How Twink's ex-husband David Agnew rebuilt fractured relationship with daughter Chloe
When his marriage to her mother Twink ended, David Agnew's relationship with his daughter Chloe fractured. Today, they're even closer than ever
Chloe Agnew was performing in Cape Town when her beloved grandfather Arthur died six weeks ago aged 94, leaving her distraught as she couldn't get home in time for the funeral. A recording of her singing was played, and the family kept closely in touch, knowing she would feel very far away at such a sad time.
"It felt like she was present," says her proud dad David, 58. "Looking at Chloe now, I still see her singing as my little two-year-old and coming out of choir rehearsals, as well as the girl who sang in Celtic Woman," he says. "There is a spiritual essence to her music, which I think came from my father, through me and down to Chloe, and I'm just proud to be a part of her music. To be a good musician, you have to understand real pain and that life is a rollercoaster. Our relationship has been fantastic, beautiful, strong and very emotional. It was torn apart at times, but that has made the love we have for each other more intense."
David is referring to the aftermath of the separation from his former wife, Adele King, aka Twink, in 2004, during which his relationship with Chloe, 26, and her sister Naomi, 22, became fractured. As has been well-documented, Chloe and Naomi were 15 and 11 when David left their mum for clarinet player Ruth Hickey, with whom he has a son, Jesse, 9, although this relationship is now over. It was a very high-profile break-up that attracted huge media interest, with the now infamous leaked voicemail and journalists turning up at the gates of the girls' school adding to the stress levels. In the white heat of the drama, Chloe and Naomi decided they didn't want to see David, although they eventually came back together again, stronger and wiser.
"It was a very difficult period, and the one big mistake that I made was that I didn't think I would lose the kids as much as I did and that hurt," says David. "We all dealt with the pain in different ways, and I refused to do it publicly or in papers, which meant I had no control over what was said. The recent death of my father has reinforced what is important to me, so I spend every minute I can with my kids. We don't know how long we will be around, so any falling-out is nonsense. I feel privileged to have as good a relationship as I have now with my girls and with Adele."
Time is a great healer, but it took longer for the gorgeous Chloe's relationship with her dad to get back on track than Naomi's, partly because she was away so much touring the world with Celtic Woman. Blessed with a sublime and angelic voice, Chloe was with the hugely-successful group from the age of 14 for almost 10 years, and had tutors teaching her as she studied for her Junior and Leaving Certs.
"Chloe was setting sail to conquer the world at 14, and she was very well looked after in Celtic Woman and was surrounded by people I trusted," says David. "I felt it was the right thing at the time for her as an escape from the press stuff going on here. She performed and did five hours of school every day and I don't know how she did it all - she's amazing."
Now LA-based, spending so much of her youth away from home and constantly missing the people she loved made Chloe realise that she had to prioritise all of her family. "I realised that in Dad, I had this incredible human being in my life who needed to be present, so it was up to me to make that happen," she says. "I think our family's story is very inspiring, as we came out of that situation stronger than ever and have an even better relationship now. The fact that Dad and I have the most incredible bond is amazing. At this moment, it's like that gap was never there."
Chloe and Naomi are very close to their brother Jesse too, and Chloe says he's a great little man and they chat for ages on Skype. She and Naomi adore him as does their mum Adele, and everything is very amicable. "I'm sure people wonder how we have turned 360 degrees, but we're just normal people dealing with normal family problems, except ours make the front page," says down-to-earth Chloe. "My heart is so filled with happiness and warmth that the situation is what it is now."
Chloe says David has an innate sense of wisdom about him and she values his opinion so much more now. "There is nothing I can't throw past him," she says. "He has me splitting my sides with laughter as he's so funny. Naomi was always a real daddy's girl and for many years I envied their bond as I was a mummy's girl. Now I have a bond with Dad that's just as strong as Naomi's, but it's a different relationship entirely and really special."
While he took up the oboe at 17 and paid his way through college by playing part-time with the RTE Concert Orchestra, David did a degree in theoretical botany at UCD followed by a master's in tree biology. Originally from Whitehall in Dublin and with a younger sister Brenda, the son of Bernadette and the late Arthur was a highly intelligent young man who won a government scholarship to Indonesia in 1980 to study its fertile tropical gardens.
The problem was that he had already met Adele when she was playing Nancy in Oliver at the Olympia theatre and he was deputising for the oboe player. Their budding romance was facilitated by the stage manager who used to swap notes between them. David changed his mind shortly before he boarded the plane to Indonesia, because he realised he was in love with Adele and also wanted to be a musician. A celebrated and hugely talented oboist, he became a permanent member of the RTECO shortly afterwards, and still adores his job.
David has four children, and as well as Chloe, Naomi and Jesse, he has a beloved daughter Hayley from a previous relationship. "Being a father is the most thrilling thing and my purpose in life was realised when I had children," he says. "They are the one thing that has given true meaning to my life. Flawed and all as I am, I have never had anything less than complete love for my children. I'm very close to all of them, and it was more important for me to bring them to school or rehearsals than standing on a stage in Japan."
David's memory of Chloe as a youngster is that she was the best child anyone could ever have, although she claims she can be a tad clumsy at times. Her dad recalls having to bring her to hospital on several occasions when she fell. He wrote a piece called For Chloe with Frank McNamara, which was on his first CD.
Chloe's memory of David is that he was always there for the school runs and lunch box duty. She also realises now that he influenced her musically. "Dad is a rock of sense, and when I pick up the phone, he will always give me a straight answer," she says. "We connect on a musical understanding, and any time I get to do these amazing shows with orchestras or bands, I have to be around the oboe because it's such a part of my background."
Chloe was always singing as a child, and she and David played together for the first time when she was six, when they performed Where is love? from Oliver together on RTE radio. She won the First International Children's Song Competition in Egypt aged nine, and was then selected for the Christchurch Cathedral choir. At 11, she performed on the Late Late Toy Show, and went on to record her first two solo albums on Celtic Collections.
After making a huge name for herself internationally in Celtic Woman, Chloe left the group in 2013 to go solo. She is now based in LA with her Irish boyfriend, singer Dermot Kiernan, with whom she fell in love seven years ago when he toured with the show. Chloe has a huge fanbase in the US, and has been songwriting and making lots of international featured artist appearances in recent times.
According to David and Chloe, Naomi is the glue that binds everyone in the family. "Anything myself, Chloe and Adele are, Naomi isn't," says David, "as she's the one free spirit among us. The rest of us are caught in the flow of our art, where I have to play the oboe, Chloe has to sing and Adele has to make cakes, but Naomi is an intellectual, a fabulous chef, and a brilliant production co-ordinator. Her strength really is behind the scenes."
Chloe will perform her first major solo concert on home territory this month at the National Concert Hall, and naturally her mum, whom she describes as "beautiful, intelligent and sensitive" will be in the audience. David will be one of her special guests and they will perform some duets together. Their exquisite version of Gabriel's Oboe/Nella Fantasia would be worth the ticket price alone, and David reckons that he will be very emotional performing at his adored daughter's concert. "I fall apart when I'm playing with Chloe, but you pull yourself together for the audience," he says.
While Chloe is known internationally as an amazing singer and has stood on her own two feet all around the world, coming back here to perform is slightly more tricky as she has to sidestep the banner of being the daughter of famous parents. It spurs her on to up her game even higher, although it would be hard to see how she could do that as she has one of the most beautiful and emotive voices imaginable.
"There will be some feelgood songs, some I'm known for from Celtic Woman, and a couple of my original songs that I'm finally going to debut," she explains. "I'm really excited about showing everyone at home who I am now. I've spent so much of my career abroad that family and friends have only really seen my journey from DVDs or photos or Celtic Woman TV specials, and there is something so special about being on home soil. I am so proud to be Twink and David Agnew's daughter, but I want to show who I am too."
Introducing Chloe Agnew, presented by Pat Egan, National Concert Hall, Saturday January 16 at 8pm.
Tickets €20-€35 from 01 417 0000/www.nch.ie
Sunday Indo Living