Legend Taaffe the ultimate gentleman

I’m going to go back to my RTÉ days for my best interview.

I was always very interested in horse racing. My best interview is one I had the honour of doing with one of my idols in sport, the late great Pat Taaffe who famously rode Arkle, probably the greatest steeplechaser of all time.

The Arkle era was the mid 60s and I got to meet him relatively soon after that. I think the year was 1975.

At the time the BBC World Service had a series going called ‘A Day to Remember’ where they interviewed celebrities around the world about their greatest days, and I mean sporting celebrities of the highest, highest order.

In Ireland they picked Pat Taaffe and they invited the then Head of Sport for RTÉ, Fred Cogley, to do this interview.

Fred came to me and said, “You’re a very keen young man, you have some radio experience, I’ll offer it to you if you’d like to do it”.

Sure I was absolutely thrilled. I drove out to Straffan in Kildare where Pat lived. He was a very quiet, reserved man. I wouldn’t say he was shy, but he was very soft spoken. He was very, very gracious and made me very welcome. He talked endlessly and patiently about Arkle, because he had a great career outside of Arkle but he knew he would be forever associated with Arkle.

There is an old saying that you should never meet your hero, because they may not be what you are expecting, there may be an anti-climax or they may not be nice to you.

Pat Taaffe was even better than I had hoped he would be. He couldn’t do enough to make me feel welcome and I worshiped him twice as much.

The other highlight for me was that Pat had several autobiographical books about horse racing. There was one book I was admiring and he offered it to me. I said: “I would love to have it and I guarantee I’ll return it safely.”

“’No, no, that is a present,’ he replied. He even signed the book for me. It just went from good to better. I have had a lot of heroes, but I knew I would die happy having met Pat Taaffe.”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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