Friday 19 January 2018

Crazy love of Van the Man and Michelle

As they finally put an end to rumours about the status of their relationship, we look at the real story of Michelle Rocca and Van Morrison

Reluctant celebs: Van Morrison and Michelle shared a desire for privacy that was all-consuming.
Reluctant celebs: Van Morrison and Michelle shared a desire for privacy that was all-consuming.
Michelle Rocca leaving the High Court.
Van's former tour manager Gigi Lee
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

They may have hedged the status of their relationship, but in the end, it was the shrubbery that told the real story of one of Ireland's most intriguing couples. As Michelle Rocca finally relinquished the long-running dispute she had taken against her Dalkey neighbours in the High Court earlier this week, her partner of more than 20 years, legendary musician Van Morrison, issued a statement that finally confirmed the much-speculated-upon and often confusing status of the relationship between them.

The court action "was brought by Michelle Rocca and I have no part in it", he said, asserting that he had never lived in Kilross House, Sorrento Road, Dalkey.

"As we have been legally separated since September 2013, I would appreciate if I was not included in any further references to this ongoing action."

So, that's it then - no more Van and Michelle. One suspects the sound of the Dublin gossip columnists crying into their soya lattes can be heard in Clogher Head, although hopefully someone told them there'd be days like this.

Along with the demise of the marriage between two of Ireland's most ­enigmatic ­personalities goes the ­ongoing fun of speculating about their relationship, because, let's face it, they didn't exactly give us much of substance to go on.

Van (70) and Michelle (54) were rarely seen together, never discussed their relationship, and utterly failed to play the media game. They also didn't look like they belonged together - she a beautiful former Miss Ireland and TV presenter with a colourful past, and he a shorter-of-stature, sublimely-talented musician with a grumpy demeanour and well-lived-in face.

What they did have in common was a desire for privacy that was all-consuming. It saw Michelle trekking to court for years over two cases taken against neighbours Conor and Eileen Kavanagh, who live in the neighbouring 'Mount Alverno', in which she alleged that their landscape alterations had breached her privacy and interrupted her sea view. The first case was settled, and the second one was withdrawn this week.

It also saw 'Van the Man' ending up in court with his former publicist over an incident that rocked the ­unshockable rock world - more of which anon.

So what do we know of the relationship between Sir George Ivan Morrison Jnr, OBE, and Michelle Rocca, granddaughter of Italian immigrant Egidio Rocca who founded Rocca Tiles? Well, we know that they met in the summer of 1992 at a dinner party at Leixlip Castle, the home of the Honourable Desmond Guinness. Michelle allegedly and hilariously mistook Van for crooner Val Doonican, but he obviously forgave her as she appeared with him and two dogs on the cover of his 1995 album Days Like This and she gave poetry readings on stage at his concerts.

Michelle was a noted beauty and model who won Miss Ireland in 1980, and joined RTÉ in 1987 as a television presenter. Her most high-profile gig was co-hosting the Eurovision Song Contest with Pat Kenny in 1988. A noted 'IT' girl, she had three young daughters when she and Van met. She was a single mum, having had daughters Danielle and Natasha with her former Ireland footballer husband John Devine, and Claudia, who was only a baby, with her former fiancé, millionaire Cathal Ryan.

Incidentally, when Michelle later successfully sued Ryan for assault in the High Court in 1997, Van turned up every day in court to support her. Michelle also revealed in court how the singer came to her rescue after the demise of her relationship with Ryan. "He helped put a roof over my head when Cathal cancelled the lease on my house," she told the jury.

Van had been previously married to Janet (Planet) Rigsbee, with whom he had a daughter, Shana, so he and Michelle presumably had common ground in relation to failed relationships and dealing with the fall-out. They fell in love and married in the mid-90s, and went on to have two children, Aibhe, in 2006, when Michelle was 45, and Fionn Ivan in 2007.

As bright as she is beautiful, Michelle has been on a path of continual education over the years and now works as a psychology and motivational teacher. As a young student, she studied Italian, French, and Greek and Roman Civilisation at UCD, followed by two master's degrees. One was in philosophy focusing on women's studies at Trinity College, followed by a master's in English at Bristol University. She then embarked on a PhD focusing on her experience of the entertainment, broadcasting and media industry, and, according to her website, she is currently working on her first book on the rapidly evolving phenomenon of fame. And she would know about the effects of fame, given the intense curiosity about her life with megastar Van, who earlier this year released his 35th album.

They lived a life of intense privacy, but every now and again something would burst forth into the media that revealed apparent cracks in the relationship.

The first occurred in 1996, when the Daily Mirror alleged that Michelle had been two-timing Van with racing manager Angus Gold. While it was subsequently claimed they were merely friends, the story led to Van and Michelle's engagement being broken off. Michelle later went to stay at the Rutland Centre, where she was treated for what she said was "stress and depression".

At around this time, she appeared to withdraw from public life. Having reunited, she and Van led a reclusive life for many years, until a tragic and bizarre situation catapulted their relationship once more into the spotlight. It was in relation to Van's flamboyant blonde American manager Gigi Lee, who had given birth to a baby son, George Ivan.

In December 2009, a birth announcement was made on the singer's official website stating: "Gigi and Van Morrison are proud to announce the birth of their first-born son, Little Van, born Dec 28, 2009 - the spitting image of his daddy. He is a dual citizen of Northern Ireland/UK and the United States."

Given that Van and Michelle were presumed to be happily married at that time, this jaw-dropping announcement had the effect of dropping a Molotov cocktail into the nucleus of the entertainment world. With intense media and public interest swirling around the protagonists, publicist John Saunders from Fleishman Hillard issued a statement to media outlets and gave an interview on RTÉ News denying the situation on the singer's behalf.

It claimed that the website had been hacked and the birth announcement was "completely and utterly without foundation", and asserted that Morrison was "very happily married to Michelle Morrison, with whom I have two wonderful children".

The statement also alleged that Van had never heard of Gigi Lee, which was considered strange as the Texan woman was tour manager on his 2009 Astral Weeks concert series and was credited on the Astral Weeks live show DVD as executive producer. In the months that followed, a photo of both together was circulated and it was widely reported that Van had set up home with Gigi and George outside Belfast. This was confirmed by her childhood friend Carla Higdon, although they were rarely seen in public together.

While Van has continued to deny paternity of baby George, both he and Gigi went to the High Court in Belfast to prevent details about where she lived with her son and details about his physical appearance being published. A temporary injunction banning publication of the information was granted, but it was lifted in April 2010 when Van backed down in his attempt to secure a full injunction against the media.

Interestingly, five years after the birth announcement debacle, a High Court defamation case taken by John Saunders against Van Morrison was settled, adding to the confusion and secrecy that surrounded the whole event. The settlement confirmed Saunders "had acted with integrity and on the express instructions of Mr Morrison", which presumably means that Saunders was deeply unhappy and embarrassed at issuing denials on behalf of a client whose subsequent actions appeared to contradict the veracity of those denials.

What ensued was so heartbreaking and tragic, it is almost incredible. Firstly, baby George died in January 2011, aged 13 months, from hyperglycaemia and obesity. The child is understood to have weighed almost two-and-a-half-stone (33lbs) when he slipped into a diabetic coma and passed away. Nine months later, his mother, Gigi, died, aged 44, at the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast in October 2011, having been diagnosed with throat cancer before she was pregnant.

She had refused radiation therapy during pregnancy, fearing it would harm the unborn baby, but her illness subsequently claimed her life.

Van and Michelle were believed to be still together, but given their intense privacy, his touring schedule, and their reluctance to appear in public, nobody was ever sure of their marital status. Whatever the truth of the matter, and with the tight discretion of all involved, we will never know. The fact that Michelle and Van are now confirmed to have been separated for the past two years is hardly surprising. It's a real shame that things didn't work out, particularly as there are children involved, but it always seemed like the oddest match on the planet.

However, it may have been a crazy love, but they certainly added a bit of gaiety to the nation, even if they were hardly ever seen dancing in the moonlight together.

Irish Independent

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