Hotelier Francis Brennan opens up on celibacy, gambling and his bad deals
A church seems like a natural setting for Francis Brennan, even if, as he tells me later, he's not sure it's an appropriate place to have his picture taken.
In a country that has largely lost its faith, the much-loved hotelier comes across as something of a secular priest, although he winces at anyone thinking of him as a 'Holy Joe'. He's a lifelong pioneer, who has never touched a drop of drink. He's a former altar boy. He speaks of his work as a vocation. He's been to Lourdes dozens of times. And, as he told me over tea at a Dublin hotel last week, the celibacy bit hasn't been much trouble either.
"I've never lusted after anyone. I suppose I'm what you would call asexual. I'm always too tired anyway. So forget that. (Sex) doesn't interest me at all."
With anyone - male or female?
"Well, everyone is always probing this point. When you're 61 and unmarried there are assumptions made. People think I'm gay but, just so you know, I'm not. I would have had (men) coming on, not in my youth, but as an adult. Nothing too heavy. A wink and a nod."
The warm and genial star of At Your Service grew up in Stepaside, Co Dublin, and in his teens and early twenties worked in the family business, which was one of the first supermarkets in the country.
He went to work at the Park Hotel in Kenmare in 1980, but it went into liquidation four years later. He leased it for two years and then bought it in 1986 from a Swiss consortium, building it into the success it is today. Clean living has been a way of life for Francis.
"I've no vices, that's boring isn't it? I don't eat chocolate at home at night or anything like that. I never buy them at the cinema either because I don't like that munching sound. I think I probably have a weakness for gambling but I never did it. When I was a child we used to go out to Bray and it might be a sunny day and I had no interest in the beach, I only wanted to go into the slot machines. So I think I might have a bit of a weakness for gambling and that's why I've been in Las Vegas a hundred times but I haven't gambled once."
He thinks "every business decision is a gamble, although of course it's different to Paddy Power."
He felt sure he would be able to retire in his early fifties - he is now 61 - but the recession put paid to that.
"I planned on a Westbury retirement, a five-star retirement, where if, say I went to New York, I'd fly business class. That's all gone now, my money is all gone, every penny of it is gone. I spread my investments, I would have thought I was very clever. If I'd taken all that money and instead of investing it just put it in a bucket under the bed I'd be swinging now."
Although he's written a kind of manual on happiness, he says that rather than giving advice he prefers to "just live by example. I talk to young people, I go into colleges. There is a fatherly element in (talking to them). I tell them I bought the Park at 24 years of age, and my message is that everybody can do it if you just get up."
Counting Your Blessings: Francis Brennan's Guide To Happiness will be published by Gill & McMillan on October 2, priced at €14.99