Dara Ó Briain, the comedian, father of two and self-confessed science nerd talks school, writing for children and meeting Stephen Hawking
Tell us a bit about your new book, Beyond The Sky.
It’s really a guide to the various ways we can explore space. People have been dreaming about space travel for centuries, but there’s still so much we don’t know. This takes you on a bit of a journey, and aims to show young people that sometimes the most amazing things can be seen when we simply look up once in a while.
You have a degree in maths and theoretical physics, where does your love of science stem from?
I always loved science as a kid – I guess it started with a teacher who went off-curriculum and said, ‘Look, now let me tell you about the really, really cool stuff.’ I loved space too. When I was younger, I’d always be looking out for the Big Dipper and all the constellations, especially when we went away on holidays. I thought I might end up pursuing it as a career but later on I ran away to the circus and fell in love with telling jokes instead.
Is there a book that was particularly special to you when you were younger?
I asked my parents for a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time for Christmas when I was 16 and it still stands pride of place on my shelf – except now it’s been signed by the man himself. I’m looking at it right now!
You interviewed Stephen for BBC1, what was that like?
Incredible. Difficult – but incredible. It wasn’t like a usual interview because I had to submit the questions in advance, and you have to have patience because it takes 10 minutes for him to answer each question [Stephen uses a voice synthesiser and the muscles in his face to communicate], but you learn how to take it at a different pace.
Why have you decided to write a children’s book?
Kids’ books have come such a long way – what they do with them now is absolutely great.
It was like I’d written a script or something and the publishers just delivered it like actors. And Dan Bramall’s illustrations are great. I’ve worked with children before [Dara was a children’s presenter on Irish TV in his early career], I’ve visited them at schools and things, and they’re so enthusiastic, so I wanted to answer all the weird and wonderful, nitty-gritty questions that kids like to ask.
Do you think there will be another in the pipeline?
We’d love to do another – and we’re already looking into it. There’s no end to the number of great questions to be asked, especially when it comes to science.