A year ago Niall Breslin was relatively unknown, and was “in hell” struggling to finish his album. Today, thanks to The Voice of Ireland, he is a household name — and a sex symbol. Rachel Borrill on why men want to be him — and women want to be with him
I had been waiting a couple of minutes and then I see him coming towards me. He is, of course, very hard to miss. Suddenly, two teenage girls jump out in front of him; “Bressie,” they shriek, “Please, can we have our photo taken with you?”
Bressie, 31, looks at me and apologises. He smiles at the girls, then bends down a bit, as they have trouble fitting all of his 6ft 6in frame in the picture.
He looks slightly embarrassed, but asks how they are and makes time for them. There is nothing false about him: He gives 110% to each and everyone of his fans — and there are a lot of them.
Eventually, there is just the two of us. And we can now get down to business — the interview.
Officially ‘the hottest man in Ireland’ at the moment, you might think Bressie, a coach on The Voice of Ireland and a musician in his own right, is used to the adulation and attention. But no, not a bit of it.
“I am the most awkward person in those situations,” he admits. “I am very flattered by it. But I haven’t figured out a way of how to deal with it yet.
“I am all right when I am with someone else, but if I am on my own it’s a different story.
“It’s strange. I spend half of my week in London — where I obviously don’t get any of this at all, which I like. Then I arrive in Dublin for the rest of the week and I get this.”
We meet at a central Dublin hotel for coffee. Despite all the interruptions, Bressie is open, passionate, frank and witty. And yes, he is very handsome. But he is not cocky or conceited about it.
So how come he is still single? Since appearing as a coach on The Voice of Ireland, women and girls have fallen for Bressie’s charms.
He has been inundated with Valentine’s Day cards, offers of sexual favours on Twitter and he is getting mobbed when he plays any of his DJ sets.
“The thing about relationships and me is often women will say: ‘I can handle the fact that you have to work, I’ll be fine.’ But then it gets to the point where they can’t handle it and they aren’t fine about it,” he confides.
“A relationship needs to be something that is built together. I don’t think it is fair to anyone, especially at the moment, as I don’t have the time. I know that is such a cliché, but it’s true. Of course, I miss the companionship.
“But what I have found in previous relationships [is] people get attached very quickly and you can’t commit to anything. Either way, somebody gets hurt and you just don’t want to do that.”
Have you ever been in love? Bressie smiles. “Yes,” he admits.
I probe further.
Have you ever had your heart broken? “I think so, yes,” he admits. “But I rarely write about it.’
I was about to persuade Bressie to reveal all when the moment was suddenly ruined.
“Can I ask you to have a photo taken with my daughter?” interrupted a middle-aged man. “But of course,” says Bressie, smiling.
Such is Bressie’s popularity that you can’t help but question whether he is the real star of The Voice of Ireland rather than the contestants. A suggestion he immediately rejects.
“No, I don’t think so,” he insists. “All the judges have brought something very different to the show and we have got some amazing singers. You can’t have favourites amongst your own team, definitely not. They are all so different. I think so far the public have been on the money, but I really can’t second guess them, I don’t know who is going to be the winner.”
Initially, Bressie was slightly worried about signing up for The Voice of Ireland.
Some of his friends questioned why he would want to join a reality show, and after watching the US version, he was concerned the producers might make them act like Christina Aguilera.
“I had this vision of them saying, ‘Bressie, you have to do a cartwheel across the stage and high-five Brian.’ But fortunately, there was nothing like that,” he laughs.
“I am loving the show. This time last year I was sitting on my arse trying to mix an album. I was in hell, I wasn’t happy with certain parts of it and I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’
“Then The Voice of Ireland came along and the album was well received. So it’s been great.”
The show, though, is much more time-consuming than he had thought. Ever the professional, Bressie is clearly very hands-on, wanting the best for the programme and supporting his team.
“At this stage, I am now a psychologist, a fashion designer, and a Dr Phil,” he laughs. “I am like: ‘OK, I can deal with this.’ Anything that affects their performance I have to look at. But I love it.
“I love being the shoulders for a lot of people. That is the way I have been all my life. When I played sport, I was that type of character.
“I like taking people’s problems and fixing them. We are now at the stage where we are juggling with people’s lives. You can’t just throw it away and say ‘Yeah, that will do.’ You have got to really think about it.”
Credibility will be the key to the show’s success. Bressie is clearly determined that it will prove The X Factor’s formula of sob stories and humiliating put-downs should be consigned to TV history, but also that the show’s winner will become a credible artist.
“The real issue with The X Factor is the negativity and the humiliation. The fact that it is 90% about TV and 10% about the music,” he argues. “It definitely has gone stale and I think another big issue is that it’s not producing world class talent.”
In contrast, Bressie is adamant that the winner of The Voice of Ireland must be respected, given time to develop as an artist and encouraged rather than being forced to quickly churn out an album of dubious quality
“You need to give the winner time; they need 12 months of writing and you can’t rush that. If you want a really, truly great album, and for them not be thrown into this pop graveyard like everybody else, you need to take time,” he stresses.
Born in Dublin, Niall Breslin is the second youngest child of five. His father was in the Irish Army, so he travelled extensively, while his mother was a music teacher.
His only brother left home for college at the age of 16, so the young Niall grew up surrounded by women.
“I grew up thinking all men were bastards,” he jokes. “I have seen it all. Sometimes it was like Afghanistan in my house.
“I spent my time thinking: ‘Oh my God, I should get a sex change or something.’”
What an image! I burst out laughing. Bressie nods, joining in. “Exactly, imagine that now, me as a 6ft 6 girl. That’s without my heels,” he quips.
“Seriously though, I think my sisters and mum taught me manners, how to treat women and respect them.”
At the age of 13, Bressie moved with his family to Israel because of his father’s work. The experience was “life changing” on two counts.
Firstly, Bressie discovered a real talent and love for sport, but more importantly it made him appreciate life.
“I found Israel to be an amazingly intimidating place. There was just this underlying tension all of the time.
“We were on the border with Lebanon and within two weeks of our arrival, it all kicked off,” he recalls.
“Hezbollah were bombing Israel and my dad was up there in the middle of it. I don’t want to sound overdramatic, but I realised that’s how a lot of people in the world live, so we should count how lucky we are.”
Perhaps surprisingly given his height, Bressie says he was never a gawky, gangly teenager.
He learned, through sport, to channel it, use it to his strengths and stand strong.
“When I was in Israel, I just started getting longer and longer. I was a really podgy kid, though my mum still doesn’t believe it. I point to the photos, ‘They don’t lie Mum,’” he says.
“I was 12lbs when I was born so I was destined to be a big fecker. But I was never embarrassed of it, I just grew into it and because of sport I was very well co-ordinated. I had a couple of cool rugby coaches who taught me how to use it.”
Apart from his love of sport and music, Bressie’s memories of his school days are not happy ones. On his return from Israel, he joined the local Christian Brothers school in Mullingar, Co Meath. It wasn’t an easy time.
“It was the school of hard knocks. But there were some brilliant teachers there, too. I loved my music teacher, he taught me about The Beatles. He was a totally cool guy.”
Rugby became one of Bressie’s first passions. He describes himself as very competitive, even at tiddlywinks.
So as he continued growing, he was encouraged to learn the game. Soon, Bressie was captain of the U18 Leinster team, then he was called up for the national U19 team and played in the World Cup.
“Rugby was a massive part of my life; it now seems like a different life,” he explains.
“I thought, ‘I am actually not too bad at this. If I focus on it and put time into it, I could do something.”
By the age of 21 and on his return from playing for Ireland’s U21 team in the World Cup, he had become a professional with Leinster. But it all went downhill from there.
“I was shattered. When I returned from the World Cup, I had played every game and was literally held together by tape. I had one day off, then had to go training. Three days later, I was playing against Connacht,” he recalls.
“I wasn’t even able to hold myself up, I remember feeling this tremendous, horrible pain in my stomach and I had a massive double hernia.
“It wasn’t because I wasn’t fit, it was because I had burnt out. From them on it was a catalyst of injuries.”
The memories clearly still hurt him. He starts to list all the injuries, literally how his body began to break down, with different muscles, pulling and tearing.
“I was like a taximan with no car. I wasn’t able to do my job,” he complains. “I could see people saying: ‘Bressie is always injured.’ I was like: ‘Fuck off, the reason I am like this is because I wasn’t given a break.’
“Now anyone who plays for Ireland is given eight weeks off, that’s what gets you fit again.”
His final injury made my stomach turn. Pointing out the scars around his left eye, Bressie states matter-of-factly that during a match in Limerick, another player stood on it. There was blood everywhere and Bressie was rushed to hospital.
“I remember lying there thinking I had lost it. I couldn’t see, it just felt weird. Like I was looking inside my head,” he remembers vividly.
“There was blood streaming down my face and I went into shock. I saw myself in the mirror and thought: ‘Jesus Christ, I have no eye.’ I freaked out.”
Although the medical team were able to save his left eye, to this day it is still damaged. Two days after leaving hospital, Bressie ended his professional rugby career and retired.
Fortunately, music saved him from a career in banking. Bressie managed a seven-week stint at ACC bank, before resigning to concentrate on his band, The Blizzards, the group he had formed with his closest friends from primary school.
“Thank God I got out of the bank, otherwise you could be blaming me. The whole thing could have been my fault. I could have been the one who brought the country to its knees,” he jokes.
“Seriously, till the day I die, this really, really upsets me, what happened to Ireland. We lost our identity. The corruption was so deep, I think beyond what we will ever know. It was almost like extortion, it was that bad.”
So what does the future hold for Bressie? Apart from The Voice of Ireland, his solo tour starts on Apr 12, and he is also doing a few DJ sets around the country.
“Playing live is what it is all about, it is such a buzz,” he stresses, eagerly.
Is it better than sex?
Bressie smiles. “It depends where you are playing or who you are with,” he retorts.
With the lunchtime rush about to descend, with its inevitable interruptions — I quickly raise the subject of his private life again.
Does he want kids? What does he look for in a woman? I think the women of Ireland need to know.
Bressie laughs warmly. He adores children, whenever he is in a “really bad mood”, he goes to visit his two godchildren. They put the smile back on his face — and he even lets them win at tiddlywinks, occasionally.
“I love children. When the time is right, Jesus, you won’t be able to stop me. I want about 40 kids,” he says, smiling broadly.
As for women? Well, don’t offer sexual favours on Twitter to him, as he has given up reading them for now. Instead, Bressie casually lists off his preferences, one by one.
“Confidence, self-belief, ambition. I like women who are passionate — they have to have a passion for something, anything: Music, reading, art, sailing. Passion is a really important trait in a person. And loyalty.
“I hate hearing girls bitching and I am not a fan of girls taking drugs. I don’t do it myself, I hate what it does to people.”
So my advice — as a married woman — to all those Bressie fans out there is to have child-bearing hips, be natural, be passionate, don’t be bitchy and be patient!
He has to find time, one day.
Picture: Nick Bradshaw