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Thursday 18 October 2018

'I gave up years ago trying to get records released in Ireland' - Johnny Logan

The three time Eurovision tells why he has hung up his white suit for good

Johnny Logan and Deirdre Reynolds talk over lunch at Thai restaurant Saba, on Clarendon Street.
Johnny Logan and Deirdre Reynolds talk over lunch at Thai restaurant Saba, on Clarendon Street.
Saba Restaurant
A young Johnny Logan
Johnny Logan
Crooner: Johnny Logan doesn't stray far from his infamous white ensemble in recent years.
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

As Ireland's 'Mr Eurovision', Johnny Logan is world famous for his phosphorescent white suit.

When Weekend Review hurriedly arrives at Bruxelles however, there's no mistaking the formidable figure in black already waiting at the bar.

Rocking a black leather jacket, black cashmere hoodie and a cluster of silver knuckle dusters, with the requisite rock star sunglasses resting on the counter, the seasoned singer has come a long way from the baby-faced 25-year-old who first represented his country in The Hague back in 1980.

Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest this May though, now more than ever, the three-time winner must be wondering: 'What's another year?'.

"It used to be the white suit that was iconic from Eurovision," jokes Johnny - or Seán - as he's better known to bar staff and regulars at the Harry Street haunt. "Then I did [TV] show The Hit, and I was getting these requests from RTÉ to wear my iconic black leather pants.

"I've reached that point in my career where a lot of people walk up to me and say, 'My mum loves you' or 'My grandmother loves you', and I'm very grateful for it.

"When you're younger, you kind of feel that you deserve success; when you get older, you're more grateful for the things that happen to you."

Having warbled his way to number one in 11 European countries, including Ireland, with Shay Healy's megahit What's Another Year, the young Seán Sherrard might reasonably have expected fame and fortune to follow.

Instead, his alter ego was infamously plunged into a protracted legal battle that kept him out of the limelight - and the charts - for almost half a decade. Meanwhile, his second single, Save Me, did not.

Eurovision 2015: 29 bizarre facts from Eurovision history you need to know 

"It has been quite a long journey," admits Johnny over a pre-lunch coffee - these days his beverage of choice. "There've been a lot of ups and downs, but I'm still standing here when a lot of other people have come and gone."

Logan himself, of course, got a second bite of the cherry when he triumphantly belted out Hold Me Now in Brussels in 1987. When history looked a lot like repeating itself however, the performer was seven years older, but infinitely wiser.

"After the second Eurovision, I saw the same relationship developing between myself and the music industry in Ireland and England," tells the dad-of-three, in a rare and exclusive interview. "I thought, 'I'm not going through this again - not after 1980', so I moved my business to Germany.

"I gave up years ago trying to get records released here. I just have to sit and put up with my success outside Ireland!"

More than a dozen albums on, today the 60-year-old is not just - to coin a phrase - 'big in Germany', but stratospheric throughout Scandinavia too.

"I'd like to work in Ireland but where my life is at the moment, I'm perfectly happy," says Johnny, who's been jetting back and forth between his office in Munich and family home in Meath since 1987. "I can't look back with regret on that because I'm very successful, and I have been for a long, long period of time.

"I've had double-platinum number one albums all over Sweden, Norway, Denmark. It was a lot of hard work - nobody embraces you just because, 'Hey, he's Irish!' It doesn't work that way.

"Music goes in and out of fashion," he adds. "I've had to reinvent myself quite a few times. I've been successful with the Eurovision, but now the next album will be R&B.

"I always find it quite funny when I come to Ireland and I have people talking about, 'Oh, I believe you're big in Germany', and then telling me about who's huge at the moment here.

"Then I get asked, 'Are you still singing?' Sometimes [it's] like, 'No, I tried ballet dancing, but that didn't work!'"

Turning up in a series of McDonald's ads in the mid-noughties is sure to have done nothing to dispel the rumours.

'I know I'll play again' - Eurovision winner and fiddle player who broke both her arms 

As we wind our way through the Westbury Mall towards popular Thai restaurant Saba however, it's clear that the slimmed-down star hasn't been tucking into the Twisty Fries lately.

"I lost 28 kilos [4.5st] over a period of two years. I love my food - I love cupcakes and muffins and coffee. I realised I was yo-yo dieting all the time, so I started with a personal trainer. When you see it starting to work, and you see your body starting to [change], you become more motivated."

But the legendary entertainer jokes that he still can't resist a coffee and muffin from his local McCafé in the Bavarian capital: "You're not the first person to ask if I get free McDonald's for life - the answer is I don't!

"Doing those ads was one of the best moves I ever made. It allowed people to see that I did have a sense of humour.

"What was really funny for me was arriving back in Dublin [airport], giving my passport and being asked, 'Do you want fries with that?'"

Born in Melbourne in 1954, the former electrician was just three when his expat parents moved back to Ireland, settling first in Howth before moving to Drogheda.

Nonetheless, he vowed not to let the Aussies claim him as one of their own when the nation competes in the Eurvision Song Contest for the first time this year: "It's that old saying, 'Just because you're born in a stable, doesn't make you a horse'. They haven't been allowed [claim me]!

"My mam was from Kilkenny and my dad was from Derry. I'm Irish, I've always been Irish - I never felt anything else.

"My parents moved [back] to Australia when I was 18," continues Johnny, whose father was the Irish tenor Patrick O'Hagan. "All dad's work was in Australia - he wasn't making money in Ireland - so he sold up and went there.

"He offered us a ticket to go with them, but I had [already] met my wife and started my career as an electrician, so I wanted to stay in Ireland - and my older brother [Michael] was the same. From that point on, I kind of fell into everything.

"My father didn't have money to leave us to pay the rent," he recalls. "In those days, apprentice electricians were not paid [much]. I worked as a musician in the evenings to subsidise that.

"Basically, all my life I've had to make money and because of that I think I've made a lot of very bad decisions. Decisions were definitely made around the fact that I needed money to put food on the table. Thankfully I'm not in that situation anymore."

Best-selling albums like The Irish Connection may have helped put food on the table, but it was wife Ailis who was always there at dinnertime when their sons Adam, Fionn and Jack were growing up, Johnny concedes: "Ailis is the glue that holds everything together. I went away and I still go away; she's always been the rock.

"Like a lot of people from my generation, I was beaten very badly by the Christian Brothers, so it's strange that I ended up marrying a school teacher. [But] I don't think I could have done it without the stability of her."

WATCH: 10 Irish Eurovision entries from the forgotten decades 

'Separate togetherness', he reckons, is the key to success for the couple who celebrate 40 years of marriage next year: "That would definitely be part of the reason - we don't see enough of each other to get bored of each other. Like any couple, we've been through good times and bad times together, but we're still there."

Proud dad Johnny has just joined forces with his youngest son Jack, also a musician, to launch an online songbook - available at playguitar.de - showing fans how to master all his greatest hits on guitar. But there's 'nuls point' for guessing whether he would consider donning the white suit once more.

"Why?" the singer, who also penned 1992's winning Eurovision song Why Me?, performed by Linda Martin.

"Honestly, why? Put my career on the line for the sake of a TV company? No.

"Eurovision was three different weeks in my life - the first one was 35 years ago. Those three weeks didn't last 35 years - there's been a lot more involved.

"I'm still very happy to sing any of the songs from the Eurovision because they're standards and they're what I'm known for," he adds.

"But outside of Ireland I'm also known for a lot of other songs."

With the Eurovision turning the same age as its biggest star, Johnny reflects: "Back in the 70s and 80s, certainly after the first Eurovision with all the ups and downs, I never thought I'd live this long. People I knew around me kept dying - people like Phil Lynott."

"I very seldom do anything in Ireland with the media because I don't work here so I've nothing to promote.

''In saying that, it's nice for the fans that I still have here to know that I'm still breathing!"

A life in brief

Name: Johnny Logan.

Age: 60.

From: Ashbourne, Co. Meath.

Family: Wife Ailis and sons Adam, Fionn and Jack.

Best known as: The white suit behind three of Ireland's record seven Eurovision wins.

Likes: "My wife would describe the sea as my church - it's where I went when my mother and father died."

Dislikes: "Spiders, and people who put their seats back on short flights."

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