Wel­come To The Troll­house

Kathryn Thomas wishes peo­ple would cri­tique her work in­stead of her clothes

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - NEWS -

Ihave a dis­tinct mem­ory from my early teens of watch­ing Kathryn Thomas present No Fron­tiers. She was a reg­u­lar fix­ture on our TV screens for the travel pro­gramme, usu­ally stand­ing on some sandy white beach in a dreamy, ex­otic lo­ca­tion. Wear­ing noth­ing but a bikini and shorts.

And never once, not even when watch­ing the show with a group of girl­friends, can I re­mem­ber think­ing twice about her weight or what she was wear­ing.

It is now al­most two decades later. And, as I wait for the RTE pre­sen­ter to ar­rive, I’m scrolling through end­less pic­tures on gos­sip and show­biz web­sites. This morn­ing, su­per­model and party an­i­mal Kate Moss is be­ing pit­ted against Naomi Camp­bell in a piece that com­pares how the two su­per­mod­els have aged; a Z-list re­al­ity star, Chanelle Hayes, is de­fend­ing her fuller fig­ure after she was papped in a bikini; and count­less fit­ness mod­els are post­ing pic­tures of their beach-ready abs.

And sud­denly I re­call to my­self how we didn’t once com­ment on what Thomas was wear­ing on No Fron­tiers. Bikini or not, back then, her fig­ure was largely ir­rel­e­vant. Peo­ple sim­ply tuned in be­cause it was a bloody good show. How times have changed. As she sweeps in, mov­ing be­tween the low-set break­fast tables of busi­ness­men and Amer­i­can tourists at Dublin’s West­bury ho­tel, I im­me­di­ately clock it all. The tou­sled hair. Her swish black dress. The sexy an­kle boots. And her fig­ure. She’s scanned from head to foot. We’re all a lit­tle guilty of it now.

It isn’t news to Kathryn that as a celebrity, she is in a very dif­fer­ent world to the one in which the happy-go-lucky 19-year-old stood, care­free, on the beach.

Although her most re­cent show, The Voice of Ire­land is about find­ing Ire­land’s big­gest mu­sic tal­ent, each week dur­ing the se­ries — which is now over for another year — Kathryn was in­un­dated with view­ers telling her how good she did, or didn’t, look. From head to toe, she was dis­sected on so­cial me­dia.

In the weeks lead­ing up to our meet­ing, one par­tic­u­lar out­fit had caused a Twit­ter storm. On the first of the live Voice shows, Kathryn wore a navy Self-Por­trait dress from BT2, which fea­tured a small cutout panel at the front, show­ing off a tiny amount of her midriff. View­ers were up in arms. They posted vi­cious com­ments while she was on stage, tweet­ing “what’s the story with the ill-fit­ting dress and the Sharon Stone hair”. Another tweet stated that the dress was un­suit­able for fam­ily view­ing. Kathryn says it’s never-end­ing. “The crit­i­cism is so vit­ri­olic and it’s ev­ery­where,” she ex­plains. “Peo­ple will crit­i­cise how you look, they will crit­i­cise your hair, they will crit­i­cise what you are wear­ing, they will crit­i­cise the job you do.”

She thinks for a mo­ment be­fore cor­rect­ing her­self. “[Ac­tu­ally] very rarely will they crit­i­cise the job you do. [Be­cause] as a woman, it’s pri­mar­ily about how you look. I mean, I would [ap­pre­ci­ate] if there was more crit­i­cism like, ‘I didn’t like the way you did that in­ter­view’ or ‘I thought you could have han­dled it that bit bet­ter’. I am all for con­struc­tive crit­i­cism.”

Un­for­tu­nately, most of the ca­reer com­men­tary comes in scrawled let­ters, or drunken ap­proaches on a night out: “You get let­ters telling you that you’re not good at what you do and that you are not worth the li­cence-fee money and [peo­ple ask­ing] ‘How have you man­aged to stay in tele­vi­sion for this long?” And then there’s the weird fan mail. She says po­litely: “I get the most lovely and in­tense let­ters from a cou­ple of the same gentle­men over the years. I would imag­ine they are prob­a­bly in their 70s, and they are par­tial to send­ing me a mirac­u­lous medal or two,” she smiles. “I think in one way it’s kind of sweet. You could look at it as be­ing creepy, or you could look at it as be­ing lonely and old.”

What do they say? “They com­ment on what you’re wear­ing and the length of your skirt and the low-cut na­ture of your top.” She smiles again.

Did she ever think it was some­thing she should be worried about? “Maybe if I went back and read the en­tire col­lec­tion of let­ters, pos­si­bly,” she laughs, “but I have never felt threat­ened.”

By her own ad­mis­sion, she has a very thick skin. She ra­di­ates the self-as­sur­ance of a per­son who has spent most of her for­ma­tive years trav­el­ling the world, from Pa­pua New Guinea to Antarc­tica; stay­ing in every­thing from seven-star ho­tels to mud huts; scal­ing moun­tains, trail­ing through rivers and wit­ness­ing the dif­fer­ent ways cul­tures in­ter­act with one another.

The job seems to have been rooted in her bones. From a young age, Kathryn was al­most al­ler­gic to sit­ting still, climb­ing trees, build­ing camps, hang­ing out with her broth­ers and es­cap­ing to the out­doors when­ever she could seize the op­por­tu­nity.

Bound­aries and rules were never her gig. “If I’m told I can’t do some­thing or I shouldn’t be some­where, then there’s some­thing in my make up that says ‘Why?’ and ques­tions it.” She laughs. “Now, that has been very help­ful in my ca­reer . . . but it prob­a­bly wasn’t so help­ful as a young, way­ward teen.”

In her first se­condary school — an all­girls con­vent in Co Car­low — it spelled dis­as­ter. She would es­cape out of win­dows in the mid­dle of class and climb over the gate to the all-boys school across the road.

She clocked an im­pres­sive three sus­pen­sions from the prin­ci­pals of two se­condary schools, which her par­ents had moved her be­tween.

“I loved the nuns,” she says, smil­ing. “I just don’t think they loved me as much.”

By the time she was 14, her par­ents de­cided enough was enough, and shipped her off to King’s Hos­pi­tal board­ing school to join her older brother.

On her first night, she went to bed in her dor­mi­tory room, which was also home to 10 other girls. The wails of one home­sick pupil left her star­ing at the ceil­ing, think­ing she had been dropped into a mod­ern-day ver­sion of Malory Tow­ers.

“I re­mem­ber feel­ing, ‘Oh my god. This is go­ing to be hell.’ ”

But she soon found that she rev­elled in the in­de­pen­dence that board­ing school brought, and quickly be­came pop­u­lar among her class­mates, join­ing sev­eral sports teams and par­tic­i­pat­ing in act­ing classes and speech-and-drama lessons.

It was a com­bi­na­tion of her love of fit­ness and a nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion to­wards cen­tre stage that would set her on her dream ca­reer. She took on her first TVp­re­sent­ing role at 19, and has been work­ing ever since.

After a stint on Rapid, No Fron­tiers and Win­ning Streak, Kathryn took over from the late Gerry Ryan on Op­er­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion and she made the show her own. The weekly weighs-in and weight­loss dra­mas proved ad­dic­tive view­ing, and it be­came a smash-hit suc­cess. While other well-known fe­male pre­sen­ters saw their stars wane, Kathryn’s pop­u­lar­ity soared. Her rap­port with the au­di­ence and her down-to-earth style quickly se­cured her a pre­sent­ing role on The Voice of Ire­land.

As one of the big­gest fe­male stars in RTE and the face of two of its big­gest en­ter­tain­ment shows, it was a won­der, then, that we didn’t see her name fea­ture among the likes of Ge­orge Lee, Richard Crow­ley and Derek Mooney on the list of RTE’s top 10 earn­ers.

I ask how she feels when look­ing at the list, and if gen­der in­equal­ity plays a part:

“I am kind of mixed about that be­cause I am very aware . . . you have got to look at all the dif­fer­ent fac­tors that go into that [list].” But, she says, “With­out doubt, there is a gen­der in­equal­ity and we all know there is a gen­der pay gap. It is a very real thing that needs to be ad­dressed and there needs to be fo­cus on it.”

She ex­plains that her two shows — Op­er­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion and The Voice of Ire­land — run from Septem­ber to May, which means she is “front-loaded” for the first part of the year.

“So it’s kind of six, seven or eight months of very, very in­tense work and then I am sort of off and dis­ap­pear into a black broad­cast­ing hole for the rest of the year.”

On the other hand, she points out, there are big earn­ers on the list, such as Ryan Tubridy and Sean O’Rourke, who are work­ing through­out the year and on ra­dio. But she says: “It could be ar­gued that I would work as hard, but I am [ just] front-loaded for that part of the year.”

She con­tin­ues, “I work on two shows that bring in mas­sive rev­enue for RTE so look, you know, I think the gen­der pay gap needs to be ad­dressed. Do I have a very good re­la­tion­ship with RTE? Yes. Have I been work­ing con­stantly since 19 for a rea­son? Yes. That is my tal­ent. It is also how I man­age my re­la­tion­ships, I think, and, more im­por­tantly, my work ethic.”

In terms of gen­der equal­ity, she be­lieves Ire­land is slowly get­ting to where we need to be. But she be­lieves that women need to match men in busi­ness in terms of sell­ing them­selves more.

“It’s putting your­self for­ward and say­ing ‘Well, this is how much I put in to it, this is how much I am worth to you’. I am talk­ing about women in all walks of life.”

When it comes to her own sit­u­a­tion, Kathryn says: “We have [been] steadily grow­ing our fig­ures in an in­dus­try where it is de­clin­ing, be­cause every­thing is go­ing on­line with the rise of Net­flix and every­thing else, so I sup­pose I am in a much more con­fi­dent place now to be able to say ‘This is what I am worth’ whereas be­fore, I wouldn’t have done that.

“At the same time, I also get the po­si­tion that RTE are in. And it does come down to hours as well. And I do have to say Op­er­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion is a seven-day week, and you lit­er­ally start that in Jan­uary and you do not come up for air un­til the other end.” (She works up to 16 or 17 hours a day, seven days a week, along­side her pro­duc­tion team, at the height of film­ing.)

In her 20s, while work­ing with four men on the road for No Fron­tiers, the blonde star was very much co­cooned from any sex­ism. Along with the rest of the team, she lugged suit­cases, lifted tripods and heavy pro­duc­tion equip­ment and was never made to feel in any way in­ad­e­quate be­cause of her sex.

“Just be­cause I some­times had to get into the back of the van to do hair and make-up . . . ,” she ex­plains, “We were all still a team and we had to come back with the story to­gether.”

When it comes to her per­sonal life, in re­cent years she has set­tled down with Padraig McLough­lin, whom she met two-and-a-half years ago while or­der­ing a pint in O’Donoghues pub in Dublin. It’s a happy end­ing after a tough split with Garda Enda Wa­ters, and it’s clear she’s in it for keeps.

Talk of mar­riage is not ‘if ’ but ‘when’ and one thing she is even more cer­tain of is that she wants to be kept in the loop when it comes to the pro­posal. No sur­prises: “I’m the type of per­son that would want to know.”

Kathryn also wanted to know where she stood when she came to her fer­til­ity, and five years ago, at 32, she un­der­went tests to see whether she should con­sider freez­ing her eggs. A doc­tor mea­sured her anti-mul­le­rian hor­mone lev­els (AMH) with a sim­ple blood test — this mea­sures the amount of eggs pro­duced each month.

“I was look­ing at the most prag­matic, sen­si­ble thing to do, and I was told that, for my age, I was above av­er­age.”

So she de­cided not to go ahead with freez­ing her eggs at the time, given the good news. But in time, she says, she might re­turn to the process. “Ab­so­lutely def­i­nitely. If it was the right time and de­ci­sion, then why not?”

Fam­ily is most im­por­tant to her and this year her sis­ter, whom she calls her ‘ best friend’, has re­turned to Ire­land to help Kathryn work on her Pure Re­sults boot­camp pro­ject. It her­alds a bet­ter time in the pre­sen­ter’s per­sonal life — she wit­nessed her fa­ther go through

‘I work on two shows that bring in mas­sive rev­enue for RTE so look, you know, I think the gen­der pay gap needs to be ad­dressed’

dif­fi­cult times with his busi­ness dur­ing the eco­nomic crash.

Last year also saw Padraig lose his mum, and Kathryn says it brought out the pro­tec­tive side in her. The one thing she’s learned as she comes out the other end of the dat­ing game and set­tles down for the long haul is that, when it comes to love, you need “to re­spect it and to mind it”.

“It’s hard work. There have to be com­pro­mises. That’s what I have cer­tainly learned over the years.”

She is self-ef­fac­ing when it comes to an aware­ness of her own weak­nesses. “I am an all-or-noth­ing per­son and I know that I can prob­a­bly be very dif­fi­cult to live with. I am con­stantly look­ing for the next chal­lenge. Con­stantly on the go.” She says her ‘whirl­wind’ at­ti­tude re­quires “a lot of pa­tience”, but adds: “I’ve learned to be more mind­ful of my­self and how I am and [how I] pro­ject that.”

She won’t need to fear be­ing idle for the sum­mer months. She launched Pure Re­sults boot­camp last year, and this year, the course will move to Tem­ple Lodge & Spa in Co West­meath, where the allinclu­sive fit­ness re­treat will en­able clients to eat and ex­er­cise their way to a bet­ter body un­der the watch­ful eye of a team of ex­perts. The three-week pro­gramme runs for seven days a week on site, be­fore clients par­take in a two-week af­ter­care pro­gram that is in­cluded in the cost.

The cour­ses start at €999, which in­cludes meals, ac­com­mo­da­tion, per­sonal train­ing classes and two weeks af­ter­care — as well as work­ing closely with a team of nutri­tion and fit­ness ex­perts.

“I am of­fer­ing a five-star prod­uct,” she ex­plains, “I’ve re­alised I’m not just work­ing in the fit­ness in­dus­try any more, but the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try too.”

De­spite hav­ing spe­cialised in the weight and fit­ness sec­tor for the most part of her ca­reer, she is not ob­ses­sive in her ap­proach. When it comes to her own diet, she doesn’t cut any food group out. Carbs are eaten in the run up to red-car­pet events. She doesn’t tor­ture her­self for a week be­fore­hand, fo­cus­ing on one night out. “My feel­ing on that is that your life is the big­gest event you have. That’s why bal­ance is every­thing,” she says.

She works out five times a week — twice with a per­sonal trainer. Her kitchen is stocked with gra­nola, healthy grains, yo­ghurt and seed mix; she eats up to two dozen eggs a week, and you’ ll find healthy home-made pro­tein balls in her hand­bag “although I only tend to bring three or four out with me, oth­er­wise I end up eating them all in one go.”

And she weighs her­self at home once a week, with­out al­low­ing her­self to be­come “a slave to num­bers”.

But on the other hand, when she’s on a night out — she’s out. An after-dinner cheese board, vodka at the bar and a fast­food joint on the way home at 3am are all part and par­cel of when she re­ally lets her hair down.

As the owner of a boot­camp or face of Ire­land’s big­gest weight-loss show, is she ever worried that she will be snapped, emerg­ing from McDon­alds, by some rev­eller with a cam­era phone?

“I hope I am,” she laughs. “I re­ally am of the opin­ion that you have to live and you have to en­joy life, and it’s what you do most of the time that counts.

“There were a cou­ple of pic­tures of me com­ing out of Abrake­babra after an award show with a ke­bab in my hand. And I don’t apol­o­gise for that. I don’t apol­o­gise for go­ing out and hav­ing a few drinks, and I don’t apol­o­gise for danc­ing like a lu­natic on the dance floor, be­cause if that’s what I am go­ing to do, then that’s what I am go­ing to do. Why would I feel self-con­scious or worried about it?

“The next morn­ing I’ ll get up and gen­er­ally have a cof­fee, mind the head, have a to­tal hang­over, have a cou­ple of big pan­cakes with maple syrup and get out and walk the dog, and then that makes me feel bet­ter the next day.”

And with that, she’s off to the gym. No preach­ing, no hypocrisy. Just a downto-earth, com­mon-sense ap­proach. And you can see why she’s a per­fect fit for the boot­camp.

Now all I’m left won­der­ing is, when is the Pure Re­sults after-party? Be­cause a night out on the town with Kathryn sounds like a riot.

Cover Dress, River Is­land. Shoes, Chris­tian Louboutin, Cari’s Closet

Page 11 and Con­tents page Top, River Is­land. Skirt, Whis­tles, Brown Thomas

Page 12 Waist­coat; shorts, both Whis­tles, Brown Thomas. Bra, Marks & Spencer

Page 13 Dress, MacDug­gal, Cari’s Closet

Op­po­site page Top, Top­shop. Skirt, River Is­land

Photography by Kip Car­roll Styling by Li­adan Hynes As­sisted by Naoise Cas­sidy Hair by Paul Davey for Davey Davey, 23 Drury St, D2, tel: (01) 611-1400, or see dav­ey­davey.com

Make-up by Paula Cal­lan for Cal­lan&Co, 1 Saint Mary’s Rd, Balls­bridge, D4, tel: (01) 668-0060, or see callanandco.ie As­sisted by Michelle Field

Cari’s Closet, 11 New St, Malahide, Co Dublin, tel: (01) 845-7593, or see cariscloset.ie

Pho­tographed at Car­ton House, Maynooth, Co Kil­dare, tel: (01) 505-2000, or see car­ton­house.com

En­joy a lux­u­ri­ous overnight stay with dinner and €10 golf or spa credit per per­son this May at Car­ton House. Terms and con­di­tions ap­ply, see web­site for more de­tails

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