Dance: For the love of Michael

Michael Flatley has finally, at the age of 43, turned in his dancing-shoes, but he's certainly not idle: there's the charity work, the flute-collecting and a wine cellar to keep in order - and the small matter of the £100m he'll make by floating his company
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Michael Flatley – who has made an absolute fortune from that spectacular Irish dancing thing where you go up and down like a pneumatic drill with madly quick, clattering feet – is showing me round his west London home. This is quite a Hello!-style treat. This house is quite something. Grade II-listed, Palladian-style, with enormous columns and stone lions and a big, fat Rolls in the driveway. Inside, it's marvellously nouveau pop star in that new-money-wishing-it-were-old-money sort of way. You know, burgundies and dark greens, monogrammed everything, crystal and porcelain, massive drapes, antique silverware, old oil paintings (including a Canaletto), a Filipino housekeeper, Miss Eleanor ("Hello, Miss Eleanor!"), another nice Filipino lady, vacuuming ("Hello, Another Nice Filipino Lady, Vacuuming!"), a swimming-pool complex, a flotation tank, a master bedroom with four-poster and fur bedspread. I feel the bedspread. I don't think it's a faux job from Ikea. Is it real fur, Michael? "Will I get slaughtered if I say it is?" he asks. "No," I lie. "Then it is," he says. "Lovely," I sigh, because it is lovely. And minks in the wild are horrible nuisances, anyway. Squashed minks on beds are far easier to control.

We move on to his dressing-room. Here, his cufflinks and ties have been laid out immaculately in glass display cabinets by Miss Eleanor. Here, his Briony shirts hang in neat rows while his shoes collect in neat lines. Beautiful Italian shoes. Steel-plated dancing shoes. And, at the back, the old pair of boots he used to wear when he dug ditches in Chicago for a living. "Just to remind me where I come from," he says. He can be superbly sentimental. His favourite possession? The £50 note his Irish grandmother, Annie, gave him in 1974 with "Good Luck With Your Dancing" written across it. Anyway, we finish our tour in the wine cellar. Michael is keen on wine. "I went to Annabel's the other night and ordered a £3,000 bottle of Château Latour," he says. He speaks in a very soft Irish-American voice. But a £3,000 bottle of wine! Good grief! What would the Michael who used to dig ditches say to the Michael who now buys £3,000 bottles of wine? He says that even when he was young, and poor, on a Friday night he'd put on his one suit, go down to the pump room where everyone would be drinking beer, "and order the best bottle of wine I could afford". I think what he's trying to say is that he's been poor, yes, but never cheap.

He offers to give me a bottle from his cellar to take home. "Don't be silly," I say. "Please," he says. "Oh, all right then," I say because, let's face it, I am pathetically weak and very easily bought. Sadly, though, I leave the bottle on the Tube. Hey, only teasing, Michael! It is Petrus, 1975. I know it's not £3.99 but, still, I get something of a shock when I later look it up on the internet, and discover it's worth around £1,000. A thousand pounds! I put it on the kitchen table at home where my partner and I study it with substantial wonderment and awe. "It's a widescreen telly with DVD," I say. "It's a power shower, installed and everything," he says. What was Michael thinking of? What is this about? Shall I offer to give it back? Flog it? Drink it, while trying not to think about the widescreen telly with DVD? Should I have told him the only thing I know about wine is that sometimes it comes with a nun on it? I just don't know. It's all so perplexing. And doubly so as, frankly, the interview didn't even go that swimmingly.

Actually, that's not entirely true. It just doesn't get off to an especially good start. We are meeting, ostensibly, to discuss his Good Works for Charity, which had been honoured at a Royal Variety Club luncheon the day before. "You will get that in, won't you?" asks the fabulously industrious PR. "Of course," I say, thinking that I probably won't bother. (Still, I just have, haven't I? Obviously, I'm a much better person than I've ever given myself credit for.) Anyway, the PR and I wait for Michael in his sitting-room, between the Christmas tree decorated by his interior designers, and the coffee table plump with leather-bound, monogrammed photograph albums containing pictures of Michael meeting Bill Clinton and the like. I'm not sure why the PR is sitting in. It's not like I can't be trusted. Indeed, I haven't stolen anything since I took a little linen towel from Rod Stewart's bathroom. (I was minded to fill my pockets with the pot-pourri, too, but didn't want to rustle on my way out.) Ah, here comes Michael.

Thankfully, I am spared the baby-oiled-torso, leather-trousered look. Instead, today, he is wearing blazer and jeans. We shake hands rather formally. "So, Michael," I say. "Tell me about your Good Works for Charity and your luncheon at the Royal Variety Club. Can there be higher praise?" Actually, I don't. I say: "Wow, Michael, what a house! Tell me, what's the best thing about being so rich?" "It's not something I give a lot of thought to," he says, stiffly.

"OK," I say. "Is there a downside to being so rich? Do those annoying unemployed boys who come around selling dishcloths expect you to buy the whole box?" "To tell the truth, this isn't something I want to talk about," he says, even more stiffly. This is all crushingly embarrassing. "You could ask about the Royal Variety lunch?" suggests the PR. Recklessly, I ignore her advice. "What's your earliest memory Michael?"

"Of?"

"Anything."

"I don't have an earliest memory. I'm not a very self-analytical person. I look to the future, not the past."

Oh, dear. And it goes on like this, until our great bonding moment, when it happens to come out that I'd spent most of the previous night watching Michael Flatley videos – Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames and Gold, a sort of compilation job which includes a clip of Michael back in 1994, on the night of his big break, when he was booked to do a seven-minute slot in the interval at Eurovision and absolutely stole the show. I compliment him on his look at that time. Nice bat-winged, turquoise silky shirt, Michael. "Not mine!" Nice, extravagantly streaked mullet hair-do, Michael. "It was fashionable at the time." Still, he's impressed that I've done my homework. "I want to thank you for that," he says. Michael takes his art brilliantly seriously. Always has done. Michael practised 18 hours a day to become World Irish Dance Champion at 17. Michael likes to be appreciated. Michael was not appreciated by the Riverdance people. Michael didn't own the show, but he conceived and choreographed it, thought he should be the star. But the producers wouldn't have it, and eventually sacked him. John Reid, the legendary showbiz manager, it seems, didn't appreciate him sufficiently either. Michael sacked John seven months into a three-year management contract, claiming not enough was being done to get him in Hello!, plus he'd failed to secure him a sponsorship deal with Calvin Klein.

I appreciate Michael, though. And Michael is pleased that I appear to do so. Michael relaxes a bit. Michael even comes up with an early memory for me. When he was little, he says, growing up in Chicago, the son of Irish immigrants, he used to make clipper ships from kits. "And I'd stay up until 3am, painting them by hand, rigging the masts with special thread that had to be tied in special, tiny knots."

"I never knew that!" gasps the PR.

"What did you like about clipper ships?" I ask.

"I don't know. Why do I like old things? Old houses, old painting, old cars [he has a classic Jag], old flutes [which he collects], old ships?"

"Why don't you," I ask, "treat yourself to something new one day? Go on, you can afford it."

As he can. Indeed, he has fuelled an entire industry of shows, CDs and videos which, it is said, now earns around £60,000 a day. He is extremely sharp, financially. After the Riverdance business he made sure he owned his subsequent show, Lord of the Dance, outright. He was "no Einstein" at school, he says, but he has a "photographic memory for financial statements". No accountant or banker can ever get him muddled. He is that rare combination of performer and businessman. He is about, even, to float his management company, Unicorn Entertainment, on the London Stock Exchange in a deal that could be worth £100m. A not insubstantial amount considering, of course, that money is not something he gives a lot of thought to.

He doesn't even have to dance anymore, which he doesn't. Now 43, he retired from touring in July. He wanted, he says, to give up before his body gave up on him. It must have been hard, I say, to stop. It was, he says. "The hardest thing was stopping before I needed to stop. But I always promised myself I would run though the finishing line, not limp through it. It's very hard to say: 'That's it. It is time'. Especially as I still dance on my own and can do things I couldn't do last year."

You dance on you own? When did you last dance on your own? "About a month ago. I came out of a bar in Ireland. It was a magnificent night, the sky white with stars. I'd had a couple of beers and was feeling real sweet. So I danced, with no music, until I dropped. I felt like a million dollars, but was crying at the end." Why? "Just missing it. Just missing everything about it. The dancers. The pain." I wonder if, like Sinatra, he'll keep making comebacks, won't be able to help himself. The PR gasps. "Don't you want to ask about Royal Variety now," she asks. Michael doesn't mind, though. He says he hopes he doesn't keep making Sinatra-style comebacks. But, then again, "I would like to think I will perform again."

His personal life? He's been described as a bit of a goer, a bit of a Lord of the Dalliance. True? Wildly untrue, he says. "I've only had three relationships. My wife, to whom I was married for 10 years, and two girlfriends, Lisa and Kelly." Your wife? Don't you mean ex-wife? "I just can't bring myself to call her that, I don't know why. It might be because I failed to be the hero of her dreams." He does a lot of Good Work for Disabled And Handicapped Children – for which, even, he was recently honoured by the Royal Variety Club – and so I wonder, would he like children himself one day? "I'd like to become a father but I believe in fate," he says. "What will be will be."

Anyway, our time is up. It's the tour of the house and then I'm off, with the wine. I'm still not sure what the wine is about. Generosity? Showing off? A bit of both, I imagine. In the end, I decide to give it to our Madeiran cleaner ("Hello, Fernanda!") for Christmas. Only joking, Michael! Still, could I swap it for the mink bedspread, do you think? I would rather prefer it.

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