I am Gordon Burns, former presenter of BBC Northwest Tonight, the ITV’s Krypton Factor, Irish Angle for Channel 4 and others that may not merit a mention! I was born in Belfast, largely grew up there and have been a newspaper journalist and Radio/TV presenter all my life. I retired at the end of 2011 as I approached 70. You can work out my current grand age for yourselves!
1. What has been your Best Life Project to date?
Playing a key role in organising the biggest protest event across the whole island of Ireland when the IRA ended their 17-month long ceasefire with a bomb in Canary Wharf, London, killing two people. I remember hearing the news when driving home to Manchester from an event in Brighton and my heart sank. I come from Belfast and as a journalist and TV presenter I had covered the horrific troubles there for many years and after 30 years of bombing, shooting and killing (by both sides) N. Ireland had been enjoying 17 months of peace and normal living and had no wish for a return to violence. Suddenly it seemed the peace they craved and were currently enjoying had suddenly been snatched away from them. I got in touch with a wonderful organisation over there called Women Together who had for years campaigned across the religious divide for peace and we devised a plan for a huge protest to take place in every city and town in the Province on one particular Sunday at 3pm. A terrific group in Dublin got in contact and agreed to run a similar protest across the Republic of Ireland at precisely the same time to show the world the people had had enough of violence and would not tolerate a return to it. It was a massive success with tens of thousands of people turning out in city and town centres across the whole island and it featured high in news bulletins around the world, leading many of them.
2. The unknown … what challenges did you have to overcome?
The biggest problem was not to let politicians take over the protest gatherings. We wanted people of all religions and political loyalties to stand side by side to demonstrate that whatever their differences they were totally united on one thing – no more violence, death and destruction. So we decided there would be no platforms or podiums for speakers. It would be a silent protest and we came up with the perfect catchline we knew the newspaper headline writers would love….A Silent Scream For Peace!
3. In hindsight…..what would you do differently?
Absolutely nothing. I think we got it totally right and whether that amazing day played any part in the fact that no further atrocities took place in Northern Ireland in the run up to the permanent ceasefire and the destroying of weapons, we will never know. But at least people across the divide, given the opportunity, spectacularly demonstrated that they were prepared to bravely stand up and be counted in their demand for a total end to the violence.
4. Next steps?
The next steps are for the elected politicians to decide on. What I do know is that the original conditions in Northern Ireland that fanned the flames of violence, namely discrimination in jobs and housing, the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries and the total dominance of one side in the N. Ireland parliament no longer exist and the return of what we suffered for 30 long years will not happen. Indeed with the collapse of the Catholic Church’s huge influence in Ireland following the priests’ scandal, the relative prosperity in the Republic, their continuance in the EU and the near equalling of Protest and Catholic numbers in Northern Ireland the prospect of a United Ireland is arguably now closer than it’s ever been since partition. Whether it happens or not I may never know. I just hope whatever the outcome that peace and harmony will now always prevail across the whole fabulous island of Ireland.
5. What lifestyle changes has lockdown made you consider?
None at all! I just look forward to getting the vaccine into my arm as soon as possible and with total confidence in it, so I can get back to living the life I had before with the freedom to travel and to get to hug and play with my young grandchildren and see more of my grown up ones too as well as the rest of the family. I’ve been heartbroken that that hasn’t been possible for so long.
6. Kissing frogs …. is there an unexpected person who has helped you and, if so, how did they do it?
In a weird way my old school history teacher who I didn’t much care for or the subject either! But he always drummed into us when writing history essays “don’t be dull, be different.” To back it up he painted this picture of an examiner having to read and mark hundreds of history essays on the French Revolution virtually all of which monotonously began: “The French Revolution began in 1787 when…blah, blah.” Then he picks up an exam paper that begins: “The sound of the guillotine echoed down the boulevards of Paris, the gutters flowed with blood.” Immediately his eyes light up and he is hooked. It is the golden rule of writing newspaper stories or preparing conference speeches too, grab your audience right at the beginning. It served me well. Don’t be Dull, be Different!
7. My Inspiration ….who or what inspires you?
I am a patron of Prevent Breast Cancer charity where we raise funds to pour into research projects which are the key to finally wiping out this terrible disease which affects 1 in 9 women. The scientists and medical experts who immerse themselves in these projects are totally inspirational and have made huge strides in developing new treatments that either save lives or prolong them in thousands of women. They will eradicate breast cancer eventually. They are absolutely brilliant and totally dedicated.
8. How do you relax or do you struggle to relax?
I can relax very easily! I will happily watch news channels for hours on end and enjoy all the sport the telly can throw at me. I walk a decent distance virtually every day and chat on the phone or on FaceTime with my friends and family. If I have any work to do I usually have to kick myself a few times to get started! I work best to deadlines.
9. Guilty secret pleasure?
Yes of course! But if I told you it wouldn’t be a secret guilty pleasure any more would it?! So it (they!) remain a secret.
10. Words of wisdom
Don’t be dull be different!