JOHN CONCANNONmanaging director of JFC Manufacturing and star of RTÉ’s The Secret Millionaire,talks to EOIN BUTLER
Tell us about your background. You left school at 13.I grew up on a small farm and I would have been involved in dealing sheep and cattle from a very young age. I went to secondary school at St Jarleth’s in Tuam. But I must have been a fast learner, because it only took them two years to turn me out. I was the oldest in the family, so I was expected to stay at home and work for nothing.
Your big break in business was an appearance on the ‘Late Late Show’ in 1987. How did that come about?In the mid-1980s I invented a product for feeding calves, called the triple bucket. I needed publicity. At the time, they reckoned if you got on to the Late Late you were set. I happened to be in Dublin one day, so I dropped in to RTÉ and asked to speak to Gay Byrne.
You walked in off the street and demanded to speak to Gay Byrne. How did that go down?They said he wasn’t available. But every time I was in Dublin after that, I’d leave a triple bucket in for him. He must have had 10 of them before I got a call to say they wanted to put me on the show. That was December 18th, 1987.
Your appearance on the show is slightly reminiscent of Boyzone’s debut appearance a few years later, only in so far as the audience probably didn’t think they were looking at the next big thing . . .Some people say Gay was taking the piss out of me that night. But I was primed, I was on message and I led the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go. The segment was supposed to be two minutes long, but in the end it went on for 12 minutes. That was the starting point. Everything that followed came from that one appearance.
Now, 25 five years later, you own factories in Ireland, the UK, Poland and South Africa. Why did you decide to do ‘Secret Millionaire’?I’ve always been involved in fund raising and community work. I’ve been very fortunate in my career and, I suppose, I’ve always believed that what goes around, comes around. So when I was asked to do the programme, I decided it was a chance that probably wouldn’t come around again and that, if it was possible to help people, then it would be worth it.
The show has you arriving in west Dublin under cover of darkness, throwing out all your credit cards and assuming a false identity. Was any of that really necessary?Well, the programme makers didn’t want anyone to know my real identity.
Were you afraid someone would say, hey, wasn’t that guy on the ‘Late Late Show’ in 1987?Ha ha. This is just the format of the show, do you see? I had to tell people I was John Brennan, a farmer from Claremorris.
Was that really the best fake identity you could think of?Well, it had to be somewhere in the west of Ireland, to explain the accent. But sure enough, one of the carers we met had trained at the Disabled Drivers’ Association of Ireland in Ballindine, so it was a good job I knew where that was.
All of the charities that feature in the programme come out smelling of roses. Were there any others that didn’t impress you?There are some places I went to that don’t feature in the finished programme. In one place, I was literally ran out of the door. It was very rough. They didn’t know I had the cheque book in my back pocket. Hopefully, when they see the programme, they’ll rue the day they did that.
Once the programme airs, of course, your secret will be out. Is it really advisable in Ireland 2011 to be advertising the fact that you’re a millionaire?I hate that word millionaire. It puts the shivers up my back. I don’t have a million pounds in cash. But I have a good company, a valuable company. The charities I was ultimately able to help are ones that I would have a soft spot for. Also RTÉ has been very good to me in the past and I don’t mind returning the compliment.
Do you think you’ll be able to wrangle another ‘Late Late Show’ appearance out of it?There was talk of that, yes. I want to bring my new products on. I want to get my pound of flesh. I don’t want my employees thinking, this fella is out of his tree completely. I don’t know what the fallout of this is going to be. But I don’t feel one bit ashamed of doing this, even with the times that’s in it.
The Secret Millionairebegins on RTÉ on Monday, September 19th