Neil Hannon

Fermanagh's unlikely pop star and frontman of the Divine Comedy

Neil Hannon was born in Derry and raised in rural Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, the son of an Anglican bishop. An unlikely pop star, at the age of 33 he has nevertheless experienced a lifestyle most people could only dream of:

‘I’ve pretty much seen it all and done it all over the years and I feel like an old timer despite my age. I’ve seen the mayhem on tour, the bad behaviour, the drinking, the fighting and the women that try to jump on the bandwagon. But thankfully I’ve a wife who I adore, and a kid too, so I never went drastically off the rails.

‘There’s always some temptation in the path when you are in this business because it’s hard to keep a sense of reality. When I started out I was walking around like a wide-eyed kid, enjoying all the showbiz clubs and VIP treatment. But these days I’m a pop star two months of the year and a family guy the other ten months.'

Hannon continues: ‘I admit I don’t look like the typical pop star, looks wise, but I think there is something quite photogenic about me. I’m 5ft 7ins tall, which I think is the same as Bono so I mustn’t be that bad. And I’m taller than my biggest idol—Prince.

‘But of course I’m not boy band material and I never was. When I was at school I never got that much attention from the girls but I’ve got a gorgeous wife now which makes up for it.

'We’re still very much in love and I fancy her rotten. We’ve been married a relatively short time but I’ve been enjoying every second of it. She’s a great looking woman and keeps me on my toes so I can have no complaints on that front.’

While recording his most recent album, the aptly named Absent Friends, Hannon remained a committed family man:

‘Recently I have been looking after my child and just enjoying married life. I spent a long time in the studio putting the new Divine Comedy album together but it was worth the extra work. The important thing is not to spend too much time in the studio and no time with the family so I was trying to balance my time wisely.

‘I think whenever you are “between” albums people think you’ve died or quit music or something but they take so long to make that eventually it starts looking like you’ve disappeared from the face of the earth. But I’m back now!’

Hannon has now left his native Northern Ireland to live in Dublin with his wife Orla and daughter Willow. He explains:

‘I lived in London for a long time but I decided that it was too manic to bring up a child, so my wife and I bought a little house near Dublin city centre. London isn’t the ideal place to bring up a kid, it’s far too big and there’s too many strangers. People just aren’t as friendly as they are in Ireland and I missed that after a while and so did Orla. Even though I’m from the north I love Dublin and feel really at home there.’

It has been all change in the Divine Comedy since the days when Hannon and his band treated fans to big chart hits including ‘Something For The Weekend’ and ‘National Express’. Now he is a one man show. In 2004 for example, he played alongside the Ulster Orchestra for the opening event of the Belfast Festival at Queen's. Hannon explains the reason behind going solo:

‘There used to be six or seven of us but I was the brains behind the band and did all the writing. The other guys came on board to put music to the albums and do the live shows and we had a ball for a few years touring around and having a laugh.

‘After a while, like with all bands, the format became tired and people weren’t having fun any more. That’s when I decided to go it alone and keep things simple.’

Hannon claims money was never the motivation behind his success: ‘To be honest you nearly always lose money from doing the live shows. The costs of production and security and hiring a venue make it almost impossible to make money. But I really live for the live performing so in my opinion it’s worth doing it.

'A song doesn’t mean anything until you see hundreds of people in front of you singing along. It all makes sense then. You make money from album sales and that’s what keeps you going.

‘But if you’re in this business just to make money then the fact is most of the time you’d be pretty unhappy. Everyone sees you on Top Of The Pops and presumes you’re a millionaire just because you’ve been on TV. Unfortunately the music business doesn’t work like that. But I’ve had my fair share of first-class flights and limousine trips.’

Paul Martin