Eamonn Holmes: ‘Where I’m from, cancel culture was getting a bullet in your head’

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Holmes senior was a master craftsman. “He died on the job, lifting carpets, aged 64. I’m one of five boys and when Dad would get us to help I was useless, he used to end up shouting at me. 

“I was looking for something I could be good at. It turned out that was TV presenting, and I really felt blessed that I could do it well.”

At 16, Holmes left school to take the NCTJ journalism course then moved to Dublin to work on a building magazine. “You could not believe how boring it was,” he shakes his head. “One day my journalism college lecturer phoned me and said, ‘Eamonn, you always wanted to be on TV didn’t you?’  I said, ‘Yes, Mrs Fitzpatrick.’  

“She said, ‘Well Ulster Television are auditioning for farming reporters,’ I said, ‘But Mrs Fitzpatrick I don’t know anything about farming, I’m a city boy born and bred.’”

He goes on: “She said, ‘Rule one of journalism, Eamonn, find out!’ And that’s what I’ve done ever since – whether you’re covering soap operas, politics or horseracing, you find out.”

It’s a style that has served well. From Farming Ulster, he moved to the sports desk then Good Evening Ulster – and became such a local celebrity that Gerry Adams asked for his autograph “for his sister,” Holmes twinkles. “But it made the interview easier.” 

He joined the BBC in 1986, helped launch GMTV in 1993, went to Sky News in 2005 and with his wife Langsford hosted This Morning from 2006. He stayed on air in Ulster on and off – presenting the odd show and staying so involved in local comings and goings that George Best’s family asked him to conduct the football superstar’s funeral ceremony.

“They didn’t want a vicar, they didn’t want a religious service and that was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” he says, then thinks for a minute. “That and introducing Bill Clinton in 1995 for him to say that the war was over. That was an amazing night in Belfast, 100,000 people, Bill Clinton, I still get chills.”

Holmes seems to know everyone in Belfast. He was mates with Jamie Dornan’s gynaecologist dad, recently taken by Covid, and knows the Golden Torso himself from when he was a kid in school. He was invited to Kenneth Branagh’s local premiere for his autobiographical film Belfast.

Watching it, he started to well up over a Judi Dench line – ‘Sure the Irish were made for leaving.’ 

“I never sought to go to England, but I had to,” he explains. “I had the top job in Northern Ireland, everything was going well but I knew at 25 years of age that by the time I’m 31 they’re going to dump me. So I left, and oh my God, my family couldn’t deal with this. None of my brothers left. A month ago – a month ago – my mother phoned me and said ‘I couldn’t get to sleep last night, son. I needed to know – why did you go to England?’”  

For everyone outside your family, though, you’ve lived a fair old life, I say. Perhaps the only time the public has seen him raw and vulnerable was discussing his back pain earlier this year. 

“That was incredible,” he admits. “I actually couldn’t get any sleep at night – I could not lie on my back, on my side, on my front, it was pain beyond belief. I got epidural injections, cortisone injections and it calmed down after six weeks.  But talking about it, so many people said they’d also suffered chronic pain. I’m eight months down the line. My sciatic nerve is dead in my right leg, but there are people who have no hope of ever getting rid of their pain.”

He’s now receiving rehab training from James Davies, who coaches Premier League footballers, and the treatment hurts almost as much as the condition. But three weeks ago, he came off his crutch. 

“Sometimes I use a cane and most times I use nothing,” he says, contentedly. “Your health is your wealth, that’s what I’ve learned in these past eight months.”

Did he learn anything from the This Morning debacle? While the exact reasons he parted company are opaque, Holmes had been the subject of a watchdog inquiry when – during the first wave of the Covid pandemic – he suggested conspiracy theories linking coronavirus to 5G phone masts should not be dismissed, in an outburst that railed against the “mainstream media”. The following day Holmes distanced himself from the theories, stating that “every theory relating to such a connection has been proven to be false”. Ofcom then ruled that his comments were “ill-judged,” and that they risked undermining viewers’ trust in public authorities.  

A few months later, Holmes and Langsford were dropped from their Friday presenting slot – although ITV has confirmed it will be retaining Langsford as a presenter.

He bats the subject away. “I’m moving ahead to new ventures where what I do is appreciated,” he says. “The thing about This Morning is, I’d get in trouble by being myself. For instance, chef’s here in the studio talking about her special Christmas pudding. Ruth goes ‘then at 12:15 – how to lose a stone for Christmas and keep it off.’ I’ll be standing beside my wife and say ‘You should take a note of that, lose a stone for Christmas’.  The joke is that I’m the fat one, she’s not. Within seconds on Instagram and Twitter there’ll be ‘did he really just fat shame his wife?’ All these complaints are from girls 18 to 25 but they’re the audience. Times have changed.”

I wonder if he’ll miss presenting with his wife. “Never say never. Ruth is an amazing human being who I never get tired of just watching from afar. If you love someone and if you fancy someone then it’s easy – I’ve never seen anybody so independent. She’s been on TV the same length of time as I’ve been. 

“She’s very happy I’m on GB News because she knows I do news best. She does her work very professionally and she’s got a fashion range with QVC. She can switch off. I can’t. So, we’re a good team and we’re a bad team. She’s home, it’s end of story, there’s no discussion about work.”

Home for the pair at present is a six-bedroom house in Surrey with a smart kitchen – Langsford’s backdrop for Instagram posts, and a man cave for Eamonn, complete with Man U memorabilia and Devils’ red floor.  He has four children – Declan, Rebecca and Niall with first wife, Gabrielle, and 19-year-old Jack, the son he shares with Langsford.  

Holmes has suggested that they will relocate in future back to Belfast. He spent  Christmas there, apart from Langsford, with his mum, who found lockdown hard.

“I’ve learnt a lot from my mother’s mistakes,” he says. “She’s 93 and when my dad died 30 years ago she never made new friends, she never learnt how to drive, she never mixed in clubs or societies, she didn’t update herself with technology. Now she says everyone she knows is dead. That’s not going to happen to me, I’m going to listen and surround myself with young people.”

Isn’t there a mismatch here, I say? You talk about young people as both your life force and the people who see you as a dinosaur. 

He laughs. “It’s about change. I accept that you’ve got to change with the times. I’m always open to evolution. The way I’m looking at GB News is – the world is changing, and we can’t go back. We just have to make sure everyone feels they can be heard going forward.”


Breakfast with Eamonn and Isabel will run 6am – 9:30am from Monday January 3 2022 on GB News

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