Tuesday 20 August 2019

'Twas a few nights before Christmas...Inside Barry Egan's A-list bash

It was The Gathering of 2016 - the swanky shindig to end the year. And what a shindig - with everyone from Twink to Paschal Donohoe, Joe Brolly, Norah Casey, Marty Whelan, Stefanie Preissner, Alan Hughes, Mark Cagney, Holly Carpenter, Eileen Murphy, Maria Walsh and girlfriend Shauna Keogh, among many, many others, pitching up in all their finery in the penthouse of The Conrad to party the night away. Your host (who else?): Barry Egan

Party-goers gather around the piano at The Conrad. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Party-goers gather around the piano at The Conrad. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Barry Egan with Alan Hughes, Alison Canavan, Karl Broderick and Twink; Tatiana Ouliankina and Guggi; Jenny Buckley and Alison Canavan; Helen Cody and Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Maria and Marty Whelan
Jenny Buckley and Alison Canavan
The Sunday Independent Christmas Party at The Conrad Hotel Tatiana Tatiana Ouliankina and Guggi
Chloe Townsend and Louise Cooney
Helen Cody and Minister Paschal Donohoe
Susan Jane White chats to Frank and Patrick Cassidy
Barry Egan and Tatiana Ouliankina
Tess de Kretser and Holly Carpenter
Maria Walsh, Mary O'Sullivan and Shauna Keogh
Ross Lewis and Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh
Susan Jane White and Brent Pope
Rosemary Smith and Eileen Murphy
Sophie White, Stefanie Preissner and Fiona Gratzer
Darren Kennedy and Roisin Tierney Crowe
Joe Brolly and Norah Casey
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Perhaps David Walliams might want - to coin a somewhat colourful phrase - to zip up his mickey for the duration of the Yuletide. This I say because Twink evidently has her eye on the English comedian.

Asked at our fab Christmas soiree about who she'd most like to meet under the mistletoe, she didn't hold back. (When has Twink ever held back?)

"Straight? Gay? Don't care! He's a ride!"

Contemplating the same question of who he'd most like to meet beneath the mistletoe apart from his partner Maria - who is standing beside him - RTE superstar Marty Whelan pipes up: "Is Cindy Crawford around?" No, but Stefanie Preissner - author of the brilliant RTE comedy series Can't Cope/Won't Cope - is...

Barry Egan with Alan Hughes, Alison Canavan, Karl Broderick and Twink; Tatiana Ouliankina and Guggi; Jenny Buckley and Alison Canavan; Helen Cody and Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Barry Egan with Alan Hughes, Alison Canavan, Karl Broderick and Twink; Tatiana Ouliankina and Guggi; Jenny Buckley and Alison Canavan; Helen Cody and Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The person she'd most like to meet under the white-berried spray signifying love, Stefanie says, "100pc David Hasselhoff."

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe speaks up as if he's in the Dail and he has an important point to make: "Gillian Anderson from The Fall. I'm only human!"

Former Rose of Tralee 2014, Maria Walsh: "Next question!"

Her girlfriend Shauna Keogh has no such reticence: "The Rose of Tralee 2014."

Barry Egan and Tatiana Ouliankina
Barry Egan and Tatiana Ouliankina

Star of Ireland Am on TV3, and all-round-good-guy, Mark Cagney: "Monica Belluci. Do you really need to ask?"

Tatiana Ouliankina, Moscow beauty and ex of Fair City: "Brendan O'Connor."

Tess de Kretser, ex wife of the late Tony Ryan and hotelier (she owns the Olcote in Sri Lanka): "The Elf on the Shelf!"

The artist with the Old Testament prophet head on him, Guggi ponders the question over a glass of Champagne for so long that he decides not to answer. He actually suggests my wife. When I tell him that she hates publicity, he replies: "So does mine! But that never stops you!"

Maria and Marty Whelan
Maria and Marty Whelan

One of Ireland's top chefs, Chapter One's Ross Lewis: "The Minister for Finance..." (If only Michael Noonan had been able to make this glitziest of gatherings then I could have made Ross's dreams come true. But alas it was not to be.)

Irish rallying legend Rosemary Smith: "Brent Pope." (As it happens, the subject of Rosemary's affections - I was going to call him Rosemary's Baby - Brent Pope is less than 10ft away, sitting on the sofa talking to Ross Lewis.)

TV3 presenter Lisa Cannon: "Brad Pitt. He's single. So I don't think Angelina would object."

Oscar-nominated classical music composer Patrick Cassidy: "Ivanka Trump."

Tess de Kretser and Holly Carpenter
Tess de Kretser and Holly Carpenter

TV presenter Darren Kennedy: "Brad is back! A bit of Mr Pitt would be a bit of all right."

Unislim boss Fiona Gratzer: "Brad Pitt - now that he is free and single."

Enough already with the mistletoe mania. Where were they all when Brad and Angelina broke up? Were they in tears?

The Sunday Independent Christmas Party at The Conrad Hotel Tatiana Tatiana Ouliankina and Guggi
The Sunday Independent Christmas Party at The Conrad Hotel Tatiana Tatiana Ouliankina and Guggi

Paschal Donohoe gives the question considerable thought. "I think I was in a Cabinet meeting. It didn't make the agenda. I was always on Team Jennifer myself though."

Alan Hughes, enjoying a glass of bubbly and some gourmet nibbles, is similarly exercised by the question: "I'm still in tears."

Fiona Gratzer: "Tears of joy! Yes, he's back on the market, ladies!"

Maria Walsh: "Tears! No! I can't remember exactly where I was! But I was walking the Camino when Taylor and Calvin broke up. Shocked!"

The Cork legend who cooked for the Queen (and 170 other gourmet-loving grandees) at ­Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011, says he was at home when he heard the news. "I locked myself in a dark room," Ross Lewis - for it is he - fesses up.

Twink, sipping on her virgin cocktail, has become all philosophical: "Sad to see any marriage break up. But certainly not in tears."

Maria Walsh, Mary O'Sullivan and Shauna Keogh
Maria Walsh, Mary O'Sullivan and Shauna Keogh

The reason all these stars are debating the issues close to the beating heart of the nation is that they are in attendance at the party of the year: the Sunday Independent Edge Christmas Gathering.

This Yuletide gathering took place in the preposterously hip penthouse in The Conrad hotel on Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin. Some of these people had never met before. Yet as F Scott Fitzgerald wrote in Tender Is The Night: "New friends can often have a better time together than old friends."

It was an evening that you couldn't make up, even after too much Champagne. Mike Murphy's ex-wife Eileen played the grand piano for a time, as did Patrick Cassidy.

Then Guggi - who it takes a lot to shock having hung around with Bono since they were kids growing up on the same road in Ballymun - is rendered speechless: Twink is lying on top of the aforesaid grand piano like Mae West, or indeed like Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys.

Guggi confesses his deep-seated fears that Twink might go through the piano, or indeed the piano might go through the floor of the penthouse and every subsequent floor thereafter until it - and Twink - land with a crash-bang-wallop on the ground floor of The Conrad, 200ft below.

There is a loud knock at the door. It isn't the safety officer to gently tell Twink to come down off the piano. It is a delivery man. Sarah Gill, of Seagreen emporium in Monkstown, has very kindly sent a giant delivery of chic candles for everyone at the gathering. (Sarah was unable to make our soiree because she was in London on a buying trip.)

Susan Jane White and Brent Pope
Susan Jane White and Brent Pope

Everyone got on like a house ablaze. Moscow Flier Tatiana mingled with Norah Casey and Maria Walsh, Marty Whelan, Blathnaid Ní Chofaigh, Alan Hughes, Alison Canavan, Mark Cagney, Brent Pope, future Taoiseach Mr Donohoe and legendary columnist himself Joe Brolly, among many others.

'Twas a few nights before Christmas and a few of our favourite people had come together for a special Yuletide gathering. They all devoured lots of festive food and fine wine and enjoyed themselves as the city of Dublin literally twinkled underneath them.

Before long, the party became an enthralling debate of what it means to be alive - an examination over good food and wine on every possible constituent part of the human experience. A piercing glimpse into some great minds at work.

And at play.

It used to be said that the main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live. Possibly, blonde uber-babe Tatiana could live up to this billing as she sat on the giant bed of the enormous bedroom suite of The Conrad's penthouse, drinking Champagne and talking about her home country with a special vigour and dispatch. Rugby guru Brent Pope was also giving it gusto about his new range of shoe-wear (Pope shoes, no less - I didn't think to ask him whether he had sent Pope Francis a pair at the Vatican) launching in the spring.

"They are fab and complement my Pope shirt range, so even the older man can look good," Popey told me, adding that he is also writing a book "on mental skills in sport, tapping some of the big names on how they deal with different factors in sport".

But on a different topic? Did they all pay their water charges?

Twink: "To pay a charge you need a service. Mine is crap! Fix it and I'll pay!"

Stefanie: "Yes."

Fiona: "Yes, and I look forward to my refund!"

Paschal: "Absolutely, yes!"

Blathnaid: "Yes and no. I did. My husband didn't."

Guggi: "My wife paid it."

Maria Walsh: "Yes! However, given I live in the country, I have a private water system in place. I've been in a household that has paid for years."

Donald Trump: moronic asshole or anti-establishment hero of the working-class? Discuss.

Guggi: "Not the latter."

Twink: "A bit of both. Only time will tell."

Chloe Townsend, top jewellery designer: "Moronic asshole."

Maria: "Moronic asshole. I fear LGBT rights and the development of female rights."

Paschal: "Undoubtedly hero of the working-class - how he delivers against their hopes will be a huge part of whether 2017 is any better than 2016."

Stefanie: "Oh, do we have to keep discussing this? Dangerous moron who mobilised a silent majority by making them feel heard because the liberals had silenced them by talking about sabra hummus."

Brent: "Love him or loathe him, Trump is now occupying one of the most, if not the most, important political positions in the world.

"All the riots or moaning is not going to make him resign, so countries like Ireland just have to grin and bear it and form positive relations with the orange one."

Just don't let him near the big red button."

Patrick Cassidy, who lives in America: "There is nothing good about this person."

Tatiana, bucking the trend: "I like Trump. I am Russian."

Did they feel sorry for Pat Hickey in Brazil after the ticketing scandal at this summer's Rio Olympics?

Brent: "It's always sad to see an elderly and ill man away from his family. I don't have all the facts so I can't and won't judge yet. Will we ever really know?"

Marty: "I always feel sorry for anyone in a spot of bother."

Alison Canavan, model and author: "Yes, I do. It's not easy being down there, away from your home."

Mark: "No."

Maria: "No! I feel sorry for the families of our Olympians who couldn't get tickets."

Fiona: "I'd feel sorry for anyone who was thrown into Bangu Prison if they were innocent. If they are guilty? I don't feel sorry at all."

Paschal: "I didn't like the image of him in his wheelchair. Everyone is entitled to privacy, particularly in moments of stress."

Alan: "It depends if the story is true."

Darren: "No, but I did feel sorry for his family. It must be an extremely trying time."

Leo or Simon for next leader of Fine Gael?

Twink: "Well - certainly not a man who sat up all night coming up with compulsory seat-belts for dogs!"

Norah Casey: "Frances Fitzgerald, of course. She's the obvious choice - a brilliant, talented, and experienced woman."

Blathnaid: "Paschal Donohoe."

Stefanie: "Leo for President!"

Suddenly all eyes in the penthouse are on the incomparable Paschal Donohoe. "No comment on that," he says. "The question about the mistletoe is easier!"

I ask Paschal what was the biggest rumour he'd heard about himself in 2016.

"Rumours developed at Budget time that I'm confrontational. I'm not. Just trying to get my job done."

Alan Hughes: "Biggest rumour? How much money we made last year. All lies!"

Alan's colleague on Ireland Am pipes up about the biggest rumour about him in 2016: "I don't have cancer. I shaved my head for charity, liked it and kept it."

Kept it? "It didn't grow back!" laughs Mr Cagney.

I asked them what was their highlight of 2016...

Stefanie: "Hearing two girls on the 46a bus talking about Can't Cope/Won't Cope while coming home from a meeting in RTE."

Brent: "To be in Chicago when the Cubs made history and then to witness Ireland's own piece of sporting history defeating the All Blacks. In 20 years everyone will say they were there but I have my ticket stub to prove it, magic."

Twink: "Seeing my Chloe live in concert for the first time ever in Ireland. And seeing Naomi's name go up in the production credits of every top RTE and TV3 show this year."

Fiona: "Having the gorgeous Rod Stewart sing me happy birthday, It made my year!"

Marty: "The release of my Marty Recommends... Christmas CD. What a thrill to have my own album."

Helen Cody: "Winning the Irish Tatler Designer of the Year. Such an honour!"

Alison: "My book being published," she says referring to Minding Mum: It's Time To Take Care Of You. "It was a dream come true."

Blathnaid: "Doing my Masters at UCD on Women's Studies. Finishing it. And not giving up."

Karl: "If I don't say getting hitched [to Alan who is standing beside him] I might end up divorced!"

No one got divorced because of anything that happened at the Sindo Crimbo gathering. It was possibly the perfect evening in the perfect venue.

The instructions for a perfect evening were, in effect, like a recipe.

Massage the guests' egos. Bring them to the boil. Add wine. Lighten the mood by asking ridiculous questions. Add more wine. Heap large dollops of compliments on how everyone looks. Then add yet more wine. Repeat steps until you feel you have achieved your goal.

All in all, I think your host navigated the night's challenges satisfactorily, not least because no one went home with their ego bruised, their feelings hurt or their face un-photographed.

Despite Norman Vincent Peale saying "Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful", for Twink perhaps the magic wand of Crimbo doesn't soften some memories, sadly.

One in particular...

Asked what was her low-point of 2016, the legendary star of stage and screen - and of Zip Up Yer Mickey - said with a characteristic honesty: "Losing my beautiful home to the banks."

"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul," said 19th century German philosopher Schopenhauer wisely, "arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost."

That painful sense of irretrievable loss is felt doubly at this time of year. It is at Christmas that we will feel the loss of dear friends who have left us forever more than ever.

Brent Pope echoed the thoughts of many at the party - and many across the land of Ireland - when he said of a god of rugby, who died in his sleep on October 16: "The sad passing of Anthony Foley, the rugby fraternity the world over mourned the loss of a great sporting legend."

What gift would you most like to receive at Christmas?

Twink: "My house back."

Brent: "A first class ticket back to New Zealand to visit my parents, who are both in their mid 80s.

"Being away from your family can be lonely. And Christmas for me is a mixture of happiness and sadness.

"I would love them to visit and see the life I have made here, it has been nearly 20 years since my mother and brother visited."

What will they be glad to see the back of in 2017?

Maria: "Newspapers predicting Mayo will never win an All-Ireland!"

The shaved headed nabob of gob of TV3 Mark Cagney raises his hand and answers thus: "My hair."

Twink: "2016 was a rotten year."

Guggi: "The unacceptable and disgraceful levels of suicide here."

Norah: "2016 was a year to forget for the most part - so many lovely people from the world of music, stage, and culture passed away in 2016 and world headlines were dominated by extremist politics and the tragedy of refugees fleeing Syria."

How did they feel about the 1916 100th anniversary celebrations?

Shauna: "Proud to be Irish."

Tatiana: "I went on the tour bus to know all about it!"

Blathnaid: "I loved that we celebrated the women combatants, but it took 100 years."

Ross: "Really proud. We really nailed it."

Mark: "The past is the past. Don't dwell on it."

Jenny Buckley, star of UTV Ireland: "A sense of absolute pride as the celebrations were a wonderful reflection of the sheer talent that exists in this country. Centenary that was broadcast from The Bord Gais Energy Theatre was a credit to everyone that was involved. The interpretation of Grace at Kilmainham Gaol was just breathtaking."

Low point of 2016?

Mark: "Losing David Bowie/Leonard Cohen/Prince."

Paschal: "Leaving a family holiday, when my kids were having a ball, to deal with the Luas strikes."

What is your greatest wish for 2017?

Alison Canavan: "To meet a man."

Twink: "That 103-year-olds are not left on a bloody hospital trolley! What an insult! And that Focus are given the funds that they need to take human beings out of cardboard boxes on the streets."

Darren: "That Trump will be impeached."

What did the Budget do for them?

Twink: "Not a lot."

Brent: "As a single man, it did not seem to affect me, but I worry about young families or pensioners being squeezed."

Ross: "Very little. Although keeping the 1pc VAT rate on food and catering was visionary."

What did they ask Santa for this Christmas?

Twink: "The strength and tenacity I'm going to need in 2017."

Mark: "Eight As for my daughter in her Leaving."

Paschal: "Books - but not about politics! And an addition to my whiskey collection!"

Who was your hero of 2016?

Maria: "Shauna Keogh for creating The Only Gay in the Village for RTE. Impactful documentary making."

Fiona: "The brilliant O'Donovan Brothers who are definitely the legends of the year. So naturally funny, talented and up for the craic."

And your villain?

Lisa Cannon: "Trump."

Debbie Deegan: "The despicable Donald Trump."

Paschal: "Nigel Farage - that terrible poster of Syrian refugees was the saddest sight in British politics for years."

Guggi: "The waiter in Seville who stole my phone."

Fiona: "The guy who pick-pocketed me a few minutes after midnight on New Year's Day 2016 on St Stephen's Green."

Ross: "Boris Johnson."

How do they feel about Brexit?

Mark: "People have the right to vote whatever way they like. If a majority vote in a way that you don't agree with, that's called democracy. Get on with it. Make the best of it,"

Brent: "Its too early to say if the effect on Ireland will be good or bad, a nervous wait for those who trade with the UK but promising rumours about the movement of banking and large companies to Ireland. I may be able to rent my house to some rich relocating banker."

Norah: "It will be a disaster for the UK and for Ireland."

Paschal: "As someone who lived in the UK, like many Irish people (I still have family there), I feel a visceral sadness about it. I fear everyone will be poorer for it."

Twink: "I'm not surprised. The British like to do their own thing, history has shown. They lead more than they follow."

Ross: "We are at the start of a large period of change in the world and Brexit is one of the symptoms."

I can only imagine that one or three of the luminaries present at the Gathering in The Conrad had the symptoms of a banging hangover the next morning.

The Conrad, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2

Ideally located at the corner of St Stephen's Green, across from the National Concert Hall. www.conraddublin.com

Weekend rates: From €269 per room per night, including breakfast

Winter Sale: Enjoy savings of up to 25pc. Book By January 7 and stay between November 17 - December 31.

Sunday Independent

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