Sinead O'Connor's friend of 35 years DAVE FANNING remembers the singer

Sinead O’Connor’s friend of 35 years DAVE FANNING reveals she shaved her head and wore bovver boots after her record company told the Nothing Compares 2 U singer to put in curlers and wear a dress

Sinead O’Connor didn’t want fame. She certainly didn’t want pop stardom, I can assure you of that. But she did crave love. And I’m glad that, when I saw her in March for what would be the final time, at the Choice Music awards in Ireland, the audience left her in no doubt of how loved she was.

I was presenting her with the prize for Classic Album, the 1990 sensation I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, which made her a household name.

She was smiling that night, though we all knew how desperately she’d been grieving for her son, Shane, who had died from suicide 14 months earlier.

Tragically, on Wednesday morning she was found ‘unresponsive’ at a flat in South-East London and police are not treating her death as suspicious. She was just 56.

I did a short interview with her after that awards ceremony. It turned out to be the last interview she ever gave. She also did her first ever major interview with me, at RTE Radio in Dublin in 1987 . . . literally a lifetime ago

Sinead O’Connor pictured with her friend of 35 years, broadcaster Dave Fanning

Irish singer Sinead O’Connor died at the age of 56, following mental health battles

O’Connor pictured as a child at her First Holy Communion 

Back then, everyone smoked everywhere and Sinead was a smoker herself. She was dropping her butts in the ashtray and lighting her next one before the last burned out. I remember her smile, because she was having a great time, so happy to be talking about her music. No one had any idea how famous she was going to be. It was unimaginable.

I first heard about her from Fachtna O’Kelly, who was manager of the Boomtown Rats when he took her under his wing. Sinead had written a song for an Irish band who were briefly big in the 1980s, In Tua Nua, and Fachtna landed her a deal to record her own album in London.

The record company told her: ‘You’ve got to put your hair in curls and wear a dress.’ Her response was to shave her head and turn up to the studio in bovver boots.

When they introduced her to the producer, she said: ‘No, this is my album and I’m producing it.’

They said: ‘We don’t think so. You’re 18 and you’re pregnant and no one’s ever heard of you.’

Long story short, there’s a photo somewhere of the guy from the record company with a knife and fork, eating his hat.

That first album, The Lion And The Cobra, still sounds great. The hit single on it, Mandinka, put Sinead on Top Of The Pops but, for her die-hard fans, the real stand-out track is Troy, nearly seven minutes long. She really proved herself with that, and she was thrilled.

It was Fachtna who had the idea of recording a Prince song, Nothing Compares 2U, because he knew it would suit Sinead. But, again, none of us had any idea how she could take this track and transform it, making it her own.

This iconic image of Sinead, taken circa 1995, some five years after she had become globally famous, is one of the most recognisable snaps of the star

Sinead O’Connor’s son Shane (pictured) died last year, at the age of 17 

The Irish singer shot to stardom across the world in 1990 by her heartrending cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U

When the video came out, that was it — the only other female cultural figure who could come close to Sinead for global super-stardom was Madonna. But stardom sat badly with her. That wasn’t why she was doing this. She was militant, she had things to say, and she said them in the most spectacular fashion.

When she tore up a photo of the Pope on the Saturday Night Live show in the U.S. in 1992, everyone said she was destroying her career. They were right, but they didn’t know how happy she was about that. She wanted it to be ruined. She had no intention of doing the things she was supposed to do, slogging on the treadmill, being a pop star. She wanted to dive deep into different genres of music.

So her next album, Am I Not Your Girl?, was a collection of jazz standards. I heard it and I thought: ‘God, this isn’t great.’ In fact, I reviewed it and said so.

A few weeks later, I met Sinead in New York. She didn’t particularly like the fact I’d criticised her music, but she didn’t care either.

That day, she was obsessed with something else. Sinead got these obsessions, focusing on one thing after another to the exclusion of everything else, things you could never predict. And this time it was sign language.

She talked about it with such a passion: how everyone should learn sign language, it should be taught in every school, it was going to change the world. I knew Sinead was different from everyone else, but I’d never seen this obsessive behaviour so clearly.

That helped me to understand a lot more about her. She was fearless but she was fragile. And that fierceness and frailty are on show in all her greatest songs.

It made her an icon to people who related to her, long before the rest of the world started talking about mental health or child abuse.

This soulful snap of the star shows her performing during Saturday Night Live on September 29, 1990

The Irish singer shot to stardom across the world in 1990 by her heartrending cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U

Sinead was prescient, she was in the vanguard, the first to come out and talk about these things. Remember, when she broke through with this shaven-headed image, a woman who was vulnerable but who would not let any man tell her what to do, the world was a very different place. Especially Ireland, where homosexuality was still illegal in 1990.

She gave women a voice they’d never had. She allowed them to be who they really were. She refused to succumb to the men who ruled the country and in particular the Roman Catholic Church.

Every time I thought I knew her, I discovered more. She was uncompromising one minute, self-deprecating the next, always a sharp observer, a mass of contradictions. She wasn’t comfortable with fame but she demanded to be seen and heard all the time.

Sometimes I’d look at her and think: ‘For your own sake, please stop.’ But I was wrong, because so much of what she was trying to say was completely sane. It only sounded bizarre because the world wasn’t ready to hear it.

To most people, in the U.S. as well as Ireland, her attack on the Pope seemed brazen and cavalier. She called the Vatican ‘a nest of devils’. This one woman, taking on the Church, knowing it would fight back ferociously — because all her shocking accusations were true. That’s the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen.

She needed all her courage, because the life that followed was never easy. She had her demons from the start, beginning with the mental abuse she had suffered at her hands of her mother, Marie.

‘She ran a torture chamber,’ Sinead once said. ‘My earliest memory, she’s telling me I shouldn’t have been born. She took delight in hurting.’ Sinead ran away from home at 13, and by 15 she was in a reform home run by nuns. Always searching for stability but never finding it, she married four times and had four children. The final marriage, to her therapist, lasted for a week.

Her life might have been easier if her relationship with the Church had ended when she tore up that picture. But religion meant so much to her, and she tried to come to terms with it in different ways — being ordained as a priest, becoming a Muslim. She looked for answers the same way she smoked cigarettes, one after another, starting the next before the last one had even burned out.

A mural featuring Sinead O’Connor at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dublin, Ir

Sinead O’Connor has died at the age of 56 after mental health struggles

In 2007, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and later with post-traumatic stress, and there were times when she talked about suicide. In 2015, she had a radical hysterectomy that brought on surgical menopause, and after that she suffered a total breakdown.

Trying to find healthcare that worked, she went to Chicago, and while it did her some good, her struggles were just too all-consuming. Those were the worst five years of her life, I think.

She was a mess in a lot of ways, and I can say that because she’d say it herself. Sometimes she’d laugh about it, sometimes she’d cry. Everyone who loved her wanted to help and couldn’t, and that’s as true for her fans as it was for the people closest to her.

She was full on. Years ago I was in Switzerland with U2 and their manager Paul McGuinness told me that he’d taken on a new client . . . Sinead.

I said: ‘What? Sorry? Do you know what you’re doing? She’s wonderful but she’s a full-time job — 24 hours.’

Four months later, I met him again and he said: ‘I don’t know what I was thinking . . .’

Sinead was difficult but never malicious or spiteful. She was lovely, generous and gentle, which made her pain so hard to witness.

In 2020, I approached her about making a documentary, one that looked at her life through her music instead of focusing on the controversies. We sat in her kitchen in the seaside town of Bray, around 20 miles south of Dublin, and she liked the idea of exploring her career album by album.

But by the next time I saw her, she’d sold her house and moved out to the sticks, a much smaller place, really remote. It didn’t suit her at all. The first thing she said when I arrived was: ‘Look, most people think I’m bat-s*** crazy.’

I looked around and said I couldn’t imagine how anyone could get such a notion. She just laughed.

Sinead O’Connor has died at the age of 56. She recieved the Classic Irish Album award for ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’ at the RTE Choice Music Prize

Taken during a 1990 gig in Chicago, this image showcases the singer’s inimitable personal style

We both wanted to make this documentary; she was bursting with ideas for it; but in the end it proved impossible. And the reason for that was Sinead herself.

If we’d just gone ahead without her, it would have worked. We had backing from broadcasters, investors, different directors on board. But I realised too late that Sinead’s input was going to overbalance the whole concept.

She was sending emails you would not believe. Some were friendly, positive, enthusiastic —and a day later a crisis would erupt over nothing, some perceived slight or imagined inaccuracy.

Maybe one day some of the video material will see the light, because we did full interviews on camera. But I can’t think about that now, and it’s very possible I never will. When the project fell apart, in November 2021, we all agreed that it was over.

By then, Sinead was suffering from agoraphobia, the fear of being out in crowded places. Sometimes she couldn’t leave the house.

And then her beloved son, Shane, killed himself, aged 17, and she was shattered.

In the year that followed, I met her for a coffee at a place near her home and she seemed fine. We both knew she wasn’t, but she had a brave face on.

I’m grateful that wasn’t the last time I saw her. Like it or not, and she often didn’t like it, she was one of the biggest stars Ireland has ever seen.

It’s fitting that my final memory of this woman I knew for 35 years is on a stage, as I presented her with an award for her music, and the love of the audience rose up to engulf her.

Dave Fanning is a rock journalist, DJ and TV presenter.

Source: Read Full Article