I don’t know whether you would call it ambition, but I certainly had a huge determination to succeed. I got very little encouragement when I started out because people thought that my music was from a bygone era and had no relevance or place in the world today. I felt they were wrong and I was right because I have succeeded in doing what I wanted to do. I first stepped on stage with Margaret’s band on 28th January 1982 with an electric guitar that I couldn’t play! One of the members of the band tried to teach me but there was no point. All I wanted to do was sing. I was allowed to sing out front sometimes and I loved the applause. It was like a drug and I was getting hooked. I learned a lot about the music business when I was in Margo’s band. There comes a time when you have to take a gamble to achieve whatever it is you want and gamble I did.I told Margaret that I was planning to leave and become a singer in my own right.I decided to make my own record in 1983 and I had nothing at the time. I had saved enough money to make a record and that was it. On 9th February 1983, I went into the studios and I recorded four tracks: ‘My Donegal Shore’, ‘Stand Beside Me’, ‘London Leaves’ and ‘Married By The Bible’. When it came to releasing a single, I went for ‘My Donegal Shore’ and ‘Stand Beside Me’. It was certainly humble beginnings because I sold every one of those records myself. In July 1983 I formed my first group, Country Fever. I remember the first night we played, I had the entire set of songs finished by one o’clock in the morning and we were booked to play till two o’clock. So I started again with the first song and sang the whole lot a second time!In June 1984, after Country Fever, I formed a band called The Grassroots. I also got myself a manager called Nan Moy, who had managed Margo. She wasn’t doing anything after finishing with Margaret and that’s when she decided to get involved with me. I played everywhere and anywhere. In the time we were together, The Grassroots didn’t achieve anything on the Irish scene, but things were happening for us in England. We were playing there a lot but we still weren’t making much money and it was a hard struggle. Eventually the time came when I had to make a very difficult decision. I would have to leave Nan and try to move up to the next level. It wasn’t a decision I enjoyed taking, but we were never going to get anywhere together.
I was turned down by numerous managers in those early days. I went to a number of people and none of them could see anything in me. I played at the 1985 Irish Festival in London and my performance caught the attention of Mick Clerkin. He contacted me and said he was interested in recording an album for his label Ritz. I felt that, to progress, Mick needed to take over the management of my career as well, so I rang him that December looking for an appointment to make my case. Mick decided that the Ritz organization would take me on andit was a huge relief as the thought of giving up my dream had crossed my mind. Mick introduced me to Sean Reilly, the manager he thought would suit me. That day certainly changed my life because Sean is a very special man and I would go to the ends of the earth with him. He is still my manager to this day. My career continued to grow and grow and it became more and more demanding. When we started doing the concert tours in England, it was six nights a week, every week. It really was too much. I was the type of person who just couldn’t say no. I did everything I was asked to and more. I could see that all my hard work was yielding results but eventually, the pressure of all the commitments began to take its toll on my health.
On New Year’s Day in 1992 I went to Sean (my manager) and I told him that I needed to take a break. “That’s fine Daniel. Leave it with me” he said. At the time, I was near to cracking up from doing too much work. It was literally too much. I kept saying ‘yes, yes, yes’, to everything. Apart from the shows, I was visiting people who were sick or disabled, calling here, there and everywhere. Now this was a pressure I brought upon myself, because I really don’t have to do all those things. I wanted to do them, and I thought I could handle it all, but at the end of the day, the human body can only take so much.
A whole series of factors and events aided my recovery over a period of more than two years, although I was able to return to the stage after a break of three months. Physically, I didn’t feel an awful lot better but I felt well enough to sing again. My official return to the stage was at The Point in Dublin. Now, I never imagined that I would ever perform there. It’s a venue that just didn’t seem to be within my reach. Like everything else, I left the decision up to Sean. If he thinks I can do something, then I’ll go along with it. He’s never been wrong before. So we decided that Daniel O Donnell was going to perform at The Point on Saturday 11th July 1992. There were many people there that night who had never seen me perform before. The Point was a good showcase for me as well as being a tremendous night.I’ve never sung to make money. When I’m performing I never think about how much I’m making on the night. I sing because I love it and the money is just a by-product of what I do. My biggest payment is being on the stage and that is a big part of the secret of my success. If it all ended tomorrow, I couldn’t say there is anything the world could have offered me that is better than what I have. Being a ‘personality’ is, I suppose, what I have become as a result of my success as a singer. I do feel that I have handled it well because I haven’t allowed it to change me as a person. I like to keep things as normal as possible in my life because that’s just the way I am. I am very lucky to be able to enjoy family life and be part of a local community when I’m not working.
While I stay in fairly good shape for the stage, I’m not a keep-fit fanatic and my choice of foods is not particularly healthy. I like fried onions with steak and chips. I don’t like vegetables or salads very much. I don’t drink tea or coffee but I used to love tea and I had a reputation for drinking lots of it. On a day when I’m working I would boil the kettle and have hot water and a bar of chocolate.
Here is a little Q&A which will give you an insight about me!
Name: Daniel Francis Noel O Donnell
Date of Birth: 12th December 1961
Place of Birth: Dungloe, Co Donegal, Ireland
Mother: Julia O Donnell (nee McGonagle)
Father: Francis O Donnell
Siblings: John, Margaret (Margo), Kathleen and James
Colour of Eyes: Blueish Green
Colour of Hair: Brown
Height: 5ft 10in
Weight: On a good day 12st 8, on a bad day who knows!!!
Marital Status: Married to Majella
Children: 2 Stepchildren – Siobhan & Michael
Currently Residing: Kincasslagh, Co Donegal, Ireland
Favourite Colour: Yellow
Favourite Foods: Mince and Potatoes and some Chinese dishes
Best-loved Artists: Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride and Sir Cliff Richard
All time favourite Song: There are so many but I love “Miss you nights” by Sir Cliff Richard
Worst Habit: Now, would I have any bad habits??!!!
Best Habit: Where do I begin!
Worst Asset: My growing love handles!
Best Asset: My teeth
Pet Hates: Smoking followed by gossip
Favourite Passtime: Playing Cards and Golf
Fondest Memory: The first time I met Loretta Lynn. Wow!
Worst Memory: The night I lost my voice in December 1991
Favourite Holiday Destination: Tenerife
Favourite Movie: Gandhi, The Sound of Music and Calamity Jane
Favourite Saying: Up ya boy ya!
Happiest Day of my Life: 4th November 2002 – The day I married Majella