Louis Walsh on managing Shane after Westlife split08/01/2012 00:43
By Niamh Horan
Louis Walsh's gut instinct has served him well. In a business where success seems as random as a Las Vegas fruit machine, he has hit the jackpot time and time again.
It's no wonder then that his eyes are always full of the devilish excitement of a man who has struck gold.
From unknown baby-faced teens to hyperactive terrible twins -- where others saw only the unremarkable, Louis took a punt on potential and enjoyed a handsome pay day.
Lucky for him, then, that he stuck with the same gut feeling during those boom-time years. In those days, his phone never stopped ringing, with property developers looking for a slice of the fortune he had worked hard for.
They promised him a handsome return if he invested in apartment blocks, hotels and lucrative bank share deals.
One of those callers was none other than the 'financial guru' Derek Quinlan. He was hailed as the man with the Midas touch in Ireland's celebrity golden circle and others couldn't resist the allure of the 'personal invitation'.
Pat Kenny, Gay Byrne, Riverdance's John McColgan and Moya Doherty were all eventually burned.
But not Louis. He went with his famous gut.
"I knew all the developers. And around that time I heard from them all. Quinlan rang me a good few times asking me to invest here and there.
"But I stuck to what I know: music. I'm a sales man, not a businessman. I never wanted to be a property developer and I didn't invest in shares so luckily I wasn't done big time."
"So, what was the damage?" I ask.
He turns coy. "I can see your headline now, so no, I can just tell you it was a lot," he chuckles.
"Come on," I press, "around €10m?" He smiles and nods as he takes a bite of his ham and turkey dinner without a care in the world.
I'm not so cool, muttering an expletive but he just shrugs and laughs, "I don't care."
With each X Factor show earning him an estimated €1m, there's plenty more where that came from.
Of his six luxury homes -- a beach house in Miami, an apartment in London and four residences in Dublin -- he says: "Everything I bought here is worth half of what it was. We were all hyped in the property boom, we were all told it was never going to end."
But he is measured in his outlook. "It could have been a lot worse.
"There's a difference between buying a few places yourself and getting into the property game. And I stayed well away from that -- besides, money was never my goal.
"I've made money but I worked hard for it. I'm self-made. Nobody gave it to me on a plate. I clawed my way there."
Would he put his head in his hands over what he has lost?
"No, never," is the instant reply. "I'm very careful with money, I love it, but it's not the reason I get out of bed in the morning."
Any other investments?
"I collect art," he smiles. Louis always perks up when discussing a passion. And when he's not immersing himself in music, art has become his favoured pastime.
"I love it. Because you can look at it. You can't look at money in the bank. If you've got an Andy Warhol or a Damien Hirst, you can enjoy it. I don't keep any of it in Ireland though; it's all abroad. I have someone looking after it for me."
His hobby started 12 years ago when the work of renowned Irish artist Louis Le Brocquy caught his eye. Paintings by Ireland's foremost contemporary artist, such as The Family, have been snapped up for up to €3m by private bidders.
"They were really good investments and so I began researching more.
"I started collecting Keith Haring, David Hockney [whose painting The Splash sold for €3.1m at Sotheby's in London] and Andy Warhol.
"I love pop art. I suppose it's because it's the business I'm in. Muhammad Ali, Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor, Jane Fonda -- it becomes like an addiction, in the same way as women buy shoes," he chuckles.
His collection is rumoured to be worth in excess of €5m but he staunchly refuses to be drawn on figures.
Anyone who knows the music mogul knows he is usually free, open and willing to spill on cue.
He has even picked up a comical habit of slowing down his words to accentuate a point he knows will make great reading, while moving his mouth nearer to the dictaphone.
But talking to Louis about money is a different ball game.
It's ironic for someone who has amassed so much while the rest of us laughed at his lofty dreams. Surely now he should be shouting "I told you so" from the city rooftops.
We cringed when he wheeled out a bunch of uncoordinated unknowns on The Late Late Show, jeered at each heartthrob music video, complete with white suits and wind machines.
Even Simon Cowell scoffed at his latest project in the shape of quiff-haired out-of-tune twins.
The same brothers have just racked up €1m in panto ticket sales and shifted over 150,000 mobile phones to teenagers over the Christmas period.
If Louis had to take the criticism to heart, he'd still be pulling pints in The Blues Inn, Claremorris, and yet here he is while the country falls apart around him, kicking back in his regular eaterie, the Merrion Hotel, one of the most successful men in the showbiz industry. Louis is having the last laugh.
Hair, teeth, eyes: he looks a million dollars.
"It's called maintenance, darling."
And confidence? Does he lack it? He becomes serious.
"I have confidence in my work, I am very confident in that respect. But I don't have any confidence about me in my personal life. When I'm Louis from The X Factor, yeah, but when I'm me it's a different story."
There's a short pause before he snaps back into Louis-from-X Factor mode.
"Look at you, getting everything out of me tonight, this is like Gabriel Byrne's In Treatment," he cracks.
Whatever confidence he has was surely rocked by an annus horribilis, which saw a media storm born out of lies by a stranger who falsely accused the music mogul of groping him in a nightclub toilet.
"The night I got the phone call to say that it was to run the next day was the lowest of my life. I thought my life was over. Should I just end it? It was a cowardly way out but I could see no other way. My good name is all I have. And I thought, 'They've taken it away.'"
In those hours that followed in the Kensington Hotel, he couldn't stand to be alone.
"My assistant, Sara Lee, had to stay with me that night. I wouldn't let her leave the hotel room. I was hysterical. I'm not the same since; it's done something to me inside."
Still, he's come a long way from the jittering wreck I spoke to in the immediate aftermath of the accusations -- a time when he refused to trust anyone outside his inner circle, for fear of being turned over.
Now that his accuser has finally admitted that he lied and faces sentencing in the New Year, Louis has relaxed somewhat and is back to his usual bold self -- gossiping and critiquing and opening up as before.
Following Samantha Mumba's attack on the music mogul, in which she firmly pinned the blame for her short-lived career on him, the manager is in fighting form.
"Oh Samantha blamed me now, did she?" he retorts, putting down his knife and fork.
"She was dropped by the record company because she didn't work hard enough." He stresses each individual word.
"I wasn't dropped. I'm still working with them, don't forget that," he says, giggling, as he winks in my direction.
And on Ronan Keating cheating on wife Yvonne with backing dancer Francine Cornell: "I thought they were the happiest couple in show business. She was like his rock. But hey, who am I to judge? I think he has probably learned his lesson -- he shouldn't have been caught," he smiles.
He can count his friends on both hands. "Trust me, for all the people I've met and worked with, that's not a lot. Caroline Downey [wife of Denis Desmond] and [PR expert] Joanne Byrne proved their loyalty in gold when things got tough for me this year.
"And you and I both know how hard real friends are to come by in this business," he adds solemnly.
When it comes to family time, he goes home to Mayo once a year where his mother is "constantly praying for me to Padre Pio, the patron saint of lost causes".
Holidays are spent in Miami for two months of the year, where he develops a restless hunger to dive back into work. He describes the business as his "escape". From what, I ask. "Everyday life -- it's boring. I can't stand it."
Constantly on the go, he rarely hits the pillow before 4am and his over-active mind regularly deprives him of sleep.
"Yes, sometimes I have insomnia because I'm plotting and planning and thinking about songs and working with record companies and I get excited and I can't sleep. It happens maybe once or twice a week."
He doesn't take sleeping tablets, preferring a US box set or CNN to keep him entertained before he eventually slips off. Has he ever seen drugs in the business?
"Of course, I have. Coke is the worst drug in the world. It's part of the game. Some people need it. But I don't. Next question."
What makes him angry?
"People with no ambition. People in this country need to get up off their arses and work hard to make things happen. I think the recession has been a good reality check for a lot of people. In Dublin in the Eighties, no one had any money but we were happy. Then people lost the run of themselves."
So what has kept his feet on the ground?
"Before I got a break in Ireland, trying to break into radio and RTE and having to grovel to those twats out there. That's the only time I was ever made feel small in all my time in this business, but, in hindsight, it's a good thing. A lot of nepotism goes on out there. There are no stars left that people will actually switch on the TV for. Pat Kenny is one of the few. He's a fantastic guy."
With that, the phone rings and he mouths: "It's Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber."
They discuss new song ideas and once he hangs up, he explains it's for Westlife's Shane Filan.
"Westlife have just sold out two nights in Croke Park, which is incredible. But after that, I'm going to manage Shane's solo career.
"He's the only one I'll manage and he's going to go global. Whatever 'it' is, Shane's got it. And I believe in him. Trust me, he's going to be huge."
You can almost hear him pull the lever as his jackpot rings in.