Irish dancing superstar Michael Flatley won the hearts of all the competitors at the World Irish Dancing Championships today when he urged them to keep the faith.

“You don’t have to win every competition every time,” he said “and God knows I lost a lot of them.”

“I would encourage every dancer – if you follow what’s in your heart, if you work hard, if you listen to your teachers and really work, no matter where you are in the world, you can be a champion at anything you want. And just because you didn’t win a medal, just remember you’ve come a long way to make it into this competition. You’re already a star by being here.”

Flatley made his appearance at about 4pm and he certainly didn’t shy away from his fans. In fact, he welcomed them with open arms, literally!

Flatley moved through the adoring crowd at the Kimmel Center, hugging dancers and wishing them well and posing happily for photographs.

“I was dying to come today,” he said. “I wanted to be here and meet all of these wonderful kids.”

Calling himself “the luckiest man in the whole world,” Flatley said:  “I can’t say it enough. I read an article about a big movie star saying he hates the photographers and he hates being in magazines and he hates the crowds and the autographs.

“I thought: why the feck are you in the business then? You should have been a plumber or a carpenter if that is how you feel.

“Me? I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

Flatley said he was delighted to see the numbers of Americans involved in Irish dance. He said that he was one of just a handful of Americans dancing when he started.

Flatley says that Irish dance will only get bigger from here on in. With an astonishing 6,000 dancers in Philadelphia, “it can only go from strength to strength,” he said.

“I would imagine that these numbers would explode over the next 10 years. Irish dancing is the greatest!

“I’m not sure any other dance form as this sort of following and I’d like to say right here today I’m proud of the Irish Americans and what they have done here.”

Flatley paid tribute to the Irish Dancing Commission for building the event in Philadelphia. “Just the sheer amount of money it costs to run this sort of thing but it is going to do so much good for Irish dancing, and particularly here in the United States.”

And Flatley had even more praise for the Irish dancers themselves. “I’m absolutely certain I couldn’t dance nearly as well when I was their age.”

“I think there is a delicate balance between working so hard at something and still being able to enjoy it, and I see a lot of happy faces out here, so that tells me they are doing it perfectly.

“I think these gifted people will have a treasure trove of memories and life long friends.

“I am so delighted for these youngsters because they have such an enormous chance to go on and do great things.”

Flatley was accompanied by his wife, Niamh, and his son, Michael St. James.