The Cork-raised entertainer talks about her career, roughing it with partner Aidan Gillen, and why Woodie’s is her favourite shop
Camille O’Sullivan is a singer and actor. She is the headline act for Westival, has her own show in the Olympia in November and from December will play Edith Piaf at the Gate Theatre. Born in London, she grew up in Passage West, Co Cork. She lives in Dublin with actor Aidan Gillen and her daughter, Leila Elodie (9).
What were you like growing up?
I was very shy when I was with others but at home I was always laughing, painting and full of joy. My parents had to pretend that I was three years old to get me into Montessori because all my child-minders left after a day. They said that they loved me but I was too full-on for them. Dad said that nothing has changed.
Choose three words to describe yourself.
Bonkers, loving and loyal.
What drives you?
Curiosity, fear and love of life. I love learning and exploring and doing new stuff every day. I hope to be like that until I am 90. Curiosity is so important. I am scared of things and so I chase them. David Bowie said not to let your feet touch the ground. If you are too comfortable, you are not living the life you should. That really resonated with me.
Who are your role models?
Anyone who works as a nurse. I’m just a singer. Those people do the real work. After my car accident in 1999, I was in Tallaght Hospital. I was so vulnerable – I couldn’t walk or go to the toilet on my own – but the nurses took such great care of me. One of them still comes to see my shows. She remembers when I was on morphine saying, “I want to sing.”
Your mother is French. Tell us about the French side of your character.
I look French, and so does my daughter. The French side of my character is the Mediterranean emotions. I like to laugh and I like to cry. It’s “I love you” and a minute later “I hate you”. It’s dramatic, loud and full of passion.
How ambitious are you?
I’m ambitious in an artistic sense, but money doesn’t drive me, nor does fame. As long as I’m singing and loving what I’m doing, that’s all that counts.
You’ve performed all over the world. How would you describe your career trajectory?
I used to think that if you were good, somebody would discover and it would be luck. But seeing people on stage who weren’t brilliant but really gutsy, I realised that it wasn’t about luck. It’s all about really hard work. If I wanted to make it, I had to make it happen.
So I wrote very serious letters to theatres asking if I could perform there. I planned my own tours. Noel McHale from MCD Promotions still has my postcard asking if I could perform in the Olympia. That’s how it started. I’ll be back there in November. Eighty per cent of my life is planning and 20pc is performing.
How do you juggle co-parenting [with former partner, Waterboy Mike Scott]?
We make it work. We decided that we’ll never be away from her for two weeks. I tend not to gig so much during the school term and I bring her with me during the holidays. She has been to so many festivals and met so many drag queens. I want her to see everything.
Tell us a few facts about yourself that might surprise people.
I can ski black-slope. That means you can go down very steep gradients, it’s like skiing from a cliff. I learned to trapeze in New York last year. And I love gardening, sewing, fixing cars and DIY. Woodie’s is my favourite shop.
Your partner is an actor and you sometimes act, too. Any other similarities?
I like to sleep in tents and I like to rough it. Aidan is the same and I love that about him. The two of us look like we’ve come out of a bush.
Does it help to have a partner involved in the arts too?
Yes, and he is cool about it, but I don’t let him come to my shows. If I ask him whether my ass is big in something, he will say it is. He’s a lovely boy, but very truthful. I don’t want to know that my ass is big in anything. I want lies all the way!
Camille O’Sullivan is at Town Hall Theatre, Westport, Co Mayo, on October 29 as part of Westival and at 3Olympia, Dublin, on November 26. westival.ie; camilleosullivan.com