Lov­ing fam­ily on the same wave­length

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BONDINGS -

Ra­dio sta­tion boss Mar­garet Nel­son has a very close bond with her horse-mad teenage daugh­ter, Is­abelle Nally, who is also mak­ing a name for her­self, writes An­drea Smith

HAV­ING her daugh­ter Is­abelle al­most four years af­ter her son Jonathan was born, was “the ic­ing on the cake” for ra­dio boss, Mar­garet Nel­son. “Be­com­ing a mum was huge for me as I never ac­tu­ally be­lieved that I could have it all,” she says. “Not that gen­der mat­ters, but the minute Is­abelle was born, I said, ‘I can breathe now’. The two hap­pi­est mo­ments of my life were when my chil­dren were born. I was a lit­tle bit older when I met Joe, and while we were blessed to have Jonathan fairly quickly, Is­abelle took a bit of work to get her along. I would have loved to have more chil­dren, but I’m so grate­ful for my two fan­tas­tic, beau­ti­ful kids.”

The ever-stylish Mar­garet took the ad­mis­sions staff by sur­prise when she rocked up to Mount Carmel wear­ing thigh-high boots to have Jonathan. Now 21, he’s study­ing com­merce at UCD, but Mar­garet (58) found it a big wrench when her “gor­geous, giv­ing” son went to board at Clon­gowes for six years.

Mar­garet’s ra­dio ca­reer be­gan in sales and mar­ket­ing, and she rose to be­come CEO of FM104 in 2008. Last year, when News­corp took the sta­tion over, she also be­came head of Q102. “At my age, I must be flip­pin’ mad,” she laughs. Is­abelle’s mem­o­ries of her mum in­clude that she was al­ways very glam­orous, and her ex­ten­sive wardrobe took up a lot of space in her own closet.

“Mum has al­ways worked very hard but if you ask her to do some­thing, she al­ways makes time for it,” she says. “She gives good ad­vice, al­though some­times I’m re­luc­tant to take it — I am a teenager, af­ter all.”

Ev­ery­thing around Is­abelle was pink when she was a child — not my de­ci­sion, laughs the pretty teenager. “I al­ways say that the fact that Is­abelle is nat­u­rally blonde gives a de­gree of au­then­tic­ity to my own hair and she winds me up about that,” laughs Mar­garet. “I turned blonde aged 18 when I came to Dublin.”

As CEO of FM104 and Q102, Mar­garet has risen to the top of the ra­dio in­dus­try in Ire­land, thanks to her ef­fer­ves­cent, warm per­son­al­ity and sheer hard work. How­ever, when she mar­ried six-foot-five stock­bro­ker, Joe Nally, 23 years ago, the plan was that she would move to Lon­don. They met at a party in Lon­don, and Mar­garet was sur­prised when he ar­rived to meet her for a date in the West­bury. “He walked up the stairs and I thought, ‘Holy God, I didn’t think he looked as gor­geous as that’,” she laughs. “Joe is re­ally hand­some and he’s so good to me.”

They got en­gaged, and just as she was on the brink of mov­ing to Lon­don, Mar­garet’s own “des­per­ately glam­orous” mum was di­ag­nosed with de­men­tia. She was very close to her late par­ents and Mar­garet felt she couldn’t go off and leave her mum, also called Mar­garet, when she needed her. Her par­ents were an amaz­ing cou­ple who in­stilled in her a very strong work ethic, she says.

Mar­garet left the fam­ily home in En­nis at 17 to come to Dublin, and her dad Des took her aside be­fore she left. “He said, ‘This will al­ways be your bed­room if you ever want to come back’, which gave me a great sense of be­long­ing and se­cu­rity,” she says. “He told me to work hard and make a name for my­self, and not to hide my light be­hind a bushel. ‘Salute any­thing that moves and pol­ish any­thing that doesn’t’, he said.”

So she and Joe made the de­ci­sion that he would live in Lon­don dur­ing the week as he’s a part­ner at city stock­bro­kers, Cenkos. Mar­garet’s mum moved in with her for eight years, and her older sis­ters, Pa­tri­cia and Aideen, helped greatly with her care too. When the time came for her to have full-time care, she was looked af­ter “mag­nif­i­cently” at the Sonas nurs­ing home in Bal­lina.

Joe still works in Lon­don and he flies home ev­ery Fri­day evening and re­turns on Mon­day morn­ing. As a very so­cia­ble cou­ple, they love host­ing din­ner par­ties, and Is­abelle’s burn­ing pas­sion for horses also keeps them busy. Rid­ing her horse Benny Liath, known as Ted, she was awarded first place in the Work­ing Hunter 153 cat­e­gory at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS in Septem­ber, and was re­serve cham­pion in the highly-com­pet­i­tive Con­nemara Per­for­mance cat­e­gory. Ted is sta­bled at Hartwell Stud in Kil­dare.

“The amaz­ing Mary Mccann took Is­abelle on aged 10,” says Mar­garet. “And I will do any­thing I can to en­cour­age the fact that my 17-year-old daugh­ter is in love with a four-legged Ted, rather than a two-legged one. I hon­estly ex­pected that hav­ing a teenage daugh­ter was go­ing to be a lot more dif­fi­cult than it is, but she’s a dream. Her love of horses gives her a fo­cus and makes her bounce out of bed. Same as Jonathan re­ally, as he was pas­sion­ate about rugby. I think you need to step back a bit and in­stil an in­ner self-be­lief in your kids, rather than be­ing con­stantly down on them and giv­ing out. They all make mis­takes and if they learn from it, that’s the main thing.”

Is­abelle can be hard on her­self, but she has a very bal­anced at­ti­tude to­wards win­ning. Her poor mum can’t bear to watch her com­pete and hides be­hind Joe’s back un­til it’s over, pray­ing she won’t have a fall.

The adorable Is­abelle says that Mar­garet can be strict on “weird things”, and only let her get her ears pierced at 17, for ex­am­ple, but she also lets her have free­dom too. Hav­ing at­tended the Tere­sian School un­til Ju­nior Cert, she now at­tends the In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion, which is just down the road from their city cen­tre home. Now in fifth year, she is mad about all an­i­mals and is con­sid­er­ing a ca­reer in an­i­mal phys­io­ther­apy, at present.

When Mar­garet was Is­abelle’s age, she had moved from En­nis to a tiny bed­sit in Ranelagh, which she nick­named ‘Cosy Cot’. One sin­gle wardrobe housed a tiny fridge and two hot plates, and the bath­room was three floors be­low. She worked in ad­min at Trin­ity Col­lege, ini­tially, and then switched to the travel busi­ness and then me­dia. Her ca­reer in­cluded five years liv­ing in Cork work­ing for The Ex­am­iner news­pa­per, and while there, her weight crept up by five stone. This is a sur­pris­ing rev­e­la­tion as she’s so slen­der and trim now.

“I got into an un­healthy life­style and it caught up with me,” she ad­mits. “I was com­pletely lack­ing in con­fi­dence, and when peo­ple con­grat­u­lated me on be­ing preg­nant, I didn’t tell them I wasn’t. I lost the weight through diet and ex­er­cise, but I’m still chal­lenged around weight and des­per­ately con­scious about it. I go to the gym three times per week and I don’t do carbs, be­cause if I al­lowed my­self to do what I want to do, I could be a lot heav­ier. I al­ways say that in­side me, there’s a fat per­son try­ing to get out. Or that I’m like a salad — bet­ter dressed!”

Food, health and nu­tri­tion is re­ally im­por­tant to Mar­garet, and she’s hap­pi­est stand­ing in her kitchen mak­ing din­ner while watch­ing cook­ery pro­grammes. She’s also con­scious of not pass­ing her chal­lenges around weight on, and wouldn’t dream of stop­ping Is­abelle eat­ing sweet things if she wants them. As it hap­pens, her daugh­ter eats a very healthy, bal­anced diet and is very ac­tive. De­spite their busy sched­ules, they’re a very close-knit fam­ily who love catch­ing up at week­ends. They also en­joy go­ing to Bal­ti­more, where they have a house. Joe and Jonathan love it there as they both sail.

Mar­garet was thrilled to be in­ducted into the IMRO Ra­dio Awards’ pres­ti­gious Hall of Fame last month, along with Pat Kenny, Wil­lie O’reilly and Ian Wil­son. Her award ci­ta­tion ref­er­enced FM104 hav­ing a cur­rent prime time mar­ket share of 17pc, and that Mar­garet has driven it to be the most fi­nan­cially suc­cess­ful lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion in the coun­try.

“The fact that it was voted by my peers is even sweeter,” says Mar­garet. “I was so happy, de­lighted and proud that the peo­ple I work with think that I have done a lot to pre­serve the in­dus­try. What I have tried to do is de­velop a re­la­tion­ship and am­bi­ence in the of­fice where peo­ple want to come to work, roll up their sleeves and give it 1,000pc. I want pas­sion­ate peo­ple at the sta­tions, not those who sim­ply check in at 9am and are off again at 5pm.”

When it comes to glass ceil­ings and women in busi­ness, Mar­garet doesn’t be­lieve in stand­ing be­hind gen­der quo­tas and thinks the best peo­ple should get the job, re­gard­less of gen­der. Is­sues like the gen­der pay gap ex­as­per­ate her and need to be ad­dressed. “I think women are dif­fer­ent in their work ethic than men, and I be­lieve we need to stand up and be counted and know our worth,” she says

Is­abelle says that she’s very proud of her in­spi­ra­tional mum, and when asked if there are any chal­lenges to hav­ing such a dy­namic, glam­orous mammy, she says that there can be, at times. “My friends are al­ways say­ing, ‘Your mum is so pretty’,” she says. “You can’t take her any­where ei­ther, be­cause she knows ev­ery­one and they know her. Jonathan and I have two very hard-work­ing par­ents to look up to, and we’re al­ways en­cour­aged to do our best, but they don’t place any ex­pec­ta­tions on us.”

Be­ing a busy, work­ing mum has its chal­lenges for Mar­garet, par­tic­u­larly with Joe be­ing in Lon­don dur­ing the week. “While all these books say you can have it all, you can’t if you work and you have two chil­dren who need feed­ing and nur­tur­ing and di­rec­tion,” she says. “I’ve prob­a­bly lost a bit of the in­ter­ac­tion with my lovely, clos­est friends, even though they’ve been re­ally pa­tient and un­der­stand­ing. Some­thing has to give when you’re up at 6.30am and your day is about work and kids and emails and home­work.”

While she has achieved great heights in busi­ness, Mar­garet says that be­ing a mum is the true high­light of her life. “I am be­yond burst­ing with pride over my two chil­dren,” she says. “When I was ac­cept­ing the life­time achieve­ment award at the BAI of­fices, the most im­por­tant thing for me was look­ing down and see­ing their beau­ti­ful, beam­ing smiles.”

‘I want pas­sion­ate peo­ple at the sta­tions, not those who sim­ply check in at 9am and are off again at 5pm’

www.fm104.ie www.q102.ie

Ra­dio boss Mar­garet Nel­son with her 17-year-old daugh­ter, Is­abelle Nally. Photo: Colin O’ri­or­dan

Is­abelle Nally on Benny Liath in the Ir­ish team that won the In­ter­na­tional Con­nemara Per­for­mance class in the Dublin Horse Show last sum­mer

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