Just how wealthy is Moya Doherty?
Riverdance brought Moya Doherty to the headlines, but behind the showbiz razzmatazz, the Donegal entrepreneur is a Midas of diverse gifts, writes Stephen Dodd
'IT WAS", said Michael Flatley's publicist, "nothing less than a producer's holy grail." As his star headed to the lawyers to battle Moya Doherty and John McColgan, Graham Mill delivered an astute appraisal of the Riverdance phenomenon. "The Eurovision filler that grew into a legend was nothing less", he explained, "than a travelling cash machine".
Seven years have passed since Eurovision '94, and it has become impossible to pin down the sums Ireland's gilded entrepreneurs have withdrawn from a series of entertainment ATMs. Aside from Riverdance and its spin-offs, there have been interests in the Hot Press Hall of Fame, the hit Broadway musical Stones In His Pockets and a rake of other TV shows produced by the couple's Tyrone Productions.
Estimates of John and Moya's wealth vary, yet even conjecture places the husband and wife team among the country's financial elite. Three years ago, Moya was reported to have made £37 million from Riverdance, moving her up from 83rd to 62nd richest person in Ireland. Now the ongoing sale of Today FM another Doherty and McColgan interest has been estimated to net the couple and fellow investor Denis Desmond £26 million. The trio share 42 per cent of the station, which they backed when it was launched as Radio Ireland. It is a showbusiness truism that, in an industry which deals in artistic endeavour, success is measured in hard cash. From being an extended interval act for Eurovision, Riverdance became the ultimate theatrical cash cow, and it is Moya's drive that is widely held as the show's motivating force.
Her story is well known, a typical entrepreneur's passage from opportunity to reward, and can be told in few words. Moya, Donegal-born and determined to make her mark in the city, became disillusioned as a professional actress. She moved to RTÉ, jumped to greater things with TVAM in London, then returned to become one of the brightest production stars in Montrose.
It was People in Need who acted as Moya's springboard to Eurovision, where she worked with Michael Flatley to construct the show-stopping Riverdance. Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan, Eurovision winners that year, were monumentally upstaged. In the absence of definitive figures, it is tempting to tally Moya Doherty and John McColgan's giddy rise through its spoils. There is a trail of homes to follow, each more lavish than its predecessor. There are hideaways, too; a succession of holiday homes in two continents.
Property has always been a key milestone along Moya Doherty's path to wealth. Her home with John McColgan played an intrinsic part in the Riverdance legend; the house was re-mortgaged to help fund their part of the initial investment.
When the show's profits rolled in, the couple moved from their modern home in North Co Dublin to Loughlinstown House in Co Meath. The Regency building on 16 acres boasted a string of luminaries among its past owners. Lord Headford, the fashion designer Ib Jorgensen and a former chairman of British Steel had all enjoyed the six-bedroom mansion, updated to include a jacuzzi, snooker room and private leisure complex.
But Moya and John's eyes were already set nearer to the city. In 1997 they paid close to £1 million for Dane's Hollow, a bungalow on 4.5 acres on the Bailey at Howth. Their plans were appropriately grandiose, matching the elite locale and magnificent panorama of Dublin Bay. They brought in an interior designer from Britain, and enlisted the help of TV gardener Gerry Daly to landscape the grounds.
The bungalow itself, however, was written out of the production after planning permission was granted to demolish it and build a new 8,500 square feet home with basement swimming pool and underground parking for five cars.
The mini-empire expanded, as the couple bought two neighbouring properties in the exclusive Howth hill enclave. They moved into the Georgian house The Tansey, buying the building and grounds for £3,875,000 before selling for a similar price to an Irish businessman. Their own grounds at Dane's Hollow were enlarged when they bought a cottage adjoining their home.
Moya and John's penchant for bricks and mortar has not been confined to Ireland. They have houses in Florida and Cape Cod, and a house in the south of Spain. Nearer to home, the couple can relax in their holiday home at the Mount Juliet Country Club in Co Kilkenny.
Though Riverdance inevitably remains the most visible landmark in Moya Doherty's rapid elevation to the ranks of the seriously wealthy, other ventures have brought dramatic returns. The Radio Ireland investment seems set to provide a huge cash bonanza for Moya, 44, and John, 56. Still immensely lucrative, too, is Tyrone Productions' contract to produce the Irish version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Moya Doherty once said she was successful because money was one commodity she would never gamble. "I've always been very careful about taking risks, I'd debate with myself for hours before even betting on a horse."
There have been false steps the very public spat with Michael Flatley and the close this year of Riverdance's Broadway run but Moya and John's steady hand appears to have kept them in undisputed domination of Ireland's entertainment business.
A recent estimate put their joint worth at £42 million. With their RTÉ money spinner, and now the Today FM deal, that figure has begun to seem lamentably wide of the mark.