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Daniel's wife on finding happiness through the pain

She's tackled cancer and depression and found happiness second time around with surprise Strictly star Daniel. Meet Majella O'Donnell

By Andrew Johnston

Donegal singing superstar Daniel O'Donnell has been wowing the judges and fans alike with his performances on Strictly Come Dancing. For the past few weeks, "Wee Daniel", as his legion of followers know him, has been training hard with dance partner Kristina Rihanoff. But what did the best-selling star's wife, Majella, think about him spending five hours a day, seven days a week, in the arms of a Siberian beauty?

"She didn't bat an eyelid," Daniel said earlier this month. "She met Kristina, and they got on really well. In fact, they message one another. They became like instant friends, so I don't think there's any account to open there."

It's an admirable attitude from Majella, whose first marriage collapsed due to serial adultery by her two-timing ex, Raymond McLennan.

Majella opened up to RTE radio host Ray D'Arcy in 2014 about the heartbreak surrounding her relationship with the father of her son, Michael, and daughter, Siobhan: "I kept thinking, 'I'll take him back. He'll stop doing it.' I was so terrified of being on my own with two children. I really didn't think I'd be able to cope."

Majella revealed Raymond had affairs with at least five different women - including one the night before their wedding - before their marriage was finally annulled by the Catholic Church.

Life took a turn for the better when she and Daniel met on holiday in Tenerife - where the vocalist has a second home - and they married in November 2002, when she was 42 and Daniel 40. They exchanged vows at St Mary's Church, in Kincasslagh, Donegal, where Daniel had sung as a child. However, the king crooner wasn't without last-minute nerves in the run-up to the big day.

"I suppose it was because she had the two children and was divorced, yet still wanting to get married in a church," he confessed.

"I was thinking about the difficulties that might pose, then I realised I was happier with her than I was without her. I thought, 'What are they, really, but obstacles?' If it's meant to be, and if God was sending somebody to you, there would be a way everything could be. So, I went back to her and said, 'We'll give this a go if you're happy.' From there, we never looked back."

Majella O'Donnell, formerly Majella McLennan, was born Majella Roche on April 14, 1960, in Thurles, Co Tipperary. According to her record company biography, she had "a great childhood, very carefree, with no worries or troubles". One of four children to Thomas and Marion Roche, Majella fell in love with showbusiness during a school production of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, in which the future Mrs O'Donnell played the title role, "and loved every minute of it".

The stagestruck youth followed this up with a part as Mary Magdalene in an amateur staging of Jesus Christ Superstar, but as the years went by, Majella's big break never materialised and she gravitated towards the business world, where she spent two successful decades.

However, she got a second shot at fame when she met Daniel at her parents' restaurant in Tenerife, and the pair embarked on a relationship. Music was once again a major part of her life, and occasionally, she would join her new man on stage, mainly at charity functions. But in 2005, halfway through Daniel's residency at the Tri-Lakes Community Theatre in Branson, Missouri, he invited Majella to sing a version of the Hank Williams staple Your Cheatin' Heart.

After the show, Kevin Sheerin, who plays guitar in Daniel's band, remarked about what a good job she had done and that she should record the song. Daniel pulled some strings, and soon, the then-46-year-old Majella released an album entitled At Last, through Rosette Records.

The LP was produced by Sheerin and included two fan-baiting duets with her other half. The track listing also featured a self-penned number, When I Found You, which Majella had written to sing to Daniel at their wedding.

Later in 2010, she released a follow-up, By Request, which went one better and featured a duet with none other than Sir Cliff Richard.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would sing with Sir Cliff, never mind record with him," Majella gushed to her record label at the time. "This came about because to celebrate my 50th birthday, we went on a cruise with friends, which included Cliff. We were talking about the album and a friend suggested that, as I had done a duet with Daniel, that maybe Cliff would do a duet, too. He immediately said, 'Sure, I'll do a duet with you.' He's a great friend, and we had a lot of fun recording the track here in Dublin."

Majella's dreams may have been realised, but, as she says in her bio, her children remained nonplussed: "It seems very hard to impress teenagers these days."

But those teenagers have now grown up, and this summer, Majella's youngest, Siobhan, gave birth to a daughter, Olivia, making mum a grandmother and Daniel a step-grandfather. Majella announced the birth on Twitter.

As for her famous husband, in 2011, Majella revealed that whenever she and Daniel have an argument, he hides in the closet and will only come out when she lets him - prompting a slew of jokes from headline writers and stand-up comics. "A lot of people don't see the real Daniel," Majella said. "He is full of fun and does the silliest things. If we fall out, he might have gone into the wardrobe, and he'll say, 'Can I come out now?' It defuses the situation, and he certainly knows what buttons to press with me."

Alas, it hasn't all been fun and games since the pair wed more than a decade ago. In 2012, Majella was diagnosed with breast cancer, with Daniel initially planning to cancel all his live dates to be with her.

However, she wouldn't let him, Daniel said. "She said, 'If we do that, life has stopped. We need to keep a hold on what's going on.' Majella felt that if you stop everything else, the cancer takes charge. But if you carry on as normal, you're in control."

Majella was given the all-clear after treatment, and she went on to raise more than £500,000 for cancer charities after volunteering to have her hair shaved off on The Late Late Show following her first round of chemotherapy. Other television appearances have included acting as an adviser to Dana on RTE's The All Ireland Talent Show in 2009, and managing Lissan in the fourth season of Celebrity Bainisteoir in 2011, again on RTE.

As well as her struggles with cancer, the businesswoman-turned-country singer has battled depression since the age of 19. "For me, depression is far worse than cancer," she told Ray D'Arcy last year. "It's an entity you can't physically see, describe or deal with. When you're told you have a tumour, you can visualise it, you can say, 'I'm going to zap it.' People are supportive. You can't physically get at depression. In that respect, it's terrible in the mind."

But the positive-thinking celebrity has turned her story into a motivational tale with the publication of her 2014 autobiography, It's All in the Head.

Her account of surviving cancer, mental illness and an adulterous first marriage has proved an inspiration to many readers, just as Majella has done to "Wee Daniel" these past 13 years and looks set to for many more.

A life so far

She was born in Thurles, Co Tipperary, in 1960

She worked in business for more than 20 years

In 2002, she married singer Daniel O’Donnell, who became stepfather to her two children

In 2010, she released At Last, her debut album as a recording artist

She followed this up with her 2014 autobiography, It’s All In The Head

She became a grandmother — and Daniel a step-grandfather — for the first time in August 2015

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