When all is far from Clair, Gilbert goes to court
An RTE documentary will give a rare insight into the unconventional Gilbert O'Sullivan, writes Andrea Byrne
Clair Mills, the subject and title of Gilbert O'Sullivan's most famous song, was reunited with the artist at a recent concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London. "You must come to other shows," he told her, "I am really pleased you are here tonight."
Clair was just three years of age when O'Sullivan, the Waterford-born singer/songwriter, penned the number one song about her.
Clair's father, Gordon Mills, was O'Sullivan's manager.
"I babysat for Gordon and his wife. I grew very fond of her [Clair]. The song was written not for her but for the parents. It's a song that was almost a thank you to them," says O'Sullivan, speaking on an RTE documentary which provides a rare insight into the life of this unconventional, and at times controversial, musician.
But O'Sullivan and Mills later fell out -- and this culminated in a bitter legal dispute over publishing rights.
"I think his big mistake was not letting me work with another producer. The tragedy of the whole litigation, with the breaking up, is not so much with him, but his family. As far as his family is concerned, they only saw what was on the surface.
"What I wanted was the interest in my songs that had been promised to me. I didn't get it. And then when we split amicably, he told me that I would get it.
"I should go into his office and see his managing director and sort it out. I went in there, and he tells me to 'f**k off'," he laughs, "It's not funny, because it was devastating. It was horrible. I left that day determined to fight.
"On the day of the judgment, sitting with my lawyer and saying, 'What does that mean?' and he looked at me, and said, 'You get everything.' The shirts off their backs was basically what I was given. I was the bastard -- so I was the one that, after all he had done for me, this is how I repaid him. I sued a manager and won. Massively. I think the business turned on me. It is ironic that losing makes you more liked than winning."
O'Sullivan later engaged in another legal row suing well-known Eighties rapper, Biz Markie, over the rights to use a sample of O'Sullivan's song Alone Again. "The great thing about ownership is that we can protect it. We said no. But being who they were, they just went ahead and released it. So what can you do?
"So I got hold of American lawyers, and went through the whole process that I had to go though a few years earlier.
"All we said in the beginning was, 'Just don't put it out.' We weren't looking for money.
"We got a massive settlement -- a precedent was set there. That was the first sampling case to go to court," says O' Sullivan.
Gilbert O'Sullivan 'Out on his own' will be screened on Tuesday, April 20, at 10.15pm on RTE One