Van Morrison plays intimate gig at Culloden Hotel
A heartbroken Van Morrison took to the stage on Saturday for the first time in four years. It was also his first public appearance since the tragic deaths of Gigi Lee and his child, George Ivan Morrison III, within a few short months of each other last year.
The reclusive singer stepped out of the shadows to perform in front of an intimate group in Belfast's Culloden Estate Hotel.
In the darkness of the majestic gothic mansion, Van cut a sullen character as he stepped out of his BMW shortly before the gig, after driving the short distance from his home near the estate.
Wearing a flat cap and long trench coat, the singer kept his head down as he made his way into the event, which was held in aid of local arts centre, The Lyric Theatre.
The company develops local talent and the Belfast native has shown a keen interest in it in recent years. On several occasions, he has dropped by unannounced to observe local artists.
The crowd, who had trumped up £2000 per table for the privilege of spending a night in the legendary singer's company, was determined to give the Belfast-born star an extra special reception following his heartbreaking double tragedy.
Among the well-heeled guests at the black-tie affair was golfer Darren Clarke, who was recently awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth.
He took to his Twitter page to express his excitement at seeing his hero, exclaiming: "Van the Man will be awesome."
"It's a huge honour to be here tonight. It's been so long since his last performance," said another attendee. "But given the truly awful year he has had, I think it will be very emotional for everyone there.
"There won't be a dry eye tonight. You'd want to be made of stone not to feel for him. Your heart has to go out to the man."
The excitement was palpable as guests made their way into the Stuart Suite, following a champagne reception and dinner. Morrison, aged 66, took to the stage and 900 fans were treated to a vintage Van performance in the 'up-close and personal' gig.
It has been a little over 12 weeks since Ms Lee died from throat cancer on October 7 and exactly a year since his youngest son died suddenly after slipping into a diabetic coma.
News of both deaths only emerged in recent weeks, sending shockwaves rippling through the music world.
The 44-year-old Texan died at the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast. She had moved across the Atlantic with baby George to be close to Morrison, and settled in Newtownards.
Van's lawyers had gone to court in an attempt to prevent reporting of details surrounding the youngster's death and other "private" material. At the hearing his legal team stated that Morrison still did not accept paternity of the baby.
Ms Lee is understood to have been diagnosed with cancer shortly before George's birth. Speaking about her illness, her childhood friend Carla Higdon explained: "She pulled back her hair and showed me a lump in her neck. It was huge."
She added: "They told her that the tumour had wound itself around her carotid artery and if they tried to remove it, her face would be paralysed and her speech would be impaired. She was in great pain and she was very shaken. She was afraid most of all for the baby."
Ms Lee later made the brave decision not to undergo radiation treatment while pregnant, in order to protect her unborn child.
At Christmas 2009, days after George was born, an announcement appeared on the singer's official website.
The statement read: "Gigi and Van Morrison are proud to announce the birth of their first son, George Ivan Morrison III. 'Little Van', born December 28, 2009 -- the spitting image of his daddy."
The message was quickly removed from the website and the singer branded it a hoax.
However, within days a photograph of the star and Ms Lee together had emerged. Ms Lee also emailed reporters to insist the baby was Morrison's.
In early 2010, Van spent thousands in legal fees in an effort to have the relationship kept under wraps by applying for a court injunction.
Attempts to keep the injunction in place were abandoned in April.