20 May 2022

Derry's much-loved entertainer Micky Doherty opens up about the battles he faced with bullying and addiction

Well-known in the city as someone who is always helping others, especially during the pandemic, Micky tells Marianne Flood that he has also overcome many of his own difficulties

Micky Doherty

Micky Doherty doing what he does best.

Derry's best loved entertainer has been hailed as a hero for helping hundreds of families during the coronavirus crisis, but for someone who always felt like an outsider the praise has been hard to accept.

Growing up in the 1980s, Micky Doherty was bullied because he was 'different' to the other boys.

With the added challenges of dyslexia and ADHD, his struggle to find self -acceptance led to self-harm and suicide attemps.

Born in the Rossville Flats to Cathy and Jim Doherty, Micky moved to Galliagh Park as a child.

"I was well accepted in my area but I knew I was different from all the other boys," he says.

"I didn't come out as gay until I was 28.

"I had to hide it because I was afraid of society."

In recent years, he has found huge popularity as a singer and entertainer and has 20,000 friends and followers on Facebook.

Micky was about to start his dream job as a freelance runner for the BBC in Belfast when the coronavirus broke out.

He had hoped this was his big break to land his dream job in TV, but instead he found himself at home in Derry with nothing to do.

But fate had other plans for Micky, who was asked by a local MP to give out some information on social distancing to his large Facebook following.

Soon he was inundated with requests for help to find hand sanitiser and PPE for frontline staff, and this led to people approaching him for financial help too.

Micky was able to harness the hyperactivity that comes with his ADHD and use his boundless energy to get things done.

"I haven't watched TV in five years, I just can't sit," Micky.admits.

"I'm an entertainer, so I'm used to being out and putting on a show and suddenly that had all stopped

"I'm known in the local area as being a charity fundraiser- if there's a charity fundraiser I'll host it. It's just part of me that I like helping people I knew people had started to struggle and they were coming to me and I started to think about how I could help.

"Because I have been working with charities for a long time people put their trust in me."

With the help of his friend Bebe Johnstone and his aunts Dawn and Jean Rodgers, Micky set up a charitable fund for donations from local people and businesses, which was distributed to people who didn't have enough money to eat or heat their homes.

Micky says the messages he received from people in dire financial straits were heartbreaking to read.

"When people started asking me for help I felt so emotional. It was so sad.

"It was often at night when people had maybe had a drink and it gave them the courage to get in touch.

"They were so embarrassed to ask for help but I said 'look, this is between me and you'.

"They put their trust in me. No one ever needs to know who got help. I will take that to my grave.

"I swore to them over my mother and father's grave that I would never speak about giving them the money.

"People from all over Derry got help; from Donemana, from Eglinton. Nobody went without."

Local businesses quickly got on board to help out offering goods and services free of charge to people who needed them.

"I want to commend the people of Derry, I have never seen a town stick together the way we did during this." says Micky.

"So many people helped.  Noel at Gallagher's Oil did me a deal for the oil, Vogue Car Sales donated £1,000, we had hampers from Whites News and Views, Day Today on Spencer Road and Breslin's Butchers.

"But it was people too. People were giving me whatever they could.

"There was a mother of five from Creggan who gave me £500."

Micky, who is a trained carer, was also doing shifts on the Waterside Hospital's Covid-19 Ward.

"It was a very difficult period for me because of the lockdown.

"It was probably the biggest trial of my life.

"Going into work and trying to make people smile in that environment was difficult.

"But it has been amazing too. 

"Just to see how incredible the people of Derry are.

"How we stuck together and looked out for one another.”

Running the charitable fund took up all Mickey's time and required superhuman levels of organisation - something Micky has always struggled with because of his dyslexia.

"Concentration is hard for me," he explains.

"It's my mind. It's the way it works.

"If anyone knows me, they will know that I usually operate in organised chaos.

"But I was able to do this.

"I believe Sr Clare was hushing me and that's how I managed to do it.

"I was like the Del Boy of Derry getting washing machines for people.

"But I was honoured to do it."

Micky's hard work didn't go unnoticed and he was soon being called an angel and the unofficial Mayor of Derry.

But as someone who struggled with feelings of self hatred from a very young age, it has been difficult to take in.

"I don't see myself as a hero," says Micky, his voice breaking with emotion.

"What way can I explain it? Growing up I always wanted to be accepted, but I was bullied badly. I had the nickname 'Micky Handbag'.

"People would shout it at me getting on the bus, getting off the bus. I never accepted myself.

"When I saw people say these lovely things about me I just couldn't stop crying.

"I was so emotional.

"People were calling me Pat Ramsey and I was delighted because I love Pat Ramsey.

"I started to call myself Michael Ramsey"

From a young age Micky stood out from the crowd.

"All the boys were playing football and I was singing and dancing," he recalls.

"My mother used to put me on a bus to Dublin to do All Ireland Disco Championships and child modelling.

"When I came back up to Derry I had to pretend I was doing karate competitions.

"At school the teachers would say 'we don't know what to do with him, he won't sit still'.

"But they channelled my energies into performing and I won the Feis with my primary school doing the Pied Piper and the Ugly Duckling so I was put to use," he smiles.

"I was no angel growing up and I was very fond of attention seeking, as the teachers would have said.

"I was the class clown, I actually had to be sellotaped to my hair at one stage.

"My school reports were just horrendous.

"But sure, they never asked why I was behaving like that. And in them days there was no such thing as school counsellors. 

"School is where I struggled most. I was put out of every class but inside I was asking for help. It didn't happen.

"But I do still look back on my school reports and laugh."

The bullying and learning challenges took a toll on Micky's mental health and he struggled with self harm and suicidal thoughts.

"I have wanted to die for most of life," he says candidly. “I was self harming from when I was 13.I would give myself black eyes.

"My mother would find me with the lead of the iron wrapped round my neck."

As a young teenager Micky found solace in his Catholic faith and was introduced to prayer by Gerry McCaul who ran a local  prayer group.

"Rather than try and end my life at the early age of 13 I started to pray that I would be able to live," says Micky, who was also put on antidepressants.

“I had a lot insecurities and there was stigma and name calling.

"Other people experienced it too - maybe they were overweight, maybe they had red hair or glasses."

In recent years, Micky's career as a singer and compere has taken off and he has a stage at the Halloween celebrations and has even been asked to turn on the Christmas lights.

"I would think 'maybe they like me now, maybe I'm not that 'Micky Handbag' anymore'.

"My plan had been to move out of Derry. I was planning to be on TV - but God had other plans for me. God and Sister Clare."

Micky, who is now in his early 40s, has struggled with depression throughout his life, but feels he has come out of the coronavirus feeling more at peace.

"I feel lockdown has helped my own mental health," he says.

"I feel 10ft tall and I feel proud.

"If anything was to happen to me, I would always know that I had done good for the people of Derry.

"I couldn't have done it without the people of Derry and it makes me proud to be a Derry man.

"The worst time in my life was the death of my mother and five weeks later my father.

"If I can survive that I can survive without medication," he says.

"My father had been suffering from Locked In Syndrome for five years following a stroke.

"He could only communicate by blinking his eyes. We were told he was the worst case of it in Ireland.

"My mother (pictured below with Micky) tended to his every need."

After losing both his parents in such a short space of time, Micky's mental health deteriorated badly.

"I went down a wrong road," he admits.

"I struggled with addiction.

"Jesus fell three times, well I fell 53 times."

But  Micky beat his addictions and after gaining acceptance through his singing and charity work he felt able to shrug off the 'Micky Handbag' label.

"I'd say to people 'please don't call me that. My mother didn't christen me that'.

"Some people didn't know I didn't like it- they thought it was like a stage name.

"But it still hurt."

With his BBC job on hold and concerts cancelled for the foreseeable future, Micky has had to think of a new project to channel his considerable energy into.

In the last few weeks he has relaunched himself as fashion and beauty blogger and influencer on Instagram.

With his good looks and considerable charm, it's not hard to imagine him as the next internet sensation.

"I've had a bit of down time to think," says Micky. "In Belfast I would be a small fish in a big pond but in Derry I'm a big fish in a small pond.

"When this is all over there will be no entertainment for a long, long time.

"So I'm going to try this. I love to make people laugh and make them happy. I can't stage anything - I'm just myself. A few weeks ago I was doing videos calling Covid-19 'Corona-17' and hand sanitiser 'sand handitiser' I didn't even know I was saying it," he laughs.

"But that's just me - if you don't like me delete me!

"I've had lovely messages from people saying I put a smile on their face and that for me is like winning the lottery."

Micky's faith remains an important part of his life and in recent months he has helped found a prayer group dedicated to  young Derry nun Sister Clare Crockett who died in an earthquake four years ago.

Whilst the group can no longer meet in person, Micky has started streaming the novena meetings from his Facebook page.

"When the coronavirus started people started to get really scared. They couldn't see their loved ones.

"Young people who had never prayed before were contacting me and saying 'how do I pray?'

"There were hundreds of people looking for Sr Clare's photograph and they were putting it in their window to make them feel safe. They were asking for her novena prayer and they were starting to pray.

"Sister Clare always wanted to be famous, and she got famous after she died. She did so much amazing work during her life. That's what I call a hero."

You can follow Micky on his instagram page Micky Doherty.

If you have affected by any issues in this article you can contact the Samaritans on 0330 094 5717 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.

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