Dancing with the Stars winner Carl Mullan's Creggan connection as show finale marks emotional anniversary
Both men will battled it out on the dancefloor for the Glitterball trophy in tonight's finale alongside Bellaghy native, 2022 Eurovision singer Brooke Scullion and business woman and influencer Suzanne Jackson after 11 weeks of intense training and competition.
This year’s grand final certainly had plenty of interest for Derry viewers with three celebrities boasting links with the city.
Derry’s ‘Glee’ and ‘Celtic Thunder’ star Damien has developed a close bond with Dublin born 2FM breakfast show presenter Carl during the hit reality TV series but little did they know their close connection had its origins in the maiden city.
Indeed, Damien's grandparents lived just two doors down from Carl's granny and grandad Mullan in Leenan Gardens in Creggan.
Carl spent many memorable childhood days in Derry visiting his grandparents and the extended Mullan family in the city he calls his 'second home'.
His father Don, a writer and humanitarian best known for his ground-breaking book 'Eyewitness Bloody Sunday', explains the special connection and why Carl would be 'thrilled' if his good friend Damien was to be crowned the winner tonight.
"It's absolutely incredible," enthused Don. "To think you have Brooke and Damien from Derry but more amazing is that Damien's grandmother and I would've been neighbours in Leenan Gardens.
"We lived in 41 Leenan Gardens and the Hegartys, his grandmother was June Hegarty, and they lived in number 45, just two doors up from us.
"They were a lovely family, the Hegartys. All of our neighbours at Leenan Gardens were great neighbours.
"Damien's great grandfather, Mr Hegarty, was a barber by profession. I remember him cutting my hair many times when I was a wee boy. It's incredible. And Damien and Carl have become great friends. Carl said he would be thrilled if Damien wins this.
"Carl would always be up at his granny Mullans house in Derry. There's always a chance they both played with each other in the street as young children. It would've been gas to think that our kids, when they were small, actually played with each other without realising the connections.
"People know I get emotional when I talk about Leenan Gardens and the people of Creggan because I'm very, very proud of both and going to St Joseph's as well. When you're born in Derry there's nowhere in the world like it."
Carl and his sisters Therese and Emma are Derry City Football Club supporters and often take in games when the Candy Stripes are in Dublin. Carl was a mascot for the club and proudly got his photograph taken with City skipper Peter Hutton ahead of the 1997 FAI Cup Final in Dalymount as a seven year-old.
"The biggest Derry City fan we have is actually our daughter Emma who actually worked with the FAI and she was up at the Brandywell many times. So Emma would go a lot.
"We would certainly go to different matches here (Dublin), like when they're playing Shamrock Rovers, particularly in Tallaght which is just really a couple of miles from where we are.
"In 1997, Richard Moore I think was on the Board of Derry City at the time and we were great friends. It was Richard who got Carl the honour of being mascot for the cup final. He was thrilled. He was only seven but that's how it came about. It's interesting because our kids would be big Dublin GAA fans but when it comes to soccer it's Derry City."
It's been a challenging couple of months for the contestants and the timing of the Mother's Day finale is particularly poignant for Carl whose late grandmother Mrs Maureen Beatty first anniversary of her passing occurred this weekend.
Mrs Beatty, who had dementia, passed away aged 90 last year on St Patrick's Day. She was a huge fan of the dance show which began this year on her birthday and concludes on the weekend of her anniversary. Don shared a lovely moment where he danced with his mother-in-law in the living room as Dancing with the Stars played on the television beside them. A few years later her grandson would be appearing on the final of the show. She won't be far from the thoughts of Carl on the night, explains his father.
"What is also very emotional about the day is Carl's nana Beatty; she died on St Patrick's Day last year with Covid pneumonia and they were very close," said Don. "She was the dancer. She loved ballroom dancing.
"In fact we even came across a clip three years ago, she had dementia but music would bring her into a different zone. There's a clip of her and me dancing to Dancing with the Stars on the TV. She was then suffering from advanced dementia but the show always brought her back. So the show brought a lot of happiness to all our lives especially when we could see how happy Carl's nana was for the two hours of the show.
"Strangely, the show began on January 8th and that was her birthday. And it's concluding now on the weekend of her anniversary and Mother's Day as well so it's amazing and there's a lot of emotions from a family point of view today."
"We had mass yesterday (Saturday) for the first anniversary of Mrs Beattie's passing and that was kind of poignant. The first anniversary is always the hardest but this has kind of given us all a lift and knowing how much Carl loved his nana and how much she loved him it's just been great. So fingers crossed."
Carl is something of a dark horse to win the show tonight but regardless of the outcome his dad is proud of how far the radio presenter has come.
"When Carl told me he had been asked to take part in Dancing with the Stars we were all thinking, let's hope he gets to week four or five and I think even the bookies had him and Shane Byrne as probably two of the first to go.
"He's a hard worker and he's given it 100 per cent. Emily Barker, his professional dance partner, is a great teacher. She's a lovely young woman as well and has become part of the family now as well.
"Even yesterday she got him a gift and it was the shoes he wore for his second dance which was the Pasodoble. She actually had them framed and it's a really beautiful momento of him taking part in Dancing with the Stars which was really great."
Carl has had to dedicate so much of his time to the studio and his morning show on 2FM rather than being at home with his wife Aisling and his one and half-year-old little boy, Daibhí.
"Carl's wife Aisling has been hugely supportive. They have a 20 month-old kid and I don't know how Carl does it. He's up at 5am weekdays because he's on the 6am breakfast show. He goes straight from that to the studio and then still tries to find time for Aisling and the kid.
"Obviously I'd love Carl to win but whoever wins, they've all given it such great fun and effort. It's great to be a part of it.
"I think people have taken to him. Honestly what you see on television that's who Carl is. He's a very caring person and he's a funny fella. Carl by nature is a very generous person and I think people can see that in him. He's not performing for the cameras, that's just himself.
"Carl will give it 100 percent and more. He said to me, 'Dad, honestly. I'd love to win it but if Damien wins it I'll be thrilled. I think he and Damien have become really good friends and they will probably remain good friends which I love because of the Leenan Gardens connection."