RTÉ Guide

Cover Story Elaine Crowley The TV presenter has entered her 40s with a newfound confidence, having slain the demons that once affected her self-image. She spoke to Donal O’Donoghue about living life for today

For Elaine Crowley, life has been a rollercoas­ter, from hosting her own chat show to living with depression. She may be a work-in-progress but her message is upbeat. Donal O’Donoghue meets her


Presenter Elaine Crowley is a tonic and a trouper, but most of all, she’s a realist. Five years ago, a er revealing she lives with depression, a lot changed in her life. On her daily TV3 chat show, Elaine, where she chews the fat and stirs the pot, the broadcaste­r recently threw down the gauntlet for her audience to ‘Train with Elaine’. But this wasn’t some hardcore diktat to go hard or go home, more a call to live happily and healthily. And if Elaine is, as she puts it herself, “still a work-in-progress,” then who isn’t? “ ere are days when I have awful downers but I can see them coming so I can prepare,” she says. “It’s all about baby steps but they will get you there in the end.”

We meet a er the photo-shoot for her cover amid a swirl of fashion. Later this year, Elaine will launch her own plus-size collection with clothing brand, So Amazing. Today, she is sporting a summery number, talking fast and furious: a combinatio­n of hailing from Cork, being one of ten siblings and possessing a zest for life. Useful when you host a chat show but occasional­ly it can land her in hot water, like when Elaine mentioned her brother had ‘the snip’ or told the nation her hair was falling out (her mother was not impressed). But the girl can’t help it: loquacious and vivacious, looking not unlike domestic goddess Nigella Lawson and a demon in the gym (a er we met she did a session including a 20-rep dead-li of 60kg). ‘Train with Elaine’ was born of her own experience coping with depression and learning to love herself. Now, with this summer-long campaign, the 40-year-old is e ectively the poster girl for Can Cope, Will Cope. “I think that we have totally f*cked up our relationsh­ip with our bodies and health in recent years and I’m a living, breathing example of that,” she says. “I had been so messed up about what is good for you and what is not good for you that I didn’t know the wood from the trees. Now my focus is on health, muscle strength and tness. It’s not about weight. I’ve been way skinnier than I am now and I have been miserable. I hope the message from ‘Train with Elaine’ is that if you have a strong healthy body, your mind will follow.”

In 2016, she participat­ed in Celebrity Operation Transforma­tion, gaining two stone in weight before the show started, which she lost during the show and put it all back on again. “In hindsight, would I do it again? No. e crew were great but for me it wasn’t a good idea. Psychologi­cally, it can be quite damaging to be weighed in such a manner. While I was in a good place mentally and physically when I was asked to be on the show, when I agreed I began to panic. Mentally, it knocked me back into binge-eating. I thought ‘Well I’m a fatty anyway, so I might as well binge.’ So I put on weight, lost it and put it all back on again. I wouldn’t put myself under that much pressure or scrutiny ever again.”

For Elaine, the worst word in the world is ‘should’: you should be skinny, you should be married or you should have kids and so on. “My psychiatri­st, the lovely lady who puts me back together, tells me to stop using that word: you should or shouldn’t be anything. You can beat yourself up a lot about the goals we should have

achieved or the things we should or shouldn’t have done.” When Elaine Crowley turned 30, she looked in the mirror and didn’t like what she saw. Last August, on the eve of her 40th birthday, she was much more comfortabl­e in her skin. “Sure, 40 is a daunting age but I’m still here and I’ve seen close friends pass away. Of course, part of me will always want more but the bigger part tells me to cop on and enjoy what I have in life.” “I‘ve been down at the bottom,” she says. “I’ve been that person thinking ‘What is the point in existing?’ I didn’t want to exist but I never actively did anything. If I had a button and could have pressed it to disappear I would have done it in a heartbeat. It’s a very fine line. We don’t talk enough about mental health in this country, particular­ly about depression in rural areas. When I first talked about my depression, there were people locally saying I shouldn’t be doing it, that it was very insensitiv­e. It should be the opposite. For years, I hated myself for the way I looked. Now I don’t give a flying fiddler’s about that any more. I’m grand, my body works and I’m healthy and strong.”

Earlier this year, Crowley won her first IFTA nomination, for TV personalit­y of the Year, a gong that ultimately went to GAA presenter Marty Morrissey. “I was sitting next to Marty for the ceremony,” she says. “I was robbed!” She attended the ceremony with her partner, Keith. “We get on really well but I’m a big commitment-phobe and gun-shy about marriage. Everything is so disposable these days, so if I was to get married it would be for life. My Mam and Dad were together for a long time and maybe that brings its own pressure. I know some people say that you’re not a proper woman if you don’t want to settle down and have kids, but life doesn’t always work that way. And anyway, I’m a fantastic auntie!”

Elaine is the seventh child of ten, singing off her siblings’ names, as only those in a large family can. Home was hectic: four girls in one bedroom, four boys in another, parents in the third with the downstairs sitting-room converted into two bedrooms for granny and the remaining two sisters. “Even now I find it hard to sleep on my own so I sleep with the light on,” says Elaine, who grew up in the fabulously named Newtwopoth­ouse in north Co Cork. Originally, there were eleven children, but an older sister Anne-Marie, who was born with

spina bifida, died when she was just a few weeks old. Elaine was supposed to be christened Rose Elaine, but on the day she was born her eldest sister got upset and locked herself into the hospital bathroom, insisting that her baby sis not be “named after a bush.”

Her late father, Seán, school principal and historian, was also her primary school teacher. Her mother, Mary V (for Veronica), ran the show. From early on, Elaine was into sport (champion shot-putter, sprinter and high jumper) until she broke her ankle in her midteens. “Looking back, that was probably the first time I felt depressed,” she says. “I couldn’t exercise for three months or more. I also went to college a bit early at the age of 16. It was Communicat­ions in DIT in Kevin Street. I wanted to be an actress but my Dad said that I should be a director first and then cast myself. So here I was in Dublin, never been away from home before, and I hated it. I didn’t like college at all and I spent four years at DIT. I was hideously homesick.”

During college she did an internship (“of sorts”) at Classic FM in London and four days after finishing college, she was working at 103FM in Cork. There she was a jack-ofall-trades, learning at the coal-face. Wanting to move back to Dublin, she blitzed likely employers with her CV. In 2000, TV3, which had started just 18 months before, reeled her in. “I started in the newsroom and I have been there ever since,” she says. “That was 18 years ago. You wouldn’t get as much time for murder but TV-wise, this is as good as it gets. I have my own chat show with my name in the title, which is the Holy Grail of TV presenting. Of course, there’s another part of me asking ‘What will I do next?’ The thing is, I don’t know. And I need a plan because I get bored easily.”

In February, she got her first ever tattoo, a unicorn on her hip, to raise funds for Breast Cancer Ireland (she is an ambassador for the charity). “My friend Emma [Hannigan, the best-selling novelist who died from cancer in March] got me the voucher for my 40th,” she says. “Emma helped me through a lot of dark times. And when you know people like Emma, someone who faced such adversity in her own life, it puts everything into perspectiv­e.” So life is for living, with Antarctica and South America top of Elaine’s travel list, while her favourite TV shows (her college thesis was on Star Trek: The Next Generation) include QI, The Big Bang Theory (“kind of embarrassi­ng”) and true-life crime series. “Have you seen The Staircase?” she asks. “I think I might have been a forensic psychologi­st in another life.”

In this life, however, Elaine has plenty to be getting on with: broadcaste­r, motivator, charity ambassador and weight-lifter (her ambition is to dead-lift 100kg by the end of August). Next up is that collection of plus-size clothes from So Amazing. “I’m not a fashion designer but I chose the designs, the fabric and the cuts,” she says. “If it’s something I wouldn’t wear myself it’s not going in. I hope it will happen in the autumn and I’m thinking of calling it Rose Elaine. It has a nice ring, but roses have thorns.” She pauses, considerin­g this. “But life has thorns. Actually roses don’t have thorns, they have prickles.” That’s Elaine, someone who doesn’t need another person to have a conversati­on, but is such fun to hang with: in many ways a rose by any other name.

For years I hated myself for the way I looked. I don’t give a flying fiddler’s about that any more

I’m a big commitment­phobe and gun-shy about marriage

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