George Best and Martin McGuinness
Posted on 27 April 2009 | 9:04am
Terrific play on BBC2 last night about George Best’s family. His mother was the main character, her descent into alcoholism a parallel to his rise to fame.
Mrs Best did not taste alcohol till the age of 44, and was dead ten years later. In an understated kind of way, the film captured the slow grip alcohol took on her, and the pain and confusion this caused her family.
Powerful too the theme of fame and the damage it can do to a family when one member of that family does something special. Best has close family still alive, and amid the pleasure I took at a well-made, well-acted Sunday night TV programme, part of me wondered whether the family were happy to see themselves portrayed so intimately in what was, no matter how much research was done, a fictionalised account.
There were a number of scenes where they were picked on because of their association with George, including one where his sister was phsycially set upon by a group of Catholics. ‘They only know you’re a Protestant because of me,’ says a sad-looking George.
The politics of Northern Ireland formed part of the backdrop, George calling home from Manchester as the family try to absorb the horrrors of Bloody Sunday on the TV news.
Which brings me to Martin McGuinness, who has been warned by the Police Service of Northern Ireland that his life is in danger from Republican terrorists.
No stranger to death threats, the former IRA commander turned peacemaker and now Deputy First Minister has struck a defiant note, and is determined to go about his business as normally as possible.
I record in my diaries Tony Blair once saying of McGuinness and his Sinn Fein colleague Gerry Adams that we had to understand they went about their business with a modicum of fear that someone might come along and blow their brains out. Most of their lives, the assumption would be that any attack would come from Unionists. Now the fear would be dissident Republicans opposed to the role they have played in reaching a political settlement short of Northern Ireland being part of the Irish Republic here and now.
McGuinness was a regular feature of my time with TB, and I always liked him, not least for a shared love of football. I bet he was watching last night. There was certainly a hardness there, he could be a nightmare in negotiations, and you knew he had done some pretty dreadful things in his time. But Northern Ireland is a much better place than it was, and he is among the people who can take a fair share of the credit for that.
It would be an even better place if George Best was still around. Somewhow an airport named in his honour does not quite compensate for what the demon drink did to him, and the genius on display in the real football clips they showed last night.