Face to face with PAT NEARNEY

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to entertainer Pat Nearney, who has been delighting audiences with his Norfolk-themed act for more than 30 years.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to entertainer Pat Nearney, who has been delighting audiences with his Norfolk-themed act for more than 30 years. But while he has become well known in the area for his variety routine, former football referee Pat has quite a few more strings to his bow . . .

Tragedy marked Pat's birth at Cromer hospital, when his twin sister died shortly after being born. Brought up at Marina Road, Mundesley, he attended the local primary school before going on to Paston Grammar.

Small for his age, and not particularly academically inclined, Pat dreamed of being a footballer, and made his schooldays more bearable by entertaining his classmates with comedy routines and impressions of his teachers.

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Pleased to leave school at 16, he opted for a job in the accounts department at insurers Norwich Union.

At the same time, Pat qualified as a football referee, working up to reserve standard at clubs ranging from Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal - where up and coming players included Graeme Souness and Gary Lineker.

In the 1970s, Pat, by this time married and living in Seaview Road, Mundesley with his wife and 3 children, drifted into the entertainment industry by accident when, as an office worker at a Winterton building firm constructing holiday chalets, he got the chance to take over as manager of the clubhouse at a Hemsby holiday camp catering for 2,500 people.

Long hours took their toll on Pat's marriage and, in the mid-1970s, he and his wife decided to divorce.

Pat went on to take over as club compere at the holiday camp, but, watching comedy acts perform every night, he was keen to try his hand as an entertainer.

A part in a Mundesley Players production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, sparked off the stage bug and Pat began performing the Singing Postman's Hev Yew Gotta Loight Boy at Friday night staff concerts.

He went on to develop his act to include a whole range of characters; telling Norfolk stories in a flat cap and wellies, and doing a turn as "Cheeky Chappie" Max Miller - which, for the past 4 years, he has performed at the annual dinner of the Max Miller Appreciation Society.

A regular, �10 a week, spot at Mundesley Holiday Camp led to more and more engagements, with Pat appearing at holiday camps and village halls all over the county.

In 1981, he teamed up with fellow Mundesley Players member Bob Saunders to take over the production of the village pantomime, which has been staged for more than 30 years to raise money for the local inshore lifeboat. The pair went on to write, direct and appear in 25 shows, all of which had a local twist.

After being taken off the referee list at the age of 40, Pat began playing for Mundesley Football Club, but, looking for a new challenge ten years later, he decided to train for the London Marathon. Inspired by his daughter Lindsay's dedication as a Macmillan nurse, he went on to complete the event 4 times for the charity.

In 2001, he joined Keith Skipper's Press Gang, with his partner Sheilah Olley, whom he met 15 years ago, joining the touring comedy troupe as the Norfolk Fairy a year later.

Since the group, which raised tens of thousands for charity, staged their final show last year, Pat, 63, has continued to perform as Three Part Light with Keith and Norfolk singer Danny Platten.

He now does around 150 shows a year, juggling his career as an entertainer with running his own Great Yarmouth-based business supplying fruit machines, pool tables and jukeboxes to pubs all over Norfolk and Suffolk.

When not working, Pat enjoys running, playing golf with Sheilah, reading autobiographies, and developing new ideas for his act.

What is the best thing about your job?

It's nice getting paid for doing something you enjoy doing.

And the worst?

Driving long distances late at night - I always try to get home to my own bed, wherever I am.

Where do you go to unwind?

For a run or to see Norwich City. I've been a season ticket holder for 15 years and, although it's not really unwinding if they're not playing well, it's my safety valve.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

My photograph albums as they are full of memories that can't be replaced.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

The Forum in Norwich, just because - even though it's a fairly new building - it fits perfectly into the middle of the city.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Well, many years ago while I was DJ-ing at a pub, the landlady said I could have as much to drink as I wanted. At the end of the night, I remember falling into a hedge and getting stuck, then falling asleep on the kerb. When I finally staggered home, I found I'd lost my keys so had to sleep in the conservatory. I don't think I drank for about 3 months after that!

What is your greatest achievement?

Having 3 lovely children - they've all grown up to be well-balanced adults who have proper values, and I think we did a pretty good job.

And your proudest moment?

Being invited to the Queen's garden party with Sheilah 3 years ago.

Who do you most admire?

Nelson Mandela because he's such an individual, and, even after all that happened to him, he still got on with his life and tried to do what he could to improve things for other people. Comedy-wise, it has to be Billy Connolly.

What makes you angry?

I can't stand rude people.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Film: The Shawshank Redemption, book: Roy Hudd's Cavalcade of Old Time Music Hall Performers, and, I know it's a bit sad, but I used to love watching Family Fortunes when Les Dennis hosted it.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a good old Norfolk boy who never did anyone any harm and always tried to help out when he could.