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Friday 20 July 2018

Bill hospitalised with stress-related illness, says Jackie Lavin

Charity team: Sharon Fidgeon, Sheila Zebedee, Margaret Beere, Jackie Lavin and Attracta Mongey Photo: Steve Humphreys
Charity team: Sharon Fidgeon, Sheila Zebedee, Margaret Beere, Jackie Lavin and Attracta Mongey Photo: Steve Humphreys
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

He is one of Ireland's most high-profile motivational speakers - famous for the line that every day he stands in front of the mirror and tells himself he is going to have a good day. But every human is fallible under stress.

This weekend Bill Cullen's lifelong partner, the businesswoman Jackie Lavin, has revealed that he has suffered a year of serious strain as a result of the pressure he endured fighting the banks.

Vulnerable moments: Jackie Lavin with partner Bill Cullen, who has been suffering from stress Photo: Frank McGrath
Vulnerable moments: Jackie Lavin with partner Bill Cullen, who has been suffering from stress Photo: Frank McGrath

Ms Lavin told the Sunday Independent that Bill had had a difficult 2017 and was hospitalised for a time.

"Bill has had a rough year in terms of illness. I won't say what. He is just coming out of it," she said, adding that the cause was "stress related".

"He has been persecuted and punched so many times mentally that it is bound to have an effect," she said.

The high-profile pair, who previously ran the Muckross Park Hotel, have been together for almost 40 years and have weathered a huge amount of financial turmoil.

This year Danske Bank, the former National Irish Bank, applied to the High Court for Mr Cullen to be declared bankrupt as soon as possible on the basis that its debt had not been satisfied. But in July a court heard that Mr Cullen was too sick to attend and was seeking to strike a debt repayment deal with the bank through a Personal Insolvency Practitioner - an alternative to bankruptcy.

Describing their battle, Ms Lavin said: "It's been constant over the past five years. It has been every week and every day. You are constantly wondering, 'What is next in the post?' And you live from day to day and deal with it as it comes."

Speaking about the 75-year-old's illness, she said: "Stress was the absolute cause. If you look at Bill's lifestyle: he is always exercising, he still does. He drinks very little and he has always been careful with what he eats, his lifestyle is exemplary by anybody's standards."

Asked if it was a mental or physical illness, Ms Lavin declined to say.

She said: "He was in hospital for a time. He is coming out the other end. But we have to try and minimise the stress at this stage. I am taking that out front.

"Everyone has their vulnerable moments. I am not saying I am cast-iron or infallible," she said. "What happened to us was like a tsunami. Crash, bang, wallop. It came all together. And it had a domino effect."

On her own mindset, she said: "I don't let myself go down. I am not mentally beaten down by it. As far as I am concerned, we did nothing wrong. There is no money squirrelled away somewhere. We did the best we could and we tried to pay as best we could and if we were still in business we would still be paying and there wouldn't be a problem."

One of 14 children, Bill spent his childhood in poverty, but had a positive mental attitude instilled in him from a young age. In school, his mantra was "I'm going to be in the Top Three" and his grandmother taught him an "I'm terrific" morning ditty, which he continued to use as a businessman.

In recent times, Mr Cullen is said to have been writing a book on Michael Collins.

Meanwhile, Ms Lavin is preparing to host a charity dinner at Killashee Hotel in Naas on Thursday. The committee, which involves Ms Lavin, Noeleen McCreevy - wife of former Minister for Finance and European Commissioner Charlie - and leading Kildare businesswoman Attracta Mongey, are raising funds for the Peter McVerry Trust for the homeless. They have previously raised more than €100,000 for St Vincent De Paul.

RTE's Mary Kennedy is MC and an auction will see a meet-and-greet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar go under the hammer. Other prizes include a dinner in the Dail with TD Michael Healy-Rae, a dinner with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, an all-expenses two-day trip and show jumping masterclass with Olympic medallist Cian O'Connor, and soccer training by former Irish international Niall Quinn. Ryan Sheridan and Paddy Casey will provide music and tickets cost €100. Jackie said: "It is incumbent upon us all to do what we can - the small things all add up."

For tickets, contact jackielavin@gmail.com.

Sunday Independent

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