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SLAUGHTNEIL FEATURE: The night a TV star came to the disco

There was a spin in Sean McGuigan's Renault 21 through the mountains for the Neighbours star.

SLAUGHTNEIL FEATURE: The night a TV star came to the disco

Pearce on stage with Terry McIlvar.

The email I’ve been waiting for arrives in the early hours of a Monday morning.

“Thank you for your email and patience in our response. Unfortunately, Guy has asked we pass on this.”

‘Guy’ is Guy Pearce, a British-Australian actor, musician and singer-songwriter and crucially, a man who made a guest appearance at Slaughtneil disco back in 1989.

While no reason is given for him deciding to pass on our offer to relive the memories, there is a good chance the trip in Sean McGuigan’s silver Renault 21 may have something to do with it.

“I picked him up in Maghera town – I don’t know who got him there, but that’s where I lifted him,” says the current club chairperson.

“We were going out the road and it just got immediately dark. It scared the wits out of the poor fella. He said, ‘Jesus mate, where are we going to?’.

“The poor fella thought he was getting hijacked, but he went in and did all he needed to do.”

Pearce was nearing the end of a three-year stint as ‘Mike Young’ in Australian sitcom ‘Neighbours’ after making his acting debut on the show in 1986.

Terry McIlvar was DJ at the time of Pearce’s visit and recalled how hordes of frenzied teenagers packed Slaughtneil hall to the rafters for a glimpse of the star.

“There were 1,680 people there the night Guy Pearce came. There was even a marquee at the side of Slaughtneil that night as well as the hall being packed.” he said.

“They just came up with this idea that they were going to get Guy Pearce. I had to go and buy myself a radio mic for it. He was civil, a nice fella.

“He was good with the people, chatty and friendly. Even with the photographs we have, the stage was packed because everyone was up to get autographs and that kind of thing.”

Among those who had made their way to Slaughtneil with fancy notions of chatting to the Neighbours star were three girls who ended up getting closer than they had bargained for.

The rush to the front caused a bit of a crush, and amid the screaming and the heat, a few of the girls who were closest fainted. They were hastily dragged onto the stage by the bouncers.

Cathy Rennie was one of those who were lifted out of the crowd and said she was sure to make the best of a bad situation. 

“I don’t know how I got up near the front, to tell you the truth,” said the Dungiven woman.

“I don’t even know what he was doing on the stage, whether he was singing or anything, but I just felt myself getting all faint.

“The next thing there was somebody lifting me. Two bouncers lifted me up onto the stage and it was near where he was at. He just looked round and smiled at me and I touched his hand.

“I think he had on a black leather jacket and I just grabbed him. It’s a wonder he didn’t take me for assault!

“Then I was took to the back of the stage and there were a couple of girls sitting there who had fainted too. We had the best seats in the house.”

Cathy recalls how the build-up to the event had reached fever pitch during the week when the details were finally confirmed in the local newspaper.

“Momentum was building up all week at school that he was coming to Slaughtneil. I’m almost sure it was confirmed in the Mid Ulster Observer,” she said.

“For him to come to Slaughtneil after us watching him on the TV was amazing. Neighbours was the main thing. It was on every day at five o’clock and you rushed home from school to watch it.

“The whole thing was unreal, the excitement of ‘imagine you got talking to him’. It was the first time any of us had ever been somewhere there was a star.

“We would never have experienced that before, apart from maybe Daniel O’Donnell or Barry McGuigan at the Castle.

“I remember Barry McGuigan coming after he was the champion, the Clones Cyclone, and that was a big thing in Dungiven years ago, but Guy Pearce was after that.

“It’s not like young ones nowadays who can go to a concert and see Westlife, or Girls Aloud or One Direction or whatever. We never had anything like that in our lives.

“When I think of Slaughtneil, I always think of that night. It was just class.”

The teenagers of south Derry spent over 20 years filing into Slaughtneil hall, but, for many, the first occasion that springs to mind is that night in ’89.

Guy Pearce has gone on to have a successful career on both the screen and the stage, and the 1,680 who crammed into Slaughtneil hall will claim some credit for sending him on his way.

See also:

If you build it, they will come: Slaughtneil's field of dreamers

Spinning the soundtrack to a timeless era

South Derry's ballroom of romance

The goose that laid the golden egg

Teenage Kickings: The gangs of Slaughtneil

Bringing Muhammad to the south Derry mountains

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