The Shape I’m In: Phil Coulter

WHEN Phil Coulter speaks it’s like listening to the ebb and flow of one of his majestic musical arrangements. 

Starting with a theme— cue the string section — he builds and expands on it to the point where there is a crescendo, as if the full orchestra is playing.

Take for example his thoughts on innate talent vs hard work: “There’ a very dangerous and increasing attitude in a generation of wannabe musicians, wannabe entertainers — and that is a sense of entitlement. There is no such thing,” he says.

“For a number of years, I was a visiting professor in Boston College. I always had the same advice to the intake in first year. I’d start by saying you’re obviously very bright kids or you wouldn’t be here. Then I would say: ‘I want to get one thing clear — do you know what your talent entitles you to? It entitles you to zero — nothing. Don’t congratulate yourselves because you’re talented because it has nothing to do with you. That’s a gift from God — that’s something you inherited through the genes of your parents. It’s when you start working on that talent, which you are going to have to do within the next four years, then you can pat yourself on the back.’”

He’s equally fluid when it comes to his philosophy on life. 

“If you can achieve some contentment in your personal life and some fulfilment in your professional life then I think you’ve got it made.”

Aged 75, he lives in Bray and is married to the singer Geraldine Brannigan. They are touring together as their six children are now adults.

 “It’s very civilized when you’re going away. You don’t say goodbye at the front door — ‘I’ll see you in four weeks’.”

* Phil Coulter conducts a party celebration of James Last’s music with a 35-piece band on February 24, at the National Concert Hall.

What shape are you in?

I maintain a reasonable level of fitness. An early-morning walk on the seafront is something which really sets you up for the day. I actually prefer it in the winter when the waves are crashing on the shore — it’s more bracing.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I wouldn’t be a man for a big cooked breakfast. Maybe on a weekend, I’d do a brunch. I like to vary my diet. Not too much red meat, plenty of fish when you can, plenty of vegetables. I like to cook — I enjoy spicy food.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

Dark chocolate — Green & Black. And I’m delighted that recent research tells you that dark chocolate can actually be good for your heart, as is good wine. So I think I’m doing all right, thanks.

What would keep you awake at night?

If you just come in from a recording session, for example, with the orchestra. There are still little men running around in your head until the early hours. They don’t stop whistling their tunes, they don’t stop reminding you of something that needs to be corrected in the string section of whatever it might be. But generally speaking, I’m a good sleeper.

How do you relax?

I enjoy walking on the seafront. I’m a bit long in the tooth for the two activities that I used to have a passion for — rally driving and horse riding.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Paddy Cole, who’s been a friend of mine since he was in the Capital Showband, and Noel Ginnity, a comedian, and George Hunter, a music business impresario, recently came for dinner. We all have great stories and histories together.

What’s your favourite smell?

One of my favourites is L’Occitane’s lemon verbena.

When is the last time you cried?

I do cry quite readily if something touches me on television or in the movies. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unmanly about that. It’s a healthy thing.

What traits do you least like in others?

Lots. I think the most destructive emotion is greed. In the entertainment industry it’s everywhere.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

Sometimes I wish that I was better organised. It’s endemic in the whole composing [world] that you tend to kick the can down the road until the deadline is the next morning.

Do you pray?

I do. I wouldn’t be the most devout of people. I’d like to think of myself as spiritual. I do believe in a higher being. I believe in an afterlife. I am a Roman Catholic and I’m proud of it.

What would cheer up your day?

When I wrap up my desk and head home — the thought of the smell of a nice lamb casserole and uncorking a nice bottle of Malbec would make my day.


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