Animal Magic with Noel Fitzpatrick
by Karen Shaw
"Then I went to secondary school and got bullied so I felt even more inadequate and I’ve carried that feeling all my life."
With his rich Irish brogue, calm nature and undying love for animals, it’s no wonder that Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick is one of the most popular men on TV. Saving animals by doing the seemingly impossible, Noel has shot to fame on Channel 4’s Supervet, and it’s fair to say he more than deserves the accolade. The first vet to ever apply an amputation prosthesis (to a cat named Oscar who had lost two feet), the programme documents Noel as he continues his pioneering work from doggy hip replacements to feline skin grafts and everything in between, and for the first time, Noel is about to reveal some his secrets and stories on a live arena tour…
What’s it like being Noel?
“Well, it’s stressful as your dealing with life and death everyday.” He sighs, “I want people to get a flavour of what it was like for me growing up on a farm, going to school and getting bullied. A kid can achieve anything they want to with hard work, they can flip negatives into positives and dream bigger than they ever thought possible. If I’d set out to do an arena tour five years ago people would have bawked at the thought of it but now we’ve done 12 series of Supervet people are like ‘oh, he’s doing an arena tour.’”
The tour, which kicks off in late September, will answer all the questions that have been sent in letters to Noel from fans over the years.
“We’re going to try and bring hope, love and medicine alive in a fun way with lots of music.” Noel smiles, “it’s ups and downs, it’s tears and laughter but fundamentally it’s just learning. It’s not just for people who love animals – it’s for people who love life. And the lure of Noel in a leotard might change your mind… well, maybe. He’s making no promises but his fantastical superhero alter-ego he created in childhood will be making an appearance. “Mr Vet Man will make his first ever live appearance!”
“I believe that somebody in medicine has to stand up and say look, the thing that keeps us alive in medicine.”
But while Noel may be a superhero now, he had a troubled childhood, suffering at the hands of school bullies. So I can’t help but wonder if this is what he always dreamed of as a child; making a huge impact on the lives of animals and humans alike?
“It didn’t just happen. I’m writing a book at the moment to go with the tour and it’s actually quite cathartic writing and I came across the answers to that question. Is this something I planned to do? Yes. At the age of ten I lost my first two lambs in a field and I thought, I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not brave enough, I feel inadequate. Then I went to secondary school and got bullied so I felt even more inadequate and I’ve carried that feeling all my life. I want to share with adults out there who feel inadequate that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard but you have to do the right thing.
“I believe that somebody in medicine has to stand up and say look, the thing that keeps us alive in medicine. Medicine has never been made acceptable, sexy or enticing, never been made fun so for the first time in history, we’re going to try and do that. It might seem like one man in an arena, but it’s not about me. It’s about you, your dreams, your aspirations and life journey, your animals and the world you live in.”
“I think it’s tough for medicine or science to separate itself from emotion. I find the imagination is way more powerful than knowledge”
It’s hard to imagine Noel ever feeling inadequate now after he’s achieved so much and become a pioneer of veterinary science. But he admits that he feels inadequate every day.
“The next surgery will humble me”. He says, “I went into surgery the other night and was humbled by a complication I didn’t see coming. An operation that I thought would be 50 minutes ended up taking three hours. Never be complacent. I might be doing arenas but I don’t have a rock star mentality. I go into that intensely humble. We’re all in this together, we all have bad days. We all have complications and sometimes it’s life and death and sometimes you can’t get a parking spot. It’s how you perceive what’s bothering you that matters. Hopefully I can teach people a thing or two about that.”
Noel evidently wants his show to reflect his life and be filled with love and hope. For some, mixing science with emotion is a huge taboo, but Noel believes love has to play a part in modern medicine: “I think it’s tough for medicine or science to separate itself from emotion. I find the imagination is way more powerful than knowledge,” he smiles. “It unites potential and it’s the birth place of innovation. We have to listen to the fact that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. So emotion in a medical environment is really important. If you don’t care why are you doing it?
“It’s a vocation. I’ve never done a day’s work in my life. I’ve just got up and done what I love to do.”
“I co-wrote a paper in January called The Value Of Love in a Professional Medical Environment. It’s the first paper to explore and legitimise love in scientific environments. I intend to debunk the myth on the broadest possible scale in arenas and that’s the first time in the world that’s happened. No one has ever tried that in an arena environment so I’m excited to see what people make of it.”
Noel evidently loves his job and many might argue it’s a dream career; helping animals, pioneering new treatments and making TV shows. But Noel doesn’t see his work as a vet as work at all.
“It’s a vocation. I’ve never done a day’s work in my life. I’ve just got up and done what I love to do. The tour is no different; I just feel the need to share all these experiences so that people may learn from my mistakes. And hopefully bring them a little light. It’s not that I welcome failure, it’s that failure is inevitable. At the end of the day we need it to get up, fight again and have passion for what we do. If you’re passionate about what you do and you always do the right thing then failure is just a stepping stone to success.”