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Lucky man

Daniel O’Donnell told David Hennessy about his new album How Lucky I Must Be, his special connection with his fans and his happy memory of Sinead O’Connor.

Donegal’s internationally renowned country singer Daniel O’Donnell is currently touring the UK and is set to release his new album, How Lucky I Must Be.

Affectionately known as ‘Wee Daniel’, Daniel O’Donnell is one of the most prolific and successful recording artists in the UK charts.

He is the only artist in the world to score a hit in the UK album charts every year since 1988, an unprecedented and unbroken 35-year span, and in doing so, he has outshone everyone from Michael Jackson and Madonna, to U2 and the Rolling Stones.

Daniel has also achieved eight number one hits in the UK music video/DVD charts over the length of his career, makes regular appearances in the Billboard World Music Chart, received an honorary MBE from Queen Elizabeth, appeared on Top of the Pops, had his life celebrated on This Is Your Life, been given the Freedom of Donegal, has been inducted into Ireland’s Music Hall of Fame, and received multiple Entertainer of the Year/Person of the Year Awards in Ireland and the UK – to mention but a few of the many accolades.

He also presents the Opry Le Daniel programme and concert on TG4 which is now in its 10th season and is the highest rated country music show on TG4 where Daniel present the absolute best of Irish and International country music singing talent.

He took some time to chat to us before getting out on the road for his current tour.

Daniel told The Irish World: “I’m looking forward to it now, to get out and do the few shows and having the album out.

The title is very apt, isn’t it?

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“I know, Isla Grant wrote that song and she recorded it, but I loved it so I recorded it and it’s a good title for where I am.

“I am lucky, thank God.

“I am lucky that there are writers here at home that I like the stuff they write.

“I like the type of stuff that they’re writing and there’s new material there that I can put out.

“There’s a lot of new stuff on it that people wouldn’t be very familiar with.

“I’m sure Isla would have recorded How Lucky I Must Be herself but I’m not sure many other people have recorded it.

“There’s a few old ones as well like A Stroll Over Heaven With You that was an Alan Jackson song, and The Flowers, The Sunsets, The Trees by Jim Reeves so there’s some old stuff on it too.”

Daniel is one of the most successful recording artists of all time.   In 2021 he broke his own world record by becoming the first recording artist to chart at least one new album every year in the Artist Albums Chart for 34 consecutive years.  During his 35-year career Daniel has amassed 19 Top 10 albums with 17 of them this century – a feat not matched by any other recording artist.

I’m sure you would be delighted to keep your record of having an album in the UK charts every year for so many years..

“We’ll see.

“You never know, you can’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Is it 40 years this year that you’re on the road?

“I actually started with Margaret in 1981.

“That was January ’81.

“I was a couple of years with her and I recorded My Donegal Shore and Stand Beside Me in February ’83, and then that summer I started my first band.

“So it’s 40 years now since I really staked my claim- like when they went out to the west of America and put their stick in the ground.

“It’s amazing really. It’s hard to believe it could be 40 years, but it is.”

What leaps out as a highlight over all those years? “I can remember the London Irish Festival.

“In 1984, we did that and it was a big thing to get onto it.

“It was a huge event.

“We were on in 1984 and we were on about 12 in the day.

“And then in ‘85, we were on about 3.

“And in 1986, we closed the show.

“These kinds of things.

“And I was Top of the Pops, and This is Your Life and all those things that you never think you’re going to get a chance to do.

“And when you put it all together- I mean, even this year I did another show at the London Palladium.

“You just don’t think about that.

“In March, we’re going to do a show at the Sydney Opera House.

“And all of that 40 years later which is more amazing.

“Who would have thought it would have last that long?

“That there would be an audience that would follow what I did for all those years? I’m very lucky really that there’s a crowd that come to see me, some of them I would know for 35 years, so it’s great.”

You played the Galtymore many times…

“I did surely.

“I mean obviously I was in the latter group of singers and I just about experienced The National, The Galtymore, the Gresham, they were the big halls, and Nellys was on too up in Willesden, but more so the Gresham, the Galtymore and the National.

“We did the Town and Country or the Forum as it was before in Kentish Town, and a few other places too around, The Carousel in Manchester, and the Irish Centre in Birmingham and all them places but the Galtymore was  iconic because it was a gathering place for so many.

“I’m glad to have experienced it.

“I can remember I played before they built the big hall. They had two halls, they had the ceili hall and the dance hall and then they built the big one out the back which we played many times before it closed.”

I suppose if you wanted anyone to tell you stories of the Galtymore you need look no further than your sister..

“Oh God surely, she was there at the heyday of it all and the crowds they had were just immense and that was in the days when people had to go.

“They weren’t coming home whenever they wanted then.

“They were getting home once a year or maybe twice if they were lucky and it was the boat, there was no Ryanair then.

“You weren’t able to just hop on a plane for a cheap flight.

“So the Galtymore and the National and the Gresham was where Ireland was for a lot of people away from home.”

That’s the special part of what you do, isn’t it? Whether it’s going to Australia or coming over to the UK, you bring a bit of Irish music and a bit of home to those who are away from it.

“Of course we do. Obviously I sing a great mix of country and Irish but still there’s the Irishness in it, and yes, we would use a lot of projection and when we’re singing Donegal Shore, there’s lovely scenes of Donegal and I love showing home because I think what we have here is absolutely beautiful.

“We were just in the states and when I’m singing, I look around and I see the coastline on Arranmore and I think to myself, ‘God, this is brilliant’, to be able to show this to people that might never even have seen it and it might even make them think, ‘God, we need to go and visit this place’.

“A lot of people just get that feeling of home, even people that are happy away.

“Sometimes they say to me, ‘God, you made us home sick tonight’, even though it’s not like years ago when you couldn’t come home.”

You are known for your special relationship with your fans..

“Well, it’s a two way street.

“They’ve come to see me, I’ve always met them after the shows.

“And because I’ve met them, it’s given me the chance to get to know them. There’s more to it than the music.

“I’ve enjoyed that.

“I don’t go out because I have to go out.

“I go out because I enjoy meeting people.

“It’s very positive when I’m out meeting people because they want to be there.

“It’s very easy to live in a positive bubble, you know that kind of way.”

Just recently I saw news reports about you singing Danny Boy with a 99 year old fan. They’re magic moments, aren’t they?

“They are, you can’t recreate them.

“You don’t plan them, and you can’t recreate them.”

We recently featured Adele Morgan, the 2023 Mary from Dungloe and have also spoken to Erin Doohan the London Mary. That’s a festival you are very involved with, isn’t it?

“It’s a very, very big part of our calendar here.

“It’s been in place since 1968 so I remember the first festival.

“I was only six years of age and I can remember it so, so well and down through the years growing up, it has been huge.

“And in the last few years, especially this year a great effort went into it again, it just seems like they kept it doing in difficult years too.

“Even after COVID, there was the thought , ‘Will it ever come back again?’

“But it did and it’s huge for our area

“We live in a very rural part of Donegal, a very rural part of Ireland so anything that brings a focus on the area is important.

“And certainly the Mary from Dungloe does that.

“I do my bits and pieces.

“It’s all voluntary, so I have to stress that I’m a local doing what I can do.

“There’s people who stand on street corners, directing traffic.

“There’s people who put up stages of scaffolding.

“There’s people who do this, that and the other.

“And what I can do is that I can do a bit of singing and I can do the interviewing of the girls on the final night, that’s what I can do for the locality and that’s the bottom line.”

Last time we spoke, we talked about the Creeslough tragedy. You talked about how the incident had ripped the heart out of the county…

“It’s a year now.

“I don’t know how Creeslough will go forward.

“I mean the people will go forward, they’ll be forever changed and some, they’ll never be the same.

“And some will live but with a heartache, you know?

“It was a terrible tragedy in a small town, a village really.

“I went to the golf last year and I went into that service station, got my petrol or diesel or whatever it was, went in and bought something and that’s all the people did that day, what I did a few months before.

“And that’s how fickle life can be, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Whoever would have thought when you get out your car to walk in and pay for your petrol that that’s going to happen?

“Yes, you see the devastation, and you see the unity which is remarkable, you see how people come together. You see how people go shoulder to shoulder to make a place for others who can’t stand up to in some way put one foot in front of the other.

“I know there was a lot of focus on Father John Joe but he was an amazing man.

“Amazing how  he seemed to have the right words for every body and every service service.”

You also shared your memories of Sinead O’Connor who sadly passed away recently..

“That’s right, it was sad about Sinead.

“It was so sad. I was so sad about Sinead.

“And she gave so much to so many through her music and her person as well.

“I didn’t know Sinead well. I would only have met her properly once when we were on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire but I was very comfortable with her. We were a very unlikely pairing, I suppose, in the eyes of many people but we got on well on the night.

“And my memory of her is myself and her and Brian Kennedy dancing after the show was over.

“She was calling us out on the floor so I have a lovely, happy memory of her.

 “But her life was documented in many ways and she had tremendous sadness in the recent past especially with the passing of her son and we can never understand what she felt.

“Huge loss to, of course, the world of music but a huge and immense loss to those who loved her and her own circle, her own family.

“That’s the greatest loss, we can play her music whenever we want but they can’t reach out and hold there, that’s the big loss.”

And you have had difficulties in your own life. I hope you don’t mind me asking how you and your family are doing after the recent passing of your mother in law and the passing of your sister Kathleen in February..

 “Ah sure, we’re fine really.

“My brother and his wife were here earlier and we were just talking about all the things.

“You never know what’s ahead of you.

“But that’s life.

“Life is a book and every time you turn the page, it’s written there and you have to just go with whatever is sent to you and that’s the reality of it.”

So what is next for you? I see you saying recently you would love to cameo in Coronation Street. You have acted in Ros na Run and the short film Night of the Living Daniels. Is acting something you want to do more of? “I don’t know, I wouldn’t know would I be able to act anyway. Nobody said was I good or bad in Night of the Living Daniels. If I had to act live, I don’t know how I would get on.

“I was on Strictly and I couldn’t remember the steps,” he laughs.

“I suppose I wouldn’t mind some musical theatre.

“That might be something that I would enjoy, but I mean at the minute I don’t have the time to do it anyway.

“But who knows what the future brings?”

Daniel O’Donnell is touring the UK. Daniel plays Cliffs Pavilion in Southend on Monday 16 October, Spa Grand Hall in Scarborough on Thursday 19 October, St George’s Hall in Bradford on Saturday 21 October and Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on Sunday 22 October. 

The album How Lucky I Must Be is out now on 27 October.

For more information, click here.

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