is a classically trained opera singer and founder member of The Celtic Tenors, a classical crossover trio which began life as The Three Irish Tenors in 1995. Originally from Sligo, he now lives in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow
Matthew and I were both in UCD and the College of Music at similar times, but didn’t know each other, although we met eventually in Opera Ireland. Then The Three Irish Tenors – the trio I was in – were asked to do a summer series in Clontarf Castle: one of the trio, Paul Hennessy, wanted to leave and Matthew seemed the obvious choice to replace him. I thought he was very innocent, a country lad: he was very smiley, very friendly. We played 136 shows in a row, concert promoter Pat Egan heard us, brought us to EMI and Decca, and EMI signed us up. We became The Celtic Tenors. That was in 1999.
I’d begun a career in opera, had moved to London, got an agent, made my debut in the Opera Liceu in Barcelona before becoming part of a tenor trio. I’ve always said, it’s truly about the music: if I stop enjoying the music, I’ll give it up. We’re on tour, in the same car/bus/plane, for 10 months of the year – by now, Matthew and I have telepathy. We’re just back from Germany, were on a Chinese tour before that, were in the US and Canada and are back in the States with a Christmas concert tour this month. If we weren’t friends, it wouldn’t work.
My dad, who’s a jeweller in Sligo, my wonderful sister and her husband and their three children are my family; I’ve had no contact with my two older brothers for years. That’s where Matthew and Daryl Simpson step in – they’re truly like brothers to me. Matthew got married in 2000 and I was his best man.
We get on incredibly well, and that camaraderie is important for our onstage banter. But it can go wrong: there was the time when we were asked for a request and suddenly we heard Matthew saying: ‘and now, for a lady who’s 97 years old today, Time to Say Goodbye’.
Matthew’s like an eager little kid, sometimes we call him the Father Dougal of the group. And he was there at a very low point for me, when my mother died on Good Friday, 2002. We went ahead with the show we were doing on Easter Saturday and Matthew was amazing.
We all have a creative side but he’s the business head, although I will have to embrace that as we go on.
I hope that Matthew will some day come with me to Nairobi with Kenya Build, the charity my friend Basil Love set up, he’s an engineer and he’d be wonderful as part of a building team.
The Celtic Tenors play in Ireland on December 20th-23rd, in Clarecastle, Co Clare; Glin, Co Limerick; Moynalty, Co Meath and Ballisodare, Co Sligo, and in Mulranny Park, Hotel, Co Mayo, on January 5th.