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Courteney Cox and me: Snow Patrol's Johnny McDaid on their 4 year engagement

Johnny McDaid opens up about Snow Patrol's return, his pride in Gary Lightbody's honesty about depression - and the world's obsession with his wedding to actress Courteney Cox. By Claire Williamson

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Johnny McDaid and girlfriend Courteney Cox

Johnny McDaid and girlfriend Courteney Cox

Courteney’s tweeted picture of herself and Johnny during filming in Kerry with Bear Grylls

Courteney’s tweeted picture of herself and Johnny during filming in Kerry with Bear Grylls

Courteney Cox and Johnny McDaid in Derry

Courteney Cox and Johnny McDaid in Derry

Gary Lightbody and Johnny with Ed Sheeran (centre)

Gary Lightbody and Johnny with Ed Sheeran (centre)

Johnny with fellow Snow Patrol members Paul Wilson, Nathan Connolly, frontman Lightbody and Jonny Quinn

Johnny with fellow Snow Patrol members Paul Wilson, Nathan Connolly, frontman Lightbody and Jonny Quinn

Courteney Cox and Johnny McDaid

Courteney Cox and Johnny McDaid

Johnny McDaid and girlfriend Courteney Cox

Johnny McDaid hasn't forgotten his roots. He's currently touring America with Snow Patrol and has worked with some of the world's most famous names in music, but the Londonderry man admits that no matter where in the world he goes, his "heart has never left home".

The 42-year-old guitarist, pianist, vocalist and songwriter has many strings to his bow. Over the past few years he has been part of award-winning songwriting teams, working on record-breaking hits such as Ed Sheeran's Shape Of You and Pink's What About Us.

For Johnny, his songwriting is an outlet that creates another energy that he brings back to Snow Patrol. "It's a huge part of who I am as a person too," he says. "I'm really grateful that I get to work with some of the most amazing artists ever and make music with them. I never want to stop doing that."

But he says the moment it all "makes sense" is when he goes on stage with his Snow Patrol bandmates, with whom he shares a bond they call a brotherhood. And performing huge hits like Chasing Cars and Run live together is all the sweeter now for the band after their seven-year hiatus.

He says: "All the years of getting ready and making a record are worth it when we walk on stage together. It all kind of slots together and makes sense."

Snow Patrol have been supporting Sheeran on his stadium tour of North America while also doing some of their own shows before embarking on their headlining dates in the UK and Ireland throughout December and January.

"The appetite for the band and the way that people are engaging with the new songs is amazing," says Johnny. "It means everything. For us, that is the world. It all makes sense when you have the interaction between you and the people listening to your music. It's always been about the people that listen to our music, and without that there is nothing."

Johnny says nothing compares to hearing the crowds sing along to their songs, whether it's at home or away, the old classics or the new tracks.

Their long-awaited return has, however, also made headlines due to frontman Gary Lightbody's honesty about his battle with alcohol and depression - something which he says was a factor when it came to his writer's block. Ultimately, though, coming through those hard times proved inspiration, with those themes explored in the band's seventh album Wildness.

In a series of soul-baring interviews Gary revealed the harrowing details of his addiction. He told the Belfast Telegraph how a health scare in 2016 - when infections ravaged his ears, eyes and sinuses - proved a major wake-up call: "I knew I had to change my lifestyle, which up to that point had revolved around booze, and I just stopped drinking."

Johnny praises his friend for his bravery and strength, calling him an inspiration.

"I'm immensely proud of him. Just as a human being, the courage it takes to face yourself and face your demons - because we all have them - but what Gary has done is he's faced them very publicly. And he's faced them in a way that allows people to resonate with them and to see that they are not on their own. He's really encouraging us to talk amongst ourselves and inspiring us to be better versions of ourselves."

He adds: "That sort of bravery and the way that he does it is beautiful and inspiring. He has approached it with a lightness and a joy that can be missed if we don't bring that up too. There is as much joy as there is exploring darkness."

Describing Gary as one of his heroes, he says that he and the rest of the band are like brothers. To be fair, they do go back rather a long way together now, first getting together as students at university in Scotland in 1994. Their big break came in 2003 thanks to a deal with Polydor and the release of their album Final Straw, which set them firmly on a course to stardom.

Reflecting on their friendship, Johnny says now: "Gary's also a great friend - and a great shoulder to lean on. When we talk about this record (Wildness), when he is writing these songs and words, it's easy to look at it as if he was leaning on us the whole time, that's not the case, we were leaning on Gary too and we lean on him because he is an incredibly strong being.

"He's able to take a lot, he does a lot and gives a lot and in that he's an inspiration."

Johnny's frankness when we chat is all the more remarkable given that the band are generally quite private and prefer to let their music do the talking.

But he says that he understands why there is a curiosity about their personal lives - something he has experienced many times.

He laughs as he talks about the number of times it's been reported that he's gotten married this year to fiancee Courteney Cox, who starred in Friends and has 13-year-old daughter Coco with her ex-husband David Arquette.

Johnny and Courteney (53) started dating in 2013 and announced their engagement on Twitter in 2014. Since then there has been huge speculation about when - and where - they might wed.

"I think people are curious," says Johnny good-naturedly. "I'm often approached from a perspective of people thinking they know something when they don't.

"But often it's just funny. I think I've gotten married 15 times in the last year. There is a missing part of that equation, I'm on tour at the moment and Courteney is in LA.

So it would be really difficult for me to get married unless I do it by proxy or over Skype or something.

"It is a bit bizarre but it comes with the territory. I expect the curiosity but I also respect my relationship and my love."

And it clearly is a love-match. Johnny speaks in poetic language about his relationship with the American actress. He says: "If you've ever been in love you know that love, it doesn't change when it is analysed or if it's public, it's still love, and it has what all relationships have - challenges and joys.

"It covers a spectrum, when you tend to be analysed publicly, people focus on the parts of the relationship that are difficult or are fantastical. And there is a lot of normality about it because we are just normal people and do the things everybody else does and it isn't that startling."

As we turn our attention to Snow Patrol's homecoming gigs, his mind turns to his family. He is very close to all of them and regrets that due to his hectic work schedule he doesn't get to see them as much as he would like.

"Family is so important to me. I'm really close to my family, so I miss them a lot, I love them very much," he says.

"I really look forward to getting to see them. Oddly, the times I do get to see them now is when they come to shows. I take any chance I can to see my family - I'm definitely a family person."

He poignantly adds: "My heart has never left home. I'm really rooted there no matter where I am in the world there is always a piece of me that's there and a piece of there that's with me. I'm grateful for that."

And it's not just his family that brings out his pride. Johnny is also patriotic about Northern Ireland and feels there is an onus on us all to spread the good news about it.

"I'm so proud of home. Something that stands out positively is the openness of our generation and generations coming up in Northern Ireland, to be open to change and to transformation and peace.

"Which is just so good to see from a distance having grown up there, just watching the progress and if we could focus on that for a minute instead of focusing on the stuff that isn't working."

He adds: "It's all of our jobs to remind each other and to remind people that aren't there, that there's so much good going on and so much potential for more."

Unsurprisingly the band is looking forward to their big return home at the SSE Arena in December - and it's something they can't stop talking about.

"It's like a big light in the calendar," adds Johnny. "We talk about it all the time, coming home for us is such a thrill. What a thing to do just before Christmas - we absolutely can't wait!"

Snow Patrol play Belfast's SSE Arena on Friday, December 7 and Saturday, December 8 before heading to the 3Arena in Dublin on Tuesday December 11. Tickets on sale now.

Win concert tickets and meet the band

Visit the Belfast Telegraph website at the link below to enter a money can't buy competition for the ultimate Snow Patrol fan.

It includes: Two great seats for Saturday December 8, a special back-stage tour where you will also get up close and on to the stage for a band-eye view, and a backstage meet and greet with photo opportunities with the band.

Visit: www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/competitions/snowpatrolwin

Belfast Telegraph