M'Lord of the dance

Sensation at the Royal Courts of Justice! Michael Flatley stars in a multi-million-pound production!

Ann Treneman
Friday 16 October 1998 23:02

Michael Flatley is a man who was born to sweat. "Do you want more?" he shouts at his audiences as he stands, dripping, before them. "DO YOU WANT MORE?" And they do, they do, oh God, yes they do. And so, really, it was a bit of a shock to see the sex god himself sitting in the corner of Court 60 in London's Royal Courts of Justice this week wearing, of all things, a suit. It was a navy blue, three-piece job, that was made for the word "boring". Even the tie was the kind your mother gives you for Christmas. At the very least, you would have expected leather trousers and sparkly bolero (if not cod flamenco suit) from the Lord of the Prance.

He was obviously trying hard to be normal. This is not easy to do. Michael Flatley has been described to me as an ego on legs (and expensive legs they are, too, insured at one point for pounds 25m). He says he has sex more than anyone he knows, and that the phrase he most overuses is "I'm coming". He is extravagant in a nouveau pop star sort of way, drinking Chateau Latour 1983 at pounds 1,500 a bottle, driving a black pounds 180,000 Ferrari and travelling by private jet. He is worth pounds 60m and has said that his net worth changes every 15 seconds. He is, in other words, not unlike the Irish dancing extravaganza that he created for himself: a phenomenon that has been described as West Side Story meets Las Vegas in a Gap superstore.

Clearly this would never do for court, where he is being sued for pounds 10m by his former manager, John Reid, for alleged breach of contract. So out goes the bolero, in comes the suit (and also a counter-suit against Mr Reid, whom he accuses of, among other things, deceit). But Mr Flatley can't stop himself swaggering - it is his natural gait - and after a few discreet pre-testimony stretching exercises, he can't stop a little name- dropping either. Yes, Goldie Hawn had stopped by to see him backstage at Wembley. What was she doing there? Something to do with an elephant, he thought. Hmm.

Earlier we had heard that, yes, he was unhappy with his management. He wanted to be in Hello!, and get a Calvin Klein sponsorship deal. He wanted to be on more magazine covers and to be paid the same sums for interviews that footballers receive. He wanted a US agent, preferably the one who represented Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Pammy Anderson too. He wanted more personal attention and congratulatory calls, and, oh yes, a film of his life.

Watching from the front row was John Reid. I sense there may be a bit of a bank manager conspiracy here, because he was the only other man in the room who was dressed like one. In fact, this is the man who saw Elton John through bulimia, drug binges and serial bad taste in eyewear. He has also managed Queen, Billy Connolly and Andrew Lloyd Webber. He is worth a cool pounds 30m and has homes in New York, Los Angeles and St Tropez. But why be in St Tropez when you can be watching men in wigs trying to out-perform each other while chasing pieces of paper round a room in drizzly London?

Perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. At one point, Mr Flatley was being castigated for not knowing some detail or other in his witness statement. This was not the first time. He kept saying that dates and paperwork weren't his strong point. But that, he said, was precisely why he had hired such people: "My business is show business and their business is law," he said, in his soft American accent tinged with Irish. The casual observer in Gourtroom 60 might have thought otherwise. Mr Flatley seemed to be deeply involved in the business of law. "Mostly my time is taken up with the court," he admitted, when asked about his career at the moment. Most of the show business going on in Court 60 was being provided by the barristers.

There were a lot of them. Mr Flatley is also taking action against his former law firm, and this means that, in all, there are three sets of solicitors, barristers and clerks in the room. Everyone has neon highlighters and Post-It notes and is surrounded by gigantic lavender binders.

The QCs are brilliant at using these notebooks as offensive props, flipping them open, brandishing a page here, a paragraph there. When in doubt, they announce a return to the Core Bundle with a flourish that has the entire room scurrying through the Sto-Away boxes that house this lavender forest of paperwork. The QCs were entertaining, and they really should consider pantomime. Robert Englehart QC, acting for Mr Reid, won on his use of facial muscles: at one point he seemed to be gurning in his own extreme sports competition. Reading-glasses were also used to great effect; again, Mr Englehart seemed to have the edge. Gordon Pollock, acting for Mr Flatley, twirled and cleaned and peered over his, but Mr Englehart seemed to get his to dance at one point beneath his nose as he looked, eyebrows gyrating, at the witness. Leslie Kosmin QC, for Mr Flatley's former lawyers, tried the opposite tactic, speaking so slowly that you might have thought that the witness was stupid, or something.

Throughout the questioning - which lasted two-and-a-half days - Mr Flatley remained polite and low-key. He called the judge "My Lord", with a few "Your Honours" thrown in, to prove he's from Chicago. He called the men in wigs "sir" even at their most outrageous. "So," demanded Leslie Kosmin, "your criticism is that there should have been more faxes that you wouldn't have read!" But the man who normally wears an oiled torso as a shirt did not counter-display. "Look, I knew you were going to throw that at me," he said, going on to say that they had to understand how busy he was at the time.

This case is really about show business narcissism, and the details at times seemed petty in contrast to the huge amount of money that was being spent to hear them recounted in open court. But, first, the background.

Michael Flatley grew up fighting on the streets of Chicago, and discovered Irish dancing at age 11. He admits to being driven, practicing for up to 18 hours a day, and wanting desperately to break into show business. The only problem was that there was no Irish dancing show business to break into, and so he ended up digging ditches instead. His big break came when he was asked to do a seven-minute linking session during the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin in 1994. The audience was thrilled, and Irish dancers everywhere seem to remember it in the same light as the "death of Diana" moment. "Anyone I've ever spoken to remembers what the were doing that night," says Daire Nolan ,who would later appear in Lord of the Dance.

Michael Flatley was approached to help create Riverdance and was soon tapping away in one of the showbiz successes of the decade. He then made the mistake of believing the show could not go on without him - "my picture was on all the posters... maybe I was naive" - and ended up being fired over a contractual row in autumn 1995. He got mad, and even, by creating Lord of the Dance. This time everyone would know that he was responsible, because he put his name all over it. He christened the show Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and is listed as creator, choreographer and producer. He is, the video jacket says, the creative genius behind it all. It premiered in June 1996.

Michael Flatley says he wanted John Reid to be his agent because he had heard he was the best. He was thrilled to be introduced to him by someone named Beachie, while he was relaxing in a Jacuzzi in St Tropez in September 1995. Therein followed dinner. He signed up with him, only to find that John Reid did not seem to be giving him enough personal attention. Instead, he was "completely taken up with Elton John's affairs". He added: "If I had know that I would have been given so little of John Reid's time or attention, I would never have signed with him."

His worries covered things as major as Mr Reid's commission (the 20 per cent on investment income in particular) and as minor as how much tennis was being played by one of Mr Reid's employees during the Australian tour. Mr Flatley was also concerned that there wasn't enough effort being made to get him on to the Oscars (they did, though he says he made the first phone call himself).

But his first real complaint came, he said, when he started his Lord of the Dance tour in the UK in January 1997. Upon arriving, he discovered that the video had been number one over Christmas and that no one from John Reid had called to congratulate him. "To be Number One in the UK at Christmas, for me, it doesn't get much bigger than that. I would have expected a "well done, kid". I don't think that's asking too much, do you?" he asked the court.

Over the next few days, faxes and phone calls seemed to fly. Mr Flatley, though, was preparing for his opening night at Wembley. Mr Reid came to see him before the show - bearing a Christmas gift of two glass unicorns - and insisted on being seen. "I didn't want to see him, not before the show. I'd already started my stretching routines. It was a huge night for me, opening night at Wembley," he said. Mr Flatley said that Mr Reid was swearing, throwing faxes around and screaming before he eventually exited the dressing room with a slam. Later, he told his QC that that was the moment he decided that he had had enough of Mr Reid. "When he was screaming at me in my dressing room, I decided I was not going to go through that again. I wasn't going through that for anyone."

He dismissed Mr Reid via a solicitor's letter on 16 January 1997. However, it seems that their three-year contract did not contain a termination clause. In fact, one of the QCs noted, the agreement would have expired sometime this week if it had been allowed to run. Instead, though, they are both sitting in Court 60 wearing suits, surrounded by people they are paying to go about the business of suing each other. Mr Flatley has noted that he and Mr Reid never had enough time together. Well now they do. But really, you have to ask, is this any way for a sex god to behave?

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