‘I was a huge fan, I didn’t see the red flags waving’: My strange encounter with Russell Brand

Russell Brand was back in the headlines this week. Sara Colahan recalls the evening she worked with him in Dublin, and how she is still attempting to process a strange encounter
‘I was a huge fan, I didn’t see the red flags waving’: My strange encounter with Russell Brand

Russell Brand, who has been interviewed under caution by the London Metropolitan Police over allegations of sexual offences.

In 2007, Dublin’s National Stadium was charged with anticipation for Russell Brand’s inaugural Irish performance. 

Fans eagerly awaited Brand’s charismatic stage presence and my cabaret show was the warm-up act for this upcoming comedy sensation. 

With a background in entertainment spanning decades, I thought I’d seen it all. But this night would prove to be unlike any other.

While I was working as a journalist in Dublin I set up a touring cabaret show, which ran for a number of years in Ireland and Britain. 

Between writing features, creating fashion shoots for magazines such as Tatler and Hot Press, and producing shows, I’ve worked in the fashion and music scene for decades, and I’m fairly familiar with the entertainment scene. 

My work often included working with celebrities, and I remember being particularly excited to be working with Russell Brand on his first Irish gig, because I was genuinely a huge fan.

Despite Russell Brand not being universally well known in Ireland in 2007, the venue was buzzing, packed with avid fans. 

Before he arrived, the atmosphere backstage was electric too. We were all keen to meet the larger-than-life, hilarious Brand. 

Most of us had seen him on telly and knew him as funny, charismatic, highly intelligent, and very easy on the eye.

I remember thinking Brand’s demeanour seemed off, very distant, with no eye contact when we met just before the show. 

Little did I know that my initial impression would be the first of many red flags throughout the night.

Sara Colohan with Russell Brand in 2007. Picture: Sara Colohan
Sara Colohan with Russell Brand in 2007. Picture: Sara Colohan


We posed for photos moments before the stage lights came on and, after my performers danced and sang to a packed house, Russell performed his smash-hit stand-up.

After Russell’s performance, I packed up our kit and headed to the Clarence Hotel for the afterparty. 

I met a male friend of mine who had been to the gig himself and was a huge fan of Brand. 

Naturally, I invited him along to the hotel, but he was abruptly told ‘men weren’t allowed’. 

It was another hint something was off but at the time, I was simply embarrassed by the decision, not really alarmed. 

We were all still high from our big gig and ready to have a few drinks and maybe flirt with the star of the show.

When we arrived, there were lots of girls we didn’t know already there. 

I noticed, as the night wore on, Brand’s behaviour became unsettling. 

His eyes appeared glazed, and with a bottle of water in one hand, he casually started to pick out girls from the crowd. 

Pointing to three girls sitting quietly at a table near us, he said, ‘You, you, and you. Come with me,' and gestured with his finger.

My jaw dropped. Where was that flamboyant, cheeky persona we had all fallen for? 

His actions seemed devoid of effort or charm, just straight, direct commands. The girls dutifully got up and left with him. 

I don’t know where they went, but about 30 minutes later, Brand reappeared with a fresh t-shirt and a fresh bottle of water and began to scan the room to repeat the process, pointing at new girls, ‘You and you’.

I didn’t know or speak to any of those girls, so I don’t know their story or what happened when they left the lounge area. 

I kept the youngest members of my team close, the ones I felt most responsible for. There was an unfamiliar charge in the room.


I was relieved when my youngest team member left for home and the crowd started to thin out. 

Some of my remaining team were chosen to go to the penthouse to continue partying. I wasn’t one of them. 

I suspect because I had already started to become a bit of a killjoy. 

Earlier, Brand’s co-writer had been very rude and blunt with a couple of my younger girls, and I challenged his behaviour. 

I told him I thought it was a shame such a clever, intelligent man would rely on such basic tactics.

I struck up a conversation with an older member of Brand’s team, and within a few minutes, we decided to leave the party and go for a few late drinks elsewhere. 

We had a long chat, and I told him I’d never seen anyone behave like that in my life. 

He said he had been hired specifically because he had previously managed an act known for extreme behaviour, infamous on the touring circuit.

I repeatedly asked if Brand was on drugs because his demeanour that night was inexplicable to me otherwise. 

He said again and again that Brand wasn’t on anything and it was his job to ensure he stayed clean. I remember him telling me Brand wasn’t even drinking caffeine.

I certainly did not see anything illegal that night, and I can say, only in hindsight, that what I believe I witnessed was a man on the edge of serious fame, with a widening circle of enablers around him, some well-aware and some less so. 

That circle included his team, promoters, and maybe even me, as I inadvertently brought my entire team, females only, to that after-party.

I’ve since felt conflicted that I didn’t say more on the night. I’ve wondered why I didn’t refuse to go to the after-party. 

Maybe I should have demanded that our male friends and partners be allowed to attend. 

That night I was being paid to do a job, and I got caught up in the moment, excited to be invited to the after-party. I was such a huge fan, that I didn’t see the red flags waving.

I remember at the time feeling disappointed by Brand’s actions. 

There were no jokes, no conversation that I could see; just a grown 6’3’ man with very big hair casting an intimidating figure, selecting women from his tiers of female fans. 

It took years for me to process what I witnessed. I grappled with how to articulate it, as the vocabulary to describe the behaviour didn’t exist back then. 

I’ve told many people since about that night, accepting that some girls knew exactly what they were doing and were fully consenting and in control.

Russell Brand is seen on June 26, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Russell Brand is seen on June 26, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.


People wonder why witnesses wait so long to come forward, but I understand that processing complex events can take years to comprehend and categorise. 

Without these serious allegations against Russell Brand – allegations he has denied – I would never have written this story for a newspaper.

Looking back on over 30 years of working with creatives and celebrities, I’ve never witnessed that kind of environment since. That particular type of chaos is not something I’d like to witness again.

As for the conspiracy theorists who think there’s some ‘state collusion’ involved in taking Brand down — I’m certainly not part of any joint effort to discredit him. 

I don’t care if he upsets mainstream media, or single-handedly brings down Big Pharma, or any other anti-establishment entity. 

This isn’t some vendetta against a controversial figure; it’s about holding an individual accountable for their actions. 

If he’s guilty of any one of these horrid crimes, why wouldn’t I support a mass effort to shed light on it? 

I’d like to think we have evolved from the time when we would wait until a person was six feet under before revealing to the world they were not a national treasure but a toxic ball of manipulation and chaos who got away with things for far too long.

I know there are people convinced Brand’s not capable of these alleged crimes.

Maybe it will be proven his behaviour was not against the law, but it’s a stark reminder that legality doesn’t equate to acceptability. 

It’s time everyone supported the evolving commitment to accountability and truth and for all involved in the entertainment industry to realise backstage antics can be questioned, no matter how famous the person is or thinks they are.

As Phillipa Perry once said, “Narcissists become fabulous at everyone’s expense”. Perhaps it’s now time for accountability to take centre stage.

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