‘I don’t know what went wrong’
With the astonishing candour of a man still in raw shock, tenor Paul Byrom opens his heart about his recent marriage split... and the pain of losing not just his wife but also his father-in-law Phil Coulter
‘The thought of starting again breaks my heart’
PAUL Byrom is in great shape. His athletic physique is the result of CrossFit, a daily exercise regime that, he says, doubles as a coping mechanism. For although the charismatic tenor — who has carved out a transatlantic career as one of the nation’s top classical singers — may look like he doesn’t have a care in the world, the reality is very different.
Up until this year Paul was one half of music’s golden couple. He was married to his sweetheart Dominique, daughter of musician Phil Coulter. The couple first met when Paul performed on Coulter’s Tranquillity cruise when Dominique was 22.
But after five years of marriage, Paul says their relationship is over. However he admits he still doesn’t understand how, or why, things fell apart.
‘I will say for as long as I live, for however long that may be, I will never understand what happened,’ he says. ‘In all honesty, I don’t know how I’m not married any more and I don’t think I will ever understand that. That’s something I have to come to terms with and move on.
‘I think the transition from New York back to Dublin and starting a life that we thought we would have here was more difficult than either of us expected. It put a strain on the marriage, for sure.
‘I’m sitting now wondering what’s next for me. I’m almost 40 and the thought of starting again breaks my heart.’
Paul speaks openly and frankly about his emotional situation. He’s still trying to process the massive personal upheaval he now has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Moving on is not a process he takes lightly as he had to put on hold his dreams of starting a family.
‘Deep down I thought I had met the one. I was madly in love with her,’ he says of Dominique. ‘I was very proud to call her my wife. I thought we would have kids and live happily ever after. The thought of trying to find the courage to date again or the thought of even getting married again is just odd.
‘I don’t think I will ever get married again, if I’m honest. But I can’t see myself living alone either. I don’t want to be that guy who lives with his dog and talks to him on Instagram every day.’
Paul is currently living in a rented apartment and is keeping as busy as possible. His friends have been ‘invaluable’, bringing him to the pub for football matches. He is also getting serious support from his CrossFit crew. He no longer wears his wedding band, although a small tan line is visible on his ring finger.
He’s not yet ready to face the world of dating — let alone download the Tinder app.
‘The thought of Tinder is scary,’ he says. ‘I remember Dom and I used to watch First Dates a lot. I’m not shy and I love conversation and company and meeting people. But I used to watch it and wonder how these people were saying the things they did on camera. But here I am now in the same space.
‘It’s 11 years since I was dating and a lot has changed. I have changed. I’m grey in the beard and not as cool as I used to be — if I ever was.
‘It’s difficult and scary and painful but I’m immersing myself in work. I’ve been really lucky that it happened when I was at home in Ireland. The support I got from my family and friends is immense and I am saying yes to everything. If someone asked me if I wanted to watch a chess match I would agree because the thought of going home alone every evening is the worst.
‘Sitting at home alone is the hardest. I think that anyone who is going through a marriage break-up would say the same. All of a sudden, being alone is the hardest part.’
While the loss of his soulmate is tough enough to deal with, Paul also lost the professional connection to his father-in-law Phil. He concedes that losing his mentor hurts a great deal.
‘Losing the relationship with Phil was one of the hardest things to process as well,’ he says of the music legend who was his father-in-law.
‘I’ve lost a family. We would have been 20 years working together and he was very good to me. I was very loyal to him and we got on very well. That hurts a lot. His loyalty is with Dominique and I don’t hold that against him.
‘But I will say that there was no incident. No issues, nobody cheated on the other. I find myself thinking of them every day, the family, and I think of Dom every day still. I often dream about her.
‘It’s very real still when I wake up and realise she’s not there. I will figure it out and it will all play out in the end for the better. I love Dominique very much, I still do and I don’t wish her any ill.’
It would have been easy for Paul to stay in bed and not face his demons. But that’s not the person he is. He believes in talking and openly admits to seeking professional help when he felt overwhelmed at his personal situation.
‘I have to look after myself. I do — I talk a lot,’ he says. ‘I am not one of those men who won’t talk which is a huge thing for me. My own father committed suicide and that has stayed with me. He had his demons to deal with and I saw first-hand what keeping stuff to yourself can do. I struggled with levels of it myself
in recent years, when you come back and the work isn’t here, it starts playing on you. A man needs to work, whether that is PC or not, I don’t care. A man feels better when he’s working and I wasn’t. ‘That really got under my skin and got me down, to the point that I went and got help because of the fear of that developing into something that took me down a path I didn’t want to go down. I’m a big advocate of talking and getting help and not being ashamed of that. ‘Even with the break-up, I’ve chatted to people about it — I think it’s the best way to be. You have to look after yourself and I am no good to anyone six feet under. There is something exciting about that as well. It is about being positive. By being positive, good things will happen and if I try to be a good person it will all play out in the end.’ In 2007 Paul became one of the original soloists in the hit show Celtic Thunder. He toured North America and Australia with the group and had six Number 1 World Billboard albums. Last year his latest album Thinking of Home reached the top of the iTunes, Amazon and World Billboard Charts and he has just been named the Irish Tenor of the Year by the IMA for the second time in three years. Paul’s talent as a singer has taken him across the world, and some of his career highlights include performing for dignitaries such as Emperor Akihito of Japan, former Irish presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson and, most recently, for former US president Barack Obama. He says he has found real community though working in pantomime. As if the cosmos is listening, Paul’s phone beeps and it is one his fellow cast members in the Helix Panto. Paul has signed up for a three-month stint which will see him working all the way through Christmas.
He plays the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, making it his second year taking on the annual panto.
Last year, he was a star turn on The Helix stage in Beauty and the Beast where he played Gaston, much to the amusement of the young audiences who flocked through the doors.
And this year will be no different. Working, he says, helps him fill his hours and he loves treading the boards as a panto heel. He has already signed up for tour dates in the US throughout February and March, and he might even extend his time on tour in the States to give his heart more time to heal.
‘Professionally, America suits me better,’ Paul admits. ‘There is probably more work for me over there and more interest in me. Ireland is a small scene. If you’re not getting the profile, you’re not getting the work. In the States, if you get the work you’ll get the profile, which is bizarre.’
Paul is visibly angry when he speaks about the Ireland that he returned to.
‘Watching Peter Casey talk in the presidential debate about how he is going to encourage people to come back to Ireland or Leo tweeting about what a great time it is to move back to Ireland, it makes me sick in some respects.
‘Where are these people going to live when they come back? Yes, there are jobs going but where are you going to live?
‘These are serious issues for professional people like myself, who are working and contributing to society and you can’t find somewhere decent to live.
‘ It is not as rosy as the politicians are making out. I think it has tainted my view of this country, for the moment anyhow,’ he says.
While he has issues with the housing situation in the country, he admits in his heart he is happy to be home, on a personal level at least.
‘I love Ireland and I enjoy being here — personally, Ireland suits me. I enjoy being here among my family and friends,’ Paul says.
‘I like a pint on a Tuesday night in O’Donoghue’s, or going to Ranelagh and meeting friends at the last minute. My granny lives around the corner, she’s 99, and that means a lot to me.
That being said, I was in New York in September where I lived for four years and I had a free day. I got on a city bike and just cycled around wondering why I ever left.
I had a good life there and I was happy there. It was a great chapter in my life. So I might revisit that at some point, I just don’t know. ‘But for now, I’m coping and that’s good enough.’
Robin Hood will begin an eight week run from November 23 to January 20, 2019. Tickets priced from €19.50, are on sale from thehelix.ie and at The Helix Box Office.
‘Losing the relationship with Phil was hard’
Bliss: Paul Byrom with Dominique on their wedding day
Panto star: With his former father-in-law Phil