Saturday, 16 June 2012

Will the real Paul Donovan please stand up?

It all began with a letter last August from the organisers of the Sandford St Martin Awards, asking would I chair the judges for the broadcast section for 2012?

The annual awards run by the Sandford St Martin Trust are for excellence in religious broadcasting. The awards ceremony was to be at Lambeth Palace.

My initial reaction was, “have you got the right Paul Donovan?”

I have known for many years that there are two of us. Our paths have wandered near and far without ever actually crossing. I’ve received his cheques, he’s received mine.

He specialises in media, having worked for the Daily Mail and Sunday Times where he still writes a column.

I have written quite a lot of material on media for the Guardian, Independent, the Press Gazette, British Journalism Review and the Church press. I’ve worked for the unions and Tribune.

The Sandford St Martin awards organiser asked if I could send over a biography which I did. The response came, “you are definitely the Paul Donovan we’re after.”

That was a relief.

The doubts though did linger a little, not least when at the meal after the day of judgement, a fellow judge asked when the next edition of the radio companion was coming out – I stared blankly before coming up with the standard: “I think you’ve got the wrong Paul Donovan.”

These comments have become commonplace over the years.

“My mother loved your book on the Today programme,” said one journalist. I read your column in the Sunday Times. These were all give always relating to mistaken identity.

Over the years, it has never really bothered me, the other Paul has had a very successful career writing for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and many others. It wasn’t like being called Boris Johnson, Kelvin McKenzie or Richard Littlejohn, which would have caused a real problem.

The work of the other Paul offered a chance most the time to bask in reflective glory.

Dopplegangers among journalists though are not that uncommon. There are the Duncan Campbells, one works for the Guardian and is married to Julie Christie. The other used to work for the New Statesman and was noted for his investigative work on the espionage world. There was room for overlap in that doppleganging partnership as well, given that the Guardian’s Duncan worked in a not dissimilar area as crime correspondent for the paper for many years. The two did both turn up to interview the same person on one occasion.

Writer and former publicity man for Sinn Fein Danny Morrison is another with a doppelganger. He recalls receiving a £400 cheque from the BBC. “I telephoned the payments department in London to explain that a mistake had been made but the first thing the woman at the other end asked was, “Is it not enough?” said Mr Morrison. “I explained to her that it was more than enough and that while I was certainly me I was not the Danny Morrison and former New Zealand cricketer who was being paid for commenting on the England tour of the antipodes. But what a surprise the other Danny Morrison was having that morning when he opened his mail and received a BBC cheque for £40 for taking part in a documentary about drug pushers and informers! “

There are certainly more dopplegangers around than you realise. Anyway to return to the Sandford St Martin awards. All went well, the awards presented, speech delivered etc.

Then relaxing afterwards, who should arrive but the other Paul Donovan. After all these years. We swapped stories of cheques and mistaken identity. He was assailed by nuns on one occasion, who thought he was the Paul Donovan who writes for the Catholic press.

On another occasion he had been asked about something he wrote attacking the Murdoch press for whom he writes.

All in all though it was great to at last meet the other Paul. A thoroughly decent person, who has been in journalism for many years and carved out an excellent career.

The one lingering thought that remains though from that night was why did the Sandford St Martin people invite two Paul Donovans? I know you can never get too many and I'm sure they got the right one.

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