Daniel O'Donnell: I'd have 100 Christmas trees in the house
Daniel O'Donnell's heart may forever be in Donegal, particularly at this time of year, but tomorrow the crooner will be spending Christmas outside Ireland for the first time. Suzanne McGonagle speaks to the singer about his love of the festive season and his ambitions for the new year
FROM Donegal with love: Daniel O'Donnell is bidding farewell to his home village of Kincasslagh this Christmas for a festive escape to much sunnier climes.
The chart-topping country singer is spending his first ever Christmas outside Ireland, jetting off for a relaxing break at his luxurious retreat in sunny Tenerife with wife Majella and their family, including one-year-old grand-daughter Olivia.
It will be a well-earned rest for Daniel who has enjoyed a record-breaking year. He made history in 2016 by becoming the first recording artist in the history of the UK album chart to have at least one new album every year since 1988 – an unprecedented 29-year run – surpassing the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and U2.
The past 12 months have also seen him travel across Ireland with Majella for the second series of their B&B Road Trip.
Unwinding in the Canary Islands will be a chance for the 55-year-old country star to relax before he embarks on a whirlwind 2017, with plans for a tour the length and breadth of Ireland and more new albums.
"For my first time ever we'll not be in Ireland for Christmas this year," Daniel tells me. "We decided that this year we would go away. We're all going because we thought that next year Santa will be in the mix for the wee one [Olivia] and we'll be staying close to home, but she's only 17 months now. She's the light of our lives.
"I have never been out of Ireland for Christmas; 53 of my Christmases have been spent in Donegal. The only one I didn't spend in Donegal was the time of the snow and I couldn't get home until Boxing Day."
While Daniel has chosen to swap his Irish Christmas for one in the sun, he insists that he'll miss those annual traditions of the festive season in Donegal, including singing his favourite Christmas carols at Mass.
"Next year it will be back to square one. I love the opportunity to sing at Mass on Christmas Eve and to be at home on Christmas Eve and all the feeling of just being at home. I will miss singing in Mass, but this is the right thing for us to do this year. Next year hopefully the choir will let me in again," he laughs.
"I love Silent Night – I suppose that's my favourite carol. I just love Christmas. If I could have 100 Christmas trees in the house, if I had room I would have them; I love them."
Daniel has many treasured memories from childhood Christmases in Kincasslagh.
"I can remember my Scalextric set – that's always something that stands out in my memory – and I always loved the atmosphere at home, the warmth of the fire, the overeating and all of that," he reveals. "I love playing cards at home. In fact when I was home a few weeks ago, I won a turkey playing cards – but I'll not be taking it to Tenerife; I'll be leaving it at home."
The singer and his wife Majella, who have been married for 14 years, spent much of 2016 touring the world on board a cruise ship.
"We loved our break, we loved the time off but it's lovely to be back," he says. Which is just as well because it will be full steam ahead for him in 2017. With concerts planned on the other side of the world as well as his first tour of Ireland for in four years, he says he can't wait to get back on the road.
"I'm not back doing anything until February; then we go off on a cruise from February 11-18 and then we'll go straight to New Zealand and Australia – we have a tour there in March. Then it's Sri Lanka on the way back for a few shows and after that we're back home," he said. Home just in time, that is, for a string of performances here in the north, in, Britain, the United States and Canada.
Doesn't his busy schedule tire him out?
"I love the singing. I can't say a word other than that and am very lucky to have the opportunity to still be doing it," he says.
He is especially looking forward to performing in the north, he says, where he expects to see some familiar faces.
"We'll be in Armagh, Derry and Belfast in August at the Waterfront – it's been a good while since we've been in Belfast so we're looking forward to going back there," he tells me. "Some people have been coming for over 30 years which is absolutely fantastic."
Other plans for 2017 include new records and the return of the massively popular television show Daniel and Majella's B&B Road Trip, the second series of which has already been recorded.
The hit show, which saw the singer and his wife criss-cross Ireland staying in B&Bs owned by fans, drew an average 270,000 viewers over six episodes on UTV Ireland. The next series has been commissioned by RTÉ.
"We will record an album and around March time there will be a DVD and live CD that we recorded in Dublin last August for American television," Daniel says.
"Then we'll record another album to be released in October/ November time and apart from that there, I'll be busy with television and that and the Country and Music Awards are planned for July and I think there will be a Late, Late Show special in April.
"We recorded the B&B Road Trip in June/July and it will go out in RTÉ television this time in March. It was very, very enjoyable and we were amazed at the Irish Television Awards – it's a very simple concept of a show that seemed to grip people's imagination, it was so great for people to enjoy it."
With Daniel and Majella spending so much time together on the road filming the series, is it any wonder they may not see eye to eye on all things?
A few months ago the singer was left red-faced when Majella admitted that her husband's music would not necessarily be on her playlist. During an appearance on ITV chat show Loose Women she had the panel and audience in stitches when Linda Robson asked if she liked his work.
She replied unconvincingly: "I... I like some of his music..."
As the hosts laughed, she added: "No, I do. But if I'd never met him, I would never have been to his concert. It's not the sort of music I listen to. I'm just being honest."
So what did Daniel really think about that admission by his wife?
"Majella thinks after she speaks and I speak after I think," he laughs.