Michael Flatley: “The greatest thing I got in my life was my wife”

The Dreamer: what a great name for Michael Flatley’s first signature Irish whiskey.

It’s a name that says so much about the man who had dreams only he thought possible. Only a dreamer could have had such visionary self-belief to see his Irish dancing spectacular dreamt into the reality it became.

Even while working on Chicago construction sites as a young man, during bitterly cold winters, Michael dreamt of dance steps. His single-minded perfectionism has served him well and brought him great success, wealth and a lavish lifestyle. We tip our (whiskey) glass to this Lord of the Dance who never stopped believing…

Michael, the last time we met was at your remarkable home in Castlehyde, Cork. But you’re not there anymore…tell us why.

I don’t know what I’m at liberty to discuss because we’re taking the insurance companies to court but this isall a matter of public record. It’s heartbreaking really, we’ve been out of our house for eight months now. The house is not fit for purpose and it’s unsafe. The fire happened in 2016 and really my health has never been the same since. But I believe in the Irish courts system and I believe justice will be served.

Where are you living now?

We live between Monaco and hotels when in Dublin. But most of our clothes are at home in Ireland and my son has his school things there too. Also my flute collection, my literary collection and all the different things I used every day that I no longer have access to. Hopefully it will be soon sorted because I spent a fortune on that aul place!

Is the dream to base yourself here permanently?

Ireland is home. My parents are from Carlow and Sligo. My son was born in Ireland, my wife is from Co. Meath. Ireland is where many of our best friends are. But having said that, Monaco is beautiful and we are blessed to live here in a lovely spot on the beach. We’ve just had the Grand Prix too, it was so exciting! I lost count of the amount of parties and dinners we went to. It’s the most exciting sporting event in the most beautiful place in the world. I am so lucky y’know, I get to go swimming on the beach every day. But still I miss home. I love Castlehyde.

Swimming every day, how healthy is that Michael, good for body and soul, especially given your recent health scares. Do you hate talking about cancer, probably yes?

Well, yeah, it’s not my favourite subject! But it’s a positive mental attitude that gets you through these things. It’s certainly what gets me through it and makes me determined to carry on. I pray for everyone who has cancer and please, please just keep a positive mental attitude, it’s so important.

You underwent surgery last year and we know you said that as you lay on the gurney waiting to go under that it dawned on you that we really do come into this world on our own and leave on our own. It can take a life-altering event for this to sink in, can’t it?

It really hits home when you’re in a place like that and you realise that you might not come out. It really brings life into focus. I remember lying there looking up at the white ceiling and it was so stark and I just kept thinking, ‘Have I done enough in my life? Have I followed my dreams? Have I really gone after everything I ever wanted?’ I really don’t want to look back with regrets, that’s the one promise I have made to myself.

So, did you commit, after you came out of surgery to do more, or less?

Well yes, I suppose I did. As a young man while boxing I learnt a lesson. My coach used to say to me, ‘When you get in to the ring, you have three three-minute rounds but, don’t wait, throw your best punch in the first round’. It was such good advice because when you step into that ring, your coach, your mum, and your girlfriend are not there. But, if you have prepared, if you have done the work, you will be okay, but if you haven’t, you won’t.

That’s a piece of advice you’ve really applied to the rest of your life. Because you haven’t held back, you have been throwing those punches in the first round, all your life.

You are right and I am proud of that. I am proud I changed the world of Irish dancing and I was blessed to tour with The Chieftains for ten years who gave me the opportunity to dance the way I wanted to dance and the more I did, the more standing ovations I got. And I just knew if I could ever get a show together and put a line of dancers behind me, coming to the front of the stage like an army, that every crowd would have to stand up. And when I created Riverdance that’s what happened. And the same thing when I created Lord of the Dance. And still to this day – 27 years of standing ovations later. I am so proud of that.

How do you come down from 27 years of standing ovations? And what does it feel like to get a standing ovation?

Ah, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. You walk down the back steps at the end of the show and the dancers are all pumping, firing on all cylinders and the audience is out of their seats, how can you ever match it? It’s such a unique feeling. My whole career has been focused on trying to get all my dancers to experience that and to make a star out of each one of them.

All these dreams Michael, started on Chicago construction sites in freezing cold winters, way back when you were just a lad. How mad…

It’s true though. You should never be talked out of following your dreams, there are a lot of naysers but you just can’t listen to them. I remember working with my Mexican buddy swinging sledgehammers ’til my arms were falling off, but every time I hit that hammer down I’d be thinking of a dance rhythm – bam! And then another one – bam! And that’s what kept me going: the dream that someday I’d get my shot. And I did. I was digging the foundations on those freezing cold winters.

We can see a rhythm, a dance even, in whacking that sledgehammer down…!

Well, I always thought there was a dance to it! I’m sure the other lads wouldn’t agree or wouldn’t have heard what I heard, but I see things other people can’t see, I hear things other people can’t hear. I remember one of my friends from The Chieftains saying, ‘Michael, you don’t dance like the other Irish dancers’ and I said, ‘It’s because I don’t see it that way, I see it differently’. I just do and I always did and thank God, I did.

The next dream is the whiskey. This is the start of something new and big, fill us in…

When I was a little boy my father was my hero, this big strong Irish man with muscles. I’d wait for him to come from work every night and I’d give him a hug and he’d always have one shot of Irish whiskey with his dinner. I was so proud of him, I looked up to him. Years later when I made some money, I bought Castlehyde, which was derelict, with 5ft of water in the basement, but one of the things I insisted on putting in during the lengthy renovations, was a whiskey room for my father. And then when the room was finished I
bought as many top-quality Irish whiskeys as I could, and I sampled them all, and then my father came as I knew he would, and we sat for hours reminiscing.

So that was the foundation of the dream, how then did you turn it into a reality?

About eight years ago I met Jim Clerkin and I told him I wanted to start my own whiskey and so I brought in the best team I could. Jim was the ex-chairman of Moet Hennessy. I also brought Pierrick Bouquet of Whispering Angel and one of the best whiskey blenders in the world, Noel Sweeney. We went up to the Great Northern Distillery and my god I lost count of how many iterations of whiskey we tried. I treat the whiskey like I treat the shows, I’m such a perfectionist, I have to get it exactly right.

Like your dad do you enjoy a whiskey with your dinner?

I do. I eat steak every night of my life. Every night it’s steak and a big pint of water and I try most nights to have a shot of whiskey beforehand to whet my appetite. Even my wife likes this whiskey and she doesn’t usually like Irish whiskeys. But we have a beautiful cocktail selection now too, there’s one called The Daydreamer that all my dancers fell in love with. Also, the Flatley Espresso Martini is made with whiskey instead of vodka, which makes it so much smoother and sweeter.

You mentioned your good wife there and we know she’s the backbone of all that you do. 18 years married, what’s the secret?

It will take a better man than me to answer that! Y’know I married my best friend. Niamh is a special person, we just fit together and I am blessed to have her. Since the day she said ‘yes’ my life has been perfect. We’ve had a few ups and downs but she’s always standing with me going through whatever it is.

To be able to say that, is the greatest gift.

I think it is. And you won’t believe it, my wife Niamh was in the original Riverdance and for all the great things that have come into my life since I created Riverdance, the greatest thing I got was my wife.

27 years of standing ovations come close?!

Can’t touch it! We were out at a lot of functions this week for the Monaco Grand Prix sitting with royalty and Eddie Jordan and my buddies, but having my wife at my side, I’m always a proud man.

We saw a picture of your handsome son Michael Jnr. (17) at the whiskey launch and noticed that he’s taller than you!

[laughing] Yes and I am delighted! He’s taller, smarter, better looking, and more talented, he certainly took it all from his mother I can tell you.

Priced at €45, Flatley Irish Whiskey is now available in stores, bars and hotels throughout the country, and online at  flatleywhiskey.com.  Follow the journey on Instagram and Facebook @FlatleyWhiskey. 

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