First encounters: John McColgan and Colm Wilkinson
John McColgan and Colm Wilkinson
John McColgan is a music producer who, with his wife Moya Doherty, directed and produced ‘Riverdance’. Its 10th summer season opens in the Gaiety on June 27th and will tour China next year. His new show, Heartbeat of Home, will premiere in Dublin in September. He and Moya live in Howth, Co Dublin
I met Colm 50 years ago. He was singing in a band in the Clontarf cricket club and I remember being stunned by his amazing voice. I was about 17 and spoke to him after the gig. We’ve been friends ever since. He was dating a girl called Deirdre Murphy and travelling a lot, in various bands. Deirdre was working in RTÉ as a vision mixer, as I was, and he must have trusted me because he asked me to take her to a dress dance, while he was on tour.
I was a fan of his voice and still am. When I became a producer in RTÉ, I used Colm in every show I could. I was a separated dad with two small children and used to visit Colm and Deirdre in Bray. They were very kind to me and the children: Deirdre would make tea and we’d sit and talk about our dreams for the future. Things were tough for Colm for a while in the years after Jesus Christ, Superstar; for a while he was singing in bars in Spain.
I went to TV-am in London in 1981. A few years later Colm came over to audition for Les Miserables. He was staying with me and Moya in our apartment in Highbury. I said: “What’s this musical about?” He said: “I don’t know, they’re calling it The Glums.” He came home to the apartment one day and said, “They’ve written me a song.” He took out his guitar in our little sittingroom and sang Bring Him Home. By the time he did his Colm Wilkinson big finish, tears were rolling down my face.
He was offered the lead in the Phantom [of the Opera] in Toronto, but didn’t want to go. Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky flew into Dublin in his private jet, met Colm in it and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – it was huge money per week. I was surprised he moved, but the show was so successful, he was so well paid, he didn’t have an option.
In recent years we both had our 60th birthdays: he had a big celebration in Dublin and a few years later, a group including myself and Moya, Colm, Mike Murphy, Gay and Kathleen went on a cruise for six days: all we did was laugh, we all get on so well together. When he’s in Ireland, he stays with us in Howth.
We were both in our 40s before we enjoyed major success. Both of us went through lean times and both of us take enormous pleasure in each other’s success. I haven’t worked with Colm since the 1970s but I’d love to; we laugh a lot, have fun and work should be about fun and friendship. He’s still the same, has the same wicked sense of humour, is kind, a good family man. It’s great to have friends you know that length of time, there’s a special depth in a relationship that lasts that long.
Colm Wilkinson left school at 15 and played in various bands. In 1972, he played Judas in ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’, represented Ireland in Eurovision in 1978, and in 1985, played Jean Valjean in the first production of ‘Les Miserables’. He moved to Toronto in 1990, when he played the lead in the ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Originally from Drimnagh, he now lives with his family in Toronto
John and I met through my wife Deirdre who, like John, was a vision mixer in RTÉ. He was the DJ in the RTÉ club in Ely Place. He says it was the Clontarf cricket club? It could have been, John has a better memory than me. I thought he was very outgoing, full of personality and energy. He was always interested in music. When he got promoted in RTÉ, he was one of the first guys who took me seriously. He put me into a programme to do my songs: it was a huge leap of faith on his part. He always had this idea that I had talent that could be nurtured.
John is always full of energy, of positivity. He always sees the glass half-full, I’m inclined to see it half-empty.
When I went to do Les Mis in London, I stayed with John and Moya: I was just so fortunate to be with them. I was very nervous about doing this huge mega-musical with the Royal Shakespeare Company – but he’d be saying, “it’ll be great, don’t worry”, giving me all sorts of positive thoughts.
John is a super-generous person in every way and always was. He’ll be quite embarrassed at me saying this but he does a lot of really good work that people would never associate with John McColgan. Any of his friends will attest to how generous he is, especially people who are not well or going through a rough time – he is always there for them.
I was just so fortunate to meet him and to have him as a friend, a guy who trusted me and respected what I did. He’s also a great storyteller, has a great sense of humour, is fun to be around at parties.
I went out to Toronto to be in Phantom of the Opera for six months at first, and we’re here 23 years later. As a journeyman singer, I have to go to where the work is. Would I come home? Not for good, although I’d like to spend a lot more time with people like John and Moya and my other friends. But I’m still touring; Deirdre comes out with me on the road. Like Moya and John, we’re a team. John and I were both fortunate to find two great women to spend our lives with.
I admire John’s ambition, his tenacity and strength, his total devotion to his family, I admire where he came from and what he’s done, his generosity to his friends, including myself. My family weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor, and John’s the same. He’s a great guy and I love him dearly.
Colm Wilkinson’s Bring Him Home tour begins in Cork on June 6th. He will go on tour, playing in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin on June 10th, 17th & July 7th; in Limerick on June 13th & 14 and in Belfast on July 10th. For details, see