Tuesday 30 May 2017

'For too long, close friends have told me I was too open and too accessible -- now everything has to change'

Louis Walsh has been shaken to his core by the allegation that he molested a man in the toilet of a Dublin nightclub. He has vigorously denied the claim and support has poured in from celebrities. But the garda investigation is ongoing and whatever its outcome, life for the 'X Factor' star will never be the same, write Maeve Sheehan and Niamh Horan

CLOSING DOORS: Louis Walsh has endeared himself to the public and the media by his openness and accessibility. Photo: David Conachy
CLOSING DOORS: Louis Walsh has endeared himself to the public and the media by his openness and accessibility. Photo: David Conachy

FOR almost two decades, Louis Walsh has charmed, cajoled and carped his way on to national airwaves to promote his boyband creations. Last week, however, the Svengali turned X Factor judge found himself unexpectedly having to deploy his considerable resources to protect his own reputation from the kind of damaging allegations that could ruin a celebrity career.

Louis Walsh was in London waiting to go on a television chat show when he says he first learned that a 24-year-old man had reported him to the gardai for allegedly molesting him in the toilets of a Dublin nightclub. He was sitting in studio thinking of what he would say to his interviewer, the British comedian, Alan Carr, when he got a call from the Sun.

The British tabloid was running the story the following day. Walsh flatly denied the claims.

When he got off the phone, he was completely shaken but did the interview with Carr. He chattered on for half-an-hour about Cheryl Cole, The X Factor and his new girl band, Wonderland, knowing the reputation he had carefully protected would be tarnished by the following morning.

By the time the newspaper hit the stands, Walsh was on a plane back to Dublin to launch a public relations offensive against the claims, saying they were completely without foundation.

He blames the scandal -- the first to ever taint his public profile -- on his open and generous approach to fans and friends alike. The man who gave us Boyzone and Westlife has become an international star in his own right -- complete with his own fan base -- thanks to the talent show.

He now plans to hire 24-hour bodyguards to keep a distance between himself and the public.

"I'm going to have to learn a new way of living my life. For too long, close friends of mine have told me I was too open and too accessible and now everything has to change.

"I just wanted to be a normal guy in a very abnormal job but unfortunately I can't live that way anymore," he told the Sunday Independent. "This has shaken me to the core."

Walsh's accuser is a father of two children and lives in a rural town, far from the five-star, celebrity-studded lifestyle enjoyed by the boyband manager.

In recent days, however, the man has found himself under intense attack in the media as his allegations have been roundly challenged.

The man has maintained his silence and refused to speak publicly over the affair. Solicitors acting on his behalf wrote to this newspaper yesterday, seeking to protect his identity.

Louis Walsh has been rather more forthcoming.

What is not in dispute is that the boyband manager and the man crossed paths on April 9.

Westlife, the boyband that Louis Walsh created 13 years ago, played the O2 in Dublin that night. According to friends of Walsh's, the band's manager was on a high.

After the concert, Westlife and their entourage hit the town. The band was heading to Krystle, the nightclub and celebrity haunt, but on his way there Louis called into a bar in town. He joined a group of about 10 people, amongst them the man.

"Come with me," Louis said to the gang, as he left for Krystle. They dropped into the Russell Court Hotel, on Dublin's Harcourt Street, before retiring to the nightclub next door.

The Westlife boys were already there: Nicky Byrne, Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Kian Egan, accompanied by wives and girlfriends. Krystle had set aside their usual spot: comfortable, soft-back chairs and roomy tables upstairs in the VIP area.

Louis lingered in the bar downstairs, mingling with the group, but after a while he left to join Westlife in the VIP room upstairs.

Shane Filan takes up the story: "We were in great form and having a fun night. Louis, my wife, Gillian and I and the rest of the Westlife boys were at a table in the club, minding our own business and having a great night.

"Then this guy came up to us. I was the first one he started to talk to and one of the first things he said was how he was going to be in a TV show."

Shane recalled talking to the young man.

"I chatted to him a while, then he spoke to some of the other lads and Louis. But the place was absolutely packed and everyone was mingling and mixing."

"I can say this -- Louis was hardly even drinking that night and he certainly wasn't behaving in any way odd or weird or anything.

"Louis is the calmest, most reserved out of the lot of us. So when I heard about this, I just couldn't believe it. It's not the Louis I or anyone else knows. "

Although Louis' accuser has not spoken publicly, sources said he gave the following account to gardai.

He said he went to the toilets in Krsytle when Walsh appeared behind him and allegedly molested him. He left the nightclub and then, on the street outside, the man reported the incident to a uniformed garda patrolling the area.

The man then went to the Mater Hospital where he was examined for evidence of a sexual assault. Staff at the hospital reported the complaint to the local garda station in Fitzgibbon Street. The complaint was taken by Pearse Street Garda Station. The man made a formal statement to detectives there. Despite newspaper reports that he has allegedly changed his story, one garda source said that the young man had been consistent in his allegations.

Louis Walsh has flatly denied his account.

He later told newspapers: "The truth is I never went near the toilets in the club all night. I did get this person into the nightclub, but I went off with my own friends upstairs.

"We left him in an entirely different part of the club. I stayed with a group of other people all night and in the end I got a taxi back to the Four Seasons with two girls to collect my car and I dropped the two girls home."

More than two months have passed since the man first reported the alleged assault to gardai -- but were it not for the Sun breaking the story, it's likely that Walsh would still be unaware that he was the subject of a garda investigation.

Once the man had made a formal written statement, detectives went about corroborating his account. They took CCTV footage from inside the club but it's understood they only recently started the painstaking and slow process of examining the images.

Detectives have also only recently begun taking statements from other witnesses. It had not been their intention to speak to Louis Walsh until they had completed their inquiries.

The Sun's scoop changed all that.

Walsh has been determined to tackle the allegations head-on. Having learnt of them from the Sun, he arranged to meet detectives investigating the alleged assault on Friday. The interview took place in the Four Seasons Hotel and in the presence of his lawyer.

He is being advised by a lawyer and a public relations consultant. Walsh's denials have been front-page news, with some reports quoting garda sources saying that is unlikely to face charges.

Meanwhile, celebrity and media friends rushed to his defence. Given the bitchiness of the showbiz world, it was another indication of his popularity.

Elton John and his partner, David Furnish; his one-time colleagues on The X Factor, judges Cheryl Cole and Sharon Osbourne; and Philip Green, the Topshop boss, were all reportedly in touch.

Simon Cowell, his X Factor boss, friend and probably the most influential of them all, said: "I have known Louis for 20 years and I don't believe for a second that these allegations are true. I feel very sorry for him. I've spoken to him and he is really upset."

For a celebrity dependent on the media to promote his latest acts, Walsh has managed the near-impossible in keeping his private life out of the newspapers. He has endeared himself to the media and celebrities who make up his working world.

According to an acquaintance, his appeal is that he embraces show business with gusto but doesn't take it too seriously.

He has fostered good friendships with celebrities such as Cowell and Sharon Osbourne, and with many of the journalists who have charted the progress of his musical charges through the years.

But his closest friends are also his oldest friends, away from the celebrity circuit, according to an acquaintance.

Walsh socialises regularly for work but doesn't drink. He sips sparkling mineral water and practices that maxim of always being nice to the nobodies because you'll never know when they'll be somebodies.

He entertains fans and wannabe stars who regularly make a bee-line for him -- as they have done ever since his X Factor success.

"The people who know him and love him always knew that one day his openness and accessibility would get him into trouble. Particularly when he is in Dublin as he is more relaxed and himself when he's at home," said one friend.

"Unfortunately, this incident has proved to him that he will never be able to conduct himself the same again. He's never going to be as accessible.

"He's going to have to change. It's the nature of the beast. He has to, whether he likes it or not."

The man was not at his home in the modest housing estate in a country town this weekend. His father, who appeared both weary and concerned at the media scrum, said his son would not be making any comment.

Meanwhile, Walsh issued a statement through his PR agent yesterday.

"It didn't happen, so therefore there is no case to answer and I am extremely angry that someone is trying to tarnish my name and reputation," he said.

"My phone has not stopped ringing with messages of support from around the world, which means so much to me. I am hoping that this matter will be resolved as quickly as possible."

This week, it's business as usual for Walsh, who is flying to Cardiff on Wednesday to audition hopeful wannabes for the latest series of The X Factor.

Sunday Independent

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