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From The Irish Times - April 2, 2006                    

Music star O'Donnell 'raped' by industry

SHE was Ireland’s leading country music star, even out-selling the Beatles in the 1970s, but now Margo O’Donnell says she fears poverty after being “raped” by the music business for 30 years.

The elder sister of Daniel O’Donnell says a promise she made to her father before he died tied her to singing country music until it nearly destroyed her. “I have to be honest and tell it like it was — a horrid business that raped me for 30 years.

“I have lost millions by being used by people in the business,” said O’Donnell, 55. “Every pound I earned had someone else’s name on it.”

O’Donnell wanted to be a nurse but, after her father died suddenly when she was 16, she felt compelled to honour a promise she made to him on the day he died that she would look after the family. “I wanted to get married and to have three or four children. Instead I am on my own and taking each day at a time to cope with my past.”

O’Donnell’s mother, Julia, was left penniless with her five children in a council cottage in Kincasslagh when the 49-year-old farm labourer died.

The 10 shillings the 16-year-old Margo earned each time she performed with her band kept the family going. Within a year of her father’s death O’Donnell appeared on the Late Late Show, which launched her career. She got a manager who paid her a weekly wage.

“I was 17 and just so naive. I had absolutely nobody with me to look after me,” she said. “It was the money that really forced me to take the job. It was £100 a week and that was a lot then and would mean that I could look after the family and honour my father’s promise.”

All O’Donnell’s earnings from a gruelling tour schedule were sent home to her mother, who used them to feed and clothe Daniel, James, Kathleen and older brother John, who worked in a local shop. Within two years she had her first No 1 single and her wage was increased to £200 a week.

However, O’Donnell received nothing from the sale of her records. “Of course I didn’t even know what royalties were back then and I certainly didn’t get any.”

In 1974, when severe head injuries suffered in a car accident left her out of work for more than a year she received no pay, despite the fact her records were outselling the Beatles. “It was a very hard time for me. And after it I really hit rock bottom.”

The singer turned to alcohol, which combined with the painkillers she was taking left her severely depressed.

She became dependent on anti-depressants during the early 1980s. During this time, without her knowledge, her master tapes had been sold on to a Belfast company that was making a fortune by releasing them.

After counselling and a stint in rehab the singer launched a court battle in the 1990s to win back her master tapes but found her health was deteriorating. She was forced to stop touring after being diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called dyscrasia.

In 2002 when she won her court case a judge said that her tapes should have always belonged to her but she had no way of going after the millions that had been lost over her career in royalties and releases.

O’Donnell’s psychiatrist told the court that the singer had suffered emotionally and physically over a 30-year period in the music industry and was now worried about her finances.

O’Donnell’s story will be told in A Little Bit Country on Friday, April 7 on RTE1 at 7.30pm

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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006