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When HQ met... Brian Kennedy

Brian kennedy says he's extremely jet-lagged, but I find it difficult to believe him. Far from looking worn out, he's as fresh as a daisy and, as usual, there's a field of energy around him that constantly shoots off in all sorts of directions.

It's a constant restlessness that underpins the wide range of professional pursuits he has packed under his belt since first coming to prominence 20 years ago with the album The Great War of Words. We're in a city centre vegetarian restaurant, where he has just consumed a meal in accordance with his new health kick, to talk about the lifetime award he'll be receiving at the Meteors at the RDS on February 19th. But first he's gagging to tell me about his singsong with Meryl Streep last week at a private fundraising dinner in New York, which was hosted by Liam Neeson in aid of Belfast's Lyric Theatre.

"I was singing My Lagan Love and there was Meryl with her eyes closed, swaying along," he says, as if he can't believe it actually happened. "I'm thinking, 'How the hell did I get here?' and then, after dinner, she started singing On Raglan Road with me. People beside us were open-mouthed. It was just one of those amazing moments."

That Kennedy is still starstruck is no surprise. Having toured the world with Van Morrison, getting to sing with legends such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Ray Charles, there's something about him that strives to remain the boy next door.

When his photograph is being taken for HQ, a woman who appears to have had a little too much to drink starts loudly advising him how to pose. He banters back as if she's being the soul of sweetness. "You love yourself, you do," she says, to which he replies, "Thanks very much, I do," cheerfully shutting her up.

The Meteor Lifetime Achievement Award, he explains, has him pausing to assess where he has been for the past two decades, but there's very little evidence to back that up. Instead, he really wants to talk about what's next on the cards.

"Often, when someone gets a lifetime achievement award, there's this idea that it's the end of something, that it's like saying your best work has already happened," he says. "But if anything, I'm hungrier. For more albums, for more live performances, for better songs. I want to become better all the time."

To this end, he's working on songs for a new original album with Billy Farrell, who co-produced last year's covers collection Interpretations. "In my mind, I'd like another original record out this year. I'm not sure how feasible that is because we're still in talks to do a greatest hits compilation and I may put a couple of new tracks on that."

There's also the small matter of his autobiography, which comes out in October. Having written two successful novels about a young gay singer, which could be construed as semi-autobiographical, he's struggling with fact over fiction.

"It's one thing writing novels, where you have the total freedom to make it up as you go along," he says. "Writing the truth, my own truth, is a big challenge. It's enjoyable and exhausting, thrilling and upsetting, and part of me wonders how I made it through to where I am today at all."

Despite having garnered critical and popular success with The Great War of Words in 1990, his record company failed to renew his contract and he was cast adrift. "That was a hugely difficult time," he remembers. "I went travelling all over America by myself and then came back and released A Better Man (1996). For it to be so successful was a great gift."

The intervening years have been packed with career diversions of all shapes and sizes, from a year on Broadway with Riverdance to his hugely successful duet with Ronan Keating on the song These Days; from representing Ireland in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest to his bestselling Fergal Flynn novels, with eight albums and several TV shows for both RTE and BBC in between.

Despite friends telling him the Eurovision diversion was a bad idea, Kennedy still beams with pride at any mention of the contest. "I couldn't have been more moved to have been asked to represent Ireland, given that I'm as honest as I am about my sexuality," he says. "It said a lot about how the country had moved on."

As other 'out and proud' celebrities have found, being gay in the public eye often becomes the factor that defines you in media shorthand. "It has been bittersweet," he says. "It's like being forced to be under a certain spotlight for too long. It's too bright. But I do understand that if you are in the public eye that it's very important that you don't send out the message that you are ashamed of anything at all. If anything, it's the absolute opposite. My sexuality has brought me into the world, has made me go down this path, and I am very glad of it."

Accepting his award in the company of other Irish music industry greats, such as U2, Snow Patrol and Sinéad O'Connor, is an honour Kennedy is looking forward to with undisguised joy. "It's funny when you think people aren't paying attention that something like this comes around," he says. "It's good to know that your peers in the industry are watching all the time, really.

"There's a gorgeous Joni Mitchell song where she sings, 'He sees a stray in the wilderness and I see how far I've wandered,' and that kind of sums it up for me." HQ

The Meteors are on Friday, February 19th, at the RDS