Chris de Burgh: Great hands, shame about the voice

His singing made his fortune, and 'Lady in Red' is his pension. But it's healing fingers that are touching a raw nerve with his claims of miracle cures
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Only James Blunt has managed to come up with a song more irritating than Chris de Burgh's "Lady in Red". The 1986 mawkfest - according to De Burgh - has reduced many famous people to tears including Diana, Princess of Wales, Fergie and Mel Smith.

The less emotionally impressionable, meanwhile, adopt Oscar Wilde's view on the death of Little Nell - that it would take a heart of stone to listen to "Lady in Red" and notlaugh.

Now the world's naffest balladeer has his sights set on an alternative career. According to his pronouncements to a wide-eyed Gloria Hunniford on The Heaven and Earth Show last weekend, De Burgh is going into the faith healing lark.

"I have found myself able to cure people with my hands," he said. "I met someone in the West Indies who was not able to walk. I put my hands on him and he was able to get up... I try to play it down."

Alas, his efforts to downplay a gift that he voluntarily announced have proved less than successful. He has called down the wrath of the medical establishment (whose relations with the alternative health profession are traditionally less than cordial) who have more or less accused him of being a dangerous charlatan, a whacky baccy witchdoctor and of generally promoting "a load of tosh".

"No one should be promoting therapies, alternative or otherwise, based on a singular case without the support of a very rigorous, randomised controlled trial," fulminated Dr Shawn Treweek, from the charity organisation Sense About Science.

"If Chris thinks he can heal people simply by laying his hands on them, he is deluded," chimed in Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society. "He has no alternative medicine qualifications and is fooling himself and others."

Almost immediately, defenders of the faith healer leapt to his defence. The author Marisa Mackle emerged to claim that De Burgh had miraculously cured her arm following surgery that had left her little finger paralysed. "I didn't really feel any different after the treatment. But then I tried to lift a pint glass. And I could. It was unbelievable."

Five years ago, he was on hand to cure former Liverpool defender Markus Babbel of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare and paralysing form of neuritis. The footballer claimed that after De Burgh lit a crystal lamp and passed his hands over his legs, he could move his toes more easily.

Cynical observers have commented that these revelations were timed to coincide with the release of De Burgh's 18th studio album, The Storyman, guaranteeing maximum media coverage. Everybody loves an eccentric, as David Icke discovered, and the publicity generated by mumbo-jumbo far outweighs the enduring taint of manufactured eccentricity.

And De Burgh needs all the help he can get. The housewives' favourite for many years, he rather blew his image as the wholesome Irish family man when it was revealed in the mid-1990s that he'd been having a steamy affair with his children's 19-year-old nanny, Maresa. Following much public remorse - "I don't want to gamble with my marriage and my family," he told the German magazine Neue Welt and his marriage did indeed survive - he was later seen visiting the girl's apartment. The relationship was platonic, her protested, but the damage was done. In last year's Celebrity Big Brother, not one could identify correctly the writer of "Lady in Red". He is one of pop's most famous nonentities.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 15 October 1948, Christopher John de Burgh Davison had a peripatetic and exotic childhood. His father, Charles Davison, was a British diplomat and received a variety of postings including Malta, Nigeria and Zaire. On his retirement, Charles took the family back to County Wexford, Ireland, where he bought the 12th-century Castle Argy. He and his wife, Maeve Emily de Burgh, restored and ran it as an hotel, where the teenage Chris performed at functions.

De Burgh was educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Dublin, where he secured a respectable degree in English and French. Taking his mother's name for performance purposes, he ventured forth into the world of pop and made a killing in the genre of adolescent laments. In a career spanning 20 years, he has given more than 3,000 live performances and made 18 studio albums. His songs have appeared in films as diverse as Dodgeball, American Psycho and Arthur 2: On the Rocks.

De Burgh first glimpsed his wife, Diane, the inspiration for "Lady in Red", in a nightclub. Thirty years or so of marriage have not dimmed her dislike of the song. Following a miscarriage and a near-fatal ectopic pregnancy, she gave birth to their first child, Rosanna, in 1984. The pair went on to have two sons, Hubie and Michael, and the family live in Ireland not far from where De Burgh spent his childhood. Rosanna, crowned Miss World in 2003, let slip during her reign that her dad had some kind of healing powers in his hands. The media had a field day.

There have been good deeds in the past. On reading that an eight-year-old Scottish girl, Heidi Pennells, had been refused a place in the school bus to Crudie Primary School because her home was too far away from the bus route, De Burgh coughed up the money to make the detour viable. When 18-year-old show jumper Sarah Webster suffered serious fractures in a 30ft fall while on holiday in Turkey, De Burgh put £5,000 towards her hospital bills.

He has struggled so hard to seem like a good guy. "I enjoy family life, taking my children to school, playing games with them," he has said. "I often tell them stories I invented. I like to take a walk or to go to swim. Twice a week I play golf with friends. You see, I'm leading a normal life."

Not any more, Mr De Burgh. Not any more.