Wednesday 17 October 2018

'I felt this was the fella but I didn't want him to be'

When Regina met Joe he was intent on entering the priesthood. The couple tell Andrea Smith why the plan was dropped

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

It's not quite The Thorn Birds, but when opera singer Regina Nathan first met her husband Joe Lynch, he was in the seminary at Maynooth and was planning on becoming a priest. A failed vocation and 33 years later, he and Regina are clearly besotted with one another. Joe, from Ennis, began training for the priesthood one month after his 17th birthday, and looking back, he feels that it was far too early in his development to make such a major decision.

"I was too young," he admits. "I wanted to become a priest because I was inclined to save the world. I came from a religious family and was a very good boy and wanted to help people."

Joe joined the university choir and it was here that he met fellow music student Regina, when she was 18 and he was 17. Although Regina recalls being "extremely shy", she and Joe hit it off and were always laughing and having fun. The talented singer owes her exotic good looks to having an Irish mother and Malaysian father, although her parents separated when she was four. While she grew up in Terenure, Dublin, she went to boarding school in Ballymahon, Co Longford, which is where her musical talent was first spotted. After school, she won a scholarship to the College of Music, where she studied under Nancy Calthorpe.

Joe continued with his training for the priesthood for three years, but eventually decided to take some time out. He and Regina had become very close, but he stresses that this wasn't the reason that he decided ultimately to leave.

"I wouldn't have wanted to take the responsibility for him leaving," Regina points out. "My overall memory of those early days was that I felt that that this was the fella, but I didn't want him to be."

"I told Regina I loved her after the first year, but she totally ignored it," laughs Joe. "I joke about leaving because of Regina but I didn't. I was very young and it was a good idea to take some time out, but I didn't go back."

Nonetheless, Regina and Joe eventually started dating and were married at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Kimmage Manor, in 1989, holding their reception in the nearby Spawell complex. They lived in London for years, where Regina pursued a successful singing career in opera, concert and recital, before returning to live in Kilmurry McMahon in Co Clare in 2002. Regina's engagements have taken her all over the world, and she has sung major lyric soprano roles throughout her career. One of her most famous performances was with Placido Domingo at the Point Theatre in 1991.

Having worked as a teacher for several years here, Joe trained in psychotherapy and psychology in the UK. He now works as regional development officer with the National Behaviour Support Service, which works systemically with schools on behaviour management.

"Joe is very generous and kind, not just to me but to everyone," she says. "He's a rock and my soulmate. He wouldn't be as tidy as I am, although sometimes I wish I had a little more of his laissez-faire attitude."

Regina and Joe have a beautiful six-year-old daughter called Jessie, who is even more precious to them because she was born when they had long given up hope that their marriage would be blessed with children. Regina was approaching her mid-40s when she discovered that she was pregnant, and she initially thought she was going through the perimenopause.

"We had accepted years before that it wasn't going to happen and had gone through

the whole process of grieving," she says. "We never went looking to see why it wasn't happening, and had accepted that this was the way it was going to be. When Jessie was born, I wasn't prepared for how much I would fall in love with her, and when it came to leaving her to travel for work, I just couldn't do it, although it's easier now that she's getting older."

These days, Regina, Joe and Jessie are glowing with health and vitality, which they attribute to following nutritionist April Danann's lifestyle programme, The Way to Detox. Apart from the physical benefits, Regina feels that the programme has given her confidence, improved her memory, and even enhanced her voice. She is so convinced of the benefits that their seven dogs and six cats are also on a version of the programme.

"We're a couple who are always searching for the meaning of life, and one of the things we were looking at was how we ate," she says. "I knew I wasn't healthy and I had very little energy and motivation, so last year we started following the anti-mould diet, which takes out wheat, dairy or sugar. We eat lots of vegetables, a natural goat's cheese and fish, and delicious soups with lentils, pulses and beans, and now, a year later, we have introduced lamb and spelt flour. We have never looked back."

Regina will shortly perform as soprano soloist with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra. They're brilliant, she says, and she is looking forward to having a full orchestra behind her. She is also planning a new one-woman show, and hopes to pilot it in May.

When asked about what his relationship means to him, the genial Joe smiles softly at his wife of 22 years.

"A friend of mine said that it makes you more than what you are," he says, "and I think that's a lovely description. I think Regina is absolutely beautiful. Not just beautiful looking, but as a person too. She's very intuitive, and whereas I tend to barge ahead sometimes, she draws me back. The only thing that drives me mad is when she doesn't let me finish a sentence."

As part of Soundtracks, an evening celebrating film music of the mid-20th Century, Regina Nathan will be soprano soloist with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra in Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antartica (Symphony No. 7) at 8 pm on Friday, February 4, at the National Concert Hall. Tickets from €10. Bookings 01 417 0000 or www.nch.ie. Full concert programme on www.rte.ie/ nationalsymphonyorchestra

Regina's website is www. reginanathan.com and email reginanathan@aim.com

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