In the summer of 2007, I traveled to London to interview the publicity-mad 'priest' Father Neil Horan for Mongrel magazine. It was a harder sell than most Mongrel features, and it wasn’t an issue of travel expenses. There was a strongly-held perception in the office that Horan was a lunatic who fed on the oxygen of publicity to justify a twisted meglomania that thrust him into the action of world sporting events, wielding placards about Argameggedon.
I thought (wrongly) there might be a complexity to him that the media was missing. And I wanted to know about the aftermath of his tackle of Wanderlei de Lima in Athens in 2004, how it all sat with him, a god-fearing Christian.
I spent the bones of a day with him, interviewing him in his small house in the south London suburbs before taking a train with him to a Brick Lane studio for a photo shoot. In one sense, his life was not much different than countless other Irish people of his generation living in London. He was lonely and the Church had done terrible things to his imagination. But unlike the thousands of Irish ex-pats in the UK, Horan felt compelled to do all sorts of stupid things in the name of God at sporting events. His fame was brief enough, with his ability to ruin massive sporting events drastically reduced due to his grá for dressing like a seven-year-old school girl.
Perhaps, we could have all hoped, we'd never hear from Father Neil Horan again. But it wasn't to be.
De Lima's Moment
On short notice Friday, Brazil chose a bronze medalist to light the torch in their country's first Olympiad. Even if it wasn’t their first idea, it was a decent one. Wanderlei de Lima, who suffered the indignity of the Neil Horan tackle, joined the company of Muhammad Ali and Cathy Freeman as Olympics torchlighters.
John Branch of the New York Times did what journalists do rang up Horan for his reaction to the torchlighting. Horan, by his own low standards, was remarkably ungracious and undignified with his comments.
“When I actually saw him with my own eyes, I really got angry. I look at Vanderlei, and I think, ‘You would be nowhere near the star if not for me.’”
“Some of what I say won’t be very sympathetic toward Vanderlei,” Horan said. “Just like my master Christ was very offensive, if needed, in what he said, I feel like, on this occasion, I have no choice.”
It was a different tone to the one Horan struck up with me nine years ago in London. While Horan didn’t admit much in the way of regret, he seemed circumspect about the whole incident.
He told me in 2007:
“I tried to contact Vanderlei De Lima but he wouldn’t respond to me. I would like tomeet him and his family and,” he says stumbling over the last word of the sentence, “apologise.”
Horan has been more or less out of the media since his run on Britain's Got Talent and must have been delighted with the chance to offer his opinions on anything.
I will write now what I didn’t have the clarity or confidence to write in 2007. What Father Neil Horan did to Wanderlei De Lima during the Olympics marathon in Athens is one of the cruelest indignities ever committed by someone wielding bagpipes. It was a great pleasure to see de Lima given his moment in front of the world but I expect he would prefer his gold medal. Horan’s tonedeaf comments prove that nothing has changed. The only way to be rid of him once and for all, as I learned the hard way, is to starve him of oxygen entirely.