As always, Gerald Kean is in ebullient form, showering compliments like confetti over the waiter and me. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anyone in Dublin who has seen him any other way.
We had originally planned to meet in Dax restaurant, close to his office, but the opening hours didn’t quite fit his schedule so I inform the PR woman that we will have to pick an alternative venue.
She replies some time later to say that Gerald says “Dax will open for him”. So I put in a call and drop his name. Unfortunately, they won’t.
So here we are — in Peploe’s on St Stephen’s Green — to talk about his latest stint on a reality TV show: Operation Transformation.
Starting on Wednesday on RTE 1, the well-known lawyer will join several high-profile names in a bid to shift the pounds.
At 6ft 4 inches and 19 stone 1lb, he wants to shed two and a half stone and — although the team have started filming — I am not quite sure whether the weight loss segment has kicked off yet.
Today he orders a spread of lamb kidneys, pommery mustard sauce and toasted brioche — to start — before moving on to a marrow crumb crust dry aged Irish sirloin steak and peppercorn sauce with a side of duck fat chips. It’s all washed down with two glasses of Chateau de Monteberiot.
This isn’t unusual for the solicitor who tells me he eats out 19 times a week: “Seven lunches, seven breakfasts and then five nights.”
Lunch is usually Dax, Pearl or Ouzos, while evenings are “dinner parties, charity functions, hotels and restaurants.”
At home alone, Gerald, a diabetic, can also wake in the early hours with a sugar low which sends him straight to the fridge.
At 3am on the morning we meet, he had crept to the kitchen to eat “two Twix bars, two Yorkies — four bars of chocolate,” finished off with a glass of Club Orange.
“Physically, I feel wrecked,” he says when I ask why he wants to lose the weight but, despite his complaints, he is always on the go.
He sleeps short stints, from 1am to 5am, starts work at 6.30am and works seven days a week, up to 20 hours a day. He has a vast number of clients — 5,500 cases on file — and despite his reputation as a lawyer to the stars, “accidents, property, company law and negligence claims” make up 90-95pc of his business. Several hundred gardaí are clients due to garda compensation cases.
A social butterfly, he rarely spends time at home, where he now lives, alone, in a sprawling 12-bed mansion.
Recently, throwing open his doors to the media, he showed off the interiors, with plush red carpets, a hoard of Graham Knuttels, Renaissance-style thrones, ballroom, bar, cigar room and cinema — all under the swish title Drayton Manor.
So would he describe himself as wealthy? “No, I would describe myself as broke. Well, I mean, I owe money. I am trying to repay it. I owe money to a couple of banks,” he says, adding, “but my main priority has been the Revenue.”
Recently, his accountant explained that if he starts work at 9am on a Monday, he will finish working each week for the Revenue at 3pm on a Thursday.
He lost heavily on the purchase of his office building, he lost in the crash “because of a number of things”, and he says: “I paid too much for my house, and that was expensive. I paid too much for a townhouse, which I had to sell and lost.”
I ask for a rough estimate on how much he has lost: “It would be below €5m, you know, I mean I owe that money and I am trying [to pay it back].”
Is it true he once owned a private jet? “No, I bought one for my ex-wife,” he says, “we had an interest in it. They were the old days.”
He explains: “When I say I am broke, I make money. But it is [spent on] paying off everything. Thank God I can do that. But if I stop tomorrow, I’m in trouble. I think my account manager said ‘keep going until you’re 91 and then you’re clear’.”
Now 58, I ask if he will have a 60th birthday party to match his infamous 50th soiree where guests dressed up in costume from the aristocratic courts of 18th Century France. Gerald held court as King Louis XVI.
“With the help of God,” he replies, “Unless I’m bankrupt.”
Apart from work, he spends his time hosting dinner parties or doing voluntary charity work.
“I would support up to 30 charities,” he says [all 100pc voluntarily — to his credit].
Why so many?
“Because I love giving. I am a giver,” he says.
“It doesn’t come naturally to me to receive so I look to give.”
Cue the women in his life: “I’d be the first to drag them shopping. I genuinely would…particularly on holidays.” In the past, he would have told girlfriends “let’s go to the shops, and we’ll get a handbag and a couple of dresses…I love that. I would not really go into the shops myself.”
Recently split from Lisa Murphy, I ask why none of his relationships seem to have worked out. “Maybe it could be insecurity on my part,” he replies.
What does he feel insecure about? “I don’t know. I think you need to help me because I am confident, I’m so happy.”
So we tease it out.
When he wakes every morning, he says, “you tell whoever is at home they are great and then you tell all the staff they’re great, clients are great, then you tell the waiter at the restaurant they’re great and then you come home in the evening and you might tell the housekeeper she’s great and then you go to bed and you kind of wonder ‘Jesus, maybe I’ll have to tell myself because not many people have told me’.”
He says it was never any of his partners’ fault: “Maybe sometimes you want to hear it from the one closest to you...Yet it must be a failing on my part because I did get that. But it wasn’t enough.”
I ask him why he needs to hear it: “I don’t know. It’s part of my make-up, part of my character. I don’t know, I can’t answer that.”
Over the course of the interview, Gerald asks several times “how am I doing?”
I tell him great. Although I add that it’s very hard to get him to open up.
The compliments come thick and fast as we say our goodbyes. But the next morning he demands I pull the interview. He is not happy and I am confused.
He has gone from inviting to whisk me away to Paris — “I can have two pilots on standby” — to threatening me with an injunction.
When I try to reassure him, he says he is concerned that the piece can make him out to be “some guy suffering from insecurity”.
I tell him it’s a perfectly human trait. And decide to go ahead with the article anyway. Knowing full well, no matter what you do, there’s no making some people happy inside.
Operation Transformation starts on September 7 on RTÉ One. Fans can sign-up for the plan at www.rte.ie/OT