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