We are in the opulent surroundings of Luttrelstown Castle, all four poster beds and plush carpets. Brian Dowling is having his hair styled while his husband Arthur Gourounlian – who’d rather let his wild curls run free – sits by a breeze from a crack in the window (it’s one of those stuffy Autumn days) while he regales us with a colourful account of their life in LA. Like this dynamic couple, it sounds fun, unpredictable and vibrant; whether it’s dining at an exclusive magician’s club (you have to know a magician to gain entry), hiking the Hollywood hills or Californian foodie adventures with good friend Donal Skehan, we don’t even pretend to hide our envy.
We like Arthur straight away. He’s wonderfully warm and endearing, plus endlessly fascinating; his career as a dancer, creative director and choreographer has seen him work with stars like Kylie Minogue and worldwide brands, meaning he has a wealth of glossy anecdotes. Then there’s Brian. Everyone should have a Brian Dowling in their life. As soon as he emerges from our styling quarters, as the most glamorous man we’ve ever seen – not a single hair out of place – he has us in hysterics. It’s no wonder that he was the winner of iconic reality tv show Big Brother back in 2001, as well as Ultimate Big Brother, before going on to present the show. He is bursting with an electric personality and wry wit, the kind of person who brings the party to any room.
As for the couple when they are together – forget Ant & Dec, these two are the ultimate duo. Our entire team was in stitches as they bantered, faux-bickered, and shared some stories that we daren’t print among the pages of VIP. Any TV execs that are reading – give them their own show, quick. Laughs aside, when everything is stripped back, it’s clear that Brian and Arthur share a very deep, special love. A love that has survived and thrived over the years, despite a break up a few years in their relationship. And a love that has gotten them both through some of their toughest times, including Brian suddenly losing his beloved mother last year. They are soulmates, at the end of the day, and as they tell VIP in this exclusive interview, they are excited to soon start a family, and to embark on their next chapter.
Guys, your first shoot ever together! We are privileged!
Brian: It was so much fun! Y’know, I have always been very private…I’d never really talk about people I was dating, and even when Arthur and I got married we didn’t share much about it. Especially coming from a show like Big Brother, where people knew everything about me, it was nice to hold something back. But I suppose as you get older, you get more comfortable. We’re four years married now and it feels…right, to be a little more open.
People love you two together, especially on social media. For those who don’t know, take us from the beginning! How did you meet?
Brian: Well, it was December 2002, after Christmas, on a Friday night. I wouldn’t usually be out then, with SMTV Live the next morning at 6am, but I had pre-
taped the episode this time, so I did. I saw this guy on the dancefloor, and I go up to him and…he couldn’t speak any English.
Arthur: [howls laughing] I couldn’t! The other funny thing was that I had just broken up with my ex, that’s why I was out. This song came on, Absolutely Everybody and I decided to dance on my own – because why not. Then I see this handsome guy looking at me…
B: I was wearing one of those tops with the Burberry patches…and drinking Smirnoff Ice with a straw. Classy,I know.
A: I didn’t have a clue who he was! We ended up seeing each other for about a week [Brian interjects to say, “It was one date!” and Arthur replies, howling, “More like four nights!”], and funny story: I was going onto CD:UK to dance, and asked him if he knew the show. He saidhe didn’t. When I was in the studio, I was telling people about this guy I had met and suddenly Brian and Tess Daly walk by…I was so confused…and as I was dancing live, I realised – he was the co-presenter!
That’s serendipity right there…
B: Exactly, we would have met anyway! So, after that, we dated for four years, and then broke up in 2006, got back together in 2011, and got married in 2015.
You broke up for five years – we didn’t know this.
B: I know, and to be honest it was probably my fault we split. I was in London, overly preoccupied with work, taking the job too seriously and going out all the time. Arthur wanted someone who could really commit, which wasn’t right for me then, at 28.
A: I was like, I’ve had enough. I wanted him to commit, for people to know he was my boyfriend. But you know, we were young, and I think the breakup brought us closer together, in the end.
In that space of time, one can grow so much.
A: Absolutely, it’s so true.
B: When we got back together…we knew we were different people.
How did you both re-connect?
B: We were always friends.
A: He was always in love with me though, he was obsessed with me. [Laughs]
B: Wow, we’re going there! Ah, I always knew that he was the one in my mind that got away. I thought, I f*cked it. But I made peace with the fact I was single, and only then did we start to hang out again romantically. I remember a few weeks in I said, “This is it for me now. I want to settle down.”
A: When we got back together, I felt the same. I just knew, “He’s the one.”
What we love most about you both as a couple, is how different you both are, but how you complement each other perfectly.
B: We are SO different. Even in how we dress – I’m so preppy and clean-cut and Arthur is covered in tattoos and wears 10-15 rings…but we do have a few things in common: fun, food and a love for life.
A: We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Life is too short. Whatever you see on Instagram, that’s exactly how we are. We don’t fight either – if we do, it’ll be like [makes roaring noise] and then it’s over.
B: I would say we bicker, but don’t have arguments. And we’ll always laugh afterwards.
A: He knows how to get me annoyed – I’ll hate him so much – and then he knows how to make me laugh.
B: Arthur is so positive, and that definitely has rubbed off on me…the idea that if you are as polite and positive as possible, you’ll get that back.
You talked recently about negativity, and learning who real friends are. In this industry, that can be sometimes difficult.
B: Yes, because I always thought everyone was my friend, but you learn along that the way that might not always be the case. I think sometimes you have to park certain relationships in life, whether it’s work or personal, for you to move forward, rid yourself of negativity and be the best person you can be, without having any ill will towards that person. Since losing mum a year ago – she wasn’t even sick, she just went to bed and didn’t wake up – I’ve had a different philosophy on life. I now live my life in a way that I think would make mum proud. So, if someone does or says something that I don’t agree with, my mum would want me to stand up for myself and always carry myself with my head held high.
We really feel for you losing your mum in that way, Brian. It must have been hell.
I was in LA on my own at the time I found out, Arthur was away doing the Armenian Eurovision and I was in Donal Skehan’s house, dog-sitting for him and Sofie. I had spoken to mum that day and she was fine, she was watching Fair City on Sky Plus. I get a call from my sister eight hours later, midnight for me, 8am for them, and they said they couldn’t wake her up. It was really, really tough. I am the only boy, I’m gay…I had a unique relationship with my mum, she was my best friend and we spoke every day. So, to be so far away, on my own, hearing that…and then, y’know, I came home to Ireland and she was in a coffin in the sitting room. She was only 61, the life and soul of our family, the matriarch. And the thing that really gets me is that she’ll never see my children. She had seven children and my last conversation with her was why didn’t she have more? She said, “We were never blessed again”. She was all about her children, her family.
It’s clear family is so important to you, Brian.
Big time. I have six sisters, five nieces, three nephews…we are all super close. We’re all like best friends.
And it’s also important for you and Arthur to start your own?
B: For me, it’s all about timing. I can say that we are now on the baby train, the
train has departed the station! We have eliminated one area that we were in that didn’t work for us and now we’re onto another station…but also, we’re obviously living in LA and have a visa for two or three more years and I always thought I wanted to rear my kids in Ireland, I want them to go to an Irish school.
A: But we always say never say never, because who knows what is around the corner, really. We just don’t want to put a timer on it. I never saw myself moving to Ireland, because I have always been in big cities, I always wanted to be in America. But in saying that, I love Brian’s family and how they are, and having kids, you would want them near.
B: Yes, and I do want to do more in Ireland; I haven’t worked here on tv since… six or seven years ago? I think people might think, “Oh he wouldn’t do that, or, oh he’s in LA!” But I’m trying to put the feelers out now to say…I’m available [laughs]. Actually I can see Arthur on the judge of a dance show or something here, too.
A: You know what, I would actually love that. The dancing Louis Walsh [laughs]!
So would we! Would you guys team up for a show!?
A: It’s weird because I never saw myself as a celebrity, I’m just a creator, a dancer. I’ve been blessed with an amazing career, but for me, Brian is the famous one. So when people say to us, “You need a reality show,” I can’t picture it…but why not!?
B: Because I come from reality tv, I know how it works, so we would want to have some kind of control if we were to do that! If we were to team up, I’d love to eventually have a stage school together. I could be Miss Hannigan!
What is the ultimate tv goal? We can see you in a chat show chair?!
B: I look at Graham Norton or Alan Carr and they’re inspirations, but I don’t think I’m there just yet. I was offered one on Irish tv before, but I wasn’t ready, I felt ill even thinking about it…you have to be 100 per cent there, I think.
A: I do always say though that I see him as a Jimmy Kimmel type…or James Cordon, he’s that funny and quick witted…I see him one day doing that.
B: I mean, yeah, something chat-based would be the goal. Or travel…or dating, actually. I know there’s Love Island, but there’s no gay dating show, nothing specifically for a gay audience, and I’d love to do something like that.
That’d be amazing! Brian, we find it so hard to believe you’re 41. You look amazing.
B: I have always looked after myself. I never smoked, or went out in the sun much, and I do what I can…
A: He has his beauty regime!
B: I do, I look after my skin. I’ve dabbled with procedures, when I was younger, and I shouldn’t have. Now I feel it’s all about balance, and it’s more about looking after my skin. I’d be on the phone to Pippa (O’Connor) and be like, what was that serum you were using!?
A: He knows more about looking after your skin than some beauty salons!
Also, we can’t ignore the fact that you’re the reigning Most Stylish Man in Ireland…
B: [Laughs] Y’know, when I was nominated (for the Peter Mark VIP Style Awards) I was delighted, but I just treated it as a bit of fun. I only took it seriously when we went around Dublin that day and I felt like I’d come off Big Brother again! People came up to me saying they’d voted and I had to win, and I was like…now there’s pressure! Then, when it came to the winner being announced, it was pure ego. If I hadn’t won I would have been like…wait no, I demand a recount! I was over the moon when I won, because I do love clothes.
Arthur, how insufferable was he after winning?
A: Oh, he was. I knew straight away, he will never let this be forgotten!
B: I think I was reasonably OK about it…
A: Yeah, six months later maybe!
B: Actually we had two earthquakes in LA recently, quite bad ones, and my awards fell. My Ultimate Big Brother one and my Style Awards one…
A: All your awards, basically [cackles]
B: It was the Style Awards one that got to me the most!
2019 has definitely been a rollercoaster year for you, Brian. If we’re to meet again this time next year – hopefully again, in a castle(!), what do you hope life brings you in that time?
B: Well [points to Arthur], you’ll be turning 40, while I’ll still be looking like I’m 28…
A: [laughs] Oh God…
B: So I’ll be planning the party for his big birthday! Generally, I’d like to think we’ll have a clearer vision of where we’ll be with regards to the country we’re living in. The next year will be important for us with that. The life that we lead, all it takes is one opportunity, one phone call, to change everything – so we’ll have to see. Hopefully there’ll be the pitter patter of feet, and if so, I’ll be having my baby shower here! The one thing I have taken from what happened to mum is that life is so short. So when you get up every day, just try and be a nice person and be aware that when you meet people, they might be having a hard time, so be kind, open a door, say please and thank you. Just don’t be a bitch!
INTERVIEW: Niamh Devereux
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lili Forberg; misslili.net
MAKEUP: Sarah Keary; sarahkeary.ie
HAIR: Joanne Kelly; @joannekellyhair
STYLING: Megan Fox, assisted by Nuala O’Hanlon
PROPS: Zydrune Cechanaviciute
Shot on location at Luttrelstown Castle; luttrellstowncastle.com