Dolores O'Riordan: rock star and truth-seeker
After breaking her silence about the horrific sex abuse she suffered as a child, Dolores O'Riordan is happier than she has ever been. The Cranberries frontwoman opens up to Barry Egan about that process of healing, her 'caveman' husband and meeting the late Princess Diana
Nietzsche famously wrote in Twilight Of The Idols: "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." Dolores O'Riordan's early life was a severe test of that truth. What happened to her as a youngster is nauseating in the extreme, even evil. There can be no other way to describe the rape of a child.
"He [the abuser] used to masturbate me when I was eight years old. He made me do oral sex for him and ejaculated on my chest when I was eight years old. It was inappropriate touching," Dolores told me in November. "For four years, when I was a little girl I was sexually abused," she added, tears flooding down her eyes as she recounted, in the kitchen of a rented house in Dublin, the terrifying ordeals she was put through. "I was only a kid."
A month later, Dolores has invited me to the Vatican in Rome to meet the Pope with her. Since revealing the dark secret that she carried for years, Dolores says she can truly start to heal now. The 42-year-old is closer to peace of heart and mind than perhaps at any other time in her life.
Sitting in Piazza Navone late one December night, she said that it was "amazing to have the burden lifted off my shoulders; it is almost like going into therapy and confessing it, except you do it the other way around, because when you are famous you just open up and that is it. It does feel good to have that off the shoulders. I feel a definite sense of a relief.
"I don't have to explain it to people. It happened. And you know, I think it makes people understand who you are and how you are a little bit better."
"I think life is weird," she adds. "You can dwell on negative stuff in the past too much and then you will never grow and you will never evolve and you never embrace the future, or life. So as soon as you can you have to learn to let it go and put it in that box or whatever."
The sexual molestation was carried out by someone who was in a position of trust in her home county of Limerick, and continued until Dolores was 12. Asked why the abuse stopped, Dolores told me bluntly in Rome last week: "Getting older. Getting power. Control. I was 12. I was like a little woman then. I am in a good space now. A lot of humans experience kind of weird stuff when they are kids, you know? I don't think anyone has a perfect childhood, do they?"
Dolores texted me later that last summer she wanted to go for brain-shock therapy to help her with the pain of the past, but in the end she thought it might be too harsh. "Sometimes that therapy erases the memory too much... erasing the ability to write. "
After what happened to her for all those years (four years of private hell, of confusion, of deep despair) she developed a code of survival. You get the impression that Dolores in 2013 -- a seeker after truth as much as a rock star seeking after great songs -- is entering a new process of spiritual growth, and even religious reawakening. "I'm in a place of great happiness. I've never been happier or as calm or contented in my life. I have the greatest husband in the world in Don and we have the most amazing kids," she says referring to Molly, Dakota, Taylor and Donnie.
"I believe in God," she says, "and life after death. I believe in other dimensions. When people die they go to another dimension and we can communicate with them.
"When my father comes to me in a dream I say a prayer to him and I talk to him. I miss him terribly but I learned to let go -- not just for myself but him also. I am looking forward more than backwards."
Her father Terence, who died in November, 2011, suffered brain damage following a bad bike accident in 1968 and was never the same again, she says.
She reiterates that the husband Don Burton has been a great support to her while being as mad as herself. "He showed me that life is not about success but about having fun."
This is not an exaggeration: the previous night in a restaurant near the Colosseum, Dolores offered to spank Don on his bare bottom, while heathen Don told the American woman who was organising a concert at the Vatican in which Dolores would take part that he would rather meet Santa Claus than the Pope.
The party continued until late back at Don and Dolores' penthouse in Gran Melia high on the hill overlooking Vatican City and St Peter's Basilica. To say that Don and Dolores have a chemistry that embodies love and child-like joy would be like saying that Dolores O'Riordan's band The Cranberries have done well around the world (they have sold 40 million records.)
That sense of light-hearted joie de vivre has been a constant ever since they met on tour in 1993, when The Cranberries were playing with Duran Duran (for whom Don was the tour manager) across America. "The Cranberries tour manager said to me: 'He really likes you.' I remember thinking he was very big -- he is 6ft four or five. I remember thinking, 'Jesus, he would be too big for me. I wouldn't be able for him!'" she says with a laugh. "I had a skinhead and Doc Martens and I didn't think he'd go for my kind of thing. I thought he'd go for mainstream and blonde. I think he liked me because I was weird and different."
Don used to give Dolores roses every time she came off stage on that tour. It was obvious to everyone that they fancied each other. However, nothing happened until near the end of the tour in New Mexico in November. There was an after-show party in one of the band members' hotel suites. At 1am, Don stood up in front of everyone, said good night and picked Dolores up and threw her over his shoulder and walked out the door.
"It was very cave man-like but I liked it. He just carried me out the door ... "
And where did he carry you to?
"To his room!"
That was the first time you were ever intimate with him?
"Oh yeah!" she says.
So he wasn't too big for you then, I tease.
"He was a gentle giant really," she says. "I think we just knew that there was something very special the next morning. I said to him: 'We haven't long left on this tour and what are we going to do when it's over.' He said: 'Come to Canada for Christmas.'"
Dolores flew to Toronto and spent the yuletide with Don and his family. "And it was the best Christmas ever."
"I just remember him staring at me all the time and telling his family: 'She's my little girl.' He was nuts about me. Then he looked at me and said: 'Lets get married.'"
The besotted couple decided to go for it. "Everyone was saying it will never last," Dolores chuckles 20 years later -- her laughter ringing out across the Eternal City.
Owing to the fact that The Cranberries were starting to become popular internationally and had touring and recording commitments, Dolores and Don had to wait until July 18 to get married. For their honeymoon they went camping around Ireland -- the Aran Islands and then Dingle. They had a few drinks in the pub one Saturday evening and had forgotten to pitch the tent . "Ah, we'll do it later," they said.
They did pitch it later -- in the darkness and somewhat the worse for drink. On Sunday morning the newlyweds were asleep in their tent when they heard noises outside.
"I opened the tent," Dolores recalls, "and peeped my head out and we were outside a church on the grass path. And everyone was going in to mass."
As we walk around Trastevere she says of Don: "He is devoted to me and I am devoted to him. Sometimes you kill each other but you know, you have to have a bit of a fracas sometimes, but that it is good, because making up is always good then.
"I think he is very paternal. He really has a protective thing about him. I like that. I couldn't really do the baby thing. You know the way some men like to be babied? And they want their wife to be their mother figure? I couldn't do that."
Even though you were offering to spank him in the restaurant last night if he didn't behave? She laughs.
"I think the thing I really loved about him when I met him was that Donnie was a year and a half and he was a great dad," Dolores says referring to Don's son by a previous relationship. "He was brilliant with Donnie. I thought he was really good with kids and I loved the kid. I always remember we went to the zoo then and Don used to always carry him up on his shoulders and his diaper leaked. It was so unsightly! I was, like, 'Oh!' It was at the zoo in Toronto. I was thinking, 'Oh, I really love you now.'"
We stop for a beer outside a cafe. Despite the last 20 years of global fame and travelling the world as a proper rock star in bling-bling private jets, Dolores hasn't lost her Limerick accent or her Irish sense of humour. "You going drinking from the neck?" she says when I pick up a bottle of beer in a restaurant later. "You're a proper cowboy."
There are two babies in prams next to us. I ask her is she is finished with having babies herself. "Sure, I'm too old now. I'm shoving on, pet. The shop's closed. The thing is, Dakota is eight years old now and I have a little bit of freedom back again. Another baby really ties you down. They are amazing but they are an awful lot of work. They rule the roost."
"You know what?" she adds. "I know it is a weird thing to say but I am actually looking forward to having grandbabies. Donnie is 22. Taylor is 16. Molly is 12 and Dakota is eight. I love kids. Babies are so cute. But I've had my babies."
For the record, I've met her kids a few times over the years. They were anything but the over-pampered devil-brats you might expect of a rich rock-star mommy.
"My kids are very normal, very well-behaved, really."
Has she made a conscious decision not to spoil them and bring them up with a sense of entitlement?
"You know what it is? Values. You have to give children values. You can't just give them everything they want. Stuff. Stuff. Stuff. Unfortunately, though, it is a little bit hard though to raise children and keep them innocent when you have Miley Cyrus on the Wrecking Ball and then you have Kim Kardashian humping her fella on a motorbike. And this stuff is aired during the day when little kids are looking at it; that grosses me out. I sound like my mammy now but it wasn't that bad when I was young. It is weird that nothing is censored. It was Taylor my son who showed me the Miley Cyrus video on his iphone. It was two Irish guys taking the mick -- she's going around in the nip, and then there's a flash of Miley from Glenroe and he goes: 'How's she cuttin?'"
Dolores and Don are going home to Canada for Christmas. They have a five-bedroom, three-floor (with basement) mansion on 27 acres with its own lake two hours drive outside Toronto. They thought about moving back to Ireland but after renting in Abington in Malahide during the summer decided they loved the wide open freedom of Canada more. Dolores brings the kids ice-skating on the lake and takes the quad-bikes out in the snow. "We have an amazing life out in Canada," she says.
"They don't care about fame around where we live," Dolores adds. "They are rustic, so down to earth. It is like a different world. They are very earthy people. There are a lot of people who go hunting and cut wood. It is a real life out there.
"I was never into where the celebs hang out. It is too phoney. And you can't relax and you feel uncomfortable. I would rather feel comfortable in my skin. People are people. So what does it matter what they have? If somebody is nice, somebody is nice. It is kind of like a karma thing as well. If you make good choices, from your heart, good things will come to you in life."
In spite of the childhood trauma and the almost debilitating industry that she has worked in since she was 18, Dolores has made a success of her life, with Don's help.
"I am very happy now. I have accomplished a lot in my life. It is a bit of a dodgy career. Look at all the young people like Kurt Cobain," Dolores says -- her manager Danny Goldberg, who is in Rome with her, used to manage Cobain's band Nirvana. "So if you make it through and live to tell the tale and you have kids and a happy family, that is an accomplishment. It is so easy to slip into that life in this business. You always have to be careful and watch your boundaries."
I ask Dolores what are her boundaries.
"I cannot have sleeping tablets around, because if I have a few drinks I'll take them. On tour, it was just so easy to say: 'I can't sleep, I've had a couple of drinks, maybe I'll take one.' Then you take another. Then you don't wake up. That can happen. I am careful now. I am giving the tour a break. It can be really exhausting. One morning you are in Italy doing a TV show, the next morning you are in Los Angeles and the next morning you are in New York, and the next day you are back in Europe. The demands are crazy. I am only human."
I notice out of the corner of my eye that there are paparazzi taking her picture as we talk. It is insane. This prompts Dolores to recall a special meeting with the woman probably most tormented by the paps, Princess Diana.
In September, 1995, at a charity concert in Modena, Italy, Dolores sang Ave Maria with Pavarotti. Diana, Princess of Wales, was in the front row with a tear in her eye. At the big dinner afterwards, Pavarotti sat at the head table with Diana. Dolores sat at an adjoining table with her mum and dad -- whom she had flown over specially to watch her sing.
The Limerick star was going to the bathroom when Pavarotti stopped her and brought her over to meet Diana. Dolores sat down with her and had a glass of wine. Diana immediately explained to Dolores that the reason she cried earlier at her performance was because her mother Frances loved Ave Maria.
She added that she was a huge fan of The Cranberries.
Flattered, Dolores said to Diana: "It must be really hard to be a princess."
She told Dolores that "no, it must be harder to be a female rock star, because you have to do concerts all over the world".
Dolores then asked Diana would she mind meeting her mother Eileen. "Diana said how important mothers are and got emotional. So my mum came over and shook hands with her. And then my father came up behind my mother and asked Diana in his Limerick accent: 'What side are you from? What side of the country are you from?' He didn't know who she was."
Dolores explains her father, having had the brain injury early in his life, "didn't read the papers or anything like that. He never knew anything about celebrities. He used to ask me all the time if I wrote The Hucklebuck".
"Diana was really sweet, a people person. So afterwards, I said to her 'I've got to go to the bathroom. Do you want to go with me?' You know the way girls go together to the bathroom! And she goes: "I really need to go as well, but I can't.'"
Dolores asked Lady Diana why.
"Because if I get up they have to ring a bell and everyone has to stand up when I go to the bathroom.' I said to her: 'Being a princess is much harder than being a female rock star!'"
In truth, despite the hard road she has travelled along, Dolores O'Riordan has finally made a happy life for herself as a female rock star cum Limerick Princess... Lady Dolores.