Lord of dance appears to fall flat on his ego

 

Michael Flatley is not known for losing control of any situation he might find himself in. The 40-year-old's mixture of ego, childlike arrogance and talent is a concentrated ball of flame which has previously burned those who came into contact with it.

Yesterday it was officially doused. Flatley paid a "substantial" sum plus legal costs to John Reid under the terms of the settlement. Reid commented that he was pleased to put the case behind him, adding that "it is a real shame that so much time and money and effort has been wasted in the process of getting to the point which we could have reached two years ago."

John Reid became Flatley's manager in October 1995. Reid, the long-time promoter of Elton John and a man with more showbiz contacts than a Hollywood telephone exchange, met Flatley, post-Riverdance, in St Tropez. It is generally recognised that Reid rescued Flatley following the dancer's sacking from Riverdance.

Initially, all was well between the experienced manager and the self-obsessed dancer. Reid bought Flatley a pair of £10,000 dancing shoes, with solid-gold heels encrusted with diamonds. Fourteen months later came the split.

"Michael refuses to talk to me," Reid said at the time. "He's about to do his American debut at Radio City Music Hall, which I set up for him against the odds. And suddenly he has lawyers telling me that he's unhappy about what I haven't done for his film career in America."

A remark from the Riverdance camp at this time was choice: "We admire the way Michael thinks he can do everything for himself." A further comment from John Reid, however, was more to the point: "He is besotted with control."

Many saw Flatley's break with John Reid as career suicide, but he continued to thrive, successfully bowing out of the Lord Of The Dance franchise this year to work on the screenplay for the film of his life story, Dream Dancer.

He is nothing if not dedicated - to himself, that is. Which is probably why he sees himself as the next Gene Kelly, a romantic lead with a pair of legs insured for £25 million. And just in case you weren't aware of it, if you access his Internet website, you will be informed that People magazine has listed him as one of the world's 50 most beautiful people. So much for modesty.

Born in Chicago of Irish-American parents, Flatley did not begin dancing until he was 11. His father, a builder, taught him to box, a skill he did not hesitate to use when threatened by neighbourhood thugs. In 1974, at the age of 17, he became the first American to win the World Irish Dancing Championships. Judges who saw him dance back then described his style as "flash". There wasn't much work for an Irish dancer in the mid-1970s, however, so Flatley worked as a stockbroker, a blackjack gambler and a flautist. Soon he was dancing with The Chieftains, but the relationship soured when his request to be a full-time member of the band was turned down. (Jean Butler replaced him.)

And then came Mayo 5000, which in turn led to him being asked to perform in the seven-minute Riverdance interlude in the Eurovision. The rest is history.

From the very beginning of his rise, Flatley's ego and obsessive need of control became legendary in entertainment circles. Boasting quickly became a trademark, as did his condescension towards colleagues. But complete business control of his art appears to have been his main goal. As far back as the Eurovision Riverdance segment, he was the dancer with an agent.

Impatience is another facet of Flatley's complex character, not only with other dancers but with a range of agents, publicists and promoters. Few have lasted the course, and lawsuits have inevitably followed.

Above all of Flatley's traits, however, is a hard-bitten solitariness that has seen him leap from his origins as the son of working-class parents to become one of the most driven entertainers in the world. His solitariness has not won him many popularity contests, however.

Flatley sees himself as a viable, successful product, something that the High Court case has possibly tarnished. What remains for him in the future is open to debate. He ranks 25th in the world's 40 highest-earning entertainers, with an income for last year estimated by Forbes magazine at £36 million. While the total High Court case costs of reportedly about £1 million will give him few problems, it will seem that he has lost more than just a sum of money.

And yet, unsurprisingly, he has no small amount of charm. Jean Butler once said she would never dance with him again. So far she has stuck to her promise. However, eyebrows were raised when she danced for Flatley on this year's Late Late Show special on him. Stranger things have happened, but not much. Like Flatley's legs (and Lord Of The Dance), this story looks as if it will run and run.