Louis Walsh: 'People say I'm lucky, but I say it was hard work"
Pop mogul talks career highs, personal lows and tells how his new band Hometown are going to conquer the world
After silence, to quote Aldous Huxley, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. And for Louis Walsh, it is pop music. The King of Pop is dropping me home in his state-of-the-art black Range Rover. He gushes that he believes his new boyband, Hometown, could one day take the global pop crown of One Direction. He says it with so much belief that it is hard to doubt him. Not least perhaps because his former charges Westlife had 14 number one hits. He says his desire to be in this world - the pop world that he has variously bestrode with boybands and girlbands - came from his childhood in County Mayo, "listening to the showbands and Radio Luxembourg. I do love great pop music, and Hometown will make brilliant pop records too".
In the 15-minute journey, Louis has told me three, possibly five, unprintable, hilariously entertaining stories about famous people in the showbusiness world. He is ridiculously ribald and fun. Like his old friend Joan Rivers, he knows a thing or two about eviscerating one-liners. Passers-by on the street do double takes when he stops at traffic lights with his sunglasses on, as in, is that really him from The X Factor? In fact, some of the things Louis says have me doing similar double takes to the effect, did he really say that? I don't think I've laughed so long or hard in my life.
If Mary Lou McDonald could sing, would he give her any professional advice? "She'd be a good country singer. She dresses like a country singer!"
Two hours later, King Louis is sitting in a post-modern top-floor office holding forth ex cathedra on the world, Enda, Leo Varadkar, U2, Bono, Hozier, and, most importantly, Hometown. The boss of Sony Music Ireland, Patrick Hughes, shares Louis' unshakeable belief in Hometown: "I've heard about 12 or 13 tracks so far and if that is going to be a debut album, it is going to be brilliant.
"I think there is a massive market for Hometown," Louis says, "because vocally they are way above most bands. I think vocally they are world-class. They have got it all, but they have to work hard, and not take anything for granted.
"They never thought they'd have a number one record," Louis says of their new single Cry For Help. Sitting to Louis' left, Brendan Murray, Cian Morrin, Dayl Cronin, Dean Gibbons, Josh Grey and Ryan McLoughlin all beam at their manager's bon mots. "The potential for them is huge - I want them to be successful."
How will he cope as their manager when they become huge and one of the band marries a Kerry Katona like Brian McFadden did in Westlife in January 2002?
"Ah, Kerry Katona!" Louis shrieks. "There is nothing you can do about it! And I know it will be Dayl! I know it will be him, absolutely," he says as the whole of Hometown - including Dayl - crease up their very young faces in laughter unbridled. "But that's fine."
"We'll make sure Dayl doesn't do anything stupid!" laughs Ryan.
Dean pipes up and says he promised to buy his mother her dream home when he became world famous one day. "Originally, it was a house in Santa Ponsa. She has since said that she wants a house in South Africa! So, her dreams are getting bigger!" he laughs.
Equally, so are the dreams of Hometown. Asked how big they believe they can become on the international stage, Cian says: "As much as we can make it. Hopefully we just keep making the music we're making and we'll see it grow." Louis - who once described Boyzone perhaps a little too charitably as "Ronan, Stephen and three Ringo Starrs" - says that there are "no Ringo Starrs in Hometown".
The designer-clad pop mogul has come a long way from his early days when he was looking after Johnny Logan. Observing him it is hard to believe this is the same fellow who New Spotlight magazine described in the early 1970s thus: "Lithe and wiry with a crop of copper curls skimming his forehead, casual in corded jacket and elephant flares."
In a check shirt and tailored trousers, Louis laughs that "the biggest misconception people have about me is that I'm a chancer and they think I'm lucky! They don't realise that I have actually earned it, because I have worked with so many bands. That's all I've ever done is work in music," he says. "The fact that I make a living out of boybands and girl-bands, people think, 'Oh, he just puts them together, throws them out there, and makes a fortune'. It is really hard work.
"Boyzone was a brilliant, innocent time for me," he adds. "Westlife never got the credit they deserved. They sold 45 million albums."
How much money did Louis make on Westlife? "I made good money on Westlife. But they made great money. And Simon made great money. It worked, because I met Simon Cowell and that changed my whole life."
How wealthy is he? "Money is not the reason I do this. I have lots of money. I have bought a few Andy Warhols in the past."
Louis says that, as of now, he does not have a contract for the next season of The X Factor. "I think I could be finished on X Factor. I have done 11 years. It's been amazing. No one gets 11 years on a TV show. You don't last. You have a time-frame and you do it. I've done 11, so I think it could be my last."
The highlights for him on X Factor, he laughs, was "getting the job. In the early days, it was an innocent kind of TV show with Simon and Sharon Osbourne. No one knew who the Irish guy was. I had great fun."
I ask him about his youthful good looks. You're 63, I begin - before he cuts me off - "I'm over 21! Somewhere between 21 and death!" he laughs. "Don't mention age! Don't be ageist!" I am trying to tell you that you have the face of a 23-year-old, Louis! He erupts in laughter. So, what work hasn't he had done? "I've had nothing. I never did Botox or anything. I swear to God! I had my eyes done and my hair sorted but that's all. I had a bald spot at the back. I just got it sorted."
I throw a few names at him and ask for his opinion, knowing the answers will be fun. Bono? "The thing about Bono is, he is an amazing worker. He has worked so hard. Saying that" - Louis adds, which usually means he is teeing up some despicable one-liner - "I think the quality control has gone in U2."
If Louis was U2's manager would he have let them do the link-up with Apple?
"The money was tempting. It was $100m. I think they took a chance and it kind of backfired on their credibility but you know, it is on everybody's iPhone for nothing."
What does he think of Hozier? "I love Hozier. Caroline Desmond Downey, she's a friend of mine, asked me to go to her son's school to judge a talent competition about five years ago out in Dalkey - and I did. That's where Hozier sang," Louis smiles, "and he won. I thought he had the most amazing voice. He reminded me of Van Morrison - vocally. You know I love Van Morrison. I think Van is our greatest talent. I really, really do. Yeah, he is a grumpy old f*****!"
So are you sometimes! I jest. "So are you!" he hoots. "So is everybody! But I do love Van and Hozier reminded me a little him."
I ask him about the suicidal thoughts he experienced at the time he was falsely accused (in The Sun) of sexual assault in 2011. When he thinks about that terribly dark time, does it physically almost bring him back? "If I'm really honest with you, I never think about it. I block it out totally. It is only when you bring it up like this, that I go, 'Oh, f***', you know? What if people hadn't believed me? That's the problem. It was a real reality check for me. And I haven't been in a nightclub ever since. I haven't been out in Dublin. I never go out in Dublin. You have never seen me out since. In fact, I don't go out."
Was it really that dark for Louis that he actually considered taking his own life? "There was one particular moment when I was in the hotel in London, in The Kensington, and I was watching Sky News and I was on it - it was the front page of The Sun - and I was thinking, 'No one is going to believe me'. I didn't know I was going to get out of the dark place, but Paul Tweed and Gavin Bonnar got me and they sorted me out. Without them, I wouldn't have got through it. Simon was totally supportive, and Elton John called me the following day. He said, 'I know what happened. I know it's not true. This is my mobile number.' It was great to get a bit of support. It was the greatest reality check I've ever had in my life."
What did he learn from it? "I learned to be wary. I am very wary of people. Really, really, really. Honestly."
Getting the message, I switch the conversation to his beloved 84-year-old mother Maureen. Asked how she sees him, Louis smiles fondly and says, "I think I am the one that never got the real job. I think that's the way she'd probably talk. 'He hasn't got a real job. But he is happy.'"
And are you? "Yeah, I'm happy. Doing something I like makes me happy. I like my job. I like my life. I've had a great life."
Notwithstanding standing at the side of the stage looking on proudly as Hometown are about to go onstage in front of 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, where does Louis see himself in 10 years? "I hope I'm alive, number one," he says. "I'll probably look even younger. I don't know where I'll be. I just want to be happy and do what I do - real."
- Hometown's new single Cry For Help is out now on Sony Music