CO VER STORY
Amanda Byram leaves the Glitterball behind and dons a tutu to tell us how grateful she is to be back working in Ireland again
Amanda Byram lies playfully on the ground in a ballerina tutu. Outside, the builders who are paving the road alongside the studio stop and take sneaky side looks through the glass. Amanda is no stranger to stopping traffic – her athletic physique and statuesque features have allowed her to get steady work in both Britain and America, but right now she is just enjoying being back on home soil.
‘I am not full time in Ireland, but this is my first sort of professional return to Ireland and I love it,’ she says, playfully tossing around her ribbon laces. ‘I have wanted to do something like this for a long time but it just hasn’t happened because of my schedule and the shows or the projects just weren’t right for me.
‘I always knew in the back of my head that it would transpire but I didn’t know what vehicle it would end up being. I just love being in Ireland and even in England I love being around Irish people and their sense of humour.
‘You just don’t have that when you are away – especially in LA. I missed it so much. When you are living abroad there’s this unspoken sense of community and understanding [among the Irish] whether it’s a wink or a nod or a shake of the head. Even if it is a negative thing and people are being cynical, there’s such a lovely sense of community. Being home and being with Irish people is just good for the soul.’
For the first time in 16 years, Amanda landed a long-term project in Ireland, working as the cohost on the hit RTÉ bonanza Dancing With The Stars. She has fronted international box office shows before like Total Wipeout for the BBC and The Swan in America but working for RTÉ on the €2 million-budget show is a dream come true.
Unfortunately, due to a hectic working schedule she hasn’t been afforded the chance to spend any considerable time at home with the folks in Castleknock.
‘I’m so busy in London so I can’t stay here all of the time,’ she says. ‘Up until the end of the series I had hoped to stay at home but because of
previous commitments I won’t get to stay home at all really. The game plan was to stay over for a few weeks but I’m gutted now that I can’t. You just about get used to loving Dublin and then you have to pack up and head back to London.
‘We have talked about moving here full-time but it would always depend on work. My husband has a really successful production company in Britain so it would be really hard for him to be here full-time.
‘I was talking about bringing the Big Breakfast to Ireland – which would shake things up a bit – and about how much fun that would be. But my agent said that would mean you would be in Ireland all week. I could definitely do it for a year but long-term, I don’t know. Commuting is fine but long-term that would be exhausting.’
The prospect of commuting, even if it would give her a more significant foothold in the Irish TV landscape, is something that Amanda would like to avoid for now.
‘ The commute, at the minute, is the only negative about the show,’ she says. ‘Every aspect of the show I’m in love with except for the getting over, and the coming and going. Getting back on the plane is killing me – I think because I’m not having enough time in either country to make it work.
‘I’m constantly living out of a suitcase but that’s a first world problem. Thankfully my husband comes over most weekends and he will only be missing three shows out of the full run. He loves it and is really supportive of me.
‘He sees how happy I am and he enjoys watching me in my element – because live TV is what I really want to do.
‘So when I do other work it’s just not the same. And there aren’t that many shows that you can say that you can grab hold of and make it your own and be live for two hours of prime time TV. It’s TV gold dust that just doesn’t come around that often.’
Live TV may be her forte but it has normally been in a solo capacity. This time around she has been paired with former Westlife pin-up Nicky Byrne in a relationship that has blossomed quickly into a mature and skilled partnership.
‘It was a risk when it was first floated,’ she
Getting back on the plane is killing me – I think because I’m not having enough time in either country to make it work
➤ agrees. ‘I think everyone was aware of that – RTÉ as well as Nicky and myself. Maybe that’s why it didn’t go wrong, because we were all so determined that it wouldn’t fail. RTÉ have put a lot of money into this, I think it’s the most amount they have put into a show for some time.
‘I think that everyone is really serious about this, there’s no messing around. I love what Nicky does – and the thing is, you forget how much telly he has actually done. Including the Westlife days, he’s probably been on TV longer than I have!
‘I think it came down to chemistry – we did a screen test together and we just clicked. I had known him for a while and always thought he was pretty hot and sound. Whenever we bumped into one another, we always got on. He was a really good choice for me.
‘He looks the part, he’s funny and the contestants love him. He’s such a great guy. He has this really dry sense of humour which I love and he has these really bad dad jokes which crack him up and nobody else.’
I mention that the ratings have been steady in the show, which must be a big relief for a fledgling format. But Amanda says it’s the reaction on the street that has really impressed her.
‘It’s a format that is much loved, and tried and tested so you can’t mess with it,’ she says. ‘We were acutely aware that if it didn’t go well, we were messing with a worldwide BBC format and we have them to answer to as well.
‘For me it was equally important that the public were happy. It’s great that my bosses are happy but my go-to barometer are the girls in the Aer Lingus lounge on a Monday morning. When I check in I get the full rundown on the show and whether they loved the dress or what dance they liked. That’s my guide because that’s the real punter who is watching. If the public are watching then I’m happy.
‘I’ve caught people chatting about it without knowing that I’m there. I walked into the lift of my hotel in the city centre the other day and there were three generations of women. The daughter was about 26 and her mom and then her mom again. They were just coming back from lunch and the girl said, “look Mommy, it’s the girl off that show with Des Cahill”. The granny didn’t say anything for a minute and then went, “Des Cahill is a very brave man” and then just walked off!
‘ The other two had a chat about how much they loved the clothes and the show. That was three generations of women who were engaged – how could you not be happy with that? That’s TV gold. You hope to nail one generation but to get three, you’re laughing.’
What has really kept DWTS at the forefront of the public’s imagination is the willingness of the producers to change things up. Two weeks ago they brought in a dance- off which added more jeopardy to a show but also heaped further pressure on both the dancers and presenters.
‘ The dance- offs have definitely brought an edge,’ Amanda says. ‘Nobody wants to be in a dance- off and it’s more pressure for us as hosts. But it’s been the same every week – there’s never been a week where it’s been easy to send a couple home, that moment is dreadful.
‘I get the name in my ear so I know before it’s announced. I have this internal struggle, where I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but that’s the job. The dance- off is equally as hard but it is fairer. [As a presenter] you have to balance the segue from the joy of the competition to delivering pretty s**t news basically. But at the end of the day someone has to go home and there can only be one winner.’
Professionally, though, Amanda is already the big winner from the series. Her weekly sartorial choices have sent social media sites into meltdown and her newly-ignited profile will help her launch a range of bespoke fitness and leisure wear. While RTÉ have yet to sign her up for a second series, she says that of course she would be happy to do it, although she doesn’t take it for granted that DWTS is coming back.
‘I know what I want and what works for me and if there’s a word in the script that doesn’t roll off my tongue, I know how to change it. That ➤
➤ comes naturally for me now – I’ve done around 1,200 live broadcast shows at this point in my career so if it didn’t then there would probably be something wrong with me.
‘I know how I like to look and I’m just comfortable as me. I would happily sign up for season two but we haven’t heard anything yet. I have worked on shows before that have smashed the ratings and don’t get commissioned and it’s always a budget thing. So fingers crossed and touch wood but you just never know.
‘My motto is always that your next job could be your last so you have to give it your all. You can’t get complacent, especially in television, because there is always someone younger and more ambitious running up behind you. You just enjoy and embrace what you have and do the best you can and hopefully people like it.’
The 43-year- old wed her partner Julian Okines last April in a private service and she says that she hopes to start having children soon. She has never been shy about her desire to start a family, saying ‘you can’t really plan’ the curveballs life can sometimes throw at you. And she won’t be letting age quell her maternal instinct.
‘Focusing on the show, my career and life has just been full- on but we are having fun practising for babies and it’s all in the hands of the gods,’ she laughs. ‘You can only try. I’m fit and healthy and I look after myself so if it happens then it happens. There’s no point putting pressure on myself.
‘It’s lovely being married and he’s like my best friend. We have been best pals since the day we met and there was never a moment where we didn’t agree that this was going to be it forever – we just knew it would be. When you know you know.
‘We are a year married in April, can you believe that? We were thinking about going away somewhere nice for our anniversary to chill out. We stand shoulder to shoulder on a lot of things – with work we have complete mutual respect and we think alike pretty much on everything. That’s why it really works. He’s probably the more romantic of the two of us. He is always much more mindful to remind me where we are at and to take a moment to tell me how much he loves me. He’s the one who stops just to acknowledge the relationship. If I was left to my own devices I don’t think I would ever stop so we’re very good for each other in that sense.’
We are having fun practising for babies and it’s all in the hands of the gods. You can only try
PALE PINK V NECK DRESS, €149, Roisin Linnane @ The Design Centre STERLING SILVER PETAL BOUQUET BANGLE, €229 ROSE QUARTZ PENDANT, €298 ROSE QUARTZ RING, €235, all houseoflor.com
Amanda with her husband Julian Okines
WRAP JUMPER, €54, Marks & Spencer HIGH WAIST PANTS, €20, Marks & Spencer SILVER STUD PETAL EARRINGS, €120 STERLING SILVER PETAL PENDANT, €189, both houseoflor.com Credits Pictures: ALEX HUTCHINSON Styling: GRACE CAHILL Assisted by: AILBHE COFFEY Hair: NIAMH O’CONNOR Make-up: PAULA CALLAN Shot on location at LIFFEY TRUST STUDIOS, Sheriff Street, Dublin 2. Special thanks to the team