De Burgh: my nights in front of screaming young women
A teary Chris de Burgh talks to Niamh Horan about being an 'object of desire' and what he told daughter Rosanna about the Johnny Ronan story
CHRIS de Burgh is trying to hold back the tears. They've appeared out of nowhere, like an unwelcome visitor interrupting our afternoon tea in the elegant surroundings of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Red-eyed, he drops his head into this hands and tries to regain his composure.
"Forgive me," he says, in his distinctive accent that is as delicate as the china laid out before us. He drifts momentarily into silence as he remembers his war-hero father, who died in 2001.
Recalling a dream he had two weeks previously, from which he woke "sobbing", he says it is his "one real regret" that he had a difficult relationship with him. In his dream, he "was saying to my father: 'I'm sorry, but I couldn't let you inside me. I couldn't let you come in to me'."
It's a throwback to years of a "difficult relationship" of which he laments that: "One of the toughest things I ever had to do was tell him I love him."
The confession comes from nowhere, and doesn't sit easily with the multimillion selling songwriter's image as a man fervently protective of his private life.
Well, one aspect of it anyway.
Shortly before, we had been discussing what many would assume had been the singer's other real regret in life -- the highly publicised affair with the family's 19-year-old nanny Maresa Morgan in 1994.
The clandestine affair, while his wife Diane lay in a hospital bed with a broken neck, sent shockwaves through Ireland. For weeks the UK and Irish media were parked outside the gates of his secluded home in the Wicklow hills.
One photographer recalled how the paparazzi went into overdrive when the teenage nanny 'unwittingly' hung out a pair of blue jeans on her washing line in the week the story broke.
The singer was said to have written the song Blonde Hair Blue Jeans about his lust for Morgan.
Still, that was 16 years ago and he and Diane overcame their problems to enjoy what is now 38 years of wedded life together.
Their lifetime of commitment has flourished, while many other celebrity unions unravelled.
So what's held their marriage together?
"I'm very good to my wife," he chuckles "I never go home. Although, that said, there is something in that -- giving each other space and time."
While the singer spent most of his time on the road in the early days of his career, now he is away from his Enniskerry-based family for only two or three days a month.
He considers for a moment how his beautiful wife Diane -- who although in her 50s can still hold her own beside her model daughter in terms of looks -- feels about his time away in front of thousands of screaming women.
"I reckon it's difficult for her knowing I go away," he ponders. "I am the object. Well, I can't say this... you might have to... but I am allegedly the object of desire for lots of women."
Describing the reaction he gets from women on the road, he points to the fact that he is aware they are in love with his star rather than the unassuming man behind the hits: "I said to Rosie there are two people here. One is the glamorous person out in public. They want to see a star. She has a charisma that I've seen a few times before, and Princess Diana is one of those people. When Diana went through a room, there was just stardust, and I have seen Rosie do the same. She has a charisma. That's the public person.
"The private person is the one who slops around in the dressing gown and slippers, and I learnt that very early on.
"So even though I'm standing on stage, and I get a lot of that at my concerts -- pretty young ladies like yourself, and they're looking at me going 'me, me, me'... I'm looking at them with amazement and my band and I, we're not laughing at them, we're enjoying the moment. Because when you're my age and you're still getting looked at like that, well that's quite ... you get chuffed," he smiles.
"But that doesn't mean you're going to jump into the audience and take telephone numbers and say 'I'll see you later' because they are seeing the star."
So what does he think he learnt from the awful upheaval of 1994?
"That seems one of those questions that I'm not going to answer. But I will say it goes back to feeling secure in yourself. You asked what the secret of a lengthy marriage is. I think separation is not a bad idea -- not separation where I'm going away for six months, but I travel somewhere virtually every month, just for two or three days really."
He speaks of his beautiful model daughter Rosanna, who won the coveted Miss World crown, and he lights up at the very mention of her name.
Over the past year, the model has been the subject of a vicious bullying campaign in Dublin's social circles and also numerous newspaper articles, which her father says he has been extremely unhappy with.
"I've been in this business for 36 years and all that stuff [about me] went straight over my head. I know journalists like to think that they are read by people like me, but I don't read them. The one thing I will say is, however, if they start having a bash at my daughter, that's different.
"That's why the first time it started happening I employed a very good lawyer and we have taken 15 legal actions and won every single one."
The main story that has followed Rosanna like a piece of grubby chewing gum on her designer heels is her highly publicised trip with Ireland's best-known property tycoon. And it's Chris who playfully broaches the subject.
"You know all about the Johnny Ronan story?" he quips nonchalantly. "To Rosanna's credit, she has never told the story. It was such a great story. Don't let the truth interfere. That's what happened.
"I know Johnny," he shrugs. "He is a lovely man. This guy, on a personal level, has been fantastically supportive of charities I've been involved in. But this goes back to the Irish thing -- Ireland is a small country. Anyone who sticks their head above the rest, it's the tall poppy syndrome, you chop their head off. It was a spur of the moment thing -- we've all done it."
After the incident, he says he told Rosanna to ignore the storm: "I told her 'Live, for God's sake; we're going to be dead one day. Don't listen to criticism about your private life, just sail on. Rise above it.' I haven't spoken to Johnny since but if I did I would say the exact same thing: 'get over it man'."
It's worth mentioning that this is Chris's first round of interviews with Irish newspapers in 17 years. Ironically, if he weren't a musician he would have loved to have been a journalist, but his love affair with the Irish press came to an end when "the journalists were so disbelieving that he was chosen to headline the Feile concert that he and his manager 'just said forget it, never again'".
That year he played a sell-out gig to 30,000 fans and hasn't looked back.
With his album sales approaching 50 million worldwide, he can lay claim to a phenomenally successful international career spanning three decades, 17 studio albums and more than 3,000 performances.
While his hits included Don't Pay The Ferryman, High On Emotion and Spanish Train, it was the success of Lady In Red, which made No 1 in 25 countries around the world, that meant he could lay claim to penning one of the most-played songs ever.
He says his latest work, Moonfleet & Other Stories was "the most ambitious and complicated album" of his career. "The first time I finished the mix I closed my eyes, lay on the floor of my studio and listened to it. I said 'yes'," he says.
"I got some friends around for a barbecue. As the dusk came, we all listened to it and by the end quite a few of them were moved. And that for me was a fantastic success."
We may not give him the credit he deserves but Chris still considers himself "a very lucky man".
I suppose if you had a model wife, a Miss World daughter, a sprawling home in the hills of Wicklow and a few million in the bank, you could get over it, too. Yet he still felt the need to let off steam at a reviewer earlier this year who went "a step too far" by commenting on his trousers.
Still I wonder if it's the overtly 'goody two shoes' image that is to blame for his not being taken seriously on home turf.
We like our home-produced stars to be edgy and unpredictable. Maybe it suits him to present this persona to keep the press at bay, but as he says with a glint in his eye, "what you see is not necessarily what's happening".
Chris de Burgh and band will perform at the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin, on May 27, 2011, as part of the 'Moonfleet' tour