Co Tyrone star Malachi Cush chats to HELEN MCGURK about his new UTV series, where he takes six famous Northern Irish celebrities back home to revisit the places of their childhood, with plenty of reminiscences about their upbringing and encounters with familiar faces along the way
Finding the way home is an enduring theme in films and stories.
Just think of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, repeatedly pronouncing ‘there’s no place like home’ as she desperately wishes herself back in Kansas.
And now, UTV is exploring the genre in a new six-part series called, quite simply, Back Home.
The show is hosted by Malachi Cush, 38, himself a self-confessed home bird, and takes six Ulster-born celebrities, including broadcasters Eamonn Holmes and Gloria Hunniford, West End and Broadway star Rachel Tucker, snooker champ Dennis Taylor and one mystery guest, on a pilgrimage into their past, back to the places they began.
The down-to-earth Donaghmore man said it was a privilege for him to be involved in the series.
‘‘For me to be able to walk their journeys with them was extra special.
‘‘I was really pleased to get the job because I love home.
‘‘I am so blessed that my mum and dad are still in our family home where I was born and rared.
‘‘I live on the family land - I built a house there - so I understand the importance of home and like all of the guests on the show, they all attribute their success, in some part, to their family and to that support that you have at home.’’
In the first episode aired last week, we are afforded a glimpse into Phil Coulter’s formative years in Londonderry.
The internationally-acclaimed composer returned to the modest two-up, two-down house in Abercorn Terrace where he grew up - a house full of love and music.
Famous for the Town I Loved so Well, a mournful reflection on Troubles-era Londonderry, Coulter visited the places he still loves so well.
Most poignantly he visits a place which evokes heartbreaking memories for him - Buncrana pier, where two of his siblings drowned in separate tragic incidents.
It’s incredibly moving viewing and was an emotive experience for Malachi Cush.
He says: ‘At Buncrana pier Phil reflected on his brother and sister being drowned there within 12 months of each other.
‘‘It was the first time he had opened up on air, at that spot, about the loss of his two family members. That was very emotional, even for me as a presenter - it’s hard not to get affected by it.’’
In fact, all the celebrity participants found the experience of returning to their roots cathartic.
‘‘In every case, emotion was one of the elements that came through,’’ says Malachi.
‘‘Inevitably when you think about home, and we’re all the same, you think about people who are gone.
‘‘In some of these cases, parents are gone, the family home isn’t there and it’s quite a stark reality for them when they go back.
‘‘Whenever Gloria went home to Portadown she was emotional because her home was falling into disrepair.
‘‘Although she knew there had been people living there over the years, when we went the place looked a bit dilapidated.
‘‘ The blinds were all tattered and torn, the wind was blowing through, the paint was falling off .
‘‘Gloria found that a hard pill to swallow because what she remembered was how proud her mother was of the house - everybody looked after their patch, cleaning their little area of the street.
‘‘But there were lots of joyful occasions for her when she met her next door neighbour who is still there and we talked about her mother and how she used to bake for all the neighbours.’’
Malachi said the programme makers, EMM Productions, selected celebrities for the series who are now based outside of Northern Ireland.
‘‘Although many of them might be used to travelling back into the city, in every case we’ve brought them back to their original dwelling place.
‘‘ In all but one case, there is no one in the house belonging to them anymore. Dennis Taylor’s sister lives in their home house, but that was the only one.’’
He added:‘‘The one thing that came through for me was that none of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth; they all came from very humble beginnings.
‘‘I think that is the charm of the programme because for viewers they will find something in these stories that relates to their own lives and hopefully it will inspire some people to know you can achieve big things, even though you do come from humble beginnings.’’
One of the highlights of the series for Cush was meeting Eamonn Holmes’ 90-year-old mother.
‘‘Eamonn was born on the New Lodge Road in Belfast - they left when he was eight or nine and they went to the home that his mother is still in.
‘‘We had a lovely interview with his mummy and you can see how she is completely unaffected by all of his success - although I’d say in the quiet of her own heart she’s absolutely thrilled.
‘‘It was great and she wanted me to sing for her, so Eamonn and I sang the Blanket on the Ground .
‘‘She was so charming and a typical Irish mammy in terms of her saying ‘‘all my boys are the same and Eamonn’s no different from the rest of them,’’ says Malachi.
What this TV series illustrates is that for Eamonn Holmes, Phil Coulter, Gloria Hunniford, Malachi Cush and all of us- home is the base where everything begins - and it’s lovely to go back .
*Back Home is on UTV on Tuesdays at 7.30pm.