After 20 years as the Lord of the Dance, Michael Flatley lives with constant searing pain, but as a “hopeless optimist”, he will not and cannot let his mind dwell on it for a second.
The world’s most famous Irish-American, a self-made man worth an estimated €247m, has constant physiotherapy and is facing several more operations (he won’t disclose exactly what for), but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My body isn’t great at the moment, but I’m not for complaining,” he smiles.
“It was my dream to do what I do and did, and I will just get on with it. There are brighter skies ahead. Yes I am an eternal optimist; it has been said to me that I am a ‘hopeless optimist’.”
It’s been reported that the discs in his spine need readjustment twice a week, and that he has persistent problems with his right calf muscle since an incident 20 years ago. His hamstrings and lower back are also “in bits” and a fractured bone in his right foot can make even walking nightmarish.
Doctors had begged him to retire for years but he only took off his professional dancing shoes for the last time on St Patrick’s Day in Las Vegas as the 57-year-old Chicago-born son of an Irish immigrant believes he was “born to dance”.
Neither retirement from dancing nor pain have slowed him down for a second though. His dancing extravaganza, Lord of the Dance — Dangerous Games has “been a huge success in the US and we’ve had standing ovations every night”.
Cork audiences will get to see the show for the first time when it and its 40 dancers come to the Marquee for four shows on June 16, 17 and 18. It will move on, then, to the Bord Gáis Theatre from June 21-25 before continuing to Germany, Austria, and Belgium.
So what can Irish audiences look forward to?
“First off, I hope they will all be entertained. It’s big, bright and fast and very entertaining,” he said.
Michael won’t be dancing in the show obviously but he can still be felt right from beginning to end.
He gushes about the new ‘Lords’: James Keegan, from Manchester; and Fergal Keaney, from Galway. They are described by his publicity machine as his protegees but he talks too about James’s brother, Cathal.
“The Keegans, two brothers, both dancers and both both fabulously talented. Then there’s Tom Cunningham, the skipper, from Monaghan; a terrific talent. These are all men cut out of stone — when they dance they mean it,” he says, in a way that makes Irish dancing sound strangely menacing.
When we speak, Michael, his wife Niamh, and son, Michael St James, are in Cork for the weekend at his 18th century Castlehyde home, outside Fermoy.
“The fish are jumping, the sun is shining down here and it’s just magnificent today.”
But as much as loves Castlehyde (he says he had “some of the best times of his life”, including getting married there), he put it on the market last year because he is so busy, was so spending little or no time there, and possibly too because it held too much memories of time spent with his beloved father, Michael Sr, who died just over a year ago.
He also has homes in Barbados and Monaco. He tells me there are two interested parties but that he “is in not in any hurry to sell”.
“I love Ireland, I can never get back to Ireland enough, but my business is based in London,” he explains.
Aside from running the enormously successful Lord of the Dance, which he directs, choreographs, and designed, Flatley says he has his “fingers in a few pies”, other project that he wants to power with his legendary drive. Not least of these is his art. It was only in recent years that we found he had converted a stable at Castlehyde into a studio where he tap dances on paint-spattered canvas.
His debut exhibition of his expressionist art in London generated sales of €1m, and earlier this week, he presented one to President Michael D Higgins. “I’ve great admiration for him, he has spent his life pushing boundaries,” he says.
And of course in recent months, Michael Flatley also danced, played flute (he is a master flautist) and spoke on the ‘The Rising’ song; the video of which is coming out today.
In the meantime, he just wants to “continue to heal” his broken body and “enjoy time with his wife and his son”. He’s flying back to London tonight, though, for a show that he wouldn’t miss for the world — Michael St James’ school play.
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