Beloved crooner can’t wait to perform at glitzy ceremony honouring NI’s unsung heroes
The crooner (80) will join a host of other celebrities at the ceremony, which is being covered by UTV, Sky and Q Radio, and hosted by Pamela Ballantine and Ibe Sesay.
The bash honouring unsung heroes from across Northern Ireland will be held at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Cultra on Friday.
Thin Lizzy frontman Ricky Warwick, who is originally from Newtownards, is flying in from LA to perform a set of the band’s greatest hits.
Tony, whose smash hit Is This The Way To Amarillo was famously covered by comedy king Peter Kay, has been diagnosed with dementia and has become a campaigner determined to raise awareness about the condition.
He joked with Sunday Life about not needing to remember the words to his most famous chart topper because the fans are always on hand to help out.
He said: “I do hope it will get people into the spirit of things.
“The good thing is, if I forget the words, the audience sings them anyway. I could probably not sing at all and just wave my arms.
“Seriously though, I’ll tell you what that song means to me. I wish I had one of those every 10 years.
“It was given to me in 1971 by Neil Sedaka. He gave me two songs actually. We recorded them in the same session.
“The other song was Solitaire. They are what I consider to be two of the greatest songs ever written, and they were both given to me by Neil.
“I’m very proud of Amarillo — well, both tracks — but there are certain songs which are just once in a lifetime.
“If you’re lucky, you might get one or two in your career. I got one which really did a lot for me. It’s one of those songs which really gets everyone on their feet.
“My son, Sean, suggested I do Sweet Caroline as well to really get things going.
“So many disc jockeys I’ve spoken to say that when they have a gig somewhere, if it gets a bit quiet, as soon as they put Amarillo on, the floor is full and suddenly everybody is up dancing, so hopefully we get that at the awards.”
Tony was diagnosed with dementia last year after he began to forget people’s names, but he has continued to perform with the help of his loving wife, Sue — and an autocue just in case.
He is now highlighting the work of carers, and celebrated them recently with the release of the charity single Thank You For Being a Friend, in collaboration with the charity Music for Dementia.
The song is a cover of Andrew Gold’s song, which is also the theme tune to The Golden Girls.
Tony can’t wait to sing at the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards.
“I will be singing Thank You For Being a Friend, which is the anthem for carers we did for this year’s Thank You Day on July 2,” he said.
“Hopefully the song will make people more aware of carers and what they do, because they’re largely ignored and they do a lot of hard work.
“I’ve visited halls and clubs which have been full of people who have dementia and the people who look after them. My god, I never realised so many people had it.
“The carers are the ones looking after them, and I think they do a great job, which is why we decided to do a song for them. We hope it’s going to be a big help for the cause.”
Carers are just some of the many unsung heroes and selfless volunteers who are celebrated each year at the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, and this year will be no different.
Tony, who can trace his family heritage to Connacht, is looking forward to hearing the stories of the ordinary folk who have been nominated and is eager to visit Northern Ireland once more.
He said: “I absolutely can’t wait. I haven’t been to Northern Ireland for years. I’ve been many times in the past — I used to tour there quite a lot.
“We’re actually coming to Belfast in February with a show hopefully, but we’re still waiting for the sign-off on that. It’ll be at the Ulster Hall, which would be great.
“My roots are in southern Ireland actually. My grandfather was from Co Mayo, and my company is called Mayo Music as a result.
“I was over there recently for the St Patrick’s Day parade in Claremorris, which is where my grandfather was born.
“I went there and became the grand marshal for the parade, which was great. I was also able to walk past the school my grandfather went to, which was a source of great pride.”
Tickets for Friday night’s Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards cost £75 (plus VAT) each. The price includes a four-course meal and table wine. To purchase one, email [email protected]