A portrait of the artists as a rich elite

The entertainment industry list is a story of lucrative consolidation for those at the top, writes Donal Lynch

Niall Horan is the sole entertainment entrant under the age of 40 in the top 200

TV producer Paul Smith

U2 have diversified into a smorgasbord of canny investments

Lonely Planet founder Maureen Wheeler


thumbnail: Niall Horan is the sole entertainment entrant under the age of 40 in the top 200
thumbnail: TV producer Paul Smith
thumbnail: U2 have diversified into a smorgasbord of canny investments
thumbnail: Lonely Planet founder Maureen Wheeler
thumbnail: Enya
Donal Lynch

If wealth in broader society is concentrated in the hands of a lucky few, the entertainment industry contains an even more stark divide between rich and poor. While most actors, singers and authors live a fairly hand-to-mouth existence - witness Booker nominee Donal Ryan admitting he was thinking of returning to the day job in the civil service - the elite in these professions are some of the wealthiest individuals in the country.

The number of entertainers that make up the small pool of our wealthiest citizens has fallen over the last couple of decades. Twenty years ago, a fifth of the top 50 richest people in Ireland promoted or created entertainment - in 2018, only four of the top 50 could be categorised as being in showbusiness.

In the intervening period, the disruption (read: falling revenues) that the internet caused for industries like music, publishing and film have placed a greater emphasis on big brands, moguls and megastars - entertainment notably does not contain anywhere near the level of new entries to the Rich List that the likes of tech and property throw up. Household names like Enya, Van Morrison and Liam Neeson abound.

It's perhaps no surprise therefore that the Irish entertainment rich list is once again headed up by the most recognisable name of all - U2 - who minted it again following the number one hit album, Songs Of Experience, and the sellout stadium tour which accompanied it. Like many of the other entries at the upper echelon of the Rich List, the members of U2 have diversified into a smorgasbord of canny investments, ranging from apps (The Edge) to investment funds - Bono is a partner in $1.9bn US tech venture capital firm, Elevation.

The less obvious entries in the Irish entertainment rich list stand out against the constellation of stars. Mostly these entries were the brains behind the magic. There's Belfast-born Paul Smith (worth €105m), a TV producer who developed the quiz show format for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and Maureen Wheeler (€100m) who founded Lonely Planet.

And Cathal Jackson (worth €74m), whose Harcourt Street, Dublin nightclub, Copper Face Jacks, not only made around €100,000-a-week profit in 2018 but also inspired one of the most popular musicals of recent years.

And then there is one of the wealthiest, but perhaps least household-name-level, entertainers of all - Roma Downey (worth €411m). She has tapped into a lucrative market: an interesting facet of the US entertainment industry is how politically liberal it is relative to the conservatism of most of its audience. The number of cinema and TV hits that cater to the enormous evangelical community, which makes up a third of the population stateside, is surprisingly low. This might in part explain the gargantuan success of Derry girl Downey who, along with husband Mark Burnett, devised The Apprentice, Survivor and The Voice, and is now coining it with religious-themed programming.

In recent years, their TV adaptation of The Bible won numerous awards and reached 100 million viewers. Their latest Netflix drama, Messiah, is set in the present day and features a man who claims to be Jesus and gathers a mass following in the Middle East. Downey has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and the couple reportedly own three homes in Malibu. One is in a gated community, and two are on the beachfront, and were reportedly available to rent at $70,000 a month and $100,000 a month, respectively.

Another broader theme of the entertainment rich list this year is the fact that the vast majority of the entries are middle-aged or older. The sole entrant under the age of 40 in the top 200 is Niall Horan (worth €77m), whose career has blossomed further since One Direction broke up in 2016. His first solo record, Flicker, released during 2017, reached number one in the US and Ireland and peaked at number three in the UK. A number of charismatic talk show appearances, and a successful tour (increasingly important in music biz in an era of piracy and YouTube), raised his profile further in the US and he seems primed for a further rise up the list.

Where will the next big entertainment business success story come from? It's often said that the internet caused all of the major entertainment industries - music, film, publishing, television - to be given away for free. The former fat cats who pulled the purse strings in the 1980s and 1990s are still essentially recovering from this era-defining disruptive force, which explains why the list is now, primarily, a story of consolidation. The next great mogul may well be the person who corrects this trend - and more effectively monetises the little pieces of beauty that make life worth living.