Pop band manager Louis Walsh regrets offending Ronan Collins and anyone else with his recent radio comments defending his newest protégés, Six. But, how could it be any other way, Louis is one of the good guys, he tells Joe Jackson
LET'S FACE it, the jury is still out on Louis Walsh. And he knows it. Indeed, as we sit in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel four days after his famous row with RTÉ DJ Ronan Collins on Liveline, Louis says, almost plaintively, "But I'm one of the good guys!" As if pleading clemency from a public that has already concluded, from some of his more over-the-top comments on that show, that he's actually become a megalomaniacal little prick.
In other words, a machiavellian monster who refers to the acts he manages such as Westlife, Samantha Mumba, and now Six as "mine".
Even worse, to some, was that Walsh dismissed Collins as "a failed showband star" who played in "Mickey Mouse bands". And told the DJ to "go and save the kids aroundthe world" a reprehensible reference to Collins's charity work with children inEthiopia.
And what, exactly, had Ronan done to raise the wrath of King Louis? Described There's a Whole Lot of Loving Going On, the debut single by Popstars graduates Six, as "absolutely awful" and "lacking in credibility, imagination and musicianship". Collins also suggested that Six were being "led up alleyways, and the only ones who would get fame and probably ultimately anything out of this are Louis Walsh, Bill Hughes and Linda Martin" the three judges in the RTÉ TV talent show.
So, my right honourable ladies and gentlemen, let's look a little more closely at some of these accusations. First, Louis's claim that Collins is a "failed showband star". This, Walsh insists, was not "in the slightest" a criticism of "Ronan's involvement in showbands". Which it could hardly be, given that Louis got his break in the music business 25 years ago "doing the fan club" for Doc Carroll, of the Royal Blues showband, and working with Tommy Hayden, booking acts like Red Hurley and Brendan Bowyer.
"And one of the best shows I saw last year was Dickie Rock, Red Hurley and Twink in concert," says Walsh. "So I definitely wasn't slagging showbands. I grew up with showbands. I love showbands. But that era is finished. Yet it's what led directly to what I'm doing now. That's why I'm a pop band manager, not a rock manager. I love pop music, the kind of stuff showbands played from the start."
Louis also insists that when he called Collins "a failed showband star" he wasn't suggesting that being a DJ is synonymous with being a failure in life.
"That's not what I was saying either, and I honest-to-God hope no one thought I was," he explains, obviously still disturbed by the response to his comments on Liveline. In fact, Louis has refused to go back on that show to clarify those comments and hopes this one interview he's giving on the subject will "finally make the whole thing go away". We'll see.
"Last year when I got my Irish Music Industry award I thanked the DJs of Ireland because those are the people who broke our records. And it's people like Larry Gogan and Tony Fenton I look up to. They're the kings of Irish broadcasting as far as I'm concerned."
What about Ronan Collins?
"Ronan is a very good DJ," Louis responds. "I like him. He has a great programme. I just don't know why he was slagging all our records. But he's not a failure. He's done very well for himself. And I remember him playing in bands like the Others and they used to do a cover version of Seasons in the Sun. Yet when Westlife recorded it, he slagged it off. Just like he slagged Boyzone and Ronan Keating records. Whereas I actually thought he, more than other DJs, might understand what we were doing."
That said, Louis "totally" agrees that Ronan is "entitled to his own opinion". And claims that, despite reports to the contrary, he didn't phone RTÉ to respond to Collins's comments on Liveline, he received a call "during my lunch in the Four Seasons hotel" and was asked to respond.
"I knew Ronan had been having a go at Six on his own show but then he went on Liveline to slag them off, so I had to take that call," he says. "And though he is entitled to his opinion, this was six months of our work he was attacking. And I'm very impassioned about Popstars. And about the band. There are six people's lives and careers at stake here. As the manager of Six I'm responsible for those careers. And I do care. Deeply."
Indeed, no doubt there were those who heard Liveline and, allowing for the heated nature of some of his comments, probably thought Louis sounded somewhat like a hysterical parent protecting his children.
"That is exactly how I felt. These acts are my family," he responds, a claim that, arguably, gains greater weight given that Walsh has never married and has no children. "I really do care about these kids. And I want them to have a huge hit with their first single. Not simply because I chose the song and definitely don't think it's awful, but because a number one will kick-start their career."
If Louis does care so deeply about the welfare of the "kids" in Six why, then, wasn't he more sensitive to the fact that Collins did go to Ethiopia last year and do charity work for children? Does he even see that it was reprehensible for him to say, in this context, that Collins should "go and save" children around the world?
"I didn't say that."
You did, Louis.
"I honestly don't know what I said that day," Walsh continues. "But what I meant to say was that I saw Ronan on The Late Late Show, and he did talk about how he'd gone and worked for charity in Ethiopia, which is fantastic and something I applaud. Totally. It would be stupid and absolutely insensitive not to. But then he went and sang on The Late Late Show, and that's really what I was slagging, because he was crap!"
But what did Louis ever do for the starving children of the world? "We do a lot of charity gigs." Such as? Taking five starving guys from the north side of Dublin and putting them in Boyzone?
"F*** off, Joe! You know we do charity work," Walsh responds. "But I see what you're getting at."
So will Louis retract that comment about Ronan's charity work, apologise to the guy? And, by extension, apologise to anyone who does charity work and may have been similarly offended?
"I am sorry if I seemed to be slagging people who work for charity. I wasn't," he says. "And I regret upsetting so many people. But I'm not sorry I took a stand against Ronan. And I don't want to backtrack in terms of my response to Ronan's attacks on Six. I feel I was right to defend them. Maybe I was over-the-top and I could have said things a different way, but wouldn't it be worse if I didn't defend one of my acts at all? That would really make people think I don't care about them and am only in this for the money."
Which, of course, brings us to the suggestion that Louis with Hughes and Martin seems set to profit most from the potential success of Six. Actually, this isn't true. Each judge got a pretty basic rate for their six months' work on Popstars. And though Martin has since become a "personal assistant" to Six and Louis, as their manager, has a percentage of the band, it is considerably less than the 10 per cent he owns of acts like Boyzone. Largely because the profits from Six are split between himself, the band, BMG records, RTÉ, "the original production company in Australia that owns the concept of Popstars" and the Irish company that bought that franchise.
Meaning it's a six-way split, which adds a maybe more ironic tilt to the name of the band! Either way, such a relatively diminished division of profits from Six explains why Louis says he didn't get into Popstars for the money.
"I could start a band in the morning and do better than this, in terms of percentages," he claims. "Besides, I don't need the money. I have enough to live. Because I live a pretty normal life."
How much money does Walsh have? "I don't know."
Come on, Louis, you've been feeding me that line since I first interviewed Boyzone in '94!
"I honestly don't know how much money I have. But I probably have enough to retire tomorrow if I wanted to," he responds. "Yet I don't want to retire. What would I do? I love pop music. I love working in pop music. Particularly in Ireland. I've been at this since I left school. And I still love the buzz of it all. That's why I got into Popstars.
"I also thought working with Lynda McQuaid, the producer, would be fantastic. It was. And I thought it would be fun. I didn't think people would take it all so seriously. And I never realised we'd get so attached to these kids. The camera even caught me crying when we were saying goodbye! But we all did put our hearts and souls into the series and really grow to care for the kids."
However, on Liveline Louis did refer to one of the members of Six as "that girl from Galway". And don't all his references to "my" acts and how he has had 21 number ones feed into the perception that Walsh has become a megalomaniacal monster who really does believe everything he touches turns to gold? Gold discs, maybe.
"But I'm not!" he responds. "And Sarah is the girl from Galway. I just forgot her name for a moment! And loads of band managers say 'I' when they're talking about getting number ones. But if I was a megalomaniac why would I turn down the offer of a complete Late Late Show dedicated to my life and work? They offered me that before Christmas but I said no, because it would be me being too much in people's faces. They wanted to bring on Johnny Logan, Linda Martin, Boyzone, everybody I worked with. And I said I wouldn't do such a show for all the money in the world."
People like Logan would, presumably, say how "wonderful" Louis is, as is the tendency in such programmes? "Yeah. And I couldn't put up with that because I don't think I'm wonderful," says Walsh. "So that would have been a load of crap. And I'm not arrogant. But I am a little more confident than I used to be. Maybe that's why I opened my mouth on Liveline when I shouldn't have."
So is Louis going to shut his mouth from now on?
"Maybe I should!"
Maybe you shouldn't.
"Maybe I won't then!"
Joe Jackson 2002