Whatever Happened to TV Favourite and Singer Val Doonican
For more than 25 years, Irish singer Val Doonican entertained millions with his Saturday night TV series, while his Christmas shows became essential viewing. Now 86, Val, who had five top 10 hits, is retired and lives with his wife, Lynn, in Buckinghamshire. The couple have two daughters, Sarah and Fiona.
“During my long career, I recorded around 25 Christmas specials. They became something of a national institution, attracting audiences of up to 19 million. But I couldn’t bear to watch. It felt embarrassing seeing myself. We’d sit as a family enjoying ourselves but as soon as my show started, I’d nip off to another room.
“I began my musical career in and around Waterford in 1947. Before long, I was playing with friends in dance bands in Dublin and in 1949 we made our first radio programme, providing music for a 15-minute programme advertising sausages.
“A year later I headed to the UK, touring as part of The Four Ramblers. For the next 10 years we played in music halls and made numerous radio appearances.“It was during this time that I met my wife, Lynn, who was a dancer. She’d been performing from a young age and as a teenager had appeared alongside Joyce Grenfell. We ended up on the same tour and got married within a few years. Last year, we celebrated our 50th anniversary.
“Eventually, I was given my own radio show, Your Date With Val. The exposure meant offers to appear on various cabaret shows but my big break arrived after appearing on Sunday Night At The London Palladium. After that I was offered work on TV and record companies wanted me to release records. My first single, Walk Tall, reached number three in 1964. I went on to record over 50 albums.
“On TV, Bill Cotton gave me my first series, which was made in a tiny studio in Manchester. That is when I began using a rocking chair and for the next 24 years I finished every programme singing in it.“
I was given the rocking chair as a gift after my final show. It remained in my garage for years until my daughter, Sarah, said she’d like it. It was a trademark of my shows and all these years later, people still ask about it.
“My last TV series was in 1990, by which time music shows had had their day. Although my programmes remained popular, the format had reached a natural end. But I carried on performing live. In Australia and New Zealand I completed
18 concert tours, not to mention all my shows in the UK and Europe.
“I stopped performing about three years ago, after more than six decades in the business. I’m not recognised in the street much now, not that I mind. I was never dizzy with stardom and didn’t take it too seriously. I still receive occasional fan mail, though.
“Now I’m retired, I enjoy spending time with Lynn. I used to enjoy painting and golf but don’t do either now – mind you, I’m getting on! Until a few years ago, we’d visit the beautiful house we own in the mountains of Spain. We don’t go now and enjoy our days at home in Buckinghamshire.
“Well, Christmas has arrived again and I’m looking forward to enjoying it with the family. I don’t expect I’ll watch much TV. I’ll never forget a BBC show a few years ago, celebrating festive telly through the decades. The presenter claimed Christmas TV died when I stopped making my shows!”