Dublin’s ‘Mr Pride’ reveals how ‘balcony bingo’ led to throat cancer diagnosis

“I was doing the balcony bingo for Iveagh Trust Kevin St, and every time I did it, I ended up with a sore throat which I thought was tonsillitis, until in November 2020, I got a lump on my neck with the sore throat.

Eddie McGuinness at the Dundalk Outcomers Family Pride Day at Market Square. Photo: Aidan Dullaghan/Newspics

Eugene MastersonSunday World

A sore throat after calling ‘balcony bingo’ at the height of lockdown in 2020 was the first warning sign for Eddie McGuinness that something was amiss.

“I was doing the balcony bingo for Iveagh Trust Kevin St, and every time I did it, I ended up with a sore throat which I thought was tonsillitis, until in November 2020, I got a lump on my neck with the sore throat. That’s when I knew something was wrong,” recalls Eddie.

The 53-year-old events professional is known to many in the gay community as ‘Mr Pride’ or ‘Queen of Matchmaking’ due to his integral role in the annual Dublin Pride Festival, and is recognisable to many for his bright rainbow coloured jacket.

“I go all the way back to my first Pride parade in 1993 when we were decriminalised as homosexuals,” he remembers.

Although used to taking on big tasks, the news Eddie was about to hear represented something of a different order altogether:

“I ended up being diagnosed with stage 3/4 throat cancer. Thankfully, we got it in time so they could throw the kitchen sink at me with high-dose chemotherapy and radiation,” he explains.

Eddie McGuinness urges all men to seek medical advice if they have any health concerns

Eddie’s diagnosis of throat cancer came about as a result of HPV infection, and he is a firm advocate of families taking the step of protecting their children and affording both boys and girls the benefit of HPV vaccinations that are freely available in schools at this time of year.

“If we can get to 90pc coverage for Covid vaccinations, we should be doing that for all other preventable illnesses as well, and we should all embrace it. As parents and guardians going forward, we need to look out for the next generation.”

During his experience, Eddie says he has discovered some unlikely upsides to the experience as well as heard some surprising reactions:

“I’ve just started back college, and after the treatment, I’m the same weight now as I was when I was 25, so I’m feeling great! But my energy levels have lots of work to do,” he adds.

"It was Panti Bliss who said to me after I had finished treatment that ‘we’re all absolutely delighted that Eddie has come back, but my god, the Dundalk accent came back stronger than ever!’”

All joking aside, Eddie has taken some critical insights from the experience that he is keen to share with others.

“I want to encourage men not to be scared because, for me, it was a scary experience mentally, physically and inwardly as well – that soul-searching does happen, and that’s something we need to discuss: it’s not something to be afraid of,” he points out.

“Your body gives you hints of what’s going on, and if you don’t pay attention, it will keep giving you hints until it gets too late.

“I know of a friend who didn’t pay attention to it, which unfortunately is no longer here with us.

”The staff of St Luke’s were wonderful and kept me going. I’m also now heavily involved with the Irish Cancer Society.”

Eddie McGuinness, who has battled throat cancer, pictured at his home in Dublin 8. Photo: Frank McGrath

Eddie hopes his story has encouraged others he knows to go and get themselves checked out for health concerns.

He recollects Dublin LGBTQ Pride had launched the first-ever Digital Dublin Pride Festival, with a fully interactive virtual Pride Parade and a Pride Concert taking place in 2020 entirely online and he did not know he had cancer at that point.

“It has been a challenge, but also, it has helped our community to think outside the box,” says Eddie, who co-hosts the event with drag artist and TV presenter Paul Ryder. “We mightn’t be able to be on the streets, but we’ll be in everybody’s homes, and in doing so, we’ll be able to get a wider message about the diversity in families.”

And nothing stops ‘Queen of Matchmaking’ as Eddie gets ready to bring more people together at ‘The Outing Festival’ in Co. Clare, which returns for their 10th Year this month for a new three day festival Valentines Weekend from February 10-12, which is the world's only LGBTQ+ matchmaking, Arts & Music Festival.

The Louth man notes The Outing Festival is a fusion of music, comedy, ceilí bands and gay arts, and the best of Ireland’s and International performers, drag/queer artists, and DJs.

Now in its 10th year, the ever fast growing offshoot of the historical matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna, Virgin Media TV host and sometimes drag star Paul Ryder is hostess this year for their version of Blind Date.

“Who needs dating apps? At The Outing, the glittery LGBT+ matchmaking festival, there’s no technology, just good old-fashioned parties,” beams Eddie.

Eddie himself first met his husband John 20 years ago in The George 20 years ago and they have been happily married for 10 years.

  • The Outing runs in Lisdoonvarna from February 10-12 (see www.theouting.ie/the-outing-festival)

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