Following a storm of publicity over his fight with Glenda Gilson and flight to Marrakech with Rosanna Davison, Johnny Ronan is to stand back from his role in Treasury Holdings, writes KATHY SHERIDAN
IT WAS BILLED in one paper as a "Magnificent Obsession". However, readers expecting a modern take on the 1929 story about a waster's dramatic conversion to the care of others may have needed a lie-down afterwards. The only dramatic turnaround in this version was the speed at which a street brawl between a 52-year-old property developer and father of three, and a celebrity-show presenter 23 years younger than him, was parlayed into a searing Romeo and Juliet tragedy for our time. Only when the "doings" – as John S Doyle put it – of Johnny Ronan, Glenda Gilson and a former Miss World, Rosanna Davison, made it on to Morning Ireland's It Says in the Papers early this week was it evident that the story had entered the mainstream.
Time for Treasury Holdings, half-owned by Ronan, Nama-bound and with two publicly quoted tentacles, to become concerned. There was little surprise when it was announced yesterday that Ronan “is to take a break from his business activities for the next few months arising from the recent high-profile media coverage of aspects of his personal life which he believes has the potential to distract attention from his business interests. His decision will not affect the day-to-day operation of Treasury Holdings, of which he is a director and shareholder, and which has operated under a management team and board of directors headed by managing director John Bruder for the past five years. His own personal business interests will continue to be managed by their entirely separate management team.”
This week, the number of “friends” claiming to have witnessed the fight between Ronan and Gilson outside McSorley’s pub in Ranelagh after the England-Ireland rugby match threatened to equal the throng crowding the GPO in 1916. The potted version of the story is that Gilson kicked a glass out of Ronan’s hand, then made sharp contact with his groin area before receiving a kick on her rear end from him. Not quite the denouement of a Shakespearean tragedy or a magnificent obsession; more like the dying throes of an out-of-time, brazenly public Celtic Tiger lifestyle.
Some date the volatile Ronan-Gilson relationship back to 2006. In view of the intense media courtship by certain players, the scarcity of photographic evidence of the two together is startling. Few beyond the gossip columns knew or cared until a press statement, issued by Ronan, pinged onto newsdesks last spring announcing that the three-year relationship had ended. In more recent times, a picture of an intimate kiss between the pair emerged, suggesting a situation not quite settled or perhaps an attempt by someone to rekindle interest. Then came what the tabloids call the “Rumble in Ranelagh”, preceded by a flurry of texts between the pair while each watched the rugby match in different parts of the south city, and then a decision by Ronan to leave the Four Seasons in his chauffeur-driven, €640,000 Maybach and drive to McSorley’s.
This only matters because of what transpired the following day, when Ronan joined a neighbour’s child, 25-year-old Rosanna Davison, former Miss World (2003), model and daughter of Chris de Burgh, at lunch in the Treasury-controlled Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Enniskerry. At an increasingly excitable table for four, Ronan whistled up his private plane to fly three of the party – the third believed to be a college pal of Davison’s – to Marrakech for the night. For the crack.
It was sometime early on Monday, March 1st, when they checked in, according to the La Mamounia hotel bill published in the Sun, with obligingly itemised services, such as €2,140 for rooms, €668.60 for drink and €532 for food, in a 24-hour stay, all covered by Ronan’s credit card. The newspaper also estimated private plane costs at €56,000, bringing the estimated grand total for the jaunt to a neat €60,000 or so (a figure some dispute).
The vulgar, ill-conceived flashiness of it – the boozy lunch at the Ritz-Carlton, the impulsive flight to Morocco, the night at possibly the dearest hotel in north Africa – could well have remained below the radar but for the timely emergence of yet more photographs, this time of Ronan and Davison, at a glass-and-bottle-strewn table in the Ritz-Carlton and a few hours later in Marrakech.
The immediate upshot was a lively tabloid “feud” between Davison and Gilson, liberally ornamented with pictures of both, and kept studiously on the boil throughout the week by “friends” who gave interviews about how one was feeling about the other right now, whether the other could ever be forgiven and, above all, whether the sheer magnitude of events would permit the two to walk the same red carpet at an awards show last night.
SINCE NEITHER CLAIMS to have been bosom buddies with the other in the first place and Ronan, presumably, was history in Gilson’s life after the Ranelagh brawl, it’s hard to see what the “feud” is about. What or whose purpose is served by the dissemination of those photographs? After all, this wasn’t untypical behaviour by Johnny Ronan’s flamboyant standards. Although he is said to have a “big heart”, he could never be mistaken for a man of quiet dignity. “Explosive”, “light on manners and the social niceties”, with a penchant for “fucking and blinding people out of it”, are comments from people who know him. He cuts a starkly contrasting figure with the polished and intellectual co-owner of Treasury Holdings, Richard Barrett, whose social perambulations are a study in discretion.
Married with three children, Ronan has a mini-palazzo dubbed “Saddam’s Palace” on Burlington Road in Dublin 4, complete with painted “sky” in the domed master bedroom, and a splendid country estate in Co Wicklow, with a glass-and-steel summer house/party pad cantilevered out over the River Dargle. He makes a lot of noise wherever he finds himself, usually in the company of men such as Robbie Fox (whose Renards nightclub closed with debts of €1.8 million and whose wife, Martina, is now employed by Ronan to run the Bridge Bar Grill), impresario Denis Desmond, music publisher Dave Kavanagh and Abrakebabra founder Graham Beere.
The Maybach, with waiting chauffeur, can usually be spotted outside a select few haunts in the south city, such as the Expresso Bar in Ballsbridge, the Merrion Hotel (where he frequents Patrick Guilbaud’s restaurant), the Town Bar Grill (which Treasury kept afloat by putting in half a million euro, but only after paying creditors off at just 20 cent in the euro), or the Residence on St Stephen’s Green (Treasury owns the building).
The now public trip to Marrakech, and the resulting media swarm, will have triggered much dismay in Treasury Holdings, a multi-armed international company (two of those arms publicly quoted) which employs some 900 people. While observers suggest that – unlike some others in the Nama top 10 – Treasury is going into Nama because of its size and as an instrument of market strategy rather than because of any default on its part, the tough gents in Treasury will be aware that public sentiment is a vital factor in any business. At the very least, this story illustrates the abyss between the powermongers who guard the knowledge of the workings of Nama and the taxpayers saddled with the final bill.
A property source, talking about the business plans being presented to Nama by the top entrants, reports that one developer, for example, is demanding a €500,000 salary in exchange for running his empire on the taxpayers’ behalf. “Well, what’s the CEO of a billion-euro company worth?” he asks. “What’s Johnny Ronan worth, for instance, if you want him and Richard Barrett to continue to run Treasury Holdings?”
However, following the deeply unwelcome attention focused on Ronan’s flights of whimsy, it has been made clear by various sources that his public skites are covered by his personal investment assets, which are quite separate from Treasury. And while those assets will also be going into Nama, they are also not in default at this stage.
The plane is also his personal property and is run as a business by Ronan’s own company, also unrelated to Treasury. In this version of events, the plane was idle on the ground on the Sunday concerned and, that being the case, the cost to him of the Marrakech trip would have been more like €12,000 than €56,000, paid for out of his own deposit account.
Meanwhile, his role in Treasury is said to be quite limited compared to Barrett’s or the other heads of Treasury’s various companies. Other than being a co-owner, a board director and assisting in development projects, he has no executive function, no role in management or administration and is not a director of either of the publicly quoted companies.
This was underlined in yesterday’s statement, which said that Ronan’s “decision will not affect the day-to-day operation of Treasury Holdings, of which he is a director and shareholder, and which has operated under a management team and board of directors headed by managing director John Bruder for the past five years”.
People who know both men sigh deeply at Ronan’s “deeply inappropriate” behaviour, while arguing that there are worse offenders out there, throwing lavish parties and living in exile on money that rightly belongs to Nama and the taxpayer. “Ronan and Barrett don’t play golf, they don’t own racehorses . . . You won’t see them at the American Ryder Cup and they won’t be going to Cheltenham next week, unlike some others,” says one.
Meanwhile, as Ronan steps down to spend more time in quiet contemplation, perhaps in the cantilevered summer house/party pad or somewhere far from Irish models at any rate, questions remain about the media coverage which, he claims, led him to his current situation.
WHO WINS OUT of this? Industry insiders suggest that such mutually exploitative tabloid games, whereby pages are fashioned out of model/celebrity “feuds” that can continue indefinitely, fuelled by anonymous “friends”, are commonplace. Photographers’ numbers are on speed-dial for photo opportunities. The end result may be a briefly raised profile and premium appearance fees for the model/celebrity, whatever the price in terms of dignity or notoriety.
The late Katy French's "feud" with restaurateur Marcus Sweeney, when deeply abusive text messages found their way into the public domain, constantly fed by provocative quotes from "friends", were a first step on the ladder for her as a young model/promotions girl in a competitive, poorly paid arena. That "feud" began, we were told, when Sweeney discovered French draped across his restaurant tables in skimpy lingerie for a photo-shoot. The pictures, published in the Sunday Independentmagazine, coincided with the well-publicised "feud", and a "star" was born, with bonus publicity for the restaurant and magazine. Other sexually provocative photoshoots in the magazine have included Gilson posing between male thighs and Davison in risqué positions with her on-off boyfriend.
Those in the industry insist that a distinction should be drawn between fashion models – for whom this country has limited, seasonal use – and glamour/promotions girls, whose regular beat is St Stephen’s Green or Grafton Street, and who are increasingly to be seen in bikinis, whatever the product. Only five years ago, says one insider, if a girl posed on the street in a bikini, it was probably to advertise a beach holiday, whereas “now it’s bikinis and nothing else – it’s just ridiculous to see them in bikinis for everything”.
The model who posed in a bikini with a platter of food next to a chef in full whites, at a restaurant awards function, kept Liveline listeners in heated argument for days.
Davison is said to be doing most of her work now in Germany, where her father is also a big box-office attraction. She is also said to do a lot of charity work, free of charge.
Gilson, meanwhile, has moved away from modelling to become a presenter on TV3's Exposéshow, "again not a highly paid area at all and more hard-working than you'd ever think", according to another insider.
Whether either of these protagonists have suffered collateral damage in Johnny Ronan’s excesses is for others to decide.