything”.
Mr Kean’s version of events suggests that Mr Prendeville remembered more about the period prior to boarding flight EI725 when talking to his solicitor than he told his radio listeners.
Remember, in his disclosure on radio he said: “I remember absolutely nothing about the flight itself or even coming through the airport or even how I got home.”
Yet Kean’s version of events suggested that while he spoke of total memory loss, he still remembered having drink either on the train to Heathrow or in a lounge at Heathrow as well as popping the pills.
“It didn’t happen all at once. That was over an hour to two hours before he got on the plane,” Mr Kean added.
Across Facebook and Twitter, these variations in Neil Prendeville’s memory loss have been perturbing media watchers.
How can you claim to have such a blackout and yet still remember taking pills in the middle of the blackout?
Also, why does Kean say that his client also remembers drinking prior to boarding the plane? Neil Prendeville says he remembers nothing more than taking the painkillers.
Neil Prendeville is a hugely successful broadcaster, the most successful operating outside Dublin. Inspiring equal amounts of adoration and irritation amongst Corkonians, it is too easy to dismiss people’s anger at Prendeville over this story as being personal. It isn’t. What happened was appalling and there are too many questions lingering after his statement and too many questions about the aftermath that Aer Lingus should answer.
If Mr Prendeville was in such a distressed state from alcohol and over-the-counter drugs, how did he manage to board the flight without requiring help from airline crew?
And as mentioned earlier this week, why didn’t the air hostesses report his behaviour to more senior staff so he could be taken aside and questioned in Cork Airport? Many, including his lawyer, have wondered why wasn’t he greeted by gardaí?
What has shocked people about this story is that the event happened in public — that such a high-profile person could indulge in such an act flying into a city where he starts the day with 100,000 listeners.
What has also angered them is Aer Lingus’s initial attempts to ignore the event. Were they too embarrassed to approach the local celebrity? Where was their concern for their staff and passengers?
The painkiller/amnesia defence has also incurred enormous anger in people who see it as a failure to take responsibility.
However, where this will end for Neil Prendeville — none of us know.