'Am I doing this for my dead son, or am I on an ego trip?'

Twelve-year-old Tim Parry was killed at Warrington. Now his father has a TV show, writes Cole Moreton
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The Independent Online
"It hurts," says Colin Parry, slumping back in his chair, wondering whether the accusation is true. He is accused of exploiting his son's death by agreeing to host his own television chat show.

The pointing finger belongs to a woman who lives down the road from him in Warrington, Cheshire. She was so indignant at news of his big break that she wrote a letter urging him to think again.

Mr Parry has received thousands of letters since the day in March 1993 when his 12-year-old son Tim was killed by an IRA bomb in the middle of town. He is used to being public property. But this time he was stung by the woman's claim that he was cashing in on the nation's affection for his boy.

"There are those who say, 'He's trading on the tragedy he's been through'," says Mr Parry. "You wonder if there's any truth in it. You start to self- analyse. You think, 'Am I doing this for solid, honest, decent reasons, or am I doing it because I'm on some kind of ego trip?' I hope not, but the question is still there."

Colin and Wendy Parry's motives have been questioned before - most notably when they signed a deal with the publishing giant Hodder and Stoughton for a book about Tim, his death, and their campaign to have him remembered as a symbol of peace. "There's nothing you can do to change people's minds," says Mr Parry, wearily. They made nothing like the "Mickey Mouse money" people claimed they would get from the book, he says, and neither will the local television series make his fortune. "You just have to wait until that kind of flak goes away."

Until now, Mr Parry's reasons for appearing in the media have been about keeping Tim's name alive. He still wants to do that, with a passion. But he also wants to move on. That's why he was delighted when Granadaagreed to produce The Parry Interview, a series of seven chat shows that will begin on 6 August. Granada is so confident about the programmes that it has chosen to show them at 7.30pm, up against EastEnders.

A spokesman for the company said his bosses had been impressed by Mr Parry's tact and articulate dignity in dealing with the incessant demands of the media after the Warrington bomb. "He is just an ordinary bloke who was thrown in front of the camera because of an extraordinary set of circumstances. His ease in front of the camera was there for all to see. It was probably the most horrific screen test you could have."

Most of the interviews are being filmed among the leather armchairs and wood-panelled walls of the Athenaeum club in Liverpool, a setting that Mr Parry hopes will give the show "gravitas".

Guests will include John Ward and Diana Lamplugh, who both suffered the murder of a daughter (Julie Ward was killed in Kenya in 1988; the young estate agent Suzy Lamplugh never returned from showing a house to a client in 1986). The Labour frontbencher David Blunkett will appear, and so will Adrian Nichol, the RAF navigator shot down and captured during the Gulf War.

For Mr Parry, who has become a constant campaigner for peace in Northern Ireland, the most significant recording was probably of an encounter between the SDLP leader John Hume and the Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis. It was filmed in the wake of the attack on Manchester, at the same hotel in Enniskillen that was destroyed by a bomb a week later.

"There are some sad moments in the programme," says Mr Parry with marked understatement. "But then again, I don't suppose they would have expected me to put on the Freddie Starr Show." The original idea for the series, as proposed to Granada by Mr Parry himself, was for him to talk to others who had been thrust under the media spotlight for a short period of time because of disaster or tragedy - to find out how they dealt with it, and what became of them afterwards.

Mr Parry became a household name after Tim's battle for life caught the nation's imagination. For five days, millions of people watched news bulletins hoping the boy with the cheeky smile would survive his terrible injuries. Finally, the father lay down beside his son and held him close for the last time before his life support machine was switched off. Mr Parry's harrowing account of that moment, broadcast on radio a year later, moved even the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to praise the family's "courage and sense of forgiveness".

While others (including his wife) may have preferred to withdraw, part of Colin Parry's response was to launch a fierce and public campaign for the preservation of Tim's memory. "We lost Tim in a very public and political way. If Tim had been killed on the road outside our house I would have run out of people to talk to, because you burn your family and friends out. They can't constantly shoulder your burden. So the media things provide a rich source of people to talk to. I would have been a basket case by now if that had not happened." So how did he feel when the spotlight moved on? "Lost."

Taking part in a Panorama programme provided relief. Then he wrote the book, which "shored me up again". But when the exhaustive promotional tour was over, the depression came back. "I felt. . . [he sighs, heavily]. . . it was like post-holiday blues or women who struggle after the birth of a child. Feelings of being lost. I was floundering."

Before Tim's death he had been content to lead "an exceedingly ordinary life, not looking for any great highs and avoiding the great lows". The bomb changed his priorities; life as a personnel manager in Liverpool was no longer enough. "It didn't fulfil me. I didn't get enough buzz out of just doing the job I'd done for 30 years." What was missing was the "surge of adrenaline" that he had experienced from the media work, the book and countless trips to speak in Northern Ireland.

Talking by candlelight on the patio of his large, tidy suburban home, Mr Parry says he is still restless. "I'm looking for something to do that will play a part in turning the madness of Tim's loss into something that will prove positive for the family." Not necessarily positive in terms of money - he will not talk about his fee for the chat show, but hints that it is way below the pounds 5,000 per show some people have guessed at, and says he will not be able to give up his proper job. Granada says regional programming is the poor relation of television, and Mr Parry's payment reflects that. So what does he mean? "Positive in the sense of stopping me from going criminally insane," he says. "I'm the type who could have easily flipped." Instead he has found that doing "things that are worthy" has helped contain the negative feelings. "I want more of that. It's when I go into deep phases where things seem empty that I start to become a little unhinged. I feel despondent, and I feel like it's all gone a bit aimless again. I need challenges like I never needed them before."