Ruairi Conaghan: Play The Undertones really loud – and get moshing

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: actor and writer, Ruairi Conaghan

Ruairi Conaghan would tell his younger self to have a little more confidence
Ruairi Conaghan would tell his younger self to have a little more confidence Ruairi Conaghan would tell his younger self to have a little more confidence

Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

It depends what’s going on that day, but my morning routine usually involves waking the 17-year-old (understanding that access to the bathroom will be limited), feeding a pleading dog and transporting the teenager to his education facility with much discussion on Man Utd's failings en route. Then I will return to breakfast with Herself and on a good day there will be a wee moment for us both to breathe.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Eggs, toast and a barrel of tea.


I usually skip lunch.

Evening meal?

Herself is a master in the kitchen, so a cornucopia of choice. (I do a decent shepherd's pie and Bolognese).


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

The diet is relatively good – mostly home cooking. We have really bought into the use of vitamin D, so that is a morning pill and crucial for us Celts. We have definitely seen an improvement in health with fewer colds and flus.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

My play, Lies Where It Falls, is a one-person show for which I need to speak and move for 75 minutes – so I expend a lot of physical and emotional energy. I’m 57 and I need to be fit or it won’t land, so weight is crucial. I had to lose nearly a stone. I have a dog and a teenager who likes tennis, so there is quite a lot of movement there, but as I’ve grown older I lose less and less weight through exercise. Unfortunately, there is a discipline to dieting. I’ve used the Noom app which is basically calorie-counting, but it does work. It took me about six weeks to get me to a weight I was happy with for the show.


Weekend treat?

I don’t reserve treats for the weekend – I love chocolate and my latest obsession is Swiss Milka bars.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

As mentioned previously, the dog and teenager keep me fairly active. I came relatively late to fatherhood – I was 40. It has been a gift, so whenever the wee fella wanted to try a new activity, I got involved – including climbing at Boulder World. Mentally fit? It’s been a battle, so much so that I wrote a play about it – Lies Where It Falls. I read as much as I can and I still love to play guitar – one of the few things I am genuinely good at.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Put on The Undertones, play them really loud and get moshing.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I really enjoyed rugby and wasn’t too bad as scrum half or on the wing. The first time I ever played, though, I got kicked in the head and was out cold. I still carry the scar.


Teetotal or tipple?

I stopped drinking five years ago. I was very fond of a Guinness and so that was a loss. However, with the invention of Guinness zero, all is well again.


Stairs or lift?

I was 25 years in London and I enjoyed the challenge of running up the escalators, so the answer must be stairs.


What book are you currently reading?

Dirty Linen by Martin Doyle – a stunning examination of the many murders around his hometown of Banbridge during the conflict. What for many would seem like grim reading is actually a testament to the nobility of that community and honours those that should be honoured.


Best streaming TV?

I was much taken by the recent version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Also, Women Talking on MUBI was stunning.


Any new skills or hobbies?

Climbing became my lockdown thing, but generally I now write more. Lies Where It Falls has given me that confidence. I just wish this had happened to me when I was younger.


How do you relax?

Listening to music, mostly.


What would you tell your younger self?

Don’t be so full of yourself – but, at the same time, have a little more confidence in yourself.


What are your goals going forward?

Professionally, to get my play Lies Where It Falls to as large and as varied an audience as possible and to continue to write. Personally, to try and help the teenager get a good start in life. He’s kind and laid-back, so hopefully he’ll be grand. I would also like to cook more for Herself.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

Sleep has never really been my friend. I used to have terrible troubles with it, but have improved slightly with age. I go to bed far too late – around 12.30am-1am, but I’m usually the first one up.


Biggest gripe or regret?

I feel regret that I will be leaving this world with this place in a much worse state than when I came into it and that my son and his generation are going to have to spend most of their adult lives cleaning up the mess that we’ve made.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

The single biggest change to my family’s life is that we relocated from the hurly-burly of London back to Belfast, just as the pandemic hit. What I was concerned would be a disastrous decision has become the single greatest choice of my life.


Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event – changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I had a wee conversation with my mortality in 2015 and I didn’t enjoy that at all. I’m really happy to have more time to hang around now. There’s lots to be done and lots to see.

:: Ruairi Conaghan's critically acclaimed play Lies Where It Falls returns with a new tour next year