Luke O’Neill admits he nearly became a banker in 'Thatcher’s Britain'

Luke O'Neill speaks to Henry McKean about the 'road not taken'.
Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

12.17 1 Jan 2022

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Luke O’Neill admits he nearly...

Luke O’Neill admits he nearly became a banker in 'Thatcher’s Britain'

Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

12.17 1 Jan 2022

Share this article

Professor Luke O’Neill admits he was tempted to take a job in a top bank in the City of London.

In a wide-ranging interview with Newstalk's Henry McKean, Professor O'Neill covers everything from his recent bout with COVID-19 to being described as Ireland’s Matt Damon.

On nearly becoming a banker, Luke said: “I was doing my PhD in London, and guys in the lab were leaving science and going into finance - Thatcher’s Britain, this was 1987.


"I was interviewed by a major bank for a job in finance, it was very tempting.

"I went to the interview, got my jacket and tie - I rarely wear a tie, this is 1987 - went to the interview and I was offered a job.

"I had to have a real moment [asking] 'am I going to leave science and go into finance?' And I decided to stick with the science.

"It was tough because a science career is tricky enough," he added.

Margaret Thatcher Pfofessor O'Neill was not a fan of Margaret Thatcher's supporters. Picture by: PA News.

"What put me off... they were a bit showy, those bl**dy Thatcher supporters in the City of London quaffing champagne and all that kind of thing.

"I didn't like that. The life style looked a bit too, what's the word,  'Hooray Henryish' is the word."

He concluded:

"It just shows you... the road not taken. Finance's loss is science's gain.”


Luke has since become one of Ireland's leading scientific commentators during the COVID-19 pandemic, combining his expert knowledge of immunology with his down-to-earth personality.

He says the fame he has enjoyed is "very strange".

He told Henry: "I didn’t expect it in a million years, I'm a scientist! I work in a lab.

"I was known in immunology, I would go all around the world. People knew me at conferences, it wasn't unusual for someone to shout at me across the conference halls.

"But now, it's everyone on the DART."

He added:

"It's 99% thumbs up, 1% abuse - which is pretty good!

"One of my younger sons said to me, 'Dad, you are being attacked a lot on social media - you have made it.' That was his view, that was quite nice.”


Luke also spoke about growing up in Bray.

He recalled: “Bray was like a holiday every day in the summer.

"My dad had a deckchair seafront business... we had 500 deckchairs at the peak of it.

"Every Sunday, the Dubs would all come out on the buses and then rent the deckchairs. In those days people had their Sunday Best, they wouldn't sit on the grass.

"So the bottom probably fell out of the deckchair market a few years ago."

You can listen to the full Henry’s Happy New Year podcast, including the interview with Luke O'Neill, via the Newstalk player.

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