Monday 20 November 2017

My daughter's serene gift

Accomplished singer Fionnuala Gill also teaches mindfulness. Her publisher father tells of his pride at her many achievements

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

WE all have occupational hazards, and for Michael Gill, founding director of successful publishing house Gill & Macmillan, and his very talented daughter Fionnuala, being unable to peruse a menu in restaurants without "proofing" it for typing errors is a daily hazard.

"Dad will always be a copy editor at heart," says Fionnuala, who recently released her gorgeous debut album, Whispers of Love. "I love his sense of humour, and the fact that we equally enjoy togetherness and having our own space. We're both a bit obsessed with food, and I really appreciate his mind. If there is anything I can't understand about history or astronomy or anything like that, he is always happy to explain it to me."

"And every now and again, I'm told I'm bullshitting," chuckles Michael.

Michael is from Sutton, in Dublin, and was raised by his father William and paternal aunt Maeve, as his mother Kitty died three weeks after his birth. William was then running the family business, Gill's Publishers, which specialised in educational and religious publishing. It also had a bookshop on O'Connell Street in Dublin. Michael studied English and economics at UCD, took a diploma in typesetting, and worked in publishing jobs in London, Paris and New York. Then he returned to Dublin in the early 1960s and joined the family business.

"There was ink in the blood," he says. "Later, we entered into a partnership with a publishing company in the UK started by the family of the former prime minister Harold Macmillan. I was founding director of that company, Gill & Macmillan, and I concentrated on the editorial side, working with, and developing, authors. It involved a lot of travelling abroad, as the market in Ireland was relatively small. I retired five years ago but still go into the office regularly."

Michael met and married his wife Anne Leonard when he was 26 and she was 27. One of the first production assistants in RTE, she had also lived in Iran for a couple of years where she worked as secretary to the sister of the Shah. "We were almost the last of our crowd to get married, so we took one another off the shelf!" he jokes. "We settled in Malahide, and Fionnuala was born in 1968, followed by her sisters Marianne and Ruth. Becoming a father was a bit of a shock to the system, but I always greatly enjoyed it. And I felt that being the father of daughters was a very special privilege."

Michael says that the very attractive Fionnuala was very quiet as a child, compared to her sisters. They noticed very early on that she had a special affinity with music, and had a lovely voice. Fionnuala learned harp and joined the Young Linnets choir, under the direction of the late Eithne Barror, who also became her singing teacher. As a result, Michael recalls that a lot of time was spent driving to various feiseanna and competitions around the country.

"I was quite a shy child, but had no problem getting up on stage," says Fionnuala. "I always felt at home there."

Fionnuala embarked on a degree in psychology at Trinity College, and became a founding member of the choral group Anuna, in addition to studying singing with Deirdre Grier Delaney. After graduation, she was offered contracts with opera and theatre companies, and became the lead singer with a production of Riverdance touring in the US, followed by a three-month stint with the show in London. After that, she got a place in Eurovision-winning band Secret Garden, and her second gig with them was playing to a sold-out Sydney Opera House.

"I've always loved hearing Fionnuala sing," says proud Michael. "There is always a spine-tingling moment, such as when a particular note is hit. This isn't a proud father-daughter reaction, but more a realisation that something artistically wonderful is happening. I love her fantastic gift of music and the way she touches total strangers with it. Fionnuala and I are also great pals, and I always enjoy being in her company. There is a serenity about her and she has a very inquiring mind."

Part of the serenity possibly stems from the fact that Fionnuala is also a qualified mindfulness teacher. While she was always interested in the healing arts -- her mother Anne is, among other things, a qualified reflexologist -- she discovered the whole area after she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in 2004.

Having tried all sorts of treatments for the condition, which prevented her from working for a time, her doctor suggested looking to alternative medicine. A friend recommended trying mindfulness, and having started a course, Fionnuala found it so beneficial to her recovery that she trained as a teacher herself and runs regular courses in that area.

Fionnuala has a partner, Daniel, a yoga teacher from Cuba. Currently working in Galway, he came to Dublin 17 years ago on asylum from Cuba, and they met three years ago at a Deepak Chopra retreat. She also has a beloved cocker spaniel, Luna.

When it comes to the music side of things, having been encouraged by Rolf Lovland of Secret Garden to record her own album, Fionnuala is thrilled with her newly released solo debut album, Whispers of Love.

"It's the first time in my career that I've stepped out to do my own thing and I'm delighted with it," she says. "People say it has a beautiful sound, and while I was used to fitting in with other people's sounds, such as Riverdance and Secret Garden, this time It's all my own.

"It's very soothing and I would love it to touch hearts, and to do a small tour of Ireland later in the year."

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