Fam­ily favourite

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

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS - Ire­land’s Fittest Fam­ily airs on RTÉ One tonight at 6.30pm.

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

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