How We Met: Feargal Murray & Camille O'Sullivan

'We still live together, which can be hard for the people we date'

Camille O'Sullivan, 37

After training as an architect, O'Sullivan had a near-fatal road accident in 1999. During her recovery, she decided to follow her dream of being a performance artist and is now known for the cabaret style of her shows, arranged with long-time collaborator Feargal Murray. They live together in Dublin.

I fancied Feargal immediately. He was an attractive man who was great with music: a winning combination. We met 15 years ago; he was living across the road from me in Dublin. I was an architect student doing showbiz by night and he was the piano player at one of my first gigs – a dodgily named event called Pyjamajazz. Within a month of meeting, we started going out.

He comes from a family of 13 siblings and I had to learn all their names; it felt like revision. I went through an initiation interview with each of them.

A car accident I had in 1999 changed everything. Our relationship had ended the week before – it was a bad break-up – but after the accident Feargal came to see me in hospital every day, and when I moved back home to my flat, he moved in to take care of me: bathing me, cutting my food and helping me learn to walk again. He saw me at my most vulnerable and ours became a special bond.

That accident tested everything I believed in and what I really wanted to do became clear to me. It was Feargal who said, "We're going to write a show. I'll write the music and we'll put it on together." Twelve years on, the way we collaborate has hardly changed. We are each other's left arm and right arm and he knows how I work with song. I wasn't trained as a musician so I explain images in my head to Feargal, like, "The dark, the light, what animal are you coming through the forest as," and he'll say, "Sing like it's a beaked [animal] with dark eyes, and here's the tempo."

I'm full of emotion and with Feargal it's easy to be free and passionate about things. So when people first meet us they are like "Oh My God, do they not get on?" To us it's just being passionate.

It was difficult when we started going out with other people – we were explosive with jealousy – but now we've adjusted. It can be hard for people we date, though, as Feargal and I still live together. Others say, "Why aren't you still together?" But it's not that sort of relationship any more.

Feargal Murray, 40

A pianist and composer, Murray has worked with Amy Winehouse and Nick Lowe and played piano at George Best's funeral. He became O'Sullivan's main carer after her accident and their artistic collaboration has lasted 12 years.

I moved back to Dublin in 1997 after studying in London, and I landed in the same neighbourhood as Camille. I'd heard there was a music happening and I fell in with the people doing the show that she was in. They said, "There's this girl who's a force to be reckoned with." And I ended up on stage with her. She looked beautiful, sounded fantastic and my sisters who were in the audience kept saying they couldn't take their eyes off her. She was great craic and we started dating.

Our relationship had fizzled by the time of her road accident. When I saw her in hospital I wanted to stick by her, so I hung out with her for a while. When she started getting better I remember offering her practical solutions [on what to do next]: "Let's do a few gigs together, I know a few boys in Dublin and we can get a band together."

She's full of ideas – me too – but when we first suggest something to the other its natural for us both to dislike it. So we always have to go through a few refusals before we eventually do it.

We're total opposites but complement one another: Camille is expressive and dramatic and I'm more low-key and theoretical so I interpret what she comes out with and translate [our vision] for other musicians. The best moment [in our collaborations] for me was when I'd just come back from touring America in 2008, and decided to work with Camille full-time. Our first gig was on Later Live… with Jools Holland. I remember seeing Tom Jones and Friendly Fires on set and thinking, "We're past [performing] cabaret now!"

We hang out together at home mostly – we live with one another – and play with our cat Burty. It tends to take people [we're going out with] a while to get to grips with that, but until something major comes along, I think it's something they'll [have to] be cool with.

O'Sullivan & Murray will be performing 'The Rape of Lucrece' from Wednesday to Sunday at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, and 'Changeling' at Priceless London Wonderground, Southbank Centre, London SE1, from 28 August to 2 September, to mark the launch of O'Sullivan's album, 'Changeling'

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