John Sullivan grew up on the Beara Peninsula but always knew he wanted to live in Dublin. What he didn’t know, was that he’d end up on one of TV’s most popular shows. Now, he can hardly imagine his life without it
THE West Cork star of Virgin Media’s Gogglebox said he was gutted that Level 5 restrictions meant he couldn’t feature in the last two shows of the current Virgin Media series.
Eyeries man John Sullivan has been in the TV show, about watching TV, since 2016 and shares the couch with his best mate David. The pair live more than 5km apart, and couldn’t visit each other’s homes to record when the country went into lockdown.
But the 39-year-old advertising producer said he doesn’t pretend to know more than chief medical officer Tony Holohan, and that it was about ‘rolling with the punches.’
He got involved in the hit series in a roundabout way after a chat with a colleague.
‘It came about accidentally,’ he said coyly. ‘But at the time I was a huge fan of the show so I jumped at the chance.’
Growing up four miles outside Eyeries, ‘the next step was New York,’ he said, and while he didn’t know what he wanted to do, he always knew he wanted to live in Dublin.
He attended Scoil Phobail Bheara in Castletownbere, during which time he became more aware of his sexuality, which wasn’t always easy, he admits.
‘You have to understand that this was over 20 years ago, it was a different time. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 and this was ’97, ’98, and way before marriage equality and the like.
‘It was sometimes tough, but it was also great fun,’ he said. ‘I worked in this really cool restaurant in the village called the Old Bakery and was exposed to a lot of cool people from all over the world, which really opened my mind.’
After school he studied communications in DCU, and took a year out and worked in a restaurant, before working as a runner in Windmill Lane. He now works for Element Post Production, producing TV commercials.
He met Dave, his Gogglebox couch mate, when Dave previously dated a friend of his. ‘That ended but we have a lot in common including a mutual obsession with Madonna. We’ve very close and I couldn’t imagine doing the show with anyone else.’
He still finds it hard to believe that the show is in the sixth season.
‘It’s mental to think it’s going on that long. I don’t know how I come across some of the time. I often have to remind myself to be good compared to the UK series! But I think we’ve had a good season, we’ve all been more relaxed and really it’s just Dave and myself sitting there talking nonsense, without a filter.’
On this series, after watching a documentary on bulimia, he recalled emotionally how he used to drink Slimfast shakes at lunchtime in school during senior years and said that experience ‘never leaves you’.
John admits he was surprised at the reaction he got afterwards, but said it was really just a ‘throwaway comment,’ and not something he wanted to take any further.
‘At no point did I set out to be an advocate for anything,’ he said. ‘If it starts a conversation that’s great but that’s not what the show is about, it’s about light entertainment.
‘I’m a huge fan of the UK show and lived for it during the first lockdown. I think why it’s so popular is because it cuts through lots of nonsense and gives the mood of a nation.’
A recurring topic of the series was the rat on the loose in his Ranelagh house.
‘That was upsetting for sure. I saw him twice and it wasn’t good for the nerves. He was with us for the whole season and I was just annoyed that I didn’t get to tell viewers that I caught him, – or at least Rentokil did,’ he said.
Entering into a second lockdown, he jokes that he doesn’t want to make the same mistakes as the first. He started Weight Watchers last January which he found excellent, but like the rest of the country, the wheels came off at the end of March.
‘And they’re still off! I’ll go back to Weight Watchers again. Every January I’m like Norm from Cheers, “Hey I’m back!”.’
He’s got a great housemate, but is currently ‘very much single’ and has been for a few years.
Like lots of people he jumped on the dating apps out of boredom back in March, but abandoned it after a while.
‘I couldn’t see the point. A real date is awkward enough, not to mind a Zoom date where you’re dealing with a time lag, and wandering around the house trying to find the best light. I mean I usually pick bars that are just lit by candle light for dates!’
What he’s missing most right now, he said, is putting his phone on airplane mode, and sitting in a bar for two hours and reading The Sunday Business Post.
‘Just without having to order a €9 meal!’
He’s also pining for West Cork and his family to whom he’s very close. That’s mum Catherine, dad Jerry and his three brothers, two of whom are in Eyeries and one in Cork city.
The last time he was home was mid-summer, when restrictions eased.
‘It’s quite a trek and I don’t drive.
‘My mother was just on the phone saying that Christmas was going to be different this year, so we’ll have to see,’ he said.
They’re fans of the show now but it took them a while.
‘They hadn’t watched the UK version, so it was a hard concept to explain. They weren’t sure about season one but they enjoy it now. I’d get my mother ringing telling me maybe my top didn’t work!’
He can’t wait for the time when he’s back in his local, O’Shea’s bar in Eyeries, enjoying a Heineken.
‘I miss that. It’s funny because plenty of times I’d be giving out about going back, but now I really can’t wait.’
He doesn’t know yet about plans for the next series of Gogglebox, as they’re still being finalised, but hopes himself and Dave will be back on the couch.
So do all their fans.