In their most intimate interview ever, the singer and his wife reveal: their true feelings about speculation on their marriage, if he’ll have plastic surgery, why they ruled out IVF in quest to have a baby and his joy as a stepdad.
I've asked Daniel O'Donnell to pinpoint what it is he likes most about his wife of eight years, Majella. “I think we get on really well,” he begins. “The whole thing of having somebody that complements me. That makes me feel better in myself. That's what being with Majella does.”
“I mean, I was 40 when we got married, 37 when we met, almost 38,” Daniel explains. “I wouldn't have said that I wasn't happy at that stage, I mean I was, but I suppose the fulfilment, and the enrichment, how much better my life is having Majella to share it with, I would never have known that I was missing that, you know, until I found it.”
We're sitting in their Kincasslagh home. The house is smaller than expected; they moved four years ago from the nearby mansion that hosted the famous tea parties after Majella counted the steps from the bedroom to the kitchen and decided the house was too large for two people. The decor of the new house is beige and turquoise, with ecclesiastical touches. Daniel, in a checked shirt, casual slacks and socked feet, leans back in his leather recliner, feet up. Majella O'Donnell is warm and chatty. Her husband is far quieter, a shade guarded, cautious.
Majella, in contrast, jumps right in. “I love the fact that I'm very comfortable with Daniel, because I never worry about him when he's away,” says Majella. “He never questions what I'm doing, even when we're together. If I want to do something, he lets me be who I am. He lets me be the person I am, even though it's not what he would be ... I feel we allow each other to be who we are, but together.
“I could lock the front door and spend four weeks in here with Daniel. Just the two of us, not seeing anybody, and we'd get on like a house on fire. Maybe even better than when we're out. You know, when we're together on our own we just are,” she says.
When I ask if they share a sense of humour, Daniel says: “Oh, I would say very different. I'd be much quieter than she is.”
“I suppose it'd take you a while to relax, to get to know somebody. You know,” Majella takes up the thread. “I suppose anybody in that position is wary of . . . it takes a while to get to know people. Whereas I would be more . . . well, they say opposites attract. There's many a times Daniel would be saying to me, ‘Will you don't say that' or ‘Will you don't do that.' But he never stops me, he just kinda says, ‘Oh, God, oh, God,'“ she adopts a hushed, worried tone, throwing her eyes up to heaven.
They met in Tenerife, where Majella was living and Daniel had a place. They have since bought a home there.
“I was living there, just for a couple of years,” Majella explains. “My kids went into boarding school and I took some time out. My parents had a bar and restaurant. So he came in one night with some friends to see mum and dad, and we kind of got chatting.”
Did she fancy him instantly? “Eh, neee'yeah,” she drawls. “I suppose he was nice. But I didn't think there was any ... Jeez, I was divorced, you know?” she exclaims.
“And then he was going out the next night with friends, and he asked if I'd want to come along and I did. Well, by the end of that week we were together,” she laughs. “Didn't take long.”
Do you remember the first time you saw Majella, I ask Daniel? “Yeah, I do,” he says in his slow, deliberate manner. “She was in the bar, but then she went to sing.”
“I did,” Majella interjects. “I sang She Moves Through the Fair and I sang The Fureys', I Will Love You”.
Did you fancy her the first time you met? “I think we just got on,” he says. “Great conversation, and we found we just clicked.”
“And then you know we just started writing, and we were phoning all the time,” Majella takes up the thread. “Then I came to London to see him in concert, because I'd never seen him before. Sure he couldn't resist me, what can I say?” she says, laughingly adopting seductive tones.
Majella was not Daniel's first girlfriend, but she was the first to seriously threaten his bachelor status. Their two-year courtship wasn't without its hiccups; Daniel broke up with Majella for a time. In an autobiographical letter to his fans on his website, he wrote of the break-up: “The most striking problem at that time for me was that Majella has been previously married, although she had by now been separated and was going through a divorce for four years. From a religious point of view, this was something that posed difficulties for me and I was grappling with my conscience over the whole thing.”
He ended the relationship, but the pair bumped into each other again in Tenerife. “There was no denying that I absolutely loved her company,” he wrote on the website. “Well, I finally came to my senses in April 2001 while taking another break on the island. We were together and I realised that, yes, we were a great couple and we were very happy together. I realised that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her because I loved her.”
How did he come to realise she was the one? “Because I suppose I was places, and doing things and thinking, you know, ‘Majella would like this.' And I found that we were happy together. And I'd never found that with somebody before, you know, with anybody that I had . . .” he stops. “It was a much more fulfilling relationship, you know. And we get on tremendously well.”
Does speculation about his marriage bother Daniel, or does he take no notice? “Aw, I don't, no. Sure we know ourselves what we're at,” he says.
In the past few years Daniel has begun to write songs himself. One, Then the World Will Know, on the 2002 album Yesterday's Memories, was written about his wife.
“I suppose it was about how long I was single really, you know. And then the world will know, I'm so in love with you,” he says, and for the first time his unruffled manner is shaken, and he seems a little upset. “You know, when they see how we are together. That's kind of the gist of it.
“At the time I wrote it not many people knew that Majella and I were such a serious item, and then the words of the song sort of explained. I put my arms around her, we'll dance across the floor,” he mutters, humming the tune, “and then the world will know, I'm so in love with you./I can't believe it has taken me so long to find someone that I can call my own/ but now you're here, my life has turned around/and yesterday is gone forever more. You know, that sort of thing.”
Daniel proposed on Christmas Day, getting Majella on her own by telling her to go into “the room” and ring her mother to wish her a happy Christmas. “I took the phone and said, ‘Now Marian, I've a bit of business now to do with your daughter’.” The two of them giggle fondly at the memory.
“He just said, ‘I'm just about to ask your daughter to marry me.' That's what he said,” Majella recalls. “She started crying and I started crying.”
“Then I went downstairs and they were all crying,” Daniel smiles softly, taking up the tale. Did they know already? “No.” Had you told your own mum? “No.”
Does Majella remember the first time she met Daniel's mum, 91-year-old Julia, who lives down the road in Kincasslagh with his sister Kathleen, and whom they see daily when they're at home? “I do, yeah; it was the airport wasn't it?” she turns to Daniel.
“We'd only just met,” he says.
“Did she not know then?” Majella asks her husband.
“No, I don't think so,” Daniel ponders in his slow, considered way.
“No, she did, she did, and I'll tell you why she did. I went to pick them up at the airport, and I must have had a pair of shoes like this on me,” Majella says, extending a foot clad in an undeniably sensible loafer-type shoe. “And a sundress on me. And she said, ‘Lovely girl, and she had lovely sensible shoes on her.' If I'd come out now with big high heels...”
Daniel's father died when he was six. “Well, my mother was very strong,” he says. “Obviously my father died when I was very young. So she was the main figure in my life.”
Was it difficult growing up without him? “I can't say; no, I can't say. I think I was too young to be affected greatly by it.”
Majella’s own son and daughter, Michael and Siobhan, are now aged 20 and 22, and grew up with her and Daniel. When they first met, the children were aged 10 and 12. Was it difficult to take on two stepchildren, just entering their teenage years? “Aw, fine. We never had any bother with them; they were great really, how they adapted,” Daniel says.
Did they ever consider having children themselves?
“Yes we would have if, if it happened, but it never, you know . . . I suppose the fact that we were older ... I mean Majella is nearly two years older than me, so she was nearly 42, so it just ...” he trails off.
“It surprised me that it didn't happen,” his wife interjects in a matter-of-fact tone. “I would go so far as to say that we checked it out, you know, we both did, and there was nothing wrong, but it never happened and it wasn't a strong enough desire to warrant IVF or anything. I have my two children; I was in my 40s. I would love Daniel to have experienced having a child,” she says emphatically. Daniel shakes his head and murmurs something about not being pushed about the whole thing.
Is it hard to share your husband with the fans, I ask Majella?
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time I would say no. To be perfectly honest with you, it did take a little bit of getting used to. We could be out having dinner and three times somebody might come up and say, ‘Can I have your autograph, can I have a photo?' Sometimes they don't even look at me, they just go straight to him. But now, I understand that it is part of who he is and also that it's not something he has to do, it's something he wants to do. Does criticism slide off you, I ask Daniel? “Sometimes,” he says rather solemnly.
“He knows you're better off saying nothing,” Majella adds. “I tend to react.”
“I do react, now,” he tells her. “I don't always though,” he qualifies.
“I kind of think, agh, how dare you,” Majella says heatedly, her voice raising slightly in frustration. “You don't know us at all; don't presume to know who we are, and what we are; don't comment.”
“It's never about you, Majella,” Daniel cuts in. “It's never about you, about us.”
“Well I suppose that's just it, we are us,” Majella replies. “If they're talking about him they're talking about us, that's how I feel.”
“What is criticism?” Daniel asks me, fixing his eyes intently on me. “If it's constructive then, yeah, you take it on board. If it's somebody who doesn't have any great love for it, they're not qualified to criticise. You're not qualified to criticise if you don't like something, you know; you're only qualified if you know. An architect can't go into a law court, nor a lawyer can't come in and say what the architect should have done. If you don't know what you're talking about, you can't criticise.”
They have an apartment in Dublin, but don't spend much time there, a lot of their time off is spent at their holiday home in Tenerife — “We do maybe three to four months a year” — and they holidayed in Florida over New Year's, with longtime friend Cliff Richard, and some of his friends, including Olivia Newton-John and her husband. After Florida, Daniel took Majella on a cruise to celebrate her 50th birthday, where he surprised her by bringing 11 of their friends from the Florida holiday, including Sir Cliff.
“I've known Cliff by association, for a number of years. We meet at things. I would always have been a fan and have gone to see him and met him that way,” Daniel recalls.
The day we meet, Majella isn't setting off with Daniel on the US tour; having tried it in the early days, she discovered life on the road was not for her. She will release her second album shortly. “When I was 20, I’d have loved a career singing; that was my passion. But it just never happened for me. I didn't have the confidence, I didn't have the contacts. So then, meeting Daniel, at 40, yeah, I got the opportunity.”
Do you ever get nervous, I ask Daniel? “I would get a bit nervous but I love performing.”
How does he unwind after a show? “I meet people. Once that's over . . .” he trails off. “I don't go out after shows. I mean, I'm not saying I never go out,” Daniel adds, “but I would just generally meet people, and by the time that's over, it's time to go to bed.”
And with that I realise I'm probably taking advantage of Daniel's notorious accessibility, and that it's high time for him to head off to the airport. I’m off, leaving Daniel and Majella waving on the steps of their home.
Daniel O'Donnell's Irish tour begins July 14, and his new four-track EP, Tipperary Girl, was released on Friday. For more information on both, see www.rosetterecords.com