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Phil Coulter reveals his anguish at son's Down's syndrome

By Rebecca Black

Published 02/10/2015

Phil Coulter tells in the interview that he wanted to be a priest before deciding on a career in music
Phil Coulter tells in the interview that he wanted to be a priest before deciding on a career in music
Eamonn Mallie and Phil Coulter

Musician Phil Coulter has spoken openly for the first time about how he struggled to cope after his son Paul was born with Down's syndrome.

He reveals that he went into denial and said: "I kind of pretended it hadn't happened."

The Town I Loved So Well composer speaks of his anguish during the second in a series of major interviews by journalist and author Eamonn Mallie to be broadcast on Sunday night on the Irish TV channel.

Coulter (73) has had a glittering musical career going back to his days as a student at Queen's University in Belfast.

He amassed an extraordinary collection of accolades for his work, including 23 platinum discs, 39 gold discs, 52 silver discs, two Grand Prix Eurovision awards, five Ivor Novello awards and three American Society of Composers gongs, in addition to a Grammy nomination.

Coulter also received the Gold Badge from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors in 2009.

But the musician says it all could have been very different if he had followed through on an early ambition to become a priest.

The Londonderry man also tells Mallie of the many tragedies he and his family have faced, including him losing a brother and sister in separate drownings.

And he admits that he could have dealt with his son's Down's syndrome in a better way.

"My wife coped with it a lot more effectively and a lot more realistically than I did," he says.

"When I was told he had Down's syndrome, I kind of went into denial. I kind of pretended that it hadn't happened. I just went on with my life and left my wife to cope with that.

"But, I mean, I was very young and I hadn't got the equipment to deal with it, I suppose."

Several months after the birth of his son he wrote the song Scorn Not His Simplicity, which was about his experiences with his little boy's condition.

As well as family matters, the musician tells Mallie of his school days at St Columb's College in Derry, of his sadness at the death of a one-time university friend who encouraged him to make his first record but was later shot dead at the height of the Troubles, and of how he once flirted with the idea of become a priest. In the wide-ranging interview, Coulter additionally speaks about his close friendship with Van Morrison, which started in London more than 40 years ago as they both embarked on their professional careers.

He praises Morrison's "musical sophistication", but says he is a man of few words.

"Taciturn would be a good word," he adds. "Not the most outgoing of people. A man of few words."

Before exploding onto the scene, Coulter studied music and French at Queen's before going on to receive honorary doctorates from the Ulster University and Dublin Institute of Technology.

Eamonn Mallie meets Phil Coulter will be shown on Irish TV at 10pm on Sunday. It can be viewed on Sky Channel 191, Freesat Channel 400, Eircom's eVision Channel 191, free to air boxes and online at

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