Autocutie? Not me, I’m a work nerd
She had a serious career and a head full of stats when TV fame beckoned. But has Anna Daly’s success been as effortless as it looks, asks Nikki Walsh
Anna Daly is standing on top of a table in the lobby of the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin when I arrive for our interview. She is wearing a floorlength black dress and a photographer is snapping away. She catches sight of me and laughs. ‘You didn’t tell me I’d have to go up on this!’ I go upstairs to wait for her and she appears, minutes later, dressed in a blue shift dress and a pair of Uggs. She apologises for her appearance — ‘The state of me!’ — but she doesn’t have to. More beautiful than her photographs might suggest, the 34-year-old could be an earthier version of Grace Kelly. She drops into a chair and stifles a yawn. It is midday but Anna has already done a day’s work, presenting TV3’S Ireland AM.
‘The alarm goes off at 4am,’ she tells me in a faintly horrified voice. ‘I get everything ready the night before and I head straight to the make-up room where I have two or three cups of coffee.’ In the newsroom, adrenaline kicks in. ‘I always compare it to getting on a flight. In the taxi you are exhausted, but once you get it in the terminal, you realise you are in a fully functioning workplace and it kinds of rubs off on you. You snap out of it.’ On set, she loves the banter. ‘We have so many giddy moments. It reminds me of all those times I was thrown out of class for laughing too much. Viewers like that. A bit of slagging. They know you’re not on autocue.’
And there’s no infighting. ‘All the dramas that happen off camera are personal. You might burst into tears after an interview, and you have 30 seconds to pull yourself together before you are on camera again, or you might be outside Temple Street Hospital crying on the steps because you can’t cry in front of the kids and the camera man is hugging you…’
The eldest of two children, Anna grew up in Templeogue, Dublin. Her father is in the motor trade and her brother is a mechanic. ‘I know more about cars than the average girl,’ she says. ‘And I absolutely love them. They’ve been my biggest waste of money though — I have a Mini Cooper with all the trimmings that has broken my heart!’
Growing up, she never considered a career in television. ‘I can’t even say it didn’t appeal to me because I never thought about it.’ With a flair for business, she went into marketing. She landed a job in TV3, and quickly rose up the ranks to become marketing manager. ‘I got stuck in. I put in the hard work. I think I have the right attitude to work.’
Then one of the producers suggested a screen test. ‘ I was flabbergasted,’ she recalls. ‘I loved marketing; in fact, I was kind of nerdy about it, but I also thought, “I’m working in a TV station and I am oblivious to the fact that they are churning out magical TV. I should explore this.”’ More cautious than her exuberant personality might suggest — she uses the word ‘considered’ a lot — she decided to do the Bill Keating TV production course in Milltown, before taking up the suggestion. ‘If I had never worked in the company, I might have been a bit more ballsy about it all and thought, “Yeah, I’ll give it a go,” but when you are working there and that’s your career, you don’t want to make a fool of yourself.’ She loved the course. ‘It was my own private thing, my own private time, my own private money and nobody needed to know I was doing it. I drove from work to the night course and I was so excited. And it gave me the confidence to go back to them and say, “You know what…”’
Six months of screen testing followed before Anna became a presenter on Ireland AM. Four years later, she cannot remember how many interviews she had done, although her favourites are ‘ the music ones’, such as Slash, Kiss and Westlife. She gets a kick out of interviewing sharp businesswomen too. ‘The other day, I interviewed Michel le Mone, the founder of Ultimo underwear,’ she says. ‘She is an amazing businesswoman, so sharp. And just my kind of girl — totally down to earth, despite her multi-millions, and full of encouragement for women. It was really empowering and I was on a high after it.’
Her best times on camera have been when she has thrown the notes away. ‘What I’ve learnt — and I have still have tonnes to learn — is that while you can go in with all the notes in the world, the best interviews happen when you throw the notes away and listen to the answers. It’s so dismissive when the interviewer has the next question in their head — you are not picking up on obvious triggers. Sometimes I think it’s good to read over the notes, and not have a fixed agenda.’ Her hero is Jonathan Ross. ‘He’s my number- one person to go out for dinner with, not because I fancy him but because I think he’s such a laugh. When Sinead [Desmond] went to Eurodisney, she interviewed him. I was like, “How did you find him?” I was raging!’
When she is not working, she is in Dublin’s Stepaside, in the house she shares with her husband, Ben Ward, and their eight-monthold son, James. The couple met through mutual friends in their early 20s when they were both dating other people. ‘People often say to me, “Did you fancy him when you met him?” and I say, “No, he had a girlfriend.” But then I met him again when we were both single and I looked at him and thought, “Oh right…!”’ If you haven’t guessed it already, talking to Anna is a little like talking to an old friend. ‘Are you serious?’ she says when I admit that, like her, I have become enfeebled by my partner’s cooking skills. She smiles. ‘I just say, “Why would I do the cooking when you are just so good at it…?”’ We laugh, except Anna’s laugh goes on a little longer than mine, and it’s a wicked Ingrid Bergman sort of laugh and before I know it, I’m laughing again.
The couple got married in Portugal, where Ben’s family have a holiday home, and had their first child, James, last year. ‘I really enjoyed my pregnancy,’ she says. ‘ For the first few months, I thought I had “I am pregnant” all over my face, but once I could