Una Fo­den’s Voice of rea­son


The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -

A man in his late twen­ties takes to the stage at the Helix in Dublin, takes a deep breath and stares va­cantly at the backs of four brightly-lit swiv­elled chairs. The band kicks into gear and the long­est three min­utes of his life be­gin as he at­tempts to nail a ver­sion of All Along The Watch­tower.

As the song pro­gresses bum notes be­come more prom­i­nent than the much loved melody and the mood in the Helix changes. The 300-strong au­di­ence and the singer both re­alise that none of the four Voice of Ire­land coaches are even close to push­ing their but­tons. As the song ends so too do the mu­si­cal hopes and dreams of another wannabe fi­nal­ist. The fi­nal ig­nominy for the con­tes­tant comes when his per­for­mance is dis­sected by the four coaches. His song choice, pitch and ner­vous tone is ea­gerly sav­aged by both Kian and Bressie. But in the end comes a soft voice of rea­son from new­bie coach and the warm, moth­erly face of The Satur­days, Una Fo­den (née Healy). ‘Look, nerves just got the bet­ter of you’ she says with gen­uine warmth. ‘I know how you feel, I have had bad days at au­di­tions my­self but you have to go away and use this ex­pe­ri­ence to be­come stronger. You have the tal­ent which is the hard­est part of the jour­ney, you can go away and be bit­ter or you can use this to be­come bet­ter. That’s what I did so you know I am speak­ing the truth.’ The singer walks away with a slight pep in his step.

The Voice of Ire­land re­turned with a judg­ing panel makeover. It’s out with Jamelia and Dolores O’Rior­dan and in with Una Fo­den and Rachel Stevens along­side Bressie and Kian.

The Tip­per­ary pop star has given the show new life and en­ergy. She says she is de­lighted to have fi­nally taken to the now iconic spin­ning chairs, hav­ing turned down the show’s pro­duc­ers on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

‘It was some­thing that I had al­ways dreamed about do­ing but I sup­pose I had to feel ready,’ she says. ‘I never felt ready un­til now be­cause I guess when you are in the po­si­tion of be­ing a coach you have to have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. See­ing it from both ends, and com­ing from a back­ground where I au­di­tioned for many shows like this and never made it, I am empathetic. Plus now I have been in the business pro­fes­sion­ally for seven years and I just felt the time was right.

‘This time around I just felt that I had come that bit fur­ther pro­fes­sion­ally and made the call to go with it.’

Una has no fear of the spot­light. Her time with the Satur­days has given her a strong work ethic and a sense of in­di­vid­u­al­ity. She re­fuses to back down dur­ing the blind au­di­tions when chal­lenged by both Bressie and Kian. More of­ten than not when a singer has to choose be­tween Una and another coach, Una gets the artist. She ad­mits that as a mum she finds giv­ing bad news dif­fi­cult, but says she was never go­ing to go down the nasty route of the X Fac­tor.

‘ It’s not easy, it is much harder than I ever thought it would be,’ she says. ‘But I al­ways told my­self that I would be fair. As long as I al­ways give con­struc­tive crit­i­cism I feel that I am be­ing fair. Be­cause ev­ery­one who comes out on that stage can sing. I have been in that po­si­tion be­fore where nerves just take con­trol of you and crip­ple you. I think what I prove is that per­se­ver­ance and hard work tri­umph. I know what it is like to be stand­ing off the side of a stage hav­ing not per­formed and think­ing that your world is over. If I can con­vince those peo­ple who don’t get through this year to go away and prac­tise and come back next year fight­ing then I have done my job.’

Watch­ing Una take part in the blind au­di­tions you would never be­lieve she is a rookie. She has a great ear for mu­sic and is almost al­ways the first coach to buzz in. The other no­tice­able fac­tor is the pe­tite bump that almost al­ways has a hand tap­ping on top, gen­tly pro­tect­ing her un­born sec­ond child, due next month. Una, who al­ready has a two-year-old daugh­ter Aoife Belle with her hus­band, English rugby player Ben Fo­den, says that her bump helped her on The Voice.

‘I was pleas­antly sur­prised at how great the tal­ent was,

es­pe­cially since this is the fourth se­ries. I know that Ire­land has such a great tra­di­tion of pro­duc­ing in­ter­na­tional mu­sic stars. My goal is to find one from this process and nur­ture them through the process and into the mu­sic world. I think all the coaches get emo­tional. It’s hard not to be. It is al­ways hard when some­one who has tal­ent has a bad day and you can’t push your but­ton. I went with my gut in­stinct a lot of the time. The baby en­joyed the live au­di­tion and was kick­ing away with the beat of some of the songs so that was a great in­di­ca­tor.’

After the au­di­tions end I have lunch with the 33-year-old mum at the Gib­son ho­tel. De­spite hav­ing just fin­ished a 16-hour shift, she is in good spir­its and is glow­ing.

‘I have been very lucky with the preg­nancy,’ she says fondly rub­bing her tummy. ‘We have recorded the blind au­di­tions in one run and then I got to go home and rest for a month be­fore com­ing back and film­ing the bat­tle stages. So I am due in Fe­bru­ary and then I am not back for the live shows for over a month so I will hope­fully be in good spir­its for the live shows.

‘With the Satur­days I have be­come used to re­ally long days and stints where I was preg­nant and stand­ing up in heels the whole time so at least this time I was sit­ting down. But I had no com­plaints and there wasn’t any hic­cups record­ing the blind au­di­tions or the bat­tle stages. When you have kids you don’t sleep any­way and I have a strong work ethic from the band so I ac­tu­ally re­ally en­joyed it.

‘ We’re cel­e­brat ing vo­cal abil­ity and tal­ent and look­ing for a great tal­ent. A lot of the X Fac­tor is search­ing for great nov­elty acts as much as great artists. We don’t do that although we are a TV show as well and I am well aware of that. But I do think the X Fac­tor fo­cus a lot on the early stages when the peo­ple come in for a laugh.’

Don’t be fooled by Fo­den’s soft de­meanour. A for­mer na­tional swimmer, she is fiercely com­pet­i­tive and is in it to win it. She has zero tol­er­ance for time wasters and has promised her team that if they give her 100 per cent she will work with them after the show fin­ishes.

‘I want to win. Of course I do, but of course that is down to the artists that I have be­cause there is only so much that I can do with them. I want to men­tor the con­tes­tants and pick the right songs for them but also to get to know them as peo­ple. In or­der for me to be a good coach I need to know their per­son­al­i­ties.

‘I know that pre­vi­ous win­ners of the show haven’t gone on to have big ca­reers but there is no guar­an­tee with a show like this. What it does is opens a door that the artist has to use to push on to big­ger and bet­ter things. I want to help them do that and if one of my acts wins I will help them after the show.’

While Una is able to call upon the support of The Satur­days, her hus­band is her main sound­ing board.

‘The girls are great and are be­hind me all the way,’ she says. ‘Yes, I will be go­ing back and for­ward to them for bits of ad­vice maybe when it comes to song choices but it is some­thing I want to do my­self. If I am hon­est, I think Ben is more ex­cited about me do­ing this than any­one else. He is to­tally up to date with who is on my team and how ev­ery­thing is go­ing. He said he would love to do it him­self. I sus­pect that if he wasn’t a ruby player then he would have wanted to be a pop star, in his head any­way. Ben has just been an in­cred­i­ble support and he is al­ways on the phone to me and talk­ing through the day’s per­for­mances and what I like and didn’t. He will def­i­nitely be com­ing over to the show when it goes live. I will be bring­ing the kids over with me but it is only for seven weeks or so, it won’t be that bad.’

The next time Una ap­pears on live tele­vi­sions it will be the end of March for the Voice fi­nals. By then she will have a one-month- old son and all eyes will be on her re­turn to the lime­light – not that this both­ers her re­motely.

‘I have a bit of time, but no, it doesn’t bother me too much. I will be in what­ever shape I am but I am used to be­ing in the spot­light with the Satur­days so I don’t let th­ese things get to me. Look, it is not about me and how I look, it is about the artists and how they per­form. Of course it was some­thing I con­sid­ered when I de­cided to sign up to The Voice but it is an in­cred­i­bly pos­i­tive part of my life as is The Voice. Peo­ple get caught up in body im­age and as long as I have a healthy baby and my team are do­ing well I will be happy. I will have plenty of support as well. My fam­ily will be up ev­ery week­end to give me a hand.

‘We spent Christ­mas in Eng­land with Ben’s fam­ily,’ she adds. ‘We had a big tra­di­tional day with all the trim­mings but ob­vi­ously it was quiet enough for us. Last year we were in Ire­land so this year we did Eng­land.

‘It was all about Aoife this year and she knew Santa was com­ing so it was just lovely to be around. Ben is a pro­fes­sional sports­man so he isn’t go­ing crazy at Christ­mas. And I was preg­nant, so it was nice for it to be all about her be­cause she will have a lit­tle brother com­ing soon which will change things a bit. But Christ­mas is all about fam­ily for us so it was just a great time.’

‘The baby was kick­ing away to the beat in the au­di­tions’

The Voice of Ire­land, tonight, 6.30pm, RTÉ One

Op­po­site page: Una with Kian Egan, Bressie and Rachel Stevens on the set of The Voice of Ire­land in Dublin’s Helix The­atre. Above: on hol­i­day with her hus­band Ben and daugh­ter Aoife Belle in Ja­maica in 2009 and, right, at The Voice blind au­di­tions

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