Virgin Media’s Richard Chambers has been closely observing Ireland’s Covid response, with his regular reports for TV news. His new book details a fractious relationship between some of the main players
WHEN Virgin Media news correspondent Richard Chambers wore a green and dark blue tie recently reporting on national TV, he got hit with a barrage of messages afterwards from Clonakilty followers.
‘They told me to stop wearing Nemo Rangers colours, that I was one of them now, and to switch to the green and red of Clon! That’s what I love about West Cork, that real sense of community and good craic,’ says Richard.
In a relationship with writer Louise O’Neill, he says he feels ‘half West Cork’ at this stage.
In fact, he’ll be in Kerr’s bookshop this Saturday to sign copies of his new book, A State of Emergency.
Some of it was written in West Cork, and it’s based on over 100 interviews with cabinet members, public health officials, frontline workers, and ordinary people on whom the crisis exacted a personal toll. Publishers Harper Collins, who approached him to write the book, describe it as the ‘untold story of Ireland’s response to the biggest public health emergency of the past century.’
Richard (31) puts it more bluntly and says it ‘shows how we were tipping closer and closer to the brink of unmitigated disaster.’
He ‘fills the gaps’ for people, and in his no-holds-barred way, gives accounts of clashes between the government, Nphet and the HSE at the height of the crisis.
‘I feel it’s important to level with people so there’s no holding back. But I also wanted to get as many personal and human accounts as possible and put a strong focus on ordinary people and the good decision makers who were at the table,’ he says.
The Murphy family from Clonakilty, who lost their mother to Covid, are interviewed in the book, and Richard describes as ‘extraordinarily awful’ what they went through.
Writing the book, while working 17-hour days, covering a gruelling story with such far reaching consequences, took its toll, he admits.
‘I was definitely on the brink of burnout a few times, and there was a real fatigue and exhaustion. But you do put up a mental block to stop yourself being completely consumed by it,’ he recalls.
He also had to contend with being separated from his mother Liz (who works in the bank) and older brother Jeffrey (a civil servant) as they have underlying conditions which meant they had to cocoon, which was very difficult.
‘I remember on Christmas Day having sandwiches in the garden with them, before hopping in the car to see Louise. That was hard. That level of separation does leave a mark for sure. I could count on two hands the amount of times I’ve seen them since the pandemic started.’
Born in Belfast, Richard grew up in Clare and moved to Rush in Co Dublin in his teens.
‘It’s just been the three of us since I was four. My dad isn’t in my life, my parents separated when we were young, and we’re not in touch, but I’ve never wanted for anything and my mother always encouraged us to go out and do the best we could,’ he said.
Right now he feels he’s at a turning point, and probably will write a second book, but he doesn’t think we’re finished with the pandemic just yet.
Taking off his reporter’s hat, he feels things are ‘really worrying’ at the moment.
‘My heart goes out to the hospitals and the GP services and what they’re facing into, and with all that recent trauma revisited.
‘I don’t think that the HSE or Nphet ever expected to be in this precarious position. Things are shaping into what looks like difficult times ahead.’
He describes his author partner Louise as ‘amazing and incredible’ and naturally she was a great source of advice when it came to crafting he book.
They started dating in 2018 after he invited her for a drink on social media, when he knew she was coming to Dublin. Fast forward a few years later and they’re now house hunting.
He admits they’re finding it ‘as bad as everybody else.’
He loves West Cork, the arts and music scene (a pint of Beamish in de Barra’s), the food and the rugged landscape. As Louise’s dad Haulie is the manager of Clonakilty senior football team, he now follows the side with interest, and describes himself as a ‘mad GAA fan.’
‘It’s the most gorgeous place in the country, the world,’ he said and describes Louise as ‘West Cork to her core.’
‘We’re looking for something in Dublin or Wicklow, but want to capture as much of the Clonakilty experience as possible with the village feel and the sea, so it’s an ongoing process. Once we’re together, we’re happy, but at some point in the future, 100%, we’ll live in West Cork.’