'Show of strength' from most powerful man in Irish showbiz
The first rule of the 'Noel Kelly Club' is he has to like you. If he doesn't, don't bother. Niamh Horan goes backstage
GERRY Ryan escaped the crowds and made a dash for his car. Judging by the throng of fans who had lined Parnell Street to greet him at a supermarket launch, you'd be forgiven for thinking he was the most powerful man in Irish showbiz.
But a telling exchange in the quiet of the car park afterwards revealed the real power behind the throne.
Gerry had just been passed over for the coveted job on the Late Late Show, in favour of Ryan Tubridy.
The man striding to the car beside him was his agent Noel Kelly, who also had a host of other stars on his books – most notably, Tubridy himself.
I was puzzled at how Kelly could bat for two men at once when both were gunning for the same top job.
So I put the question to Gerry, a man not usually stuck for words. But this time was different. He shot Noel a wry look over his shoulder and smiled diplomatically: "You better ask him that."
Fast forward almost five years and Noel last week published a glossy brochure on his client list. He is still controlling a sizeable handful of stars, many of whom are competing for the same gigs.
The headline 'Who's who of celebrity talent' says it all.
In what has been described as "a show of strength", the four-page, full-colour PR initiative has 46 faces from the Irish entertainment world emblazoned across it.
On the cover, Noel smiles brightly among his proteges in an old-school style photo shoot.
He has also revamped his website, which describes how he has spent 16 years running his other business CMS Marketing, representing the likes of Vodafone, BMW, An Post, Playstation and Penguin Ireland.
So what makes him tick? How do you get on his books? And is he as powerful as he once was – now that the heady days of negotiating the lucrative contracts of the Celtic Tiger are long behind him? Of his negotiating style, a source in RTE puts it bluntly: "He is a tough b*llox."
The source adds: "He has no problem getting up from the table mid chat and walking away if he doesn't like what he is hearing. He has this wall up and people who don't know him say he is as hard as nails.
"But then there's the other face of Noel Kelly. The guy who likes to have a laugh and a couple of pints. But only his pals get to see that. And if you're ever going to negotiate with him – then you won't have a hope of getting in his inner circle. That would be to show weakness."
On the other side, the women: Grainne Seoige and Claire Byrne, the latter of whom is perched centre stage on the brochure cover, perhaps pointing to her position as RTE's hottest rising star.
Other names are well known, but their celebrity pales in comparison with the the big hitters. Another source said: "Some of the names you might never have heard of, but they could be the ones earning the big money from speaking events. It's not all cutting ribbons and kissing babies."
"In terms of power, the same pot of money mightn't be on the table, but Kelly still holds the cards. He has gotten a full house there and if you fall out with Noel with one star negotiating on a Tuesday, let's say, you could have to deal with him for a different talent on a Wednesday. And therein lies his power."
Some aren't convinced. One radio boss questions how much his clientele really need the talent agent.
"He gets a fair cut of the deal. You just have to have confidence in your ability. There is no need for a middle man."
But for those still eager to get on his books, there are some hard and fast rules.
The first rule of 'Noel Kelly Club': "He has to like you," says a PR source. "If he doesn't, then don't bother. It doesn't matter how much money you'll make him.
"The next is that he has to see promise. That you have commerciality and the ability to generate revenue."