Theirs is a love story that began 28 years ago on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. Karl, a working class lad from Artane, north Dublin, dropped his keys and Alan, a working class lad from Ballyfermot, west Dublin, picked them up. It was the 30th of September 1993 and bar one short break these two lovebirds have been inseparable ever since.
Three decades later (nearly) and still they are totally besotted. We meet at the magnificent Mount Juliet Estate, Co Kilkenny, to mark what will be on the 30th of September (yes, they even married on the same date that they met!) the 10th anniversary of their civil partnership. VIP remembers the day well. Filled with laughter, tears, glamour and celebrity friends, Alan and Karl became the first same sex newlyweds to appear on the cover of an Irish magazine – our magazine – and we had soaring sales as a consequence. Their partnership reads like the stuff of dreams, we know. And their love does sound like a fairytale, almost but not quite unbelievable…
In this most gorgeous interview we talk about their struggles as gay men, about how Karl, a self-confessed introvert became less anxious during the pandemic, while Alan, the Ireland AM anchor and a total extrovert, became more. We discuss giving up drink (Karl), drinking more (Alan) about their sexual chemistry (both of them!), about learning to give each other space and about the massive shakeup and musical chairs happening right now at Virgin Media One.
At the end of the month you guys will mark your 10th anniversary and 28 years together. How are you still so besotted?!
Alan: We are besotted, it’s true!
Karl: Do you know, what might have driven some couples apart has pulled us even more together. We respect each other. We love each other.
You both are such romantics. And there’s such tenderness between you.
A: And we do still enjoy each other’s company, even after 28 years!
K: Alan is always trying to persuade me to go to do stuff with him and he’ll be like, ‘I never get bored of your company!’
K: I know!
A: We also appreciate the life we have been gifted. Because you must remember that we both grew up in very working class backgrounds and have sort of, ‘done good’! Even earlier today we were joking, ‘It’s far from Mount Juliet Estate we were reared!’ We’re from Ballyfermot and Artane, we’re ordinary working class lads and we appreciate what we’ve got.
Alan you have praised Karl for keeping you sane in lockdown. We thought it might have been the other way round?
A: Me too. But Karl took on the pandemic with gusto! As an introvert he was loving it while I was slowly losing my nut! Only for Ireland AM I would have totally lost it! But it really showed the difference between us. He had no anxiety because he wasn’t being asked to go and do things, like a VIP shoot! I got worried he’d get too comfortable at home and was like, ‘You know this will end and you will have to start emerging like a butterfly again!’
K: Alan loves people. Alan gets energised from people whereas during the pandemic I’d be like, ‘Alan could you please go into another room’ [laughs]!
Karl now that everything is starring to open back up again, how are you feeling?
K: I’ve definitely changed. I’ve always had an awful fear of rejection but now I feel like I have leant how to say no.
A: Yep, we’re going to be seeing a lot less of him! I have learnt too that I can’t force him to do things and go places. I have learnt that I have to give him that space and that I can still go with someone else. I did always think before that we had to go to things together whereas I realise now that we don’t. My mindset has changed and that’s thanks to therapy.
K: I also used to feel with the whole gay thing that us being visible was incredibly important. We had no one like us growing up. I still can’t think of anybody that is regularly on Irish tv who’s gay. What Alan has done is actually amazing, he’s been on tv for 20 odd years just being gay…there’s nobody else out there like him.
Despite all the gushy stuff, no love is smooth! And even you love birds have had rough patches. Tell us about the time you did breakup.
A: I think our breakup actually made us stronger because Karl was so young when we got together (he’s eight years younger than Alan). And then when we did get back together I said, ‘This is it now, we’re not going to break up ever again!’
K: And during the breakup we still showed such respect for each other and even worked together on the Panto. Neither went money grabbing or down any hostile route…things just went on pause really.
A: Karl got an apartment just around the corner from our house and I’d pop around to see him because we’d have to work, and the chemistry was bouncing off the walls!
K: The sexual attraction when he’d walk in!
A: It was really electric, like that spark was still there! I always hoped we would get back together…I don’t know about Karl? I mean he did break up with me! But y’know, I told him, ‘You’re my one and only. The love of my life’.
Karl, the school bullying that your endured did that mean that you came to relationships slightly later? Like was Alan your first big relationship? And was that part of the reason why you needed to split and find yourself?
K: Yeah, I literally came out of school and was afraid to say boo to a goose. I was mocked for how I spoke with a lisp and so I began not to talk. I got into advertising and gave that my all and I kept my head down and worked and so when I met Alan he was the first real gay person I met.
Representation is so important. It was why Eurovision entrant Lesley Roy appeared with her wife Lauren in this magazine a few months back. It was also why you Alan proposed to Karl live on tv!
K: Before Alan proposed and before we had our Civil Ceremony and were the cover of VIP we never did anything that meant our parents and families, who lived in very working class areas, had to deal with what we were. We never did big things to push us out there. So it was great the way we were was received so well when we ‘civil ceremonied’ and how everybody got behind us.
A: Our society has come a long way but homophobia is always going to be there but at least it’s lessened. Now when we’re out and we see young gay and lesbian couples holding hands, we smile. And the same with trans people the way they have come on and come out, it’s so liberating. I think Ireland is a great little country, we even have an openly gay Tanaíste. We’ve come a long way.
This year, the likes of tv show It’s a Sin raised awareness for HIV and AIDs, and started a conversation that really broke down the stigma of the past. How do you reflect on living through that time of fear in the 80s and 90s as gay men?
A: Don’t start me, blubbering every episode. When AIDs really kicked off I was living in New York and to be a young gay when all that was happening was awful. On the Subway there’d be all these ads about AIDS and, the stigma is brought and the plague that it was; I think it set gay people back an awful lot.
It sounds like there’s still a real feeling of survival still required to be gay. It’s sad that there’s still that struggle for acceptance…
A: I think it’s awful that it’s still news when people come out, like Philip Schofield, and yes, I know he was married so it was a little more complicated, but still. There are so many people who we know in the industry who are not out. And they won’t come out because of pressure, because they think they might lose their fans or that they won’t get the gigs. And that’s a battle. It should not be a battle for a gay or lesbian or trans person to come out.
K: I admire everyone that came before us. That’s what I always think Pride should be: being proud of all those people who stood up and came out.
Can it be an isolating life?
A: For a lot of people it is, especially if you are living in the country. We know people who live in big cities in London and Barcelona and find it quite isolating as well. Often their friends are their family because that family connection might not be there with estranged children. We are both lucky to have fabulous families and great support, but there still is that thing of who’s going to look after us when we’re old. Because many don’t have kids and that comfort that you’ll be looked after in your old age! And that’s why we’re going to stay young forever!
Young and fit! Karl Broderick, the body on you! We didn’t know what to be doing with ourselves when you stripped off into the trunks! You also told us that you totally went off food in lockdown and actually hate chewing now!
K: It’s true! I remember my dad being in hospital once and when his food arrived he refused to eat it and turned to me and said, ‘I’ve never really liked food.’! And I’ve often thought about that! I don’t think I do either! One day in lockdown I was working on something and Alan handed me my dinner and I went, ‘I just have to get through this first’. And then I thought about what I had said…and what I had said about Alan’s dinner!
Alan, are you a rubbish cook or what’s the story?!
A: I am a bit of a rubbish cook. Karl’s puts it politely, ‘I’m a plain cook’ [laughs]!
K: It’s a real meat and three veg dinner…
A: Seven nights a week [laughs]! I was telling the Ireland AM chef Edward Hayden what I was cooking once and he was like, ‘Alan, that’s not cooking, that’s heating food up’!
But Karl, you’re not just off food, you’re off drink too.
A: He is! God help me!
K: Well, I’m not totally off it but I’ll only drink if I want to, but even then I won’t drink much. I might have one or two wines at the very start and then leave it…load it in at the start, y’know!
How has this impacted you Alan?
A: I made up for him!
K: All I’d hear in the kitchen during lockdown was gulp, gulp!
A: All I was having was my glass of wine every night with dinner! It was so monotonous I had to!
K: Alan really did struggle with his mental health in lockdown. He kept going but it wasn’t easy on him and Laura Woods carrying a three-hour show. Only that he had such a willingness to do it. And dare I say it, he was really needing those couple of glasses of wine at night. I was thinking he was self-medicating to be honest with you…
A: Lots of people were self-medicating during lockdown!
Speaking about work, what a tough time it must be at the minute on Ireland AM with all the musical chairs? Dare we say it but you needed this breakaway in Mount Juliet to just recalibrate!
A: Look, it’s all happened now and Muireann is in, and she’s great, a total trouper and great fun, although I do think the early mornings are a bit of a shock for her but she will get into the swing of them. We thought Karen and I and Tommy were getting on really well…but hey what can you do? Change is good and all will settle. We’ll see where the next couple of months bring us and hopefully we’ll get out and about more, meeting people and opening the show up.
I presume you guys are operating on the basis that your Panto is going ahead this year?
A: We still won’t know till the end of October what’s going to happen. At the moment 60 per cent capacity is no good to anybody…
K: We’ve a few different ideas and we’re just trying to see which is the most viable one. Christmas shows are big productions, they’re not three-hander plays with one curtain behind you. It’s all razzle dazzle stuff with big casts and massive costumes so if that’s to work you do need your capacity in.
K: We pulled it out of the bag last year with a Drive Thru Panto! We’ll do it again this year. And I think at this stage Alan is the longest Panto sever.
A: Yeah, I think I may have done more Pantos consecutively than the late great Maureen Potter.
That is impressive, Alan. Finally, Karl we hear you’ve written a book.
K: I have, it’s out next year and is almost autobiographical but told like a road trip story with the backdrop of the Yes Vote as we took Alan sister’s Doreen, who was dying, to Paris. Doreen had watched the film Song Of Our Bernadette and suddenly said, ‘I want to go see Bernadette before I die’. So with the whole Yes Vote happening we took her to Paris when she was very sick. And it was that whole juxtaposition with the Catholic Church who had given most of their money to the No Vote and here we were taking someone to a Catholic shrine while all around us were posters promoting the No Vote, saying the Catholic Church is all about the family. It’s some story.
INTERVIEW: Bianca Luykx
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lili Forberg; misslili.net
MAKEUP & GROOMING: Dolly Buckley; @makeupbydollyb
Shot on location at Mount Juliet Estate, the magnificent five-star resort set on 500 acres overlooking the River Nore, home to two exceptional five-star properties; the 32-bedroom Manor House and the 93-bedroom Hunter’s Yard Hotels. The ‘Autumn of Dreams’ package starts at €358 for two people sharing luxury accommodation for one night with dinner in the award-winning The Hound Restaurant. For reservations call 056 7773000 or visit www.mountjuliet.ie.
Catch Alan on Ireland’s biggest breakfast show live weekdays from 7am-10am & weekends from 9am-12pm on Virgin Media One.