At Your Service star Francis Brennan talks to Deirdre Reynolds about his new product range for Dunnes Stores that has been a long time coming

As the host of At Your Service, Francis Brennan has helped transform some of the country’s gloomiest guest houses from drab to fab over the past decade.

Now the makeover king is hoping to help fans give their home a five-star finish too after joining forces with Dunnes Stores.

Squishy towels, plump pillows and posh handwash are just some of the trimmings set to hit shelves here later this month as part of the chain’s new Francis Brennan collection.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner however, the renowned hotelier revealed how he almost threw the towel in.

“It could be going on five years, but we never did anything about it until last year,” Francis said of the fancy-but-affordable homeware range, which starts from €4 for a face cloth.

“John, my brother, suggested to [Dunnes Stores’ chief executive] Margaret Heffernan, ‘You should talk to Francis about doing a range of stuff because he knows all about the hotel business’.

“So then we had a chat and then we didn’t do it and then we had a chat again, so we’re at it over a year now. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Presiding over the plush Park Hotel in Kenmare for the past thirty years, the well-polished presenter certainly knows his tog rating from his thread count.

And he’s in good company as he joins Pauls Costelloe and Galvin, among other celebrity designers snapped up by the revamped brand today less yellow pack than red carpet.

“I think the collection looks terrific,” said Francis, who’s originally from Dublin but has lived in the Kingdom for more than four decades. “I’m delighted with the quality.

“You can pay any money you like for linen — I know in the hotel we pay €169 for a single sheet — but I wanted to get very good linen that would be affordable for everybody.

“I hope it’ll hit the mark for people who want a quality product at an affordable price.”

With his perma-combed hair and signature pocket square, it’s perhaps no surprise that so many turn to the famously fussy business man for advice on overhauling their loo, and indeed lives.

Host with the most Francis previously penned a book of modern manners, It’s the Little Things, in 2014, as well as a gratitude guide, Counting my Blessings, last year.

“I always remember one night I was late-night shopping in Killarney,” recalled the author, who started out as a waiter in some of the capital’s top hotels including The Shelbourne. “I was coming home from a ball so I was in a monkey suit.

Francis Brennan collection for Dunnes Stores includes luxury robes, €70. Picture: Barry Murphy. Stylist: Ann Marie O’Leary
Francis Brennan collection for Dunnes Stores includes luxury robes, €70. Picture: Barry Murphy. Stylist: Ann Marie O’Leary

“I thought, ‘I’ll run in here now and get a few bits because there’ll be nobody in here’. So I’m over rooting around the veg area looking at onions and this lady comes over to me and she says, ‘Oh, would you buy the purple onions rather than the golden onions?’ “I’m thinking, ‘Oh please, it’s twenty past two in the morning — I don’t need to be discussing onions’, and she kept me waiting twenty minutes.

“I don’t know — people probably think that I just know a bit about everything,” continued Francis. “After being in the business 40 years you do know a thing or two, I suppose — you don’t even know you know it but you do know it.

“I always say a hotel manager should know a little bit about everything and not a lot about anything, and you can get away with it then!”

A generously proportioned bath towel and accompanying wash cloth are his two must-haves for impressing guests at home, the absence of either being his own pet peeve while travelling.

Globe-trotting Francis — recently seen leading his own Grand Indian Tour on RTÉ television — explained: “Sometimes you get towels that are too small — that drives me mad.

“I’m not a big fat fellow, and they don’t even go round me. I don’t know what they do around a big fat fellow!”

“So the size of the towel [is important], and I like a face cloth in the bathroom too.”

Francis Brennan collection for Dunnes Stores includes stripe hand towel, €12, stripe bath towel, €25. Picture: Barry Murphy. Stylist: Ann Marie O’Leary
Francis Brennan collection for Dunnes Stores includes stripe hand towel, €12, stripe bath towel, €25. Picture: Barry Murphy. Stylist: Ann Marie O’Leary

But callers to the Sneem home where he lives alone are in for disappointment if they’re expecting Park-style silver service. “I don’t have a hotel at home, I have a home,” insisted the 63-year-old. “The way it is is the way it is if you come.

“My nieces and nephews, who are now in their 20s and 30s, always loved coming to stay in Francis’s house because they loved the duvets. I always remember the kids sort of getting lost in the duvet because it was so fluffy.

“Apart from that, I just have white linen and white towels at home all the time.”

Despite spending the past twelve months researching bed spreads, in-demand Francis confessed he doesn’t have much time to snuggle up under his own.

As well as launching his first homeware collection, he’s set to be reunited with sibling John on the ninth season of At Your Service, which hits small screens in the New Year.

“John is with us again this year,” revealed Francis. “He came out of it last year because his business Dromquinna [Manor] was busy, busy, and he felt he wasn’t giving it enough time.

“But he’s got a very good general manager there now and he can get away [more] so it’s great to have him back.

“It’s go, go, go,” he added, “but, listen, I’m not afraid of hard work.

“Once I get five or six hours’ sleep a night I’m happy!”

Francis Brennan ‘The Collection’ is available from select Dunnes Stores and online from September 29.


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