Kathryn Thomas talks to Eoin Murphy about coping with life as a new mother, her decision to go back to work and why she was stunned by the coaches on Ireland’s Fittest Family
It is seven o’clock on a crisp autumn evening and Kathryn Thomas is doing something she hasn’t done in a long time – going for a walk on her own. Taking her two dogs, she is enjoying a rare stroll without her new daughter Ellie and is happily pounding the pavement and enjoying the silence.
Since bungee-jumping onto our screens in 1999 as co-host of youth show Rapid, Kathryn has become one of the busiest presenters in Ireland. The award-winning broadcaster became the face of travel in Ireland with No Frontiers, hosted TV talent show The Voice, and presents weightloss competition Operation Transformation and its celebrity version. She is also a regular stand-in for Ray D’Arcy on RTÉ Radio One and now she’s adding Ireland’s Fittest Family to the list.
Taking things in her stride has become her calling card, so we shouldn’t be surprised that she loves being a mum. The 39-yearold Carlow native lives in Dublin with her fiancé, restaurateur Pádraig McLaughlin, and their sevenmonth-old daughter Ellie. And she says that when it comes to her new baby, it is a case of ‘so far, so good’.
This week Kathryn is back on our screens, presenting RTÉ’s hit challenge show Ireland’s Fittest Family, having taken over as frontwoman from Mairéad Ronan.
‘I went back earlier than I thought, to be honest. In my head, I was thinking longer term but because I did that one stint on the radio in August, that kind of put me back in that headspace. It just kind of made sense. It was difficult leaving Ellie the first time around, because it was a radio show and it was Monday to Friday from nine to five. For Fittest Family, it was a day here or two days there and a lot of it was shot at the weekends. That meant that Pádraig was with her and he could bring her away with him and bring her onto the set. They are long days but they are sporadic, so you can kind of work around them. It was very manageable, I have to say. ‘Doing the full week on radio was harder because you are away all day, every day and it felt like I was back into a work routine far sooner than I had anticipated or wanted. But I knew that was only for three weeks, and I have had friends of mine who had to go back to work after five or six months – and that was full-time. So because these were for short bursts, they suited me. I have an amazing childminder, which makes everything bearable. I have to say it worked and it was never too long.’ One of the things that can affect a new mother is the chasm of loneliness. Often, you end up spending mornings alone as you pine for the social life that you once had. Thankfully, Kathryn has no such complaints and has established a support group of mothers in her local estate and is even planning a weekend away for the first time with her partner – albeit it a romantic two nights in Dublin’s fair city. ‘Look, support is key with a baby and I have a lot of great friends to lean on who have kids that are older. They have been very good and, as I said, having a great childminder makes it work. I am actually not too bad, even though my mam is in Carlow and my dad is in Clontarf and they are not on call all the time. But it is amazing the sort of community that exists where I live. There are loads of mums and they always tell each other to never be stuck. And, of course, you might sit there thinking, “I would love to go to the cinema” on a Thursday night, but you
save the babysitting hours for when you really need to go somewhere.
‘My mum is actually babysitting for us this weekend and myself and Pádraig are having a weekend away in Dublin, which is our first real break since the baby. We didn’t want to be too far away. We booked in for two nights into two different hotels in the city and then we are going to do the museums in the city and Teelings Distillery and have long leisurely lunches and go to bed early and not wake up until Monday.’
Kathryn has bravely revealed how she endured a number of miscarriages before eventually having Ellie. She says she still can’t believe how much she loves her daughter, although she does admit that at times she feels an overwhelming sense of responsibility for looking after her precious cargo.
‘The thing that resonates most for me is that overwhelming sense of love, and you don’t know that until you have felt it, I suppose. As well as that, there is that scary feeling of responsibility which sometimes catches me off guard. Like when you get into the car with her or I am in town with the buggy. It creeps up on you when you are lying in bed at night and she is lying there and you realise that there are just two people solely responsible for this human.
‘I have not been, over the years, the standout responsible person in the world. I sometimes wake up at night in a sweat worrying about that, but it has been amazing. In a strange way, it is always like she was there. People do say to me, “Do you ever remember your life without her?” I absolutely do. I was out on a Saturday night having a great night, I had this happy, glorious life – I still have that life, it’s just different and I am thinking about someone else most of the time.’
Kathryn will be joined on Ireland’s Fittest Family by coaches Anna Geary, Davy Fitzgerald, Donncha O’Callaghan and Derval O’Rourke, who all compete against one another as they attempt to mentor their chosen families to success. Tonight on RTÉ One an adventurous new set – designed by the team behind stunt experiences for television shows such as The Amazing Race, American Ninja Warrior and The Biggest Loser – will provide plenty of challenges for the competing families.
‘Fittest Family is right up my street,’ Kathryn says. ‘I have to say, I loved it. People have asked me if I was nervous going into a show that was so established and up and running, but at the end of the day the coaches made me feel so welcome, it was brilliant. Donncha, Derval, Davy and Anna couldn’t have been nicer to me, but also I knew all of the crew on the show, the producers and sound and runners, and it is such a big show that everyone in my 20-year career was working on it. So it was kind of like going back to an old job and I didn’t feel like I was the new girl at school.
‘Mairéad came in with Bonnie [her new baby] for one of the last filming days and that was really nice, so I loved every minute of it.’
Kathryn launched her own keep-fit business, Pure Results Bootcamp, in 2015. The popular programme offers various wellness and fitness retreats and the business has proved extremely successful for the presenter. Even though she is used to a competitive environment, Kathryn says she was stunned at the lengths the coaches went to to win Ireland’s Fittest Family. It even went as far as shutting down filming so that video footage could be viewed to check claims of cheating.
‘I just couldn’t believe how competitive the whole thing is. I have always been a fan of the show and I have secretly always wanted to take part in it with Pádraig and my sister Linda, because we all love the fitness aspect of the show. But I was blown away with how competitive the coaches are. I thought that a little bit of that was always put on for the TV cameras, but Jesus, Mary and Joseph, when you have four professional athletes and sports stars who were at the top of their game, and some still are, and you see them and their desire to win.
‘Don’t get me wrong, they have the craic and they love each other’s company but when it comes down to a head-to-head race, my God, it is pretty full-on. If they don’t agree with the referee and they feel somebody has broken the rules, filming can get delayed by three hours until they sort it out.
‘Twice this year they had to call a video referee. They actually had to go and get in the footage of the race to resolve a serious argument between two coaches. We had it one time to figure out who’d won a race and then another time there was an accusation of one family cheating, and that went to video as well. None of the coaches would let it go until a decision was reviewed. That for me was eye-opening.
‘When you are a professional athlete, you clearly never lose that edge where you will do whatever it takes not to lose. To be fair, they are very gracious in defeat, once they have been beaten. It has been a really great but different experience. I loved it.’
‘They had to get footage to resolve an argument between coaches’
Team players: Kathryn Thomas with coaches Donncha, Derval, Anna and Davy
Family matters: Kathryn with fiancé Pádraig and seven-month-old Ellie