An Interview With Daniel O'DonnellPosted on: 31 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
The Irish singer, one of the UK's top 50 best selling artists of the 21st century, talks to 50connect.
An unlikely pop star, in terms of his commercial achievements Daniel O'Donnell ranks among the most successful Irish performers of all time.
The 46 year old has sold more than 2.5 million albums this millennium in the UK, spent over 200 weeks in the album chart with 27 albums, including eight top 20 albums in five years, and is the only artist in the world to have charted at least one album every year since 1988. Yet he did not set out to break records.
"I just enjoy the music. My reason for singing was simply to have a more fulfilled life because I enjoyed it so much. I've been very fortunate, but I could never ever have hoped that it would be as successful as it has been and continues to be."
Aside from his music, Daniel is known for making time to meet his fans. He writes letters, makes phone calls and even visits unwell supporters in hospital.
"I meet people just after the shows. I enjoy interaction with the audience. If you go somewhere and meet nobody you might as well not have been at all because it's the people that make the place."
Until a few years ago an 'open house' was held once a year for the fans. An orderly queue would form outside the family house in Donegal and concert-goers would come to tea. The tea parties began by chance after fans called at Daniel's house.
"In the late 80s and early 90s we did shows right at my home, only six miles from Dungloe. Every year they hold the American Dungloe Festival and a lot of people travel from outside the area and even outside the country to come. The first year we did two shows on Monday and Tuesday. On the Monday a lot of people came to where I lived, but I was away."
Daniel explains that he tries to rest his voice on the day of a show.
"At the show that night I said, I'm sorry I wasn't there because I know some of you called. I won't be there tomorrow either because I don't want to be talking too much then having to do the show, but if you're still here on the Wednesday and want to call at 3 o'clock I'll make a point of being there. Then, joking, I said, sure you might get a cup of tea."
So popular did this very personal contact with his audience become, the invitation has since had to be modified as a few tens of fans turned into thousands arriving in coaches.
"A lot of people think that was a wonderful publicity stunt, but nobody thought it up. I just said it while I was talking on stage. That Wednesday a number of people came, we did it the next year and more came, and from then on it continued up until the last open day in 2000. We will do one in future again - we haven't planned it but we talk about it. We haven't done one for a while just because a lot of people were coming and it was a great deal of organisation."
Daniel's devoted fans and unique style have seen him made fun of in comedy shows such as Father Ted, but it doesn't concern him.
"I haven't actually ever seen Father Ted, though I know it was on. It's amazing that I would be so well known that although I have no connection with that kind of show I would be mentioned. It's quite an honour really, even if it's in a funny way. I don't think people are ever trying to disrespect me - it's a comedy show so they're going to do something funny."
Sticking to his favourite easy listening and country style songs has enabled Daniel to carve out his own niche in the charts.
"I've always sung what I wanted. I chose to sing this type of music because I love it, and do my best. The songs have the same melody but I wouldn't try to sing them like the originals, I just try to sing them the way I sing."
Daniel's latest album, Country Boy, comprises 20 classic songs including Oh, Lonesome Me, Lucille, Release Me and King Of The Road.
"I've picked many of my country music favourites for this album. There are many more but these are ones that I really enjoy - sure there may be other albums in the future."
In addition there are two duets, one with Charley Pride on his classic Crystal Chandeliers and the other, I Want To Be Free, sung with one of Daniel’s all-time idols, Loretta Lynn, who was recently inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame.
"It's a wonderful experience and opportunity. I would rate Loretta as my favourite singer of all time, and Charlie would be my favourite male country singer, so to be able to make a record with each of them is a huge personal achievement and a great feeling. I grew up loving their music and I never thought I'd ever meet them, never mind one day recording with them, so it's fantastic."
Recently Daniel has turned to writing as well as singing.
"I never thought about writing, or that I would have the ability to write, and then when I began I enjoyed it very much. I only started doing it six or seven years ago. I just wanted to sing, and even now singing is more important than any other aspect of my career. From television to radio, anything I do is all because I can sing live in shows. Recording is not even as important as singing live."
Daniel was able to enjoy the best of both worlds while recording his new DVD At Home In Ireland, which features a concert from 2007 in front of a home crowd in County Donegal. The 95-minute film takes in some of Daniel's favourite locations where he performs renditions of Destination Donegal, Belfast and Dear Old Galway Town amongst the 26 songs featured.
"I'm always a wee bit more nervous in front of my home crowd because a lot of them know me, more than people that just know my face, but it was lovely. The hall we were in is only about 35 miles from my home so when I see the DVD I would recognise a lot of the people in the audience or know them to talk to. It's fantastic that my own people come out to support me too."
Now Daniel has fans all over the world. A tour across Australia and the USA will be followed in November with some UK dates. He has learnt to balance work and leisure, after having to take a break from his busy schedule in 1991.
"I was doing too much and my voice gave out. In a year we would have done an enormous amount of shows, a couple of hundred or even more. As well as that I would refuse nothing - anything that anybody wanted me to do I would have done. I would visit people, go to whatever, and in the end it was too much."
"The one thing to learn is to do as much as you can and then when you can't do any more say no, and I wasn't good at that. I learned that if I didn't control the amount of shows and then the amount of things I did aside from that then I just wouldn't be able to continue, so that was a re-evaluation period."
He cut down on the big concerts, and these days he balances his career with charitable work supporting an orphanage in Romania, which earned him an MBE in 2002, and a strong family life with wife Majella and his two step children. His generous attitude perhaps helps explain why the softly voiced singer's listeners become lifelong fans.
"Treat people as you would want to be treated and try to help and do a good deed. If you give it'll come back to you."
You can purchase Country Boy, released 27th October by DMG TV, at all good record stores or online from Amazon for £8.98.
You can purchase At Home In Ireland, released 10th November by demonVision, at all good DVD stores or online from Amazon for £9.98.
Daniel O'Donnell's official website: www.danielodonnell.org
Daniel O'Donnell Fan Club: www.danielodonnellfanclub.com
Interview By Cherry Butler
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