Three months on since winning Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) and still Mairead Ronan’s excitement is palpable. She hasn’t danced a step since she walked off that dancefloor but somehow still all conversations wind up back to talking about the most daunting experience she has ever undertaken in life. She is clearly still shocked she won. A 38-year-old mum-of-three, who’s confidence was on the floor, who felt “invisible” and who in her words had “a heap” of baby weight to lose – she never thought she stood a chance.
We meet today at The Baths in Clontarf, where her eldest boy Dara (12) recently celebrated his Confirmation, and which is just a short drive from their new north Dublin home. This is Mairead’s first ever family shoot. It’s a special one for her, clearly, and for us, too, because today we get to watch Mairead juggle family life and work, with exceptional tenderness and patience, even though it involves lots of drippy ice cream while wearing very expensive frocks and, while holding baby Bonnie (1) and toddler Eliza (3). This, as all mammies know is no mean feat. During our chat afterwards, we again see Mairead multi-task like a queen as she gently tickles her three-year old to sleep in her arms, while conducting an interview with topics ranging from the difficulties of a marriage breakdown, to finding her happy again.
Also up for discussion was, of course, her new Today FM radio show, announced just as we went to print (so exciting), she revealed how Bressie advised her to visualise winning the glitter ball trophy and she admitted that seeing Kathryn Thomas present last year’s series of Ireland’s Fittest Family (while Mairead was on maternity leave) was like watching “an ex-boyfriend get on REALLY well with a new girlfriend!” You comfy? Let’s go…
Mairead Ronan, your own radio show! This is something you have always dreamed of.
I am over the moon and yes, it is something I have always dreamed of but something I never thought would happen, mostly because I’ve worked behind the scenes. It’s a huge honour for me to be asked back to Today FM after leaving two years ago. I have grown up in Today FM. I have been there since I left college and to be there now, a married mum-of-three with my own show, it feels lovely.
You resigned from the station two years ago and have been mothering and freelancing ever since. Are you ready to go back to full-time work, because it will be a shift?
As everybody who works for themselves knows, it’s really difficult, really unpredictable and it can be brilliant and brutal, amazing hours one month, disastrous hours the next. This opportunity gives me some extremely nice working hours. I’ll be able to drop Eliza to Montessori at 9.30am and go straight to the office and I won’t be in very late. For the ages my children are it probably doesn’t get any better than this. I feel very lucky. It will allow me to have a normal life, albeit a very exciting one too.
It’s a tough business this media one, and you’ve had your fair share of knocks over the years so we know you feel for broadcaster Muireann O’Connell whose show you will be replacing come September.
It is tough but anyone who has a media career knows that this is what happens; we all know this happens; you are always kind of prepared for it, but then still when it does land on your doorstep it’s a gut-wrench. But there is no bad blood between us.
Muireann posted a picture to Twitter of the two of you FaceTiming the evening the news broke. The purpose being to show that you guys are still pals.
Yeah, and we are. I knew there wasn’t going to be any awkwardness between us but I wanted to make sure so I called her and she picked up straight away and we were on the phone for about twenty minutes and actually had a good laugh about it, we genuinely did. We’re both fans of each other…sure at the VIP Style Awards we partied hard that night!
We know you’re knee-deep filming Ireland’s Fittest Family so that’s probably a great distraction, but your first radio show on your own – have you got the fear?
I got some good advice from someone yesterday who said to me, ‘Don’t let the rest of your summer be ruined by pointless dread’. And I was like, ‘Yes, you’re right!’
About this shoot, this was your first ever with the most important little people in your life. How was it for you? Because we loved it!
Aw, it was just so cute. Dara is 12 now so I asked him if he’d like to be in a shot. Eliza loves dressing up so I knew she’d be mad for it. And Bonnie is just a smiler.
They are gorgeous kids, Mairead. Dara, a gent, Eliza, a doll and Bonnie, well, bonnie!
They are really good kids, and that’s part of the reason why I was able to do DWTS. Bonnie was a really easy baby. She was honestly like Tiny Tears, like something I bought in Smyths Toys! And Dara, he’s very mature. We’re very close.
Well, before Louis (Mairead’s second husband) and the girls came along, it was just Dara and you.
That yes, but also he’s the only boy on my side of the family. I have only sisters and they have only girls so he’s cherished.
You do seem like a lovely mum. You’re very calm. Are you always this calm or are you on best behaviour today!?
Best behaviour! But no, messing aside, I rarely shout. I can’t even think of an occasion when I’d have to.
Mairead, how is that even possible? You must be lying!
I’m not…I don’t think so anyway. [thinking] My only explanation is – and I hate even saying this – but the only flaw I can think of in my own lovely mother was that she was a shouter and I hated it. I think when you’re shouting, you’ve lost the fight.
Dara, who was born a couple of days after your 27th birthday, is off to secondary school at the end of the month. You are going to be in bits.
I’m in avoidance! I’m trying not to think about it. I’m going to need tea, tissues and a Duty-Free size of Toblerone. I am so lucky to have him…and then to be blessed with these two little girls many years later that I never thought I’d have.
The vibe we get is that the Ronan household is a very happy one.
It is a happy home and especially since we moved into the new house and are not falling over each other anymore!
It’s been a busy few months between the house move and filming the new series of Ireland’s Fittest Family. Watching Kathryn Thomas fill in for you last year must have given you palpitations!
It was like watching an ex-boyfriend get on REALLY well with a new girlfriend! We’re in a WhatsApp group together, (mentors) Anna Geary, Davy Fitz, Donncha O’Callaghan, Derval O’Rourke and then myself, and it’s quite an active group and it was so funny, they were like sending me videos going, ‘Look, who’s having the LOLS with Kathryn!’ But it’s all good, Kathryn was fantastic, we had a really long conversation about it and somebody had to replace me anyway – my timing was so off. I was two-weeks away from having Bonnie.
The success of the show shows no sign of abating despite it being seven years in.
I know, it’s massively popular and for all the right reasons. There’s no meanness or nastiness and that’s one of the things I love about it. We have no Brian Redmond! (DWTS judge)
Speaking about DWTS, you still look really fit three months on.
And I ate rings around myself! A jammy way to lose the baby weight! I can give you a false statement from August when I was pregnant and say I lost 3 stone 10lbs. But from when I started on the show – when Bonnie was three months old – from then I am 2 and a half stone lighter now.
With all that’s gone on since, have you forgotten all the moves?
Some of the moves will be with me until the day I die because they were drilled into me. I practised so much, and not because I was determined to win, but because I didn’t want to dance like Des Cahill. Sorry Des! I love Des and he sent me such lovely texts, especially towards the end and I don’t really know Des that well, but I thought that was so kind of him. Because the past contestants know how hard it is.
While the nation completely took you to their hearts, Louis and Dara were massively adored by the viewing public, too.
Sure I know. Louis convinced me to do it and never once did he mention the house move, or the brand new baby, or the breastfeeding. Publicly I’ve said how amazing he was but he was like, ‘Stop, don’t paint me as Mr Perfect,’ because for the first three months when Bonnie was born, Louis didn’t darken a supermarket door because I was at home all the time and he was working. And then when I went out to do DWTS he just stepped up for the four months, and now it’s gone back to normal.
A-ha! We knew there had to be a chink in the armour somewhere!
Ah yeah! When I moved into the new house I said to him, ‘Louis you haven’t cooked a meal in three months’, and he was like, ‘I know!’
Going into the show, you say, you felt “invisible”. Why is it that mums feel invisible? Because many do.
Well, I think things have changed a little but prior to the Me Too movement, once you were a certain age, and had a couple of kids, you were just written off.
Do you think it’s changing or is there more talk about it than actual change?
There’s more talk about change than actual change. But the talking is a start, at least.
Let’s step back two years and you’ve just handed in your resignation letter to Today FM, a company which you had joined as a runner carrying teas and prizes, a company which had given you your first job as a researcher and contributor on The Ray D’Arcy Show and then as a producer on The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show. Walking away is hard to do. And when you walked you didn’t then know you’d go back. So how did you do it?
It was a really tough decision and it was one I didn’t make lightly. Work defined me and I loved radio.
So why? What happened?
I just felt I needed to work for other people. I had worked for the same company my entire adult life. I was on maternity leave with Eliza at the time and I didn’t know if I would get the chance to have another baby. I handed my notice into Today FM bawling my eyes out. And management were like, ‘Are you sure?’, tears streaming down my face. But I have never regretted it and now look at me, back!
Your mum Maureen passed away from cancer when you were 21 years old and you say she died thinking you were quiet and shy. When did it happen that you found your voice?
I don’t know. But mum really thought I was a wallflower and she died thinking that people might walk over me.
You mum always told you how beautiful and gorgeous you were, even when you yourself didn’t feel beautiful and gorgeous. The power of positive affirmation is massive.
It is, and I used to roll my eyes when she’d be telling me. ‘You’re pale and interesting and you’re beautiful and different’, she’d say. And I’d be like, ‘I don’t want to be different, I want to be the same as everyone else.’
Being different is beautiful. Being honest is brave. And admitting to being broken is strong. There’s a lot of talk at the minute, particularly in chart topping podcasts by the likes of Bressie and author Elizabeth Day, about failing and falling apart and how we put ourselves back together – how do you?
It’s good to fail. It makes you ready for failure but prepares you for success. I have failed loads of times and at loads of things, personally and professionally. I remember being told a tv show I was working on was cancelled 20 minutes before a newspaper with the story landed on my desk. So the paper knew long before I did. I mean I was literally just off the phone having being told, still sort of reeling, and the paper landed. And I was thinking, “Imagine I hadn’t taken that call”.
When those times do arrive, how do you pull yourself together?
When you have kids they ground you and you just have to get on with it. Lunches and dinners have to be made, laundry has to be done. I could go deeper and say because mam died when I was very young I’ve learnt to appreciate the things I have, rather than constantly looking for the things I don’t have. I am very grateful. Like the Sinead O’Connor album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
Guilt for feeling good has no place here, Mairead. And maybe that’s because you’ve had loss?
I’ve had loads of success and loads of sadness. People might think this month when the Leaving Cert results come out that a fail in a subject, or a fail in the exams, is the end of the world. That is not even scratching the surface of failure. A marriage breakdown feels like a failure. And it’s really tricky to get over it. But you do get over it, and you do move on and everyone survives and there’s life after.
And then gratitude becomes you.
There’s a fear when things are lovely that you think something bad is coming. But no it’s not, it doesn’t work that way. I have two extra treasures that I never thought I’d have in Eliza and Bonnie. I have a fab husband and a lovely furry dog called Murphy who’s named in my mum’s honour. Life is very peachy at the minute and long may it last.
Interview: Bianca Luykx
Photography: Lili Forberg
Stylist: Fiona Fagan
Make-up: Michelle Field
Hair: Peter Mark