After years when her triumphs were in danger of being masked by her tribulations, DOLORES O’RIORDAN is back in defiantly upbeat form. She talks to STUART CLARK about confidence, critics, Calvin Klein and her “confirmation-size breasts”!
YOU THINK I’m going to talk to you now, you bastard? You were supposed to be here at 12 o’clock. TWELVE-O-FUCKING-CLOCK! Now sod off or I’ll set the dogs on you!”
Dolores O’Riordan says none of these things as myself and H.P. sharpshooter Mick Quinn arrive 45 minutes late for our t?te-?-t?te with the Cranberries frontperson. The one thing they neglect to teach you at journalism college is how to overtake tractors the Clarkmobile’s arrival in Kilmallock was delayed by a particularly slothful Massey Ferguson.
Obviously confusing Hot Press with Hello!, Dolores has invited us in to her beautiful County Limerick home, a palatial abode which befits her status as one of Ireland’s richest women. There’s no sign of her full-time security team, although it’s possible that the three old fellas tending her herbaceous border have Special Services training.
Not being a fan of the new rock Puritanism I’m talking about you, Thom Yorke I’m pleased to report that chez O’Riordan is a shrine to loadsamoney self-indulgence. After pausing to admire the stained-glass window, which has the lyrics to ‘Zombie’ inscribed on it, we’re ushered into the gaff’s very own Jungle Room.
I’m not sure what I’m most impressed with the full-size Wild West bar or the saddle-stools lined-up in front of it. To the right of that are a giant sofa, a snoozing bearskin and the biggest fuck off telly you’ve ever seen.
As for Dolly herself, there’s no sign of the edginess which a few years ago made interviewing her such a minefield. Having ditched the peroxide in favour of a more natural reddy-brown do, she doesn’t look a whole lot different to the girl I first met a decade ago in a Shannonside hostelry of ill-repute. Except for her t-shirt, that is. The teenage O’Riordan would never have worn a top with the legend “psychobitch” emblazoned across it.
Taking care of bartending duties is her Canadian husband, Don. Looking slightly offended when we decline a snorter of the bourbon he’s imported from back home, he does the honours with the Diet Cokes and talks enthusiastically about the Japanese steak house that him and the missus are opening in D4. Further evidence of the O’ Riordan-Burtons’ penchant for good grub is provided by the Italian pizza oven plonked in the yard.
Asked later if Don is the Cranberries’ Yoko Ono, drummer Fergal Lawlor laughs so hard he almost falls off his saddle. “It might seem like that from the outside but, nah, he’s never got in the way of our relationship,” Lawlor says, once he’s regained his composure. “In fact, he’s really helped with the business side of things.”
Which, contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, is booming. Despite a relatively poor showing in the States, the band’s current album, Bury The Hatchet, has just sold its five millionth copy. Gigs in Europe and South America are still deemed intimate if there’s less than 20,000 people there, and it didn’t take long for Calvin Klein to come knocking when he needed an instantly recognisable face for his ad campaign.
STUART CLARK: Did you enjoy your first taste of being a fashion model?
Dolores O’Riordan: I got loads of free jeans and some cash as well, so it was great. If it had been for something more girlie I’d probably have said “no”, but that denim and black eye look is what I’m into myself. The fact that Moby and Macy Gray were the other people doing it shows that, in the States anyway, we’re still thought of as being “alternative”. To be honest, I wouldn’t have got the gig if they were looking for a mainstream babe. I haven’t got the legs or the boobs.
Were there big bucks involved?
I’d say it’s pretty big for models, but most of the artists get about ?20,000 to do it.
After that, I was expecting you to be the first to volunteer for catwalk duties at the Point.
(laughs) I’d probably have done a Naomi Campbell and fallen on my arse! I know Ann and Ally (Hewson) quite well as girls, and they persuaded me to come along and present one of the designer awards. I don’t usually go to stuff like that in this country, but why not? The fashion world’s the same as the rock ‘n’ roll world. You’ve got your really sound down-to-earth people and the pretentious assholes who you try to avoid.
I went back to The Clarence afterwards, which was great ‘cos I was able to gawp at all the really big stars. I stayed there for about an hour and then, realising I was getting obliviously drunk, slipped out. My fear in those situations is that I’m going to end up dancing on a table and giving somebody a headbutt.
Didn’t you do something along those lines once in Limerick?
That was a hormonal thing. I’d just stopped breast-feeding, so I was in a weird kind of a mood and not able to hold my alcohol. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but after having a baby, women go through a period when they feel really insecure. You go out for the first time, there’s this gut of leather hanging off you, and you don’t take too kindly to other women giving your man the eye. There was a bit of a scene, but nothing serious.
Do you recognise yourself from the descriptions of you in the paper?
Five or six years ago, I was way too serious. Somebody would ask a question that was, maybe, a bit too personal, and rather than laughing it off, I let it get to me. Now, I’ll either answer it straight, make a joke out of it and change the subject, or tell you ever so politely to fuck off! I’m not afraid to let my sense of humour come out or, if needs be, be assertive.
What’s the daftest thing that you’ve read about yourself?
I don’t know, really. Sometimes people say “she’s a bitch to work with”, which I can be when it comes to being on stage. It may be somebody else’s fault, but I’m the one who’s left looking like a plonker in front of thousands of people. All of my crew know that I’m really, really sound as a person, but if my guitar’s out of tune or the monitor’s not working, I’m going to blow a gasket. That’s just because I’m meticulous about my job. I don’t think I’d have gotten this far in life without being that way.
Being branded a bitch is one thing, but didn’t you have to take an injunction against a foreign journalist who was dishing some serious dirt?
We went to court and it was proven that the story was made up. When that happened, the paparazzi guy who’d supplied it started to blackmail (us), so we had to get a lawyer on him.
There was also a German you had to take legal action against.
The guy on the Internet? I wouldn’t go into that ‘cos he was arrested and everything. I don’t know how psychologically balanced or unbalanced he was.
I imagine, with a young son, that you’re very concerned about security.
Yeah, I am. I mean, God, look out there at all those cameras and infra-red lights. We have full-time security which is essential when you’re living this far out in the country. I’ve had people come up to the front gate and sleep outside, which isn’t what you want. They’ll ring the buzzer and I’ll go, “Sorry, she’s in Indonesia”. Not that I’m a prisoner, though. If it ever got to the stage where I couldn’t go out and do what I wanted, I’d knock it on the head. Band over.
Have you been following the Angela’s Ashes debate?
I didn’t read it myself, but from what Ferg (Lawlor) was telling me, it sounds pretty accurate. God, there were seven kids in my family, and four of us in one bed for a long time. We used to have a big saucepan of potatoes 30 or 40 of ‘em on the range and eat pig’s head, tails and trotters. When you’re hungry and a kid, that’s grand.
I know as well that there was a lot of drinking and stuff. Fathers went out and drank because there was no money and they needed a release and dah, di, dah. I mean, how can people say that the author’s lying when they haven’t been through his experience? Everybody has demons in their closets, but it’s from these demons that we learn and become better people. There was certainly poverty around in Limerick, but at the same time I had a lot of spirituality which made up for it.
What aDo you still consider yourself to be a spiritual person?
I could if I had to be, but I’ve got a lot of toys now! I love boats and I love motorbikes. The biker culture like rock ‘n’ roll is something that’s misunderstood. Harleys, which are my dream bike, are a bit too heavy for me, so I normally stick to four-wheelers.
It doesn’t sound like you’ve got much in common with Meg Matthews.
A new Gucci bag? Nah, get me some more machines! I wouldn’t really be into clothes and make-up, except for when we’re going on tour and I can’t just throw on a pair of jeans. Calvin Klein jeans, that is!
Is the upcoming Dublin show a chance to ever so regally wave two fingers at your critics?
There’s no agenda apart from wanting to play the best gig possible. It’s not going to stick out in my head and be different to Mexico or Malaysia. I’ll pick out my clothes, have my massage, do my yoga, meditate and then go out there and kick ass. I’ve proved anything I’ve needed to by selling 22 million albums. I’m 28 years of age I’ve got a beautiful husband and a beautiful child. It’s natural to want to be liked, but if somebody thinks that I’m shit, I’m not going to loose any sleep over it.
It has got pretty personal, though.
There have been a few times when I’ve had to remind myself that I’m not a murderer or, worse still, a politician. You don’t know these people, yet there they are saying they hate you. If you’re strong like I feel now it’s water off a duck’s back. If you’re in any way vulnerable, though, watch out.
You said the last time we met that you’d suffered something akin to a breakdown. Looking back now, can you understand what brought it about?
I think what happens is that through a combination of working too hard, and constantly being in the public eye, you start becoming paranoid. You can’t see the good things because of all the bad things that are in the way, which is a textbook definition of depression. Everything’s sad and bad, which of course comes across in your interviews. If I’d read me five or six years ago, I’d have thought I was a right miserable cow! Having taken the prolonged career break that we did, I realised that there are far more nice people than there are bad asses. It’s difficult to explain without sounding all cliched, but it really is a case of coming out of the tunnel and being dazzled by the light.
Just how fucked-up were you?
I’d accomplished all these record sales which, yeah, made me feel incredibly proud, but I didn’t have a home or a car or anything I could really call my own. I was afraid to come back to Ireland. I hadn’t come back for years, and when I did I’d be freaked out and hiding under a hat. Basically, I was scared of my crap.
Ireland is a small country, which when the Cranberries started was still very Catholic and judgmental. I feel much more comfortable now that the Celtic Tiger’s kicked in and things have become more liberal. Eight years ago it was, “Oh my God, she said that!”, whereas now no-one gives a damn. Being in a business where drug-taking is almost mandatory, did you ever turn to chemicals for solace?
No, I just never wanted to be that out of control. I’ve seen my friends doing mushrooms and they’d be like, “God, your head’s gone all furry!” It seems a lot of fun, but with my stomach I’d probably puke. In America, especially, it’s harder not to take drugs. The more I was encouraged to try ‘em, the more I thought, “No, I’m not going to give in to peer pressure.” If I’d wanted to take drugs I would have, but I didn’t.
Would you fire a crew member if you knew they were popping pills?
No. They can do what they like as long as they function on stage.
How’s your new ‘month on, month off’ regime working out?
Brilliant. We’re flying to Puerto Rico tomorrow to do a show, and I’m really looking forward to it ‘cos I know that, in a few weeks time, I’ll be back home with my friends and family again. The gigs are better because we’re not on such a treadmill and permanently knackered.
Is rock ‘n’ roll life enough for you, or do you have ambitions outside of music?
Don’t laugh, but I’m totally into trees. We’re going to set about eight acres ‘cos I think everyone should give what they can back to the environment. We’re also opening a Benehana here that’s a Japanese restaurant where the chef cooks your food in front of you. We’ve just got the building in Dublin, so that should be open next year. It’s something that Don, myself and the lads are doing together partly for a giggle and partly as an investment.
After your night of debauchery in The Clarence, have you thought about opening your own hotel?
Actually, I have. Not here but in somewhere like the South of France. The other thing I’m big into is new beauty treatments and therapies for women. There’s a huge need nowadays for stress relief, so I’d love to open a place which would do everything from massage and reflexology to yoga and natural organic highs.
I guess, being into the natural side of things, you’d never consider getting a boob job. Are you saying that my tits are small?
(acutely embarrassed) What I meant is that you’d be opposed to cosmetic surgery.
I think I speak for all women who have small breasts when I say that we can be beautiful too, without getting a big pair of soccer balls hanging off us. Certain men find us attractive. I’m not insecure about the fact that I’ve confirmation-size breasts. It’s part of me, and I’d feel very strange with a pair of soccer balls. Having answered that, I insist you ask the lads if they’ve considered getting their penises enlarged.
I’ll make a note of it. Before you have me escorted off the premises, a few quick questions.
Do you still get trolleyed from time to time?
Yes. Last Friday I did an all-nighter. I began consuming alcohol at approximately eight o’clock and was still standing well, slouching at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. I don’t think going on a bender once in a while does you any harm. Except for the hangover, that is. They definitely get worse as you get older.
The best film you’ve seen recently?
The General’s Daughter.
Where did you usher in the new millennium?
At home. We fired the pizza oven up, opened a few bottles of Cristel and had a party.
Were champagne corks popped when you heard that Westlife had scored their fifth number one?
Would you regard them as being even more insidious than Boyzone?
Do you still think that The Corrs are evil personified?
I’ve nothing against them, but to me their music’s boring. It’s kind of squeaky clean. There’s not a hair out of place, the lipliner’s perfect and they’ve always got high-heels on to make them look longer and thinner. They’re very pretty girls and I totally appreciate that other people love them. Guys especially. I was at the party in Dublin and it was like (does very convincing canine impersonation) puppies panting all around them.
When are you going solo?
(laughs) Wasn’t I supposed to have done that five years ago? Nah, no plans whatsoever.