Tuesday 26 March 2019

Louis Walsh on false allegations: 'That was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life'

Louis Walsh bares his soul to Barry Egan about how he thought he was finished when the totally false allegations were unfairly levelled at him by a tabloid newspaper in 2011

Louis Walsh, whose mother wanted him to be a priest, says that music moves him more than religion
Louis Walsh, whose mother wanted him to be a priest, says that music moves him more than religion
Louis Walsh attending The Pride of Britain Awards 2017, at Grosvenor House, Park Street, London
: Dermot O'Leary, Sharon Osbourne, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger (Syco/Thames)
The X Factor Press Launch – London
Louis Walsh.

Pre-Christmas dinner a deux with Louis Walsh at the InterContinental hotel unexpectedly becomes dinner a trois when an Irish pop star joins us. Sharon Corr and the judge of X Factor know each other well.

Indeed her husband, barrister Gavin Bonnar, represented Louis in 2012 when he won €500,000 in damages from a tabloid newspaper over a false and totally trumped-up story in a Dublin nightclub in April 2011 relating to a man - Leonard Watters - who was subsequently jailed for six months for wrongly accusing Walsh.

Was it hard to sleep during that whole time?

"I had problems. I had real problems," Louis says.

The X Factor Press Launch – London
The X Factor Press Launch – London

"I had problems because... I thought I was finished in the business, especially dealing with boy-bands and girl-bands and all that; and people are going to think that there's something not right here. That's being honest with you. Luckily," - he laughs - "I was innocent and I won the case."

I ask him about how he got through the troubled time when that untrue allegation was unfairly levelled against him.

"That was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life," he answers. "Without a doubt. I thought my life was finished. Honestly. I didn't know..." He pauses.

"You start thinking, 'Oh people are going to think: 'There's no smoke without fire'. My friends rallied around. Gavin Bonnar said to me, 'C'mon, fight this'. Everybody told me not to fight, that I would never win. Everybody told me that."

What did Louis reply? "I said, I have to. And luckily I did. And Gavin made me do it. And that was the best thing I've ever done. They sat me down and convinced me that I could win by telling the truth."

Michael Louis Vincent Walsh's truth is that having just finished this season's ITV X Factor - he first appeared as a judge, along with Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne on the talent show in 2004 - and booked again for next year, Louis has never been in a better place in his life. Louis is, in fact, invariably in very good form anyway.

He has also just secured a job as a panellist on TV3's Ireland's Got Talent starting early next year. Louis doesn't need the money presumably. So why is he still doing it?

"I love working," says Louis, who was born on August 5, 1952. "It is not like working, honestly. And what else would I do? I'm having the time of my life and I'm my own boss. I'm doing X Factor with Simon, Sharon and Nicole. That's like the dream job for me - going in there every day, having the best fun with them, and making a good TV show. That's the best job in the world. Then I'm doing Ireland's Got Talent.

: Dermot O'Leary, Sharon Osbourne, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger (Syco/Thames)
: Dermot O'Leary, Sharon Osbourne, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger (Syco/Thames)

"That's going to be a big show for TV3," he says and it will be "an old-fashioned variety show. We don't know who is going to walk in. It could be a guy with a parrot, a girl with a dog, nuns, choirs, a young dancer, a street dancer, an old guy or woman singing a big ballad. It's going to be different.

"It's like Opportunity Knocks from a hundred years ago," he says referring to ITV's famous talent show that had its heyday in the mid 1970s.

I ask Louis if he is the new Hughie Green? "No. But I'm on the panel" - along with Michelle Visage, Denise van Outen and Jason Byrne, with Lucy Kennedy as the host. "It is warm, family entertainment."

How does he think the Irish nation sees this person called Louis Walsh? "I honestly don't know, but people seem to like me, which is quite surprising," he laughs. "I think because as I get older I'm becoming more honest. And I'm not pretending to be something I'm not."

I joke that as he gets older he is getting strangely younger looking... "I think I am younger looking because I am looking after myself. People say to me: 'Oh, you must have had so much work done?' I've never had Botox in my life. Ever. Ever. Ever. I've had a few other things done. A few little tweaks here and there, but that's fine. If you're on TV, you have to look after yourself. And I have learned that from Simon and Sharon."

The high-waisted boss of the X Factor is, says Louis of Mr Cowell, "one of my best friends. He has been so good to me. I wouldn't be here only for Simon Cowell. I was working with him with Westlife. [whom Louis managed]. We got to know each other that way. He was the reason the band was so big. He was involved in all the songs and all the music".

How did Louis let go of the animosity when Simon fired him from X Factor in 2015 and then, after realising his mistake, when the ratings fell, Simon took him back again on the show? "That's fine. I forgive and forget. That's business. That's business! He hired me back. That's fine."

But he must have been a bit p***ed off at the time? "I was. I was! I was more than a bit but I knew the show wasn't going to work," he laughs, "because whatever I do on the show [always works]. I was happy because I knew that the people weren't going to like Nick Grimshaw [the DJ who briefly replaced Louis on the show] because he has never done what I do.

"He just sits in a studio and presses buttons. He has never had to grovel and graft to get gigs for a band. That's all I have ever done all my life. I was an agent. I know what it is like to work. I started at the bottom. I did all the show-band stuff for years".

Louis looks back on that period "as the best time ever in Ireland. It was a great, innocent time. We all worked so hard. And it was a great time for music, too", he says, munching on his beetroot and cheese salad.

(He denies he is on a diet. Rather, he says, his salad is because he is going out for dinner later - to the Merrion Hotel nearby with some friends.)

"The show-bands was the best training ever for me, because you had to go into your office and get work for the bands," he says.

"When I first came to Dublin I was unsure of myself, but it was an amazing time for me because I just came from Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, a small town..."

But you now have homes in Dublin, London, Miami, I say to Louis (who is estimated to be worth £116m, with his X Factor slot, plus having managed Boyzone, Girls Aloud, Westlife, Ronan Keating and Johnny Logan to name but a few.)

"I have loads of things, yeah, but I can have all those things and not be happy. But I have all those things and I'm happy. Life makes me happy. You can tell I'm happy. I'm happy being here! I'm happy that I'm healthy," he says saying that he has no health scares.

"I'm just happy that I'm still getting away with it. I'm getting away with it. And I can't believe it. I'm honestly lucky. I've had about a 100 million record sales in total. But that's in the past. I don't look back. I am just looking to the future."

In the past, years ago, he was bitchy about a lot of people (Sharon Osbourne: "She is crude and vulgar when she has a few drinks"; Girls Aloud: "They didn't like each other and Nadine is the only one who can sing!"). Was that coming from an unhappy place? "No. I was always bitching about a lot of people. I've always had an opinion. I still have opinions on everything."

What makes him angry? "I'll tell you what makes me angry," he begins. "Donald f***ing Trump makes me angry. To think he's getting away with it." Louis admits that he is "addicted" to CNN.

He watches Trump every night. Louis always thinks the same thing: 'How is this clown getting away with it?' "He cannot string two words together. He has no intelligence. He has no business skills. He has no people skills. He is a joke and he is the President of America. I cannot believe that."

What does Louis think of Leo Varadkar? "He's new. He's young. I think he's a good role model for people. I think he's good. I think people should give him a break. Yeah, he's going to the gym a lot, but that's being healthy. And he's not hiding it. I like that. He seems an open book. That's a good thing, honestly."

Would Louis ever be interested in politics himself?

"No. There is not a lot of money in it," Louis says, before adding, "and you are public property".

I say to Louis that he is public property, already.

"I am. But I am still my own boss. I only work for me."

Pretty much everywhere Louis goes he gets people coming over to him to tell him how great he is on X Factor and the like. "Yeah, but I am always suspicious thinking: 'Are they probably thinking, 'That's the little f***er!'" Louis laughs.

"It's the Irish mentality that we have. It's the begrudgery. I always think it's there underneath. I don't seem to get it," he says, meaning begrudgery, "but I'm sure it's there".

Louis wished he wasn't there, however, when Hurricane Irma hit Miami in September of this year...

"I was in Miami when the hurricane arrived," he recalls, "That was really scary. I had to leave. I have an apartment there."

Asked about the apartment in South Beach in Miami, Louis comes over all coy suddenly. "It's nice," he says. Is it 8,000-sq ft nice?

"It's nice. I'm not going to boast. It is a nice place to go but there is always someone with a nicer place. But that's fine. I love Miami and Aer Lingus fly direct three times a week now. So there is more reason to go. I am going in January."

Louis says he inherited his sense of pride in work from his late father, Frank. "My father had two jobs. He worked in the local bakery but he was also a taxi man."

Is that because there were so many in the Walsh family in Kiltimagh? "Yeah. There were nine of us. First up, best dressed! We had a great time. It wasn't about money or anything like that. My mother was very strict on me. You would never curse at home, ever. I still don't curse," says the man who five minutes earlier referred to the illustrious present President of the United States as Donald F***ing Trump but I digress.

"And because I wasn't very good at school, I didn't know what I was going to do. I was lucky to have found this. Getting into music is all I ever wanted to do."

What did his parents want him to be? "I think my mother," he says referring to Maureen, who still very much has the X factor at the ripe ol age of 84, "wanted me to be a priest!" he laughs.

"I know it is funny but I am the second oldest of nine. They sent me to college and you had to either work in the bank or be a priest or a teacher. That was it. Or work in Aer Lingus."

How would Louis Walsh as a priest have turned out? "Horrible. I would have hated it. I like to be free. I wouldn't think I'm religious at all. I was an altar boy and all that in Kiltimagh."

What was it about being a priest that put him off precisely? "The hours. The hours wouldn't have suited me. I just didn't want to be a priest," he laughs, "and my mother was born in Knock. So Catholicism was drummed into us from an early age. I don't believe in it. That's the honest answer. Music moves me more than religion."

In the dark moments of his life - like the aforementioned 2012 period - how did Louis get through all that? "Phone a friend," he jokes. "I have some really good friends. Nothing to do with the music business. We always tell each other that we're lucky f***ers."

Ireland's Got Talent will air on TV3 early next year

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