Joke-teller, singer, guitar player - I'll miss my dear friend Paolo
Published 08/06/2015 | 02:30
I first met Paolo Tullio in October 1968, my first term at Trinity College Dublin. My best friend from school, Donnell Deeny, said to me one day: "There's a very unusual guy in my Legal Science class, I think you'd like him..." Donnell introduced us. The first time I saw the then-snake-hipped Paolo, he was wearing a gold lamé cape and carrying a silver-topped cane. He had a Fu Manchu beard and moustache - quite unusual garb, even for the year after the Summer of Love.
We became friends immediately and spent a lot of time together over the ensuing 47 years. Donnell too. For the last 10 years we all have had a routine of going to the South of France for a few days at the end of January, just boys. Peter McKenna, gynaecologist, is the fourth member of our gang. We were there this year as usual and Paolo reviewed a couple of restaurants for this paper.
Paolo was unusually flush for an undergraduate. He had a sports car and a motorbike and after he moved out of his enormous family home in Booterstown, he had a cool pad in Herbert Street that he shared with the legendary Lothario from Teheran, Khosrow Fazel. There was a fair amount of partying, music and girls. Paolo was a good singer and guitar-player. He was a gifted joke-teller and as we made our way through Dublin University Players, he became the best actor of our generation. I directed him in a few shows including 'Malcolm' by Edward Albee (pictured opposite page).
Michael Colgan and Chris de Burgh (nee Davidson) and my wife Kathy Gilfillan were part of that crew. Paolo could definitely have made it as an actor if he had wanted.
If you were the normal kind of penniless student like me. it was very convenient that Paolo's parents, Irena and Tonino, owned several restaurants close to Trinity: the Wimpy Bar on Wicklow Street, The Green Rooster on O'Connell Street, Puffins on Grafton Street, another Wimpy Bar in Malahide. We had many meals in them and I had a room of my own in the Tullio mansion whenever I stayed over. Mrs Tullio was always very kind to me and taught me how to cook basic Italian. She is a Fusco and both families, hers and the Tullios, came from the Comino Valley in Frosinone region as described in Paolo's marvellous book, 'North of Naples, South of Rome'. That is where many of the Italian Irish diaspora originated.
I have been to Galinaro with Paolo, where he is quite the celebrity, judging the wine competition, books and TV programmes, everyone in the village is his cousin.
In the years after Trinity, Paolo worked as a psychologist and, amazingly, as a cattle trader. I once bought him a pair of gold wellington boots with the intention of helping him make his mark in the cattle marts.
When his father died suddenly at the age of 56, Paolo and his mother had to disentangle his complicated business affairs which included a furniture export business and an informal bank.
There were some surprising beneficiaries of Tonino's will, to put it mildly, and at the funeral in the Italian Church in Rathmines, as he received the condolences of the mourners, many of them Italian restaurant and cafe proprietors, I remember that Paolo clearly had no idea who was who and who owed his father what. I doubt if all the loans were repaid.
Paolo did inherit an Aston Martin DB5 which was his pride and joy until it spontaneously combusted a few years ago on the bridge in Annamoe.
Annamoe was where he had moved to in the late '70s. The Dublin restaurants were sold and the debts were paid and Paolo bought what was, at the time the best restaurant in Ireland, Armstrong's Barn. It had a Michelin star.
Paolo was born to be front of house, he was natural host. By this time Paolo was married to a beautiful artist, Susan Morley, and they had a son, Rocco, my godson. I can take credit for introducing Paolo and Susie to one another.
Later on, Isabella, their daughter, arrived and they all lived the country life. Paolo was always interested in stuff like shooting and mushrooms and making his own salami. He was a true polymath. He once made himself a three-piece suit.
His friendship with his neighbour, the film director John Boorman, another multi-faceted auto-didact, was a daily pleasure for them both. They shared a sense of druidic mischief.
On the riverbank in Annamoe where the Avonmore river bisects their lands, Paolo once hired a JCB and erected a circle of enormous standing stones perfectly aligned with the sun at solstice. Just to puzzle the archaeologists in a few hundred years.
Armstrong's Barn closed in the'80s, a victim of the breathalyser and all the new restaurants that were opening in Dublin. Whenever Kathy and I ate there, we could stay the night after being serenaded by Paolo and his guitar. Not all customers could avail of this privilege.
In the early '90s, Kathy and I and our children moved to Annamoe ourselves. Undoubtedly, part of the reason for that was that Paolo was there.
By now he had reinvented himself again. He had started to write in newspapers about food and wine and appear on radio and television, which is the way most readers will know him.
A few years ago he had kidney failure and had to go to the Beacon for three-times weekly dialysis ever since. He bore this with grumpy good humour. For the last couple of months he was in St Vincent's getting treatment for pneumonia, gut trouble and various other complications, receiving dialysis all the time.
We will miss him.
Paul McGuinness managed U2 for 35 years and is the producer of 'Riviera', a forthcoming TV drama