A reflection by Hannah Whelan, Cathedral Choir Soprano:
It’s probably quite rare to find someone of my generation who grew up listening to Daniel O’Donnell, but that I did. I am half Irish and visited my grandparents in Tipperary a few times every year. When Nanny died in 2009 there were three things at her bedside: my Granddad, a picture of Our Lady, and a Daniel O’Donnell cassette. She was a big fan. Pretty much everyone in Ireland is.
So, in December when Daniel asked if the Cathedral Choir would perform with him at the Theatre Royal, I couldn’t say no!
We were performing in a Christmas show, full of all the old hits from home and Christmas carols, complete with ‘snow’ and Daniel and his family dressed up in Dickensian costumes. Really, we were there as backing singers and were needed too ‘oooooh’ and ‘ahhhhh’ in all the right places (a bit different from our usual Palestrina) but the audience seemed as thrilled to have us as we were to be there. We received a huge round of applause each time we were introduced and the audience participation was much higher on the agenda than when we are singing Bach at the Cathedral, complete with flashing headbands and feather boas (The audience. Not us. Unfortunately).
They say you should never meet your idols, but everyone should meet Daniel O’Donnell. He has a dedicated fan base and is well known for his generosity and kindness but one never knows quite how much of that is for publicity. I was pleased that what we found in Daniel was a warm and welcoming family man. He was so grateful that we could help him. He addressed us all by our first names, taking the time to speak to each of us individually during rehearsals. It really was impressive as sometimes even Alex forgets our names!
After the show, still covered in fake snow, Daniel again encouraged us to meet him backstage where he signed autographs and we took photos with him. It’s hard not to get giddy when meeting someone famous but I had one very special message for Daniel, a decade in the making. I wanted to say thank you, for when my aunty was dying of cancer, she couldn’t go to his concert so he rang her and sang down the phone to her. There was no publicity about it. He didn’t do it for his public image. He did it for her. Luckily(!) Alex was there to video my stumbling, star-struck moment where I gave him an embarrassingly long hug... but he remembered her and I will remember this.
The Cathedral Music Department does so much for the Cathedral community, some of our work you will be aware of but some you won’t. But whatever we do and wherever we go, we are publicising St Barnabas Cathedral and putting it on the map.
I’m not a student, I worship at the Cathedral and I volunteer in the Choir. Some opportunities are par for the course, the fantastic music, the friendships; but some are God given and surprising. I will forever be thankful that I met Daniel O’Donnell and could help him, in return for what he did for my family.
And in turn, we also brought the Cathedral to a whole new group of people, and who knows whether they will be inspired to come along one day to hear us again. Of course, they’ll have to leave their light-up deely bobbers at the door, at least during Lent.