BEFORE Niamh Kavanagh underwent surgery on January 31 for an ongoing problem with her thyroid, she sounded as if she was asthmatic. “I just couldn’t get enough oxygen in,” she says. “It was weird because I was actually fine.”
Eight months after the operation at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, the former Eurovision winner in in fine form. But retuning her “instrument” is an ongoing process.
“I’m not going to say it was easy. Sometimes when I was training back up sounds came out of my mouth I didn’t even know I could make.
“For someone like me who has always been in complete control of my instrument — even at the height of a cold — psychologically it can throw you a little bit.”
An enlarged goitre had stretched the muscles in her throat over the years. “Like anything, if you haven’t used a muscle for a while you need to retrain it.
“Sometimes I can soar beautifully — all those notes that were so easy for me in my 20s are starting to come back but I’m not always as sure yet — I would imagine in another four or five months I’ll be in full voice again.”
Married to musician Paul Megahey, they have two children, Jack, 16, and Tom, 14, and live in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim.
She describes herself as a “feeder” and loves to cook. It’s a skill that brought her national attention when she won TV3’s Celebrity Masterchef earlier this year. But she has no plans to write her own cookery book. “I’m never under any illusion where my talent is. I love to sing and I never want to be forgotten for that.”
The Illegals with Niamh Kavanagh celebrate the 40th anniversaries of Hotel California by The Eagles and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac at the Everyman, Cork, Saturday, October 21. See: everymancork.com
What shape are you in?
I haven’t been that hard on myself [since the operation] As a result I’m carrying a bit of weight. In general, I’m reasonably fit because I walk every day — I usually walk at least five miles and I do big walks every now and then which I love.
What are your healthiest eating habits?
I eat a lot of fresh produce. I cook a lot from scratch. I love fish. I drink a lot of water, especially when I’m working.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I love my butter. I don’t care what anyone says. Usually, it’s Kerrygold. And I can’t live without Barry’s Tea — the Classic blend in the brown box.
What would keep you awake at night?
Sometimes when I’ve got a lot of work on my brain gets really busy at night. I sit down and make a list and generally that helps me.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Terry Pratchett — I love his books, his humour, his wisdom. I like people who make me laugh, like Sandi Toksvig or Myles Jupp, and singer/songwriter Bonnie Raitt.
What’s your favourite smell?
If I’ve been travelling a lot I get very excited about a rasher sandwich when I come home.
What would you like to change about your appearance?
I hate my facial hair. As I get older it becomes more of an issue to me. I deal with it on a regular basis. I keep looking at laser and looking at this that and the other but sometimes I find I can’t be bothered. Mostly, I’m reasonably happy with myself. Sure I could be taller, I could be thinner, but actually, I gave up on that a long time ago.
When is the last time you cried?
I don’t cry often in life but I cry copiously at movies. I cried last summer because my youngest sister, who was born when I was 15 years old, texted me to say she’d got engaged. They had just travelled all over the world but they got engaged on a beach, near Rosbeg in Co Donegal, that I love to walk with her.
What traits do you least like about others?
I don’t like unkindness or meanness.
What are the traits you least like about yourself?
I don’t like the fact that I can be quite cutting. When I was younger if you annoyed me I could hurt you verbally. I generally don’t do it now because I am aware of it.
Do you pray?
I have faith. I won’t say I’m an avid churchgoer. I love the comfort that I’ve never been alone in my life. It’s one of the greatest gifts my parents have given to me.
What cheers up your day?
I am easily cheered up. I like anything that makes me happy, that makes me smile. I actively seek it and encourage.
‘My brain gets really busy at night’
GREAT OUTDOORS: Niamh Kavanagh stays fit by walking at least five miles every day.