Nigel Brendan Talbot

Nigel Brendan Talbot was my eldest brother. A year ago today (November 2nd), he died.

I ceased contact with him in 2010, and with good reason: From the time I was seven years old, until I was thirteen – and he left our childhood ‘home’ for tertiary education – Nigel sexually abused me.  The last time we spoke was in Dublin Airport, when he took a few hours away from his work in Birmingham and flew to meet me.

By that stage, I was far enough along in my recovery to have realised that the ‘problem’ was not me – it was the toxic environment that I had grown up in, and the toxic people who had shared that environment with me. I was not, however, far enough along in my recovery to have realised that abusers don’t care about how their victims feel. They don’t want to work with you to help you feel better and resolve the difficulties that their abuse has visited upon you. Seeking their understanding so you can forgive them, and effect a post-forgiveness reconciliation, is to set yourself up for further abuse.

Of course, I am not the only person Nigel abused. Whenever it might benefit him in any way, he took advantage of people. Child, woman, man, it made no difference to him. All that mattered to Nigel Talbot was Nigel Talbot. Like all abusers, to acknowledge what he was doing, and to take responsibility for the hurt and harm he inflicted, was beyond his emotional jurisdiction. In a lesson straight out of ‘The Abuser’s Playbook’, he blamed his victims for being stupid enough to fall prey to him.  

Like all of us, however, Nigel was shaped by his environment.

Born nine months after our parents married, he grew being the favourite child of both his mother and his father.  Even though three more sons and two daughters followed, Nigel was the one his father most wanted to mould in his own image. Given that Pa Talbot is a violent psychopath, being expected to emulate him was not a great expectation. Ma Talbot is a narcissist, and Nigel was her ‘golden child’. What a pair of double-edged swords he grew up under.

The family bore all the hallmarks of the ‘dangerously dysfunctional’[1] one it was. The characteristics of such sick families include:

  • Parents ‘dividing and conquering’ the siblings, so they remain ‘Supreme Leaders’.
  • Kindness being treated as weakness, and the opposite of emotional currency.
  • Children trained to betray each other.
  • Secrets, secrets, secrets, and lies.

As a sad result, none of my siblings has a loving bond with any of the others. In fact, none of them even has a loving bond with themselves. Nigel was no exception.

On account of how poor we were growing up we were taught that only material wealth was important. Nigel quickly internalised that message and concentrated all his efforts on becoming financially rich. At this, he was extremely successful – not least because of the abusive ruthlessness he embodied. His money, however, was more expensive than he realised, until it was too late. He thought his money could buy him happiness, he thought it could buy him friends, he thought it could buy him love. Too late, he discovered he was wrong. His money could only buy him a facsimile of these things.

Nigel did not have an easy start in life. Over the past thirty years there have been oblique references to ‘humble beginnings’ and being a ‘self-made multi-millionaire’. These platitudes do not convey the reality: Growing up male, in Ireland, during the 1970s and 1980s, as the golden child of a narcissist, and the favourite son of a psychopath, could not have been an easy position. On the one hand, he felt the weight of the responsibility to fulfil his parents’ expectations of him. On the other, he was granted privileges, and had his transgressions overlooked – encouraged, even.

As a child, he was expected to do the job of a man (help on Pa Talbot’s milk round in the early hours of every morning), return to the house to get ready for school, go to school, and then do the hours of homework required.  So he could be more useful, Nigel was taught to drive when he was ten years old. As soon as he was reasonably confident on the road, he was instructed to make deliveries in a car that was neither taxed, nor insured, and for which – of course – he had no license to drive. Shame on any parent who would put their child in such a dangerous position. Yet, his parents did this to him every day for years. (The milk round was sold in 1985 – Pa Talbot missed the birth of his youngest son in order to have a meeting about it.)

It was here, in his childhood, that the seeds of his entitlement were sown. Aping his father, he learnt it was better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission – and to be wily enough to ensure his transgressions were caught as infrequently as possible. His arrogant entitlement sat underneath a veneer of carefully, cleverly constructed charm and faux-humility.

For example, he was caught cheating on the maths paper of his Leaving Certificate. The principal was summoned. Nigel, however, was the principal’s favourite pupil. He was instructed to go the chapel in the school and wait. Before too long, Nigel re-joined the other boys in the exam hall and continued as though nothing happened. As did everyone else in authority; neither the principal nor the invigilator reported him.  Of course, the other boys asked him how he had managed to get his cheating overlooked.
‘I prayed,’ he told them[2] .

With the unfairly inflated results from his Leaving, he secured a place in Athlone Tech, where he enrolled on their Business Studies course, and was given a diploma. That institution, at the time, was not empowered to award degrees, but Nigel would later lie (even under oath) and claim to have one.

Because he was never held accountable for the harms he did, he interpreted that as his behaviour being condoned by those who had the power to stop it. In a way, it was – what is permitted is promoted, after all.

As a child and a teenager, at home, and at school, Nigel Talbot took what he wanted, and was never reproved for doing so. Whether that was someone else’s job (at school – cleaning the building), food (at home – everyone’s), money (at home – that of his siblings), or health (at home – mine, mental and physical through sexual abuse), Nigel learnt that his actions never had negative consequences. At least, not for him, they didn’t.

When I disclosed that I was being sexually abused by both my elder brothers, I did so at school. The nun I told called the priest who was the principal of the boys’ school (yes, the same one who allowed him to cheat on his exam). The priest interrogated me for just over an hour in the nuns’ sitting room. Back on his own turf, he called my brothers into his office and confronted them with details of my disclosure. They did not deny it. Rather, they (according to my files in CHI) threatened to kill themselves if the priest told anyone. So, he kept his counsel. Fr. McEvoy clearly thought he was doing his favourite and ‘best’ boy a favour, but I don’t think so. Had he reported the abuse to someone (other than the doctor he told, who did nothing useful), I might have been helped sooner, and better – but so might he.

All the social workers, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, teachers, priests, nuns, and others who were involved with the Talbot family in the late 1980s and early 1990s could have – should have – ensured that Nigel and Cormac got help, too. But no one asked why they were abusers. No one tried to make them stop. No one intervened to try to reverse the damage done by the dangerously dysfunctional environment that we grew up in.

Nigel did learn from being ‘told on’, however. He learnt to be more judicious in his choice of victim – choosing those who, for whatever reason/s, could not afford to repel him; and those who would not, or could not, reveal his abuse of them.

In his early twenties, Nigel left Ireland for The Netherlands and ‘built his empire’. He made a lot of money very quickly. Money – and the pursuit of it – energised him.  He treated life like a sport, or a game of monopoly, and he endeavoured never to lose. Nigel revelled in the fact that he could easily buy whatever he wanted, and he also loved switching his tailored suits for jeans and a raggy sweatshirt and getting dirty in the (literal) field.

But he wasn’t happy. For all his material wealth, the love he craved eluded him. I saw that, and I had huge compassion for him because of it. In some ways, Nigel resented my compassion because he knew that meant I saw his vulnerability. Mistakenly, he viewed vulnerability as weakness. I wanted more for him than he wanted for himself: I wanted him to confront his past and heal from it. I wanted him to be rehabilitated. I wanted him to escape his nurture and return to his nature – because there was kindness in him, but he rarely allowed it to revel itself. A ‘kindness’ from Nigel always came with strings attached.

Eventually, I realised that I wanted too much. After our last conversation, I knew that by wanting Nigel to be his best self I was on a hiding to nothing. I suppose it was too frightening a proposition for him. He chose to stay as he was. To protect myself and my children, I ceased all contact.

At the time of his death, Nigel was eulogised and praised for having been ‘a great man’. He wasn’t though. He was a man who could have been great, but who chose not to be. Much was made of the fact that his Portuguese employees called him ‘Chefe’, which means ‘Boss’. It is implied in his eulogy that it was their choice, as a reflection of their deep respect for him. Sadly, that isn’t true. From the time he first had an employee, Nigel insisted on being called ‘Boss’ and that’s how he referred to himself, too. Being called ‘Boss’, whether he was consciously aware of it or not, was a chilling example of him echoing his father.
‘I’m the boss! I’m the fuckin’ boss. And I own you! You are my fuckin’ slave!’ was a refrain I grew up hearing from Pa Talbot.

There was a tension inside Nigel wrought of the pull between his innate kindness (nature), and his ruthless desire to be financially wealthy (nurture). Unfortunately for all of us, the latter won.

[1] The family was referred to in this way in a report by the local health board in 1988.

[2] Multiple sources have confirmed the veracity of these events.