SITTING on the bus as it headed west out of Cork Airport, I found myself in the midst of new-found friends and old ones that I’d never again look at in the same way.
I couldn’t decide if the soreness I was feeling in my abs was due more to all the laughing I’d done over the preceding 36 hours, or was it perhaps, as a result of my vanity causing me to suck in my gut (admit it lads, we all do it) a little more often than I was used to.
After all, there had been cameras.
Lots and lots of cameras.
So, first, a little context: In October 2013, as a fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society and breast cancer awareness, Sean Murray, proprietor of a large clothing store and haberdashery in Skibbereen, set a Guinness World Record for opening the largest number of bras in a minute – 91 being the official figure – with ‘insiders’ claiming it was actually more.
That was 2013, so when Sean got a call last September from a guy named Joe – who claimed he was working for the Britain’s Got Talent TV show – asking about this record-breaking talent, he was justified in thinking this was someone playing a practical joke.
‘I was sure someone was having me on when that first phone call came through, but sure enough, it was for real – we were being invited to audition in front of the actual Britain’s Got Talent judges!’
So, without hesitation, Sean began his search for a team of 40 ‘bra-ve’ models (male and female) who were willing, not only to sport a bra in public for the purposes of having it undone as quickly as possible, but who were willing to do so in the famed Dominion Theatre in the West End of London – in front of a live audience of over 3,000.
Then there was also the small matter of the TV crew, cameras and the understanding that all this could be broadcast to millions of viewers around the world. No big deal really, right?
Oh, and not forgetting hosts Ant and Dec and the BGT judges – David Walliams, Aleisha Dixon, Amanda Holden and yes, Simon Cowell – who would all be looking on, waiting to be impressed.
It turns out that there was no shortage of volunteers – but if I’m honest I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up as part of the line-up.
All I know is that when I was asked, I wasn’t anywhere near as inclined to refuse as I would have imagined. Perhaps the repressed exhibitionist within me finally saw his opportunity to reveal himself.
So anyway, picture the scene: Outside the foyer of the plush Dominion Theatre in London. Early afternoon – no more than 12 hours after we had left Skibbereen. A TV producer, cameraman and sound operator exit through the front door followed by Sean Murray himself, resplendent in his three-piece suit.
They are going to film some outdoor shots in a green area a few blocks away. Nothing particularly unusual about that, you might say. But it’s the boisterous gaggle of 20 or so men in black bras following them that causes passers-by to nudge each other and stare in disbelief. The ladies amongst us were wearing pink t-shirts with open backs to protect their modesty, but the lads had no such cover, nor did we care. It’s January, it’s cold, but this, my friends, is how West Cork does the West End.
Later on, after a brief, (un)dress rehearsal and a good bit of hanging around backstage in the not-inappropriate company of singers, musicians, belly dancers and drag queens, word came through that presenters Ant and Dec and the four judges were in the building and the show was about to go on.
I think we were third or fourth on the bill and I can still hear the gasps followed by laughter as we walked on stage. The judges gave Sean something of a grilling about his ‘talent’ and what they were about to see – but they started to take things a little more seriously when he made the point that the whole mad scheme was borne of an attempt to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer, noting that two of the onstage line-up were themselves survivors.
And then, Sean issued his challenge to presenters Ant and Dec. He would take them on, single-handedly (literally), in a live bra-opening competition.
The audience erupted and the game was on. In the time it took the duo to open four, maybe five bras, Sean had done 20.
The audience were on their feet and going wild.
What’s more, when crunch time came, it was a case of four ‘yeses’ and a standing ovation from the judges.
Unfortunately, and despite the four thumbs up, the performance never made it to the final cut for the TV show, which aired last month, but Sean remains very positive about the whole adventure nonetheless.
‘Although it was disappointing not to feature on the show, it was an amazing experience from beginning to end. Simon Cowell even commended what we were doing and congratulated us on raising awareness for breast cancer. He actually said that he would love to have us back to attempt to break the record live on TV and raise more awareness, but I guess that’s just showbiz. Either way, we are delighted to have given it a shot and we got great feedback on the audition. I hear Ireland’s Got Talent is coming up on RTÉ at some stage, so you’d never know – we might give it another shot!’
For me – the repressed exhibitionist gone mad – I’ve never laughed so much as I did that weekend, and all in the company of a brilliant bunch of people. The best fun I’ve had with (most of) my clothes on.