Tuesday 12 December 2017

Louis Walsh: My television career is coming to an end. I don't want to outstay my welcome

Pop svengali Louis Walsh is in mischievous form as he tells Andrea Smith about his new boyband and 'corrupt Ireland'

Lunch with Louis Walsh
Lunch with Louis Walsh
Lunch with Louis Walsh
The late Tommy Hayden
Maureen Walsh
Linda Martin
Ronan Keating
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

He may have a roguish twinkle in his eye and likes nothing better than to stir the pot on occasion, but underneath the showbiz razzle-dazzle, Louis Walsh is a very kind man.

While the very attentive staff at the Four Seasons Hotel rush to prevent our lunch being interrupted by a gang of Confirmation kids, Louis reassures them that it's grand, and patiently poses for at least 15 individual selfies with the gaggle of excited children. "I like your freckles," he says to one awkward little fella, who visibly beams, and seems to walk away with a more pronounced spring in his step.

Given that the 61-year-old from Kiltimagh travels so much and people are presumably all over him for what they might potentially get from him, does he ever get lonely?

"No, I don't," he says, tucking into a spiced curry pot. We meet at 4pm, so it's more drunch than lunch. "In this business, people love you if you're doing well or if you can help them but I'm well aware of that bullshit – I see it coming a mile off. I only have a handful of real friends. I'm much softer than people think, and I hate when people let me down. If I go to get petrol, someone gives me a CD and they tell me their daughter is the next Celine Dion. You just listen to them, and if I was them, I would probably do the same thing, but very few people actually have the X factor, which is a different thing."

Lunch with Louis is exceptionally good fun. He's full of naughtiness, has the best and most scandalous gossip, and much of what he says isn't printable. He's also thoughtful though, and sensitive to other people's feelings. When we meet, he is fizzing with excitement over his shortly-to-be-unveiled new band, Home Town, while admitting to having sleepless nights over selecting the six members, knowing that some potential candidates will have been devastated at being left out.

They're amazing, he says, and combine the best parts of Boyzone and Westlife all in one band. It was effervescent enthusiasm like this that accompanied his first foray into the world of pop with Boyzone. And let's face it, when he unveiled them at first, everyone scoffed, but he and they proved us wrong, with 22 million album sales.

"Looking back, Boyzone were better than I thought they were," he laughs. "I have slagged them off here and there, but their personalities just shined, and they charmed everyone. The start of every band is always great, but the end rarely is. They get married and there are always Yoko Onos in every band, or they get involved with the wrong people and it just doesn't work out. To be honest, I thought Ronan Keating had it all, but then it went a bit sour when he wanted to write his own songs. I just thought, 'Oh no, you're not a songwriter.'"

Growing up on a dairy farm in Kiltimagh, Louis' parents, Maureen, and the late Frank, taught him that if you wanted something, you had to work hard for it. As the second-eldest of nine children, he boarded at St Nathy's College in Roscommon for three years. He hated school, although teachers like Joe Roughneen inspired him, but concludes that it made him very independent and prepared him for the world.

"I was quite shy and wasn't very confident, and had no interest in football," he says.

"I had brilliant upbringing, and although we didn't have a lot of money, it never mattered. My parents were very musical and quite strict, and my dad was really anti-drinking and smoking, which stuck with me. I wouldn't dream of cursing at home, even now. My mum worked on the farm a lot, and dad worked in a baker's shop and drove a taxi. He had really bad heart problems all of his life, and died when he was 69. My mother is great and she doesn't miss a trick – I think she still wants me to get a real job. They don't really know at home what I do, no one really does. People think I just answer phones and go on the TV."

At 19, Louis came to Dublin to work with music manager Tommy Hayden, "a gentleman," and thought he was in heaven, getting to go to all of the gigs and dances.

He began working with Linda Martin and Johnny Logan during this time.

What did he think of the recent spat his great pal Linda had on The Late Late Show with Aslan's Billy McGuinness?

"Linda is real, and she said what she believed, and I wish more people would do the same," he says.

"She just happened to forget she was on national television. She's a survivor and I think an awful lot of her."

While he loves Dublin for its great people –and the Irish people he admires include Vincent Browne, Denis Desmond, Peter Aiken, Eamon Dunphy and Richard Boyd Barrett – Louis says that Ireland is one of the most corrupt places in the world.

"This could be an amazing country," he says.

"We have something special here that you can't get anywhere else, but it's crazy how people get away with things. If our politicians were in the UK, they would all be in jail."

It was putting Boyzone together and propelling them to the top of the charts internationally that made Louis a force to be reckoned with on the international music scene.

Later came Westlife, Jedward, Shane Filan and The X Factor, and a couple that didn't make it, like Wonderland and Bellefire.

While the Mayoman is sunny and upbeat, the one thing that causes his face to darken is the memory of the terrible incident in June 2011, when a fantasist falsely accused him of indecently assaulting him in a Dublin nightclub.

He was later jailed and Louis successfully sued a newspaper for running the false story.

The accusation almost ruined his life, he says, and he doesn't even like thinking about it now.

"It was such a dark time for me, the worst time in my life, and to think that Irish people targeted me and wanted to bring me down with lies," he says, incredulously.

"It taught me never to trust anybody.

''I don't go to pubs or clubs now because of it, as you always get dodgy people there who are willing to use and abuse you to make money."

The incident has made Louis so wary that he doesn't answer the phone now if someone calls him on a blocked number. He's not into drugs or drink, he says, and all he wants to do is work. Apart from that, he's happy to stay home and watch boxsets.

Louis thinks he will more than likely do The X Factor this year, but says that it might be his final year on the popular talent show.

Apart from TV and the new band, does he have anything else up his sleeve, I ask, as we tuck into dessert?

"I think my television career is coming to an end," he says. "I don't want to be like Bruce Forsyth, outstaying my welcome. I have lots going on and I just want to have fun."

"The only other job I want now is in Rehab," he adds, mischievously. "It's the best job in the world. I'd give up The X Factor for the job in Rehab."

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