Queen of the castle

Nui Te Koha

Herald-Sun (Australia), Nov. 9, 2008

THERE is a popular term for her market power: Enya-nomics.

"My career has never been based on fame," Enya says.

"I feel strength in that. I am fortunate.

"People bought the music before they knew if Enya was a band, or a solo artist, or whoever.

"Some people still don't know."

In a music world hooked on image, charts and quantity, Enya is the exception.

Enya does not need to be famous. The music, by itself, is quite enough. Nui Te Koha talks to the mysterious Irish singer who sells millions of albums - and hardly leaves the castle she calls home

Famously, when she signed a record deal 20 years ago, Enya had two demands -- no interference and no deadlines.

She has now sold 70 million albums worldwide and those requirements are still met.

Enya, 47, born Eithne Ni Bhraonian, remains a deliberate enigma.

"I was always quiet, even as a child, so there has always been an air of mystery around me," she says.

"At school, they'd always say, 'Oh, we never know what Eithne's thinking or what she'll say next'."

As Enya became a global success she said even less. Her reluctance to court celebrity cast her as a recluse.

When she bought a castle in 1997, the media perception of Enya alone in her tower was complete.

"It's more important to have my private life and freedom than come out and argue about how I'm seen," she says.

"It's a small disadvantage in trying to retain my privacy. I can live with it."

Enya lives in Killiney, south of Dublin. Her neighbours include Bono, The Edge and Van Morrison.

Her castle, which she renamed Manderley, overlooks the Irish Sea.

"It's Victorian, so it's quite a romantic castle. It's not Medieval. And it's a not a vast castle -- as castles go."

Enya, who outbid dancer Michael Flatley for the property, loved the views, light-filled rooms and privacy.

"I didn't want to make it a museum piece," she says.

"I have a lot of nephews and nieces and they have to be able to race around the place.

"I'm not, 'Don't touch!'. I don't want an uncomfortable environment."

But, in a stalker incident three years ago, Manderley became a castle of horror.

An attacker broke into the castle, tied up a maid, then spent two hours hunting for Enya.

Enya hid in a panic room and activated an alarm.

A week before, another stalker invaded Enya's home. He was arrested.

In 1996, a man, 31, who moved to Dublin to be near Enya, stabbed himself outside a pub owned by the singer's parents.

"I don't like to focus too much on those incidents otherwise I'd really become a recluse," she says.

"I'd lock the door and never go out.

"It's not only celebrities who have these problems. I have other friends, who, for various reasons, have had stalkers.

"I sympathise with the stalker because they are in a different world and need help.

"I do try to understand the stalker. Maybe they've been through a difficult time, maybe my songs mean something and they need to connect.

"Obviously, a stalker feels that they have bonded with you, because the music makes them better. Or worse.

"I know they're not in a good place and they need counselling. But I sympathise."

We are at Carton House, an exclusive retreat near Dublin with lush fields of changing autumn colours.

It is the perfect setting for Enya to elaborate on her new album, the seasonally-themed And Winter Came.

It began, two years ago, as a Christmas record.

Then Enya and longtime collaborators, producer Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan, found the songs had a winter theme.

"There was a slowness and that set the pace," Enya says.

"It is a very reflective time of year. It is a time to face a lot of questions and decisions."

Enya and Ryan worked, as they always do, at their home studios, from 10am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

"It's quite disciplined. I use the time to find the emotional feeling of what we are trying to express. It can happen in the first week, two weeks, three weeks or six months.

"I do class myself as a very slow writer and composer.

"But I go to the studio every day. I am very disciplined.

"Even if I don't write anything, it's a day nearer to writing that melody."

N ICKY has said their sessions are creative and, often, packed with conflict.

"Oh, we fight," Enya agrees.

"It can get very heated between us. But once we get past the argument, it's trial and error.

"Time is a factor that works in our favour. If it doesn't work, we erase it."

They showed the same tough quality control when rappers The Fugees and Diddy asked to sample Enya's vocal. Both hip-hop acts looped the haunting cut, Boadicea.

It powered The Fugees hit, Ready Or Not and a Diddy-Mario Winans collaboration, I Don't Wanna Know.

"It was so interesting to hear different renderings of our song," Enya says.

"We sent a few back that didn't work. But when it sounds good, musically, we say yes."

Ryan said he brokered a deal with Diddy. They let him sample Enya if Diddy returned the favour.

Enya frowns.

"That wasn't the deal," she says.

"I do know we were invited to his house for dinner. We still haven't eaten."

But Enya, worth an estimated $187,400,000, can buy her own meal ticket. She recalls a record company meeting after her debut album, Watermark, impacted.

"There is no need to tour, because you have surpassed sales," her then-label boss, Rob Dickins, told Enya.

"You don't have to sell this music. It is selling itself."

She remembers Watermark, released 20 years ago, fondly.

"It's like a diary. Each song has its own little story," she says.

"It was only after making that album I thought, 'Will people really enjoy that fact I'm singing in Gaelic and Latin? Will they like a song called Orinoco Flow?

"Certainly, I wasn't thinking about the commercial side.

"I enjoyed, musically, the challenge that each song pushed me in."

Oddly, Enya's new single, Trains and Winter Rains, harks back to Watermark's accessible pop moments.

"There are feelings of gathering on this new album," Enya says.

"Togetherness. Family."

Enya reveals she often takes secret trips to Sydney to visit her sister.

"I get on a plane very quietly and I'm there," she says. "Nobody knows."

She travels incognito and gets an occasional knowing glance.

"It happens at the most obscure places, too," she laughs.

"Somebody will approach me and say, 'Do you know you look like Enya?'

"I've thought about playing along and denying it. But that wouldn't be right. I am Enya."

And Winter Came is out now.

Note: Transcribed by Book of Days, with thanks to China Rose for finding the article online.