Sunday, 24 April 2016

From the archives April 2016..

Comeback kid keeps his cool on the Costa

Barry Egan Twitter
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'THINGS fall apart," Yeats wrote in The Second Coming, "The centre cannot hold." And in 1983 things were falling apart for Maurice Boland with distressing abandon . . .

The undisputed king of the radio waves.

The shine had worn off the golden boy of Irish nightlife - and almost every penny he had ever earned was gone too. Even when he talks about it today, you see his Daz-white smile fade.

"I was almost destitute," he says, sitting at a beach-side restaurant in Marbella. Just before leaving his native Ireland for Spain, Boland lost a very costly court case over a property in Rathmichael. Hubris had cost him practically his entire fortune, apart from "a little bit of money" he had left to buy a nightclub from former Formula 1 driver James Hunt - on a whim. And that investment proved disastrous too.

"I was getting worse and worse. I had three kids. I came to Marbella in 1983 and was poor beyond belief until 1988. It was the most terrible five or six years, but I wanted to win. I couldn't go back to Dublin with my tail between my legs.

I couldn't pay my rent. I couldn't pay the school fees. But I couldn't let my face not be seen - when any Irish people came over, we went out."

He remembers New Year's Eve 1985 when he hadn't "even five quid" to take his wife Wendy out. "We were absolutely broke. And my poor wife put up with me," he says with disarming candour.

"I remember that New Year's Eve. We couldn't go out and she was crying. Not that she wanted to spend money, but the fact that we couldn't even afford to go out on New Year's Eve. She's a tremendous person, and didn't deserve that."

It wasn't always like that. Boland met Wendy Gilbertson when she was modelling at a fashion show for Elvery's at the Mansion House in 1968. She came out onstage in a swimsuit and he recalls that he "couldn't breathe" at the apparition he saw on the catwalk. He went backstage and asked to bring her for dinner.

Although born in Scotland and brought up in South Africa, Wendy met Maurice when her family moved to Dublin.

"And with that, who came back but Brian Stafford - whose father was then the Lord Mayor - and she linked his arm and left. He was a rugby player and I felt like a right wet rat."

Maurice laughs, his deep voice rattling with laughter like dustbin lids colliding. "But I pursued her."

He did a good job. They were married in 1971 - in a Registry Office, because Wendy wasn't Jewish, as Boland was. She converted when their kids - Justin, Nicholas and Daniel - were born "but not by my pressure".

Maurice and Wendy were one of the golden couples of Seventies Dublin. They became what is the equivalent of the Posh and Becks of Dublin Society. They lived in a mansion in Killiney (Marino House, now the Greek Embassy) and appeared to have the world at their Gucci-adorned feet. Life was going so well for the 22-year-old owner of Elizabeth's - Ireland's first proper nightclub - that he bought a brand new Rolls Royce.

Driving it home for the first time, he ran out of petrol on the dual carriageway and had to flag a postman down. Maurice - with his long hair, frilly shirt and rich velvet coat - was soon on the back of a Honda 50 motorbike holding two bottles of petrol to get the Roller home. Opening the curtains the next morning, his wife asked what was that monstrosity in the driveway.

"It's my Rolls Royce," he soothed.

"No way," Wendy warned him. "I'm not getting in that. Get rid of it."

He did. That afternoon the car went back to the dealer without a second's thought. Flash Maurice simply swapped it for a top of the range James Bond-style Jag.

He was in a position where he could do things like that, as everything he touched seemed to turn to gold - most notably his nightclub.

In 1969, Maurice saw a 'To Let' sign over a Leeson Street basement and went to investigate. When he told his father, Dr Stanley Boland, the idea of people going down the stairs to a basement and dance to records and drink wine, he told his son he was taking him to see a shrink.

But that basement soon became Ireland's most famous discotheque and a virtual adult playground for the Young Turks of Irish society to sup Dee Pee and other hitherto unknown fine wines. (In those days, the only wine Irish people drank was Blue Nun.)

"Elizabeth's revolutionised Irish nightlife forever," he says. "Before Elizabeth's, people used to go to the ballrooms and drink tea and lemonade." He called his club Elizabeth's because, at that time, he was quite fond of Liz Willoughby - who was then the Cindy Crawford of Ireland.

At the opening of Ireland first Discotheque. Elizabeth Willoughby then Ireland's top model with her sister Barbara. Maurice always denied he was dating the stunning model.

Then in 1971 he opened a club with Louis Murray and called it Barbarellas, after Liz's sister Barbra. He bought a hotel for £100,000 and named it Sachs Hotel, after Gunter Sachs (the Lothario who married Brigitte Bardot).

"That period of my life was amazing," he says. "Anyone famous who came to Ireland came to Elizabeth's." Young Michael Smurfit was a regular, as were Brian Lenihan and Charlie Haughey.

He remembers CJH paying a bill one night in the Seventies with a £25 cheque. "When you consider that, in those days, a bottle of Mateus Rose was ten shillings, a Green Label was 19 shillings and a bottle of Dom Perignon was £3, it puts it into some sort of perspective," Maurice explains, adding that Haughey was a friend of the Boland family. (Maurice's mother Hazel once ran for FF in Dun Laoghaire.)

There were many strange sights seen in Elizabeth's. One night he found one globally famous rock star "screwing" another rock star's wife. "I heard noise coming from one of the alcoves when the lights came on at the end of the night. And there they were. They were half . . . his trousers were around his knees. It was an extraordinary sight."

Other extraordinary apparitions seen in Elizabeth's included the entire French rugby team fighting on the dance floor, a rock star's son looking for ladies to bring back to the hotel for his daddy, and Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris holding court into the wee small hours.

Then there were the wives coming to the front door, demanding to know if their husbands were inside carousing with young wans - while Maurice and his staff were quickly ushering the husbands home by the back exit.

But it was another kind of regular knock that caused Elizabeth's eventual demise - that of the Garda Siochana.

"Elizabeth's was phenomenal, but there was one drawback - I was breaking the law," he recalls with a smile. He explains the system he had in place to deal with police raids. "Can you imagine the police coming in at two in the morning, and the Smurfits at one table and Charlie Haughey at another - and nothing on the tables? Underneath the tables were bottles of wine. We'd have to clear them. This went on for years."

Then one day Ted Kennedy was in Ireland and Maurice was asked to close the club in order to have a private party exclusively for the Senator. Not knowing who was in the club, the guards came down that night to raid the place - "to get me" claims Maurice.

Maurice told them: "I don't think it is a good idea to come in tonight, because Ted Kennedy is here, and Charles Haughey is here."

Unluckily for him, someone ("I suspect I know who it was," he says) told the newspapers that that young pup Boland had told police to "f**k off" and was reported as such. "And the police came after me after that," he says.

And did you?

"I didn't tell the police that at all," he says.

The final move to shut him down was a raid by plain-clothes police on June 13, 1976. He remembers the date clearly, because it was the night his son Justin was born.

There was a ring at the bell as normal. Maurice looked through the peep-hole and saw no uniforms. But on opening the doors, 20 police thundered down the steps and shouted out: "No one move."

Then, as if on cue, the phone rang. No - it wasn't his friend and regular customer Charlie Haughey, ordering the guards off the premises. It was Maurice's mother ringing to tell him his child had been born.

Boland says he was allowed to sell his nightclub. He still had Barbarellas, but also sold Sachs. It was time for a fresh challenge so he quit Ireland for Spain. As it turns out, Maurice had something of a history of leaving Ireland in search of adventures new.

One summer in 1965 his parents went to America on holiday and left their son at home to study for his Inter Cert exams. He hated school and decided to run away to Germany with his band, the King Bees. "They left in the morning for America and I got on a boat in the afternoon for Germany," he smiles.

Maurice at 15 playing Hanover in 1966.

Maurice's grandmother, Fanny Ross, tracked him down via a message he had left in the kitchen before he made his hasty departure. So, one night before a King Bees gig, a man approached Maurice to say: "Herr Boland, your grandmother is on the phone from Dublin."

She told him in the warmest terms not to smoke funny cigarettes or sleep with funny women. Ironically, just as Fanny Ross was telling Herr Boland this, there was this beautiful girl sitting opposite making very deliberate eye contact with the 15-year-old runaway. "You're the drummer," she said, "maybe I could see you after the show."

Maurice never played so fast in his life, because he thought he "might get to touch her breasts". He got more than he bargained for. "I lost my virginity with her."

"Afterwards, I was quite nervous and I asked her to get me a taxi to go back. As I was leaving, this man came into the living room and said: 'That'll be 30DM.' She was a hooker! My first time was with a hooker! So when I went back to the room I was a hero with the band."

On the band's circuitous route back to Dublin, via London, they ended up one night sleeping in Piccadilly Circus, because they had no money.

The young Maurice suddenly remembered something his mother told him: that his godmother owned the Dorchester Hotel.

It was raining when he pitched up at the reception desk of the famous London hotel and repeated what his mother had told him. He added that his parents were in America, he had no money and he wanted a bed, please.The manager bent down and asked the 15-year-old the name of his godmother. "Nan Gluckstein," came the reply. "Mrs Gluckstein died 10 years ago, but come with me," he was told. They booked him into the nearby Regent Palace Hotel, and gave him enough money to get home to Dublin the next morning. "That was my adventure in Germany," he says with a grin.

Cut to more than 25 years later, and Maurice's adventure in Spain, which was looking like it was coming to a head. "It was 1991 and I was at the point where I knew it was time I stopped pissing around in showbusiness. I had to pay school fees, I was 42, and it was time to get a real job."

Maurice was hired to drive a van seven nights a week and also set up the Karaoke system for a local entertainer.

One night, the guy who sang the songs called to say he couldn't come in for the next three nights. It was politely suggested to Maurice that he sing. "Are you f**king joking? I can't sing. I'm dyslexic! How the f**k am I going to do Karaoke?" was Maurice's considered response.

Eventually, a friend of his told him to sing high notes because it's easier. The trick seemed to work as Maurice got away with Sugar Sugar. Though he admits he was in the toilet beforehand "crapping myself".

But the night had much more significance than that. "The first person then got up on the stage to sing," he recalls, "and as he was singing Tutti Frutti I stopped the music and said: 'I don't mean to be rude, but what tune are you singing? Because it's not what I'm playing here!' And the place cracked up."

On stage at Rudy's RoadRunner 1993
In that instant, Maurice's entire life changed.

"So I did that for five years, and was earning over £1,000 an hour. Then someone spotted me and asked me would I be interested in radio . . . "

Even allowing for hyperbole, Maurice Boland is the biggest star of Spain's ex-pat radio. Last year he helped set up a new radio station called REMfm and his talk show on the station is the talk of this side of the island. The grandes fromages of Montrose should give it a listen.

He and Wendy live the life of Riley in a house that boasts its own cinema. Despite his wealth, Maurice - whom some people take an instant dislike to - is not the pompous buffoon I had expected.

He is extremely charming and - quelle horreur -very, very nice. In the early Seventies, he tells me, the fledgling Sunday World publisher Gerry McGuinness sent out a young reporter to interview Boland about his life."I took an instant dislike to the journalist and rang Gerry to ask him to send someone more senior. From that on,the Sunday World refer-red to me as 'Nice Maurice.'"Nice Maurice was born on June 2, 1949, to a Jewish family in Mount Merrion. Growing up, he never knew anti-Semitism, as he went to an "extremely snobby" Protestant boarding school in Dundrum. His parents, Dr Stanley and Dr Hazel Boland, weren't at all religious and didn't encourage him, he says, to hang around exclusively with Jewish people. They always tried to encourage interaction with all races.

He went sailing at one Irish yacht club when he 11 and wanted to join "but they wouldn't let Jews become members" in those days. That was pretty common around the world, he says.

HE tells me the story of when world-famous comedian Groucho Marx brought his kid in for a swim at his local golf club. The manager stopped him, saying: "I'm really sorry, Mr Marx, but you're a non-member and we can't let your kid swim."

"I'll become a member," Groucho countered.

"We don't let Jews join, so therefore you can't."

Marx looked him up and down before answering: "Well, he's half Jewish. Can he swim up to his waist?"

But Maurice never encountered racist behaviour. "I haven't faced anti-Semitism, because I'm very in-your-face; if you were anti-Semitic to me, I'd be very, very angry."

Nice Maurice had come straight from the Marbella synagogue to meet me for lunch on Victor's Beach. He is vice-president of the Jewish community in Malaga. "That's not bad for an Irishman," he says over coffee.

"I am a practising Jew. I spend an hour daily in prayer before I set off to the studios. But I must add that I'm not fanatically religious. Although Marbella is relatively small, we have a very active Jewish community of which I am very proud. Only a few weeks ago we had a visit from the Chief Rabbi of Israel," he says with a depth which is almost joyful. However, a visit from an RTE camera crew in the late Eighties left him far from joyful. He had received a phone call, saying there was an Irish film crew coming down to do a programme about well-known Irish people living on the Costa.

"They came to this very beach to film me," he remembers with a wry chuckle."They told me that the film was in two parts. One week, it's about the Joe Murphys and the Charlie Gunnes, and the second part was about criminals, the people who are wanted in Ireland.

"So I said: 'Jesus, don't put me anywhere near people who are wanted in Ireland.' But none of the people with homes here would co-operate with them - except me - so they had only one programme. So they put me in that show."

He explains that his mother - "a little Jewish woman" - saw it and rang him in Spain to say: "Maurice, my boy, you were wonderful, you were made for TV - but I'm not sure you'll like the show." She sent a video of the programme to her son in Marbella - and sure enough, he didn't like it one bit.

"It showed people beating up cameramen and putting their hands up. And me going: 'Hey! How are you? This ismy club! This is my home!' And it said that I had left Ireland after a dispute with the Inland Revenue!

"It was absolutely incredible. I just sat there with my mouth open," he remembers. He phoned his lawyer who told him that he was just about to serve papers on RTE. Wendy and Maurice flew back for the case and even made the RTE News headlines. The case lasted for three full days in front of a jury.

He says he was fighting the combined might of RTE.

"So my senior counsel got up and told the court: 'I'm representing someone who's trying to keep his good name. He has done nothing wrong. He was duped into this programme. His mum's a doctor in Dun Laoghaire. People have come up to her and said: 'Don't worry, my son's been in prison as well.'

"The jury went out at noon and by six they still hadn't returned. Don't forget I had lost all my money in court before," he tells me. "Then they eventually returned, and the judge read out: 'Did Mr Boland believe that RTE were doing a programme about the ordinary Irish people on the Costa, or did he know it was about criminals? The answer is the jury do not believe [he knew] it was about criminals . . . '"

Maurice remembers that the clock was ticking behind him. "By question three it was all in my favour," he remembers. "And the people in the court were clapping. I burst into tears. I got into the car with Wendy, and asked her did we win any money."

"We won £50,000 plus costs," she told her still-dazed husband.

"RTE had to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in costs," Maurice says. "Iwas totally vindicated - and rightly so. And that's why I believe RTE has never ever given me a break. I don't know about nowadays, but certainly then."

The press headlines announces Boland's victory in the high court

Nice Maurice harbours plans to one day return to Ireland - to take over the Late Late Show. "I'm certainly good enough to carry it off, better than Pat Kenny," he says. "And I think I'd be brilliant in that slot."

Who knows? To paraphrase Yeats, maybe the secondcoming of Maurice Boland in Ireland will be upon us one day soon.

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