Harry's show-stopper

 

PROFILE HARRY CROSBIE:WHEN OLD HENRY Crosbie looks down from above on the opening night of his son Harry's brand spanking new O2 arena, he'll hardly recognise the place.

 As the stars and celebrities arrive for the venue's first official event, the Childline concert next Tuesday, old Henry might cast a celestial eye up and down Dublin's docklands where he once plied his trade as a haulier, and where his only son now owns numerous properties, and think to himself, "My, but young Harry's been a busy boy."

Harry Crosbie has certainly been busy - but then you don't reach number 43 in the Sunday Times 2007 Rich List, with a net worth of €208 million, by sitting on your laurels. (He's dropped to 54 in the 2008 list, but his worth is currently estimated to be €239 million.) Since Crosbie took over the family business, he's made it his business to try and turn the docklands area, where he grew up, into the kind of place that modern Irish parents want their kids to grow up in too.

The culmination of his vision will be the €850 million Point Village, on the site of the old Point Depot, a densely-packed corner of the docklands that will contain apartments, shops, cafes, restaurants, a cineplex and art galleries. And, of course, the village will have its own music venue, the former Point Depot, now upgraded to a 14,500-capacity state-of-the-art premises that promises bring concertgoers in their droves to see Coldplay, AC/DC and Tina Turner, to name but a few.

The beacon to attract them all will be the 120-metre Watchtower, standing directly across the river from the 130-metre U2 tower. While the Watchtower may stand testament to Crosbie's close connection with the Dublin band, it also symbolises Crosbie's self-appointed role as the sentinel of Dublin's docklands, his all-seeing eye watching over his kingdom and warding off decay and neglect. What the proposed 35-metre "giant man", adjacent to the tower, is supposed to symbolise is anyone's guess.

Twenty years ago, when Crosbie bought the old Point Depot from CIÉ for £750,000, refurbished it and turned it into Dublin's biggest indoor music venue, he was taking a chance that Celtic Tiger cubs would be ready and willing to spend a few bob to go out and see a gig by an international band. Now, with the O2, Crosbie is banking on the economy picking up again in 2009, and it must be heartening to hear that most of the major acts booked over the next few months have completely sold out. One of Crosbie's favourite sayings is, "not for the faint-hearted", and seeing this new venture through will certainly require nerves of steel.

In a recent radio interview, Crosbie admitted that the credit crunch had posed a threat to his Point Village, which he says is Ireland's biggest single development project, and claimed that if it wasn't for the government's bailout of the banking system, work may well have ground to a halt. But it's all systems go, although the Watchtower (and its humanoid companion) will have to wait a little while longer due to the downturn.

THE NEW O2 arena, however, has become a sweet reality, and on Tuesday night, Crosbie's two hats - the property developer's and the entertainment impresario's - will fuse together in one crowning achievement. It's no secret that Crosbie likes the company of rock stars, and he's always loved the idea of his favourite bands coming to his gaff to play.

He's also had many of them back to his own home - a palatially converted warehouse on Hanover Quay - after their shows, including Neil Young and Michael Stipe. "He loves that whole connection with the stars," observes one close associate, "and he particularly loves that whole connection with U2 - he lives right next door to U2's rehearsal studios and has a villa in the south of France close by them, too."

When Bob Dylan arrived at the venue for his show, wearing a hoodie, security guards refused him entry, not believing he was really the great man and not some beardy chancer. "Harry had to go down there and get Bob in - he got a great kick out of that."

But Crosbie hasn't become totally starstruck, and still has time for many of his old friends and schoolmates from childhood. "He's great company, very funny, and very mischievous," says one close friend. "He's at his best around his own kitchen table, or entertaining friends in a nice restaurant. If you had to choose three people to be trapped on a desert island with, you'd pick Harry - he'd make the time go quickly."

Married to Rita, with whom he has three children, Simon, Claire and Alison, Crosbie also relishes his latter-day role as a grandfather. "He is doting to an extent which people wouldn't believe," assures his friend. "But, apart from his overbearing personality and massive ego, he has shown considerable acumen and real courage in his business decisions. He's got an original brain, and he's usually right on the button."

Crosbie has certainly come up trumps many times. When he opened a new music venue on Thomas Street in 1998, the confusingly named Vicar Street, the portents were not good. Naysayers predicted that Dublin's rock fans would be reluctant to make the hike up to the Liberties, and rivals condemned it as a "cabaret" venue. But regular gigs by home-grown favourites such as Christy Moore, Damien Rice and The Frames, plus a winning line-up of comedians from D'Unbelievables to Tommy Tiernan, helped establish Vicar Street as one of the city's premier venues. Last month, the venue netted three gongs in the Imro Live Music Venue of the Year Awards.

For the O2 venture, Crosbie is in partnership with Live Nation, the California-based spin-off of Clear Channel Communications. Live Nation is the new face of rock, signing bands to "360" deals covering concerts (in Live Nation-owned venues), record distribution and merchandising. It has already inkeda deal with U2 that covers their touring, merchandising and website.

But Crosbie's savviest move has to be selling the naming rights for the venue to O2 for a reported €25 million. The old name has now been tossed into the Liffey, but, as one associate observes, it might take a while for Dublin rock fans of a certain age to let go of the old moniker. "When Led Zeppelin played the O2 in London, the old name was soon completely forgotten, but it might not be so easy to make a clean break here."

Still, the new name draws a line under the old rock regime, and points the way towards a bright future for live music in Ireland. The venue's almost-doubled capacity opens the door for more major crowd-pulling acts to add Dublin to their tour schedule. "Up till now, they could only come in the summer to play a big outdoor gig like Croker," says the associate. "Now, they can do three nights in a row for nearly 50,000 people any time of the year."

CROSBIE'S DREAM was to have U2 perform the first-ever gig at the new O2, but that privilege will go to Boyzone, when they appear at the Childline concert on Tuesday, along with Anastacia, Enrique Iglesias, Shayne Ward, Scouting For Girls and The Script.

U2 sounded the first notes at the O2, however, when they performed Desire and Van Diemen's Land at a private session for Crosbie and a select group of his friends. Anyone with tickets to Kings Of Leon's sold-out show next Friday will, according to reports, be treated to a "secret" support slot from Bono and the boys.

In the past couple of years, Crosbie has had to fight a difficult personal battle, after being struck by Lyme disease. "It's a debilitating condition," observes his close friend. "I've watched him having to deal with that, but there has never been a moment when his head has dropped or he has looked like giving up. He's come out the other side of it now, but there's elements of it that will be with him forever. It would have slain a lesser man."

When Crosbie stands at the entrance to his new gaff on Tuesday, greeting the great and good of the music business, he'll be using a walking stick for support. But he will still be holding his head high.

CV: Harry Crosbie

Who is he?Harry Crosbie, property developer and venue owner

Why is he in the news?Crosbie's transformed Point Depot, rechristened the O2, opens its doors for its first gig on Tuesday

Most appealing characteristic:He'll have you in stitches

Least appealing characteristic:He's a bit of a U2-head

Most likely to say:"There's always a gig for you here, Bono"

Least likely to say:"Turn down that bloody racket"