Charmed living for Celtic Thunder

WHEN Celtic Thunder's resident Scotsman George Donaldson toured Australia last year he met up with a friend who had emigrated a decade ago outside Sydney's Opera House.

"We were just sitting and I said 'What did I do right in life to do this? I'm sitting in Australia, outside the Opera House, just across from the Harbour Bridge and, oh my goodness, it's a charmed life'," he said.

Donaldson arrived in Sydney from Glasgow last week ahead of the group's second tour of Australia, a five-week jaunt that will stop in Newcastle on his birthday, February 1.

It will be the third time the ensemble have visited Australia in two years (they made a promotional visit in March 2011 and toured in February 2012) - an irony not lost on the father-of-one.

He had to cancel plans for his family's first trip Down Under when invited by Celtic Thunder creator and producer Sharon Browne to join the group in 2008.

"My wife said to me, 'You'll regret it if you don't do the show'," Donaldson said.

"Here we are just six years later and now they're sending us to Australia for work!"

Donaldson grew up in Glasgow with

five sisters and three brothers, but none had tried to learn the guitar that had

been a fixture in their parents' home.

"I got a few books out of the library and bought a few books and then started jamming with a couple of friends, but I was never any good," he said.

"I went to Spain for holidays one year when I was 17 and I saw a guy just standing in a bar just singing who had everyone singing along with him and I thought, 'This is what I want to do with my life'."

Donaldson's first gig was at 20, and he became a well-known figure on Scotland's Celtic folk circuit.

One of his proudest moments was performing for his late father, music enthusiast Bernard, and 65,000 fans at the Glasgow Celtics opening match of the 2000 season.

He mastered guitar and flute (he is also learning fiddle from his daughter Sarah, as well as the German language) and always wanted to take his love of music to another level, but the opportunity never seemed to come up.

Now 43, Donaldson was a bus builder for 15 years until deciding to audition for Celtic Thunder, partly after reading Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.

"That is my favourite book and one of the things in that book is you're never too old to do anything," he said.

"If I hadn't read that book I don't know whether I would have just accepted my lot and just thought 'don't take a risk in life'. It was the beginning of the show; it's not like we were joining something that was established."

But the gamble paid off. The group, also including four Irishmen, have become known all over the world for their eclectic mix of music - traditional numbers that appeal to ancestral roots, originals and pop covers - and have had the honour of opening the St Patrick's Day Parade in New York and performing at the White House for US President Obama.

On stage, Donaldson pays homage to a musical hero, Harry Chapin, by playing Cat's In The Cradle.

"I wrote a song about him and sent it to his wife and she wrote back to me saying she really liked the song and she appreciates how much I loved her husband, because he died about 30 years ago in a car accident," he said.

"That song is in the show and she came to one of the shows and is now a fan of Celtic Thunder."

Donaldson released his debut solo album, The White Rose, in 2011 and continues with his own projects.

"I love the fact when I go back to Glasgow I still sing in a bar that I've been playing in for 20 years and I just love getting in there, setting up my own speakers and just doing my own thing," he said.

"It's totally a charmed life, to be able to do something on the biggest stages in the world and then go back home and sit and sing in the pub.

"Maybe it keeps you grounded; keeps you being realistic about life to know that, your experiences, you're very fortunate to have."

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