Having arrived at the Malmaison Hotel in Birmingham after a long train journey, Noel Fitzpatrick, known best for his alias The Supervet, met Evie Kissack for a coffee and a chat.

 

After greeting me with a friendly hug, Noel explained he had to take a phone call from the family of a pet he had been in surgery with until the early hours of the morning. “We were operating on the animal until God knows when, so I just have to speak with the family.” The Supervet’s recognisable charming Irish drawl, paired with his warm nature, means anyone in his presence feels instantly at ease. The prospect of interviewing a world-class orthopaedic-neuro veterinary surgeon is, at first, quite a daunting prospect. Following five minutes of chatting with Noel, his trademark kindness and enthusiasm dispelled any of my initial worries. It’s safe to say I was in complete awe of his ability to tackle such a demanding schedule and remain so lively.

Despite his many distractions and commitments, Noel was completely focused on our interview, during which he explained the concept of his exciting new tour, Welcome to My World. What became very evident from the interview was that Noel needed very little prompting to talk about his ideas surrounding the groundbreaking (and previously controversial) topic of One Medicine. This is a man extremely passionate about engaging with others in order to educate them on the potential of biomedical science. The pioneering new live show, hosted by Noel, will see the nation’s best-loved vet enlighten audiences with anecdotes of his early life in the Irish countryside, and demonstrate how these early formative years helped inspire his relentless ambition to explore the future of medicine. 

 

So, your debut live show Welcome to My World comes to arenas and theatres across the UK in autumn 2018! 

Yes! We are starting in the Midlands, in Nottingham. I am genuinely excited about coming to Birmingham because I’ve come here for 20 years plus for veterinary conferences. I’ve lived in crappy hotels that only students can afford, sharing a room with three guys just because that’s the nature of student existence. [Laughs] When I was a student walking through here, the streets of Birmingham, I felt pretty useless. I was starting out my veterinary career and I didn’t get accepted for any jobs. Nobody would give me an internship or residency… I wasn’t accepted into any training programmes to be a surgeon. I went instead to a general practice in the Irish countryside where cows would poo on my head…[Laughs] I’m definitely hoping we can put that into the show – wouldn’t that be brilliant to see in the middle of Birmingham Arena - a giant cow doing a poo on my head? I would LOVE that – I think the kids would too.

 

[Laughs] It sounds like Welcome to My World will give audiences a truthful glimpse into your life and work?

Well, the tour starts out with me as a child, as a ten year old. I lose a lamb in a field full of stars, (there’s a lot of stars in the sky in the show), and I wished back then that I was more powerful, stronger and better…I felt a terrible sense of failure; that I was completely inadequate. So, I made up a hero called ‘Vet Man’ and imagined would fix all the animals with magic bionic dust. I just thought this story was a good starting point. I’d like to take us through from those early moments to then me helping to build a vet school and becoming a professor. It’s almost like, ‘How did that happen?’ you know? We all want to make a difference in our lives. There’s a bit in there I’m hoping to put in similar to when Steve Austin says, “Better…stronger…faster” – that was how I felt I wanted to be. I want to bring the audience on a MacGyver-Steve Austin-Wolverine-Six Million Dollar Man-hybrid journey into the future. That’s the perfect pitch for the show! [Laughs]

“I want to bring the audience on a MacGyver-Steve Austin-Wolverine-Six Million Dollar Man-hybrid journey into the future.”

Where did the idea first come from to create this revealing and rather intimate live show?

I got a lot of letters from kids that inspired me to want to write the show because it became apparent to me that the love of an animal brought a lot of human beings together that wouldn’t otherwise come together. If you’re being bullied in school, or whatever else is going on in your life…whether you’re going through a divorce or your boss is being horrible to you…the one thing that joins us all together on the television show is our love for animals. It’s that spirit and hope that unites everyone. Originally I wanted to call it the ‘Love and Hope Tour’, but I thought it sounded like Jon Bon Jovi wanted to go on tour. 

 

[Laughs] True. Bit much. 

The producers said, “No you can’t call it that! How about Welcome to My World?” And I thought it was brilliant, because it has a lot of connotations. It includes the bad and the good. For example, the case I’m dealing with now on the phone is not going well, so I have to deal with the negative parts of the job too. The show is the stories behind the stories, the secrets behind the inventions, and the inspiration as to why we should keep going on. Hopefully at the end of it people will get the message of love and hope I want to spread, and they can take it back into their normal lives. 

 

Of course The Supervet is such a hugely popular show, but it can, at times, be difficult to watch. Do you think the new show will give audiences insight into the emotionally ‘harder’ aspects of your job as well?

Definitely. I wanted to do that on my own terms, which is sometimes not what you can do on the TV show. It can be hard to communicate what it feels like to fail, what it feels like to hold somebody’s hand as the operation is going wrong. I’ve just come from outside that door where I’m doing just that – I’m on the phone to a family trying to comfort them, and I genuinely feel in the weeks and months leading up to the operation, part of that family. The show isn’t really about the surgery – it’s not about me scrubbing up and going into theatre and doing my best – what the tour is really about is what it is that makes us human. Who in medicine (sic), veterinary or human, is standing up and saying it should be about love? Nobody. I fought for three years to get a paper published about the value of love in medicine, and no journal wanted to accept it. In January 2018 we published the first ever paper about the value of love in a professional medical environment. It’s a taboo word, ‘love’ – people are almost scared of it. It’s as if nobody wants to go near it because it can be misconstrued. But I genuinely believe if you don’t love your vocation as a vet you’re not as good as you could be. I think people that do love an animal are the best kind of people. I want audiences to sit beside me in those moments of crisis when I’m making those decisions about life and death. But, also I want them to rejoice with me and have a really good laugh. If I only get 10 people coming to the show, and can inspire them, then it’s worth it, isn’t it?

“People that come to the show are going to see the future of One Medicine and the integration of animal and human science through love.”

You’ve mentioned your desire to bring love and compassion into the medical realm. You are also heavily involved in your charity, The Humanimal Trust, aiming to overcome the artificial boundaries between human and animal medicine. 

Yes - that’s the central core of the show. We’ve done 70 hours of television now for Supervet, which takes forever – the filming is constant. The camera is just like you, sitting and listening to me talking; I see it as my friend. I want every audience member to be like the camera, to be next to me in the operation room and be ringside. People might think, “Hang on, I’ve seen a disc replacement on Noel’s show but, why can’t I have it as a human being? Why are some things Noel is doing more advanced than what is available for me?” Well, for 254 years, veterinary medicine has served human medicine, giving doctors the experiments they have needed to get drugs and implants. But now, for the first time in the history of mankind, it has become possible to study implants, cancer, and drugs with animals that have real diseases. These animals are better analogues for human disease than experimentally induced disease is. My objective is to reduce, refine and replace; the same as the animal research councils across the world. We can put an implant in a dog and watch the bone grow into it on a 160 Slice CT Scanner and do virtual histology! This wasn’t possible 10 years ago. We don’t need to kill the animal - we actually learn from treating a clinically affected animal. When society realises that, they will ask big questions. For example, I can tell you that dog bone cancer and child bone cancer are almost identical, which could help us to find a cure. In fact, if you took a cell from a child with bone cancer and a cell from a dog with bone cancer and put them together under the microscope, then gave that microscope to a both a human and veterinary pathologist, they wouldn’t be able to tell you if it came from a dog or a human. Isn’t that a remarkable fact? 

 

That’s fascinating. 

Plus 265 genes in that cell are identical between the dog and the human. So why would you not study them together? Why would you not make new implants and drugs together? In the current series of Supervet we are filming now, we are going to show audiences stuff that has never been seen before in real life. People that come to the show are going to see the future of One Medicine and the integration of animal and human science through love. It’s not going to be a science lecture. I’m hoping to hold the attention of people, not by doing Michael Flatley’s Riverdance, but by showing audiences my rusty old Mazda 323 with the bottom falling out of it as I drive through the farmyards of Ireland. That’s where I started. It moves from me doing an operation on a kitchen table in a cottage in a farm where a guy lives with his cow, to a future of bionic regenerative medicine that we have only yet dream about.

 

So the show will truly allow audiences to encounter your bionic interventions first hand?

I’ve built a new hospital that we open next year, where we will rebuild body parts. We will be showing people this in the show, 25 years before it might happen! When you think about that, it’s pretty powerful stuff, because we’re going to actually show them the future.

“I’m excited that we might be able to do something that’s never been done before. I want to see people, regardless of whether they’re eight, or 80, having a great time.”

I know you’ve spoken before about the wider public being invested in science that is relevant to their own lives – have you found people have responded positively to the One Medicine approach?

There’s been a huge resistance to change – and there will be until the penny drops. The penny only drops when it affects you directly. When it affects your dog, your child, your mother...People may have never read my scientific paper, but may have seen the show, so I have the chance to educate them and I may have never previously gotten that chance (sic). So, people are responding to One Medicine through example rather than through dictation. I’m not being didactic and prescriptive by saying, “This is what you must do!” I’m also not in any way, shape, or form saying I’m the centre of this. In fact, you’re the centre of it! The very fact you’re sitting in a bar with me talking about it would never have happened five years ago, because there wouldn’t be a vet doing an arena tour. It would be like what the **** is he going to do? Is he going to stand and sing a song?

 

[Laughter] 

I’m excited because it’s a blank canvas and I want to see how the audience will respond to it. In my mind this is the summation of everything. I had a letter from a kid who came to DogFest - he wrote me a letter with £12.50 in coins for The Humanimal Trust and he said, “Dear Professor Noel, I came to the DogFest from Manchester and we were awake all night, and I queued in the rain but I couldn’t get to see you because of all the ladies who wanted to give you a hug,” [Laughter] “I washed cars all of the next week in Manchester to make this money for your charity, because I heard you talking about it,” and here’s the kicker line…this is the line that if anything would inspire me to do the tour, this is it – he said, “I know you love the ‘namimals’,” he spelt it with the extra ‘n’ [Laughs], “and I know that when you help the ‘namimals’ you help me.” And boom. An 11-year old child sold it. It wasn’t ‘I dream’ or ‘I think’ it was, “I know when you help the ‘namimals’ you help me.” That’s the future. That’s the summary of the whole tour right there - it should be the tagline! It should be on all the posters. 

“I know that when you help the ‘namimals’, you help me.”

Incredible. That’s the line! You’re a pioneer in your field, you were in surgery this morning, now you’re preparing for the tour, filming for The Supervet and in press interviews…how do you like to spend any precious free time that you have?

Rock concerts, all the way. 

 

Oh, really?

Yeah, yeah! I can only go out at the weekends because I have a day job and then I write this stuff. I’m going to Crufts after this interview, and I’ll be writing material in my hotel room later. I went to see The Script recently – they were incredible. I go to as many rock concerts as I can. I went to see Imagine Dragons, and love the song ‘Believer’ - it’s about people that don’t completely believe, but in a particular moment they can’t help believing. I’ve used Muse songs, The Script’s ‘Superheroes’, hopefully U2’s ‘One’ will make it in there…Led Zepplin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ certainly will! There’ll be a bit of Bowie, Oasis, Queen, Kasabian and Seal, and other music that’s influenced me. There are some great songs that have changed my life and have saved me from myself, really. When you listen to the lyrics of a song, for three minutes you are transposed to a different place. So I’m hoping to do that for two hours with Welcome to my World. I want to bring the feeling, when you’ve heard the best song you’ve ever heard, whatever your penchant for music is. I’m going to try to link the narrative throughout the show through music. It will be an auditory-visual-gustatory landscape! I’m excited that we might be able to do something that’s never been done before. I want to see people, regardless of whether they’re 8-years old or 80, having a great time and thinking, “I learned something, I was inspired, and that was more about me than it was about him”. Then, I’ve done my job. 

 

SATURDAY 17 NOVEMBER (7.30pm)

BIRMINGHAM ARENA

 

Book tickets for Noel's debut arena tour Welcome To My World at noelfitzpatricklive.com


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