Apr 13

The Voice of Ireland 2013 – and the winner is…

In my world, Sunday nights are for curling up on the sofa in my onesie (it was a birthday present… don’t judge me!), eating copious amounts of chocolate and watching The Voice of Ireland. But last night being the final of the show, I decided to don a dress, some ridiculously high heels and head in to catch up on the live action.

I watched the show backstage with last year’s winner, Pat Byrne, which made it all the more interesting. I’m sure he was sick of me asking him: “How did you feel at this point last year?” But Pat is a lovely guy and was a very worthy winner. He’s hugely talented and I know we’ll see plenty of him over the coming years.

keith hanleyBut back to tonight and another very worthy winner – the small guy with the big heart, Keith Hanley. Keith, from Team Jamelia, wowed us with two brilliant performances. His first was a duet with Ryan Sheridan, singing Jigsaw and his second was a fantastic version of Beggin by Madcon.

I caught up with Keith and his coach, Jamelia, after the show and I think it’s safe to say, I can see why the public have fallen in love with him.

“I can’t believe it,” he says, in his sing-song Cork accent. “I really can’t believe it! I can’t stress how grateful I am to everyone who’s supported me. But there’s still a journey ahead of me – I’m going to have a good time tonight and then work starts first thing in the morning.”

When asked what he thought clinched it for him in the end, Keith answered: “I don’t know what it was. All I did was just be myself, getting on the stage andJamelia doing my thing.” Jamelia was quick to butt in, saying: “You gave amazing performances, that’s what did it. You proved yourself week after week.”

In those final moments before the winner was announced, Keith stood on stage with fellow contestant, Kelly Mongan. Kelly, who’s more than nine months pregnant with her first child, has had the nation captivated week after week, with her angelic voice and her ever-growing bump. “Kelly is an amazing vocalist,” said Keith. “She’s such an inspiration and if she’d won, I really would have been so happy for her. She’s been the favourite all along and really has something special.”

Jamelia was clearly over the moon at Keith’s win but conceded that he would have done well no matter which of the coaches he’d been with. “I’ve loved every second of coaching Keith. It’s been so much fun. And he’s not just the most talented contestant; he’s also the nicest guy in the world. It was so important to me to get to know Keith as a person too. I’ve really grown to love him – he’ll be a lifelong friend.”

Keith has secured a recording deal with Universal Ireland and I wanted to know if Jamelia would be involved in the making of his album. “I’m definitely going to be involved,” she said. “I’m so excited about going on this journey with him, writing songs with him and watching him grow musically.”

Keith is a care assistant for children with special needs and he brought Jamelia down to meet them during the week. She was clearly bowled over by the Bressieexperience. “That whole day will stay with me forever,” she said. “I expected to be sad when I met them but they’re so full of life, so happy and so inspiring. It made me think I want to be around them more – I really learned so much from it. I’ll be bringing my girls down to meet them as soon as I can. They adore Keith and it’s clear he loves what he does.”

“And music makes such a difference to them,” said Keith. “It’s a therapy and they can come out of themselves so much more when they listen to it. I’m dedicating this win to them – and to my mammy, of course. I’m a real mammy’s boy!”

Jamelia replaced Brian Kennedy as a coach this year and has been popular with both the public and the contestants. “I’ve really loved my time here,” she said. “It’s been exhausting but a brilliant experience.” I think I can speak for most of us when I say I hope she’ll return next year.

photo (72)I briefly caught up with Kelly after the show, before she went to put her feet up. “I’m not really disappointed, to be honest,” she said. “I’m delighted to have come second out of thousands. It’s a huge show and the whole experience has been unreal. I felt nervous tonight with the baby due any minute but I really enjoyed it at the same time.”

Kelly’s coach, Kian Egan, couldn’t speak highly enough of her. “Kelly is a great girl. She’s really talented and has been an Kianinspiration throughout the show. Of course I’m disappointed for her but Keith is a great guy and a very deserving winner.” Bressie, whose act, Shannon Murphy came fourth, agreed that Keith is a true artist and deserved to win.

Sharon Corr, who was the only coach with no acts in the final, also endorsed Keith’s win. “He’s an amazing guy and was outstandingly good tonight. His performance with Ryan Sheridan was just brilliant.”

Last year, the format of the show meant that each coach had one act in the final. Changes this year saw Sharon lose the last of her acts, John Gaughan, last week. “It was hard to see John leave,” she said, “but we all agreed to the new format. I think John is pretty amazing though – he’s a very talented artist. He’s going to be supporting me on tour and I’m going to do everything I can to help him along the way.”

SharonSharon is releasing her new album later in the year and planning a world tour, so her fate as a coach in the third series hangs in the balance. I, for one, would love to see her back next year but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

I have to give a special mention to the other two finalists – Shane Mc Laughlin from Team Kian and Shannon Murphy from Team Bressie. Both gave wonderful performances tonight and I feel any of the final four would have been very deserving winners.

With The Voice of Ireland finished again for another year, I’m going to have to find something else to do on my Sunday nights! It’s been a fantastic series. I think one of the reasons it’s so successful is the fact that the coaches, although they champion their own acts, just want the very best artists to win. Unlike some other talent shows, they nurture the contestants and are all about building up their confidence. Keith got the seal of approval from all the coaches tonight – I definitely think he’s a star in the making.

Apr 12

The Voice of Ireland – a behind the scenes look

This year The Voice of Ireland hit our screens for the first time and now, with only days to go to the big finale, I think it’s safe to say it’s been a roaring success.  With the combined talent of coaches Niall Breslin (Bressie), Brian Kennedy, Kian Egan and Sharon Corr, the show has found, nurtured and showcased some of the best talent our country has to offer.

Last Sunday, I took my daughter along to the live semi-final as a birthday treat but felt I couldn’t let the day pass without having a little snoop around and catching up with some people behind the scenes.

Thanks to the lovely Deirdre Crookes who looks after PR for The Voice, I got to wander the corridors and meet the contestants.  But before I chatted to them, I decided to have a word with the unsung heroes of the show – the wonderful people who work tirelessly to make sure everyone looks their very best on the night.

My first port of call was the wardrobe room where Ingrid Hoey works her magic to style the coaches, as well as presenters, Catherine and Eoghan.

“I choose most of the clothes well in advance,” said Ingrid, who runs the very successful Butterfly Style.  “I try to use Irish designers as much as possible to showcase the brilliant talent we have in this country.  During the course of the show I’ve picked outfits from Joanne Hynes, Emma Manley and Natalie B Coleman.”

Ingrid had nothing but good things to say about the show and in particular, the coaches, who are lovely to work with.  “Bressie is so funny,” she said.  “We have such a laugh when he comes in here.  He also loves his fashion so that makes my job a whole lot easier.  They’ve all worked with stylists before so they’re usually happy to trust in my judgement.”

Having sneaked a peek at the soon to be worn outfits, I headed off to find the make-up and hair room, where Carol-Ann Mc Guirke was curling, crimping, straightening and transforming the hair of some of the contestants.

I asked her what it was like to work on a show like The Voice.  “It’s the most amazing show to work on,” she said.  “It’s been challenging too, because there’s so much to do, but I’ve loved every minute of it.  I get to see everyone’s outfits in advance so we can discuss what hairstyles will suit best.”

Carol-Ann, who works in Reds in Dawson Street is no stranger to pressurised jobs as she’s worked on hair in London Fashion Week and on ITV’s This Morning.  She said that The Voice is by far the best thing she’s done to date and loves being a part of the show.

I asked Lisa O’Connor, who does make-up, who she likes working with best.  “I think I’d have to say Kim,” she said.  “She has such a beautiful face and with her fabulous red hair, I can experiment with colours on her lips and eyes and the results are often stunning.”

As well as working on the show, Lisa is a huge fan and records it to watch when she goes home on Sunday night.  “It’s so well made,” she said.  “The contestants are all happy and that’s a credit to their coaches who work very hard to make sure everything comes together for them on the night.”

With only a couple of hours to go before the live show, I managed to catch up with all eight contestants.  Richie Hayes and Alan Fitzsimons from Team Brian were both looking relaxed although both admitted to feeling a little anxious.

“I suffer badly with nerves, to be honest,” said Alan.  “Tonight’s song is very emotional for me but I’m just going to sing my heart out and hope for the best.  I’m very lucky to have Brian in my corner.  He’s been such a brilliant support and I’m really grateful to him for that.”

Richie said that the show has gotten rid of a lot of ghosts for him.  “It’s been a brilliant experience,” he said.  “I really felt that the blind auditions gave me that chance I’d been looking for.  Instead of being put off by my height, or lack of it, the coaches just heard my big voice and I was lucky enough to have been chosen.”

Classically trained Vanessa Whelan and stunning red-head, Kim Hayden, were about to go head to head but there was no sign of any tension between them.  “We’re so lucky to get this far,” said Vanessa, a mother of three.  “I feel really blessed that I’ve had this experience and to have Sharon as a coach has been a dream come true.”

Kim, who was looking relaxed and happy, agreed with Vanessa.  “Sharon is fantastic.  I just love the life I’m living at the moment.  It’s wonderful to wake up in the morning and know you’re going to be doing what you love all day.”

I found proud, new dad Jim Devine sitting on his own having a quiet moment.  After looking at photos of his beautiful four-week old daughter, Ella, I asked him about his time on The Voice.  “It’s certainly been very full,” he laughed.  “It’s been hard at times, wrenching myself away from my family, especially having a new baby, but it’s also inspired me.  Kian has been fantastic to work with.  He knows everything about the business and is happy to share his experience.”

Sharon Gaynor, the other member of Team Kian, has loved her experience on the show too.  “I feel privileged to have gotten to the semi-finals no matter what happens after that.  I’ll walk away with great memories, great friends and, with a bit of luck, a successful career in music.”

I couldn’t wait to have a chat with the duo from Team Bressie who’ve been dubbed Ernie and Bert.  Pat Byrne and Conor Quinn have become the best of friends and as they sat back, joking and laughing, I knew it was going to be a difficult night, no matter which of them went through.

“In a funny sort of way, I feel a lot of pressure is off us now,” said Pat.  “We’ve all done so well to get this far and I honestly feel honoured to be amongst such fabulous talent, even if tonight is the end of the line for me.”

Conor agreed.  “This experience has been unreal and I’ve learned so much along the way.  If I’m knocked out tonight, I’ll be there at the final, cheering all the way for Pat.”

The boys said Bressie was a legend and felt thankful to be part of his team.  “He knows a lot about the business,” said Pat.  “And he really ‘gets’ us both and knows what direction we should be going in.”

So it was time for the show to begin and having met all the contestants, I felt anxious about the outcome.  No matter what happened, there were going to be four very disappointed contestants at the end of the night.  I gladly accepted my title of ‘coolest mammy ever’ as I managed to nab us some of the best seats in the house and we settled in for the evenings entertainment.

The following hour and a half was packed full of emotion, drama and some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard.  Every single one of the contestants sang their hearts out and it was clearly difficult for the coaches to have to choose between their two acts.  But the viewers also had a say because it was the combined score of the coaches’ and public vote that determined who stayed and who went.

We were then treated to two fantastic performances from Professor Green and  Maverick Sabre, before that nail-biting moment when Catherine announced that the lines were closed and the results were in.

Tensions were high with so much at stake and it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to Sharon, Alan, Kim but the biggest shock of the night was Conor’s exit.  When I’d asked the contestants earlier, they’d all said that Conor was their biggest competition and that he’d be a deserved winner.  But having said that, let’s not take away from Pat, who had a stunning performance and truly deserves his place.

As most people queued for the exits, I slipped backstage again to have a word with the coaches and get their reaction to the night’s events.  First up was Bressie (I do love my job!), who’d just left a very emotional Pat and Conor.

“I’m so proud of the boys,” he said.  “Both of them have what it takes to make it in this industry and I’m going to make sure I work with both of them no matter what.  Pat had a brilliant performance tonight and I really think he could win it.  But Conor is, without a shadow of a doubt, a recording artist and I’m going to make sure he records an album.”

Personally I love the Foo Fighter’s Everlong, and was delighted to hear Conor singing it but I asked Bressie if he thought that it might have been a factor in losing votes for Conor tonight.  “I stand by my decision,” he said.  “We agreed to pick songs that represented them musically rather than just pick big hit songs.  These guys ooze integrity when it comes to their music and they deserve to have songs that are the perfect fit for them.  They’ve both proven themselves with big performances over the weeks so tonight we just wanted to strip that all back and hear their clear, honest vocals and that’s exactly what they delivered.”

If people weren’t familiar with Bressie before the show, he’s certainly become a household name in the last few months.  I asked him how he’s enjoyed the whole experience.  “I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.  “The whole process has thought me a lot.  I’m used to performing on stage and that’s what I love to do but it’s been a whole new experience to sit with these other great guys and give critique to acts.  But I came on here to find someone with an edge and I’ve been very lucky to find both Pat and Conor.”

Brian Kennedy is surely one of the best voices this country has produced and is a fantastic addition as a coach on the show.  I asked him how he felt The Voice of Ireland compares to other talent shows.  “The Voice is a very nurturing show,” he said.  “I think that’s what makes it unique.  We want to encourage and develop talent – not knock it down, and it’s fantastic to see such fabulous Irish talent being showcased.

So has he enjoyed his experience?  “It’s been great,” he said.  “I’ve enjoyed working with the other coaches and we’ve all become good friends.  In fact everyone, from the contestants to the people working behind the scenes, all get on great and there’s a wonderful atmosphere here.  I’ve also been heartened to see how Ireland has such an insatiable appetite for music.”

Being a big tweeter, I’ve regularly tweeted Brian with my song suggestions for Alan because I’ve always believed he has a fantastic voice.  How hard was it to say goodbye to him tonight?  “It’s really hard at this stage,” said Brian, “but that’s the name of the game.  We can all only bring one person through to the final and although I’ve loved working with Alan, I think Richie is amazing and has the potential to win the show.”

I didn’t mange to catch up with Sharon but I know she found it very hard to say goodbye to Kim tonight.  Kim had a fantastic performance but ultimately, it was the amazing, flawless voice of Vanessa that won out in the end.  Sitting close to the stage myself, every hair stood up on the back of my neck when she sang.  I think she’s a force to be reckoned with and from chatting to the other coaches, I think they may think so too!

Lastly I managed to nab Kian, who’s earned a name for himself as the most direct coach, saying it as he sees it.  “I know I’m sometimes criticized for it,” he said, “but I don’t like to beat around the bush.  I believe in direct, honest opinions but I don’t think I deliver them in a nasty way.  I watch these shows all the time and it bugs me when judges aren’t honest to contestants.  It’s so important to give them constructive criticism because most of them are probably going to chase music for the rest of their lives.”

And he certainly didn’t beat around the bush tonight, awarding Jim with 70% and Sharon with just 30%.  “I’ll stand by that decision,” he said.  “Sharon was amazing tonight and is a technically fantastic singer.  But Jim was something else.  He not only delivered a technically fantastic performance, but the emotion he put into it was stunning.  I’m delighted to be taking him through to the final.”

So has it been a good experience overall?  “It’s been a great experience,” said Kian.  “It took us all a while to settle in but now we’re all really good pals.  Myself and Brian came into the show not really knowing each other well and having certain opinions but now we’re great buddies and probably chat the most out of all of us.  I know it’s a cliché, but everyone is really cheerful and happy – chummy.  Yes, chummy, that’s what we all are!”

I asked Kian, Bressie and Brian if they’d hope to come back to do the show again next year and they all answered with a resounding yes, adding that they hadn’t yet been asked!  So come on Voice of Ireland people, let us know the show is in safe hands again for next year!

So Sunday next, 29th April will see someone crowned as the first winner of The Voice of Ireland.  Each of the remaining four contestants have their single available now on iTunes and each download until midnight on Saturday night will count as one vote.  Here are the four links – it’s not a popularity contest so please vote for your favourite voice and ensure the best man or woman wins!

Pat Byrne – What a Wonderful World

Vanessa Whelan – Who Wants to Live Forever

Jim Devine – The Dance

Richie Hayes – One Voice


Feb 12

Darren Kennedy – the star that keeps shining

I can’t think of a better way to brighten up a dull day than to sit drinking coffee with the gorgeous Darren Kennedy.  I had the pleasure of meeting Darren last week in Dublin and was pleasantly surprised to find someone who talks even more than I do!

Darren is a man of many talents and is known to us, not only for his keen fashion sense, but as a presenter, producer and broadcaster.  As we make ourselves comfortable in the little city centre café, I ask him which of these titles he prefers.

“I suppose primarily, I’d consider myself a broadcaster/presenter,” he says.  “But, as you say, people will know me from other stuff too and that’s fine by me.  I’m very passionate about fashion and have been since I was a kid.  And you’ll sometimes see me on shows such as This Morning on ITV doing a slot about gadgets – I’m a bit of a geeky boy like that!”

Well geek is certainly not the word that springs to mind when I look at Darren in Diesel jeans, Comme des Garcon tee and River Island tweed jacket.  I want to know a bit more about how he got into fashion.

“Well I’d probably have to give a lot of the credit to my mam,” he smiles.  “She loves fashion and was always dragging me around the shops when I was little.  But unlike most kids, I actually loved it.  I found I had a great eye for it and she’d try things on and ask me how they looked.  I have an older brother too and I was always robbing his stuff.  When he started working, he had money to buy nice clothes and I was always ready to nick them!  I was the best dressed thirteen year old in the area, wearing expensive paisley shirts and Levis, as well as smelling of Dior Fahrenheit!”

So, other than his big brother, who are his fashion icons or influences?  “Dolce & Gabbana are one of my absolute favourite labels,” he enthuses.  “But in terms of who I’d love to work with, it would have to be Tom Ford.  I think he’s amazing.  He eats, drinks and sleeps style, from his clothes to his fragrances.  He’s a really hard worker too.  Not only is he a professional, but he’s a perfectionist.  There’s a little bit of that in me and I’d love to get an insight into how he works.”

Darren’s own style certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed as he’s just been nominated, along with some of Ireland’s finest, as Most Stylish Man in the VIP Awards 2012.  “I was really surprised and delighted to be nominated,” he says.  “I don’t know whether I’ll win or not but I think my biggest competition is probably Nicky Byrne from Westlife as he has such a huge following.”  Well, in my opinion, Darren definitely deserves a shot at winning so if you’d like to help him along, you can vote here.

His love of fashion also spurred him on to create a fantastic online magazine called helpmystyle.ie.  “I like style in general,” he says.  “I love to be in places that inspire me and that please me aesthetically and that carries through to what I wear.  So helpmystyle.ie is all about stylish living, as well as fashion for men and women.  We get more than 60,000 hits a month and growing.  I’ also working on a revamp at the moment which will be launching in the next few weeks.”

At only thirty-one, Darren has already achieved so much in his career. With a degree in international business and languages under his belt, his first taste of the media was when he had a job as a runner on TV3.  “I knew at that point what I wanted to do with my life,” he says.  “I went on to do various other jobs here in Ireland, such as reporting on the Gerry Ryan radio show and the Mooney Show.  I also worked on the first three series of Operation Transformation on RTE1 and I was the one who built their website.  It’s been the most successful RTE website to date and that makes me feel really proud.”

Darren’s face is a regular one on television in the UK these days.  So how did he get his big break there?  “I started putting feelers out in the UK and two years ago I got a call to audition for a new BBC show called Project Parent.  It was a fun show where children took control of their single parents’ lives.  I got the job along with Angellica Bell and it was a brilliant experience.  I got myself a UK agent at that stage and now I’m doing Holiday Heaven on Earth for Channel 5.”

I can feel Darren’s excitement when he mentions the holiday show he enjoys so much so I just sit back and let him tell me about it.  “It’s an amazing job,” he smiles.  “I get to visit the most brilliant places and call it work!  Don’t get me wrong, it can be hard work and with all the travelling, it can be tiring, but it’s so worth it.  I’m just back from California, where we surfed and saw elf seals, went to Hearst Castle and visited vineyards.  It was incredible.”

So was California his favourite out of the places he visited with the show?  “It’s hard to say what my absolute favourite has been.  Everyone has their own idea of heaven but definitely one of my very favourite places was Hong Kong.  I felt a real affinity with the place.  It’s quite like New York in ways but because of where it’s situated, the skyline and the views are amazing.  I love the simple things too and one of the best things I did was to visit a local tea house.  When you go in, there are five floors and people of every age are having tea and sharing tables.  They bring around trays of food called dim sum and shout out what’s on them.  You can grab anything and they put it on your list.  I was the only westerner in there and I adored it.  I ate my own body weight in food and it only came to about seven euro!”

With his hectic schedule, I wondered if Darren has any time at all to just kick back and enjoy some quiet time with his family and friends.  “All my family are here in Ireland and they’re really important to me so I try to get back to them as often as possible.  My partner, Aidan, is also here in Dublin.  We have a fantastic relationship and we must be doing something right because we’ve been together almost ten years now.  I think the key to managing busy lives is planning.  Aidan is a playwright and travels a lot too so we regularly look at our diaries and see where we’re going to be and make sure that not too much time goes by without seeing each other.”

Before I met Darren, I got to know him on twitter.  Does he think the social network plays an important role in today’s world?  “I quite like twitter,” he says, “and definitely for a business, it’s a fantastic tool.  From the point of view of helpmystyle.ie, it helps me connect with an audience.  But from a personal point of view, I find it brilliant to help me stay in touch.  When I’m away, I can keep abreast of what’s happening.  I also get to meet a lot of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  I do think it can be addictive though and it’s important to switch off and keep a balance.”

Darren’s tight schedule doesn’t leave much time for anything else but one of the things he speaks passionately about is his involvement with a group called Belong To.  “Belong To is an Irish charitable organisation which supports gay and lesbian kids.  It helps them to come out and supports them along the way.  I’m delighted to be an ambassador for them.”

So where does Darren see himself in twelve months time?  What’s next on the horizon?  “Oh there’s still so much I want to do and achieve,” he laughs.  “I’d definitely love to have another series of the travel show under my belt and see more of the world.  I’d also love to do something that combines my passion for style with travel.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to travel the world and look at different styles?  I’m always pitching new ideas.  I believe people who are successful work hard and don’t get to the top by resting on their laurels!  Basically, I just want to build on the foundations I’ve already laid.”

Well there’s little chance of Darren resting on his laurels with his drive and ambition and I have no doubt he’ll do well no matter what he turns his hand to.  What a pleasure it was to chat to him and I was sorry to have to go.  If you’d like a glimpse of Darren at work, take a look at this and you can tune into Holiday Heaven on Earth every Thursday on Channel 5 at 7pm.

Jan 12

This Morning hopes for NTA glory

My visits to London seem to be frequently fraught with mishaps, and last week was no different.  Arriving at Dublin Airport, ready to embark on my exciting couple of days, I was brought down to earth with a bang when I realised I’d booked the flight for the wrong day!  After a few tantrums and a lot of tears, I eventually got sorted – nothing was going to get in the way of my impending trip to the London Studios.

This Morning on ITV is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite programs on telly.  So when I was offered the opportunity to go and have a nosy… ahem… I mean, a look behind the scenes, I jumped at the chance.  The show has been nominated for a National Television Award in the category of Factual Program (please vote here) and I wanted to see just what it is that continues to capture the heart of the nation.

When the show airs on weekdays from 10.30-12.30, what we see is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a huge team of people.  I thought I’d first catch up with some of those who are hiding their lights under a bushel and find out more about what goes on behind the scenes.  The first person I managed to grab was Sarah Hitching, PR Manager, and I asked her what she thinks it is about This Morning that makes it so special.

“I know it sounds like a cliché,” said Sarah, as we walked on set, “but if you take a look around, you’ll see that we’re all like one big happy family.  Honestly, every single one of us appreciates each other.  We all need each other and the key to harmony is knowing that.  We all put in really long hours so it just wouldn’t work if we didn’t get on so well.”

Despite its 10.30 start, the wheels of This Morning are turning well before that when the presenters arrive at the studios at around 7.30.  They meet with producers to discuss the running order of the show and also present at that meeting is David O’Brien, head of wardrobe.

“The presenters usually arrive in their casual clothes and we sit down and discuss what they might wear for the show,” said David, who was busy sketching designs in his room.  “There’s a lot of thought goes into the clothes and we usually make the decisions together.  For instance, I wouldn’t put something floral on Holly or Ruth if they were going to be dealing with a sombre subject.  Likewise, if a politician is coming in for a chat, we have to be careful not to put any of the presenters in political colours.”

As I left David’s room, I bumped into Shari Rendle, one of This Morning’s resident make-up artists.  “I’ve been here for the last ten years,” she said, “and I absolutely love it.  I often do the make-up for the presenters but I also have the opportunity to work on some amazing people.  We’ve had some great guests over the years and it’s been very exciting to work with them.”  I asked Shari what was her most memorable experience so far.  “Well,” she laughed, “you might remember Gino d’Accampo did his cooking slot naked last year after winning the NTA – well I had to prepare him for that!”  Bet that wasn’t in her job description!

I was stunned at the amount of thought that’s put into the finer details of the show and yet there doesn’t seem to be a frazzled hair on anyone’s head!  While I was snooping around the corridors, I was aware that the show had started so I quietly slipped back out onto the set, trying not to click-clack in my 6 inch heels!  I must have been a nightmare for floor manager, Tim Carr, who generously allowed me the run of the place.  Tim is crucial to the smooth running of This Morning as he organises everyone and makes sure everything runs on time.  Author and screenwriter, Lynda La Plante was just finishing a chat with Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford so I took myself off to the hub for a chat with the lovely Matt Johnson, who was the day’s hub presenter.

The hub is the interactive part of the show where viewers can email or tweet their comments, some of which will be read out on the show.  Matt, greeted me warmly and introduced me to Brett Lawrence, the producer.  Now this is where things got slightly embarrassing.  “Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand and noting his gorgeousness.  “I can see why you’ve earned the name of ‘hot producer’.

“Em… I’m actually the ‘hub producer,” he said, giggling.  “But thanks for the compliment.”  In my defence, I’m an Irish girl trying to come to terms with a whole variety of accents but if I’d had an opportunity to let the ground open up and swallow me, I’d have welcomed it!

Last year when This Morning won an NTA, there was a flurry of excitement as Gino d’Accampo and the hub’s Matt Johnson fulfilled their promise of presenting while naked.  I asked Matt if he was making any similar promises this year!  “Not a chance,” he laughed.  “I think once is enough for getting my kit off on telly!  I think that This Morning has never been better and it deserves to win the award anyway.  It’s growing from strength to strength – it’s very rare for a show such as this to be going for so long and still have such a huge following.  We’re in a tough category this year though and have to fight off big wigs like An Idiot Abroad, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Top Gear.  But I have every faith in us – we have a lot of very loyal viewers who I’m sure will be voting.”

Following a lovely mug of tea made by Matt (see, there are no airs and graces on this show – everyone mucks in!), I headed off in search of more people to chat to.  Adam Vandermark is the show’s editor and he beams with pride when I ask him about This Morning and what it would mean to him to win the NTA.  “Winning an award for the second year running would mean so much, not just to me, but to the whole production team.  We put together a really well-crafted program and the ratings have been fantastic.  The award is voted for by the public so it would be the icing on the cake to win and confirmation that people still love what we do.”

Even the guests on This Morning seem to enjoy the time they spend there.  I was delighted to see a very relaxed and happy David Hasselhoff (OMG! The Hoff!) come into the studio for a chat.  Incidentally, did you know that he holds the Guinness World Record for the most watched TV star in the world? He joked with Eamonn and Ruth before going on air to talk about his new live show, An Evening with David Hasselhoff.  He was happy to chat to the team afterwards and pose for pictures.  He even held up a sign to prompt viewers to vote for This Morning in the NTAs and later tweeted about it.

The lovely Lindsey Coulson (aka Carol Jackson in Eastenders) popped in for a chat and I asked her about her experience on the show.  “I love it here,” she said, as we posed together for a picture.  “There’s a lovely atmosphere – a really comfortable, homely feeling.  I sometimes forget I’m on telly at all when I’m chatting to the presenters!  They certainly know how to get the best out of people.”

I couldn’t believe it was already almost 12.30 and time for the show to end.  In true This Morning style, they finished off with a fantastic performance of That’s Life from the brilliant Rat Pack who are gracing the stage on the West End at the moment.  But I couldn’t go without grabbing Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford for a quick chat before they headed off to yet another meeting.  I asked them what it would mean to them to win the NTA this year.

“This Morning is an institution,” said Eamonn.  “To win an NTA for the second year running would cement the show as a consistent contender and confirm that it’s a top quality program.  And the win would mean so much, considering the tough category we’re in.”

“It’s the first time we’ve been in a factual category,” added Ruth.  “We’ve really worked hard to make the show more topical, dealing with pressing and real issues.  To be recognised in this category would be very special indeed.”

I love Eamonn and Ruth.  They’re so down to earth and, just like the rest of the team, they’re welcoming, friendly and warm.  But sadly, although the show was over for the viewers, another few hours work awaited the team.  I didn’t want to take up any more of their time so I said my goodbyes.

This Morning truly deserves its nomination for a National Television Award – please vote for them here.

Jan 12

Sharon Condon – life after Wonderland


Last year I interviewed five vibrant, talented and beautiful girls who were living the dream as the newly formed girl group, Wonderland.  It was an energetic interview as each of the girls gushed about how amazing it was to be part of the band and how honoured they were to be managed by Westlife’s Kian Egan and music mogul, Louis Walsh.

Sadly, the Wonderland dream came crashing down just a few short months later, as the girls were dropped by their record label and subsequently decided to go their own ways.

On a brighter note, I caught up with Sharon Condon yesterday, one of the girls from the band, and she was looking relaxed, happy and full of enthusiasm for the year ahead.  Sharon has decided to make a go of a solo career and whereas I wanted to find out about her plans, I had to ask about the Wonderland split.

“As everyone knows,” said Sharon, “we were dropped by our record label, and that was probably the first thing that alerted people to the fact that all wasn’t well.  But to be honest, things had started to fall apart before that.  There were a few issues with the band, relationships were beginning to break down and we weren’t as happy as we portrayed ourselves to be to the media.”

“Being in a girl group is fantastic, but it can be very difficult at times too,” she continued.  “Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all bad.  We really were like one big happy family for a while.  We were given an amazing opportunity and we were all grateful for that.  We had three wonderful years of doing what we loved and that’s something I’ll always cherish.  But living together in the one apartment, working together and spending every moment of every day together can take its toll.  We were given a strict style and we had to conform.  We were basically stripped of our individuality and, although I know it was all part of the girl-band experience, I found it stifling at times.  It wasn’t all glamour either.  Sometimes we struggled money-wise and even though we sold 70,000 albums, there were a lot of people to pay before we received our tiny percentage.  It’s not all about the money but you do need a certain amount to survive.”

Although Sharon is very ambitious and determined to make a go of her solo career, I could see the sadness when she talked about Wonderland.  I asked her if she still stays in contact with the girls.  “Leigh and I have remained great friends,” she said, her eyes lighting up.  “We get on brilliantly and she’s been so supportive of me and my plans to go solo.  She’s currently doing some work with Assets Modelling Agency, so if anyone wants to book a gorgeous, bubbly, wonderful girl, that’s where you’ll find her!”

And what about the others?  Did they all remain friends?  “Sadly not,” said Sharon.  “I’m still in contact with Kasey but I haven’t seen or heard from Corinna or Jodi at all.  Unfortunately, it’s the way of the world, isn’t it?  When a break-up of any kind happens, there’s often a lot of anger and hurt.  I’m hoping that some day we can all meet up again and talk about the good times we had.  I think we had a very solid foundation for friendship and maybe one day we can build on that again.”

So onto Sharon’s solo career – how did it feel to be suddenly on her own after three years of being surrounded by the others?  “Oh it was such a scary feeling,” she said.  “While we were together, we were always told what to do, where to go – our lives were mapped out for us.  All of a sudden I had to make my own decisions – even little things like getting flights on my own seemed daunting!  But, you know, I’m passionate about music and this is the best I’ve ever felt about anything in my life.  Being on my own now is tough but it feels right.  I’m very ambitious and even if I have to spend years knocking on doors, I’m determined to succeed.”

Sharon is busy song-writing at the moment and her first single, Love’s Leaving, will be out at the end of the month.  “Love’s Leaving is about my journey with Wonderland,” she said.  “In a way, it was like being in a relationship.  We were all together and then suddenly it fell apart.  You have to deal with anger, hurt and all sorts of emotions.  It wasn’t only the break-up that was painful, but being in that situation and knowing it wasn’t working was probably the worst part.”

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Sharon perform the song and I have to say, it’s fantastic.  She has a beautiful voice and is clearly a talented song-writer.  I asked her about her influences and future songs.  “There are a lot of people who influence me but I find most of my inspiration from within.  My music has been compared to Coldplay and to Florence and that’s a huge compliment.  I have a ballad I’m working on at the moment and I’m really excited about it.  I’m really hoping that this is going to be ‘the one’!  But I’m writing loads and I’m planning to release an album in the summer.  I’d love to some day co-write with some of the big names in the industry but for the moment, I’ll keep writing my own songs and see what happens.”

After her experiences over the last few years, I wondered if Sharon would ever consider auditioning for X Factor.  “Absolutely not,” she said.  “I think X Factor is great and it offers fantastic opportunities for people but it’s just not for me.  Firstly, there’d be no guarantees that I’d even get through – and I’m not sure my confidence could take that sort of knock after Wonderland.  But the other thing is, most of those who audition for shows like that are searching for who they want to be.  I know who I am.  I’m confident in myself and I know what sort of music I want to make.”

So with a single coming out this month and plans for an album later in the year, I asked Sharon what else the future might hold for her.  “My head is bursting with so many plans,” she enthused.  “I’ve teamed up with beautyteam.ie and I’m working on a documentary with them.  It’s about life after Wonderland.  I’m also working with New Aims Productions, who’ve just done my music video for the single.  The ultimate dream is to be signed to a record label as a solo artist.  I’ll do whatever it takes and I intend to work really hard to make my dreams a reality.  I’m staying really positive.  The sky is the limit and I’ll get there eventually!”

Hours had passed and I could have sat and chatted to Sharon all day.  She’s a wonderful young lady and a force to be reckoned with.  I predict great things for her and hope 2012 sees her dreams coming true.

Oct 11

Carol Vorderman – fab at fifty!

Beautiful, clever, down to earth and a bundle of laughs; that’s how I’d describe the lady I had the pleasure of meeting on Monday.  Carol Vorderman has just recently joined the Loose Women team and I was delighted to pop over to the London Studios to catch up with her.

Now I won’t go into the dramas that occurred that morning en route to London.  I won’t tell you how a certain airline made me squash everything into one little case, thus reducing the lovely chocolates I’d bought into blobs of choco-mush.  I won’t tell you how the said airline made me walk to the plane in monsoon conditions, resulting in my make-up running down my face and my hair rising from its blow-dried sleekness into a ball of frizz. I won’t bother you with minor details of me jumping over a puddle and ripping the back of my dress in the process!

I won’t go into all that because the day turned out to be amazing.  Having watched Loose Women for years from my sofa, it was a dream to be able to watch from the sidelines.  I’d picked a fantastic day as one of the guests was the brilliant Patrick Duffy – yes ladies, Bobby Ewing is back! Besides Carol, three of my favourite ladies were hosting the show that day – Carol Mc Giffin, Jenny Eclair and Sally Lindsay.

I was greeted by Carol Vorderman after the show, looking stunning as usual in a Roksanda Ilincic blue and black top from Debenhams and a Coast black pencil skirt. We hit it off straight away and I knew our chat was going to be a lot of fun.

I began by asking Carol the question she’s probably been asked a million times.  Having co-hosted Countdown for 26 years, I wanted to know if she missed that part of her life and how she felt about losing her dear friend, Richard Whiteley.  “I miss Richard terribly,” she said.  “I absolutely adored him and so did lots of people.  He could be a pain in the neck at times but that was probably down to the fact that we were so close.  We had such a laugh together.  Countdown was huge in those days, having more than 5 million viewers a day so it was a privilege to be part of it and to share it with Richard was a dream.  I’ve remained very close to his wife, Cathy.  Along with another friend, Christa Ackroyd, Richard used to call the three of us ‘quality birds’ because we used to run his life between us and he never had to think about anything!”

Carol has settled very well into her new hosting job on Loose Women and I wanted to know if it was as much fun as it looks on the telly.  “Oh I absolutely adore it,” she enthused.  “It’s such an amazing show to be part of.  All of the girls on the panel are really bright and have a lot to say.  Everyone has different personalities and yet we all blend really well together.  They’re also putting in some heavier discussions this year and I think it’s working really brilliantly.  It’s good to have a mix of the light and heavy.  Today’s show was great with amazing guests but then we also had the serious discussion about sexy billboards and how they influence.  Sometimes at our morning meeting we discuss possible topics and if everyone agrees, which often happens, we might not use it on the show.  We want to include things that will get a bit of a rant going.  That’s what makes the show so interesting and special.”

Loose Women has been long-listed for a National Television Award.  It must be wonderful to be acknowledged in that way.  “It’s great but we’re in a tough category with the likes of Jonathon Ross, Graham Norton and Alan Carr.  In fact, we’re the only women in the category so that’s a great achievement in itself.”

You can vote HERE for Loose Women in the Talk Show category of the NTAs – come on girls, do it for the ladies!

I asked Carol about the other girls on the panel.  Did she know them beforehand or is there anyone she’s particularly close to?  “When you’ve been around the business as long as I have, you bump into each other now and again, but I never really knew any of them well.  But I get on with them all – they’re fantastic.  Jenny is really lovely and so is Sally.  They all are.  Denise is comedy gold.  When she’s in, we never stop laughing and sometimes I’m exhausted before we even start the show.  She’s a genius at being funny and so natural with it too.  She does all these voices and just cracks me up.  I honestly consider it a privilege to work on the show with these girls and hope I’ll be here for some time to come.”

Amongst her many roles, Carol has been hosting The Pride of Britain awards for the last ten years.  Having watched the show last week as I do every year, I wondered how she felt about the ceremony.  “It’s an amazing event,” she said.  “It’s a very special and emotional show and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.  I’m very actively involved with keeping the show going and getting it on air in the first place.  There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t realise but it’s always worth it when the show goes out.  We had over six and a half million viewers this year which is amazing.”

Having worked my way through copious packets of tissues during the show last week, I asked Carol how she kept her emotions in check.  It must be so difficult to see all these brave, amazing people receive awards and not shed a tear on stage.  “Normally I’ve seen all of the films beforehand so I know what to expect, but this year was a little different.  There were a couple that came in late on the Monday so we only just got to see them a couple of hours before the ceremony was recorded.  So with the show just about to start, I was a complete emotional wreck!  Because I could feel myself getting emotional during the ceremony, what I did was take myself off stage while the films were being played and got myself together.  As soon as it was finished at eleven, I went to my very best friend, Mandy, who was there with her brave soldier husband.  I was so overwhelmed by the show – it really hit me and I felt low for about an hour.  They’re all such beautiful and brave people and so deserving of their awards.”

Besides Pride of Britain, Carol is busy with a number of other charities she supports.  I asked her to tell me a bit about them.  “I’m an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and also Prostate Appeal.  There’s a small charity called CLAPA (The Cleft Lip and Pallet Association) I also support.  My brother, who is now in his fifties, has had 24 operations during the course of his life for his cleft lip and pallet so I grew up with all that.  I also support various military charities such as the Royal British Legion.  My friend, Mandy, has written this beautiful novel called Poppy Day and she’s donating all the proceeds to the charity.  The book is about a girl called Poppy Day who gets married and her husband goes to Afghanistan and gets captured.  It’s beautifully written – Mandy is an amazing writer.”

With all the royal wedding buzz this year, there was nothing more talked about than Pippa Middleton’s bum!  But that still wasn’t enough to snatch the title of ‘Rear of the Year’ which was won by our own Ms Vorderman!  “Oh it was just hilarious,” laughed Carol.  “It was the best year to get it because the story went around the world twice – not because of me but because of Pippa!  Anton du Beke won the male one so we had an outrageously camp day to celebrate.  You know what?  You just take the laughs when you can get them!”

Being a bit of a twitter addict, I was delighted to see Carol joining last year.  She took to it brilliantly, gaining thousands of followers in days and quickly learning all the twitter lingo.  I asked her if she enjoyed it or felt it was something she had to do because she was in the public eye.  “It’s not something I felt I had to do,” she said.  “I just wanted to check out this thing that everyone seemed to be raving about.  It’s a great way to have direct contact with people.  I don’t tend to tweet much to other celebrities, preferring to answer people who take the time to tweet to me.  I love following the tweets during Downton Abbey and seeing tweets about sightings of the International Space Station.  Sometimes I’m just so busy that I don’t get a chance to tweet but I really enjoy it when I do.”

We were first introduced to Carol as the numbers girl on Countdown but since then, she’s gone on to be hugely influential on maths matters in UK schools and has set up a website called Maths Factor.  In August of this year, she produced The Vorderman Report for the Secretary of State so I asked her about it.  “The response to it from unions, employers, teachers, etc, has been terrific.  We’re fundamentally saying; let’s stop this ridiculous curriculum, which is really a trickled down version of what the top 15% need and let’s deal with it properly.  Maths is critically important.  So from age 14 we’ll have two GCSEs in maths like they do in English but one will be very practical.  It’s ridiculous to force trigonometry and algebra down their throats when they haven’t a hope in hell of understanding it.  It just turns them off altogether.  So instead, we’ll have two exams – one will be mainly arithmetic, financial maths, bit of statistics and so on which will be practical for them and the other one will be more trigonometry and algebra.  Then there will be some form of compulsory maths up to the age of 18 for everybody – as there is in every other industrialised nation in the world, except ours.”

Carol’s passion shines through when she’s speaking about the youth and the importance of education.  It’s clear she’s very passionate about it.  “It’s nice to have that variety,” she says.  “I’m only so interested in fashion and all of that celeb stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love it, but it’s nice to mix it with other things too.”

Although she’s constantly busy with work commitments, Carol is first and foremost a mum.  She couldn’t be prouder of her two children, Katie 19 and Cameron 14, and her eyes light up when I mention them.  “Cameron is still in school and he’s a really good lad.  Katie has blossomed into a beautiful young woman and has just gone off to Cambridge. I like to think I’ve been a good mother because they’re both happy and positive.  They’ve got ambition but not stupidly so.  They’re lovely kids and not selfish or materialistic.  If you can give a child that, I think it’s the most you can ever do.

Carol’s joie de vivre is infectious and I asked her if she was always so positive and upbeat.  “I wake up with a huge smile on my face every morning and count my blessings.  Something will always come along in life which will upset you or bother you so why bring it in yourself.  I’d rather just keep going. If something bad happens, I’ll deal with it then. But life really is too short, particularly when you get a bit older.  And the years when you can be very active and do all of those things, get shorter.  So I’m just making the most of every minute.  I adore my life.

So what’s next for Carol Vorderman?  “I’d definitely love to do some travelling over the coming years but, to be honest, I’m really happy doing Loose Women.  I’m having a ball.  I stay in London three nights a week and I’m home in Bristol the rest of the time.  Now that I’ve turned fifty, I’m starting to realise that age is all in our heads and shouldn’t stop us from doing anything.  Take Sharon Gless, who was on the show today, for example.  She’s almost twenty years older than me but I wouldn’t think twice if she said ‘come on girls, let’s go out.’  And women in their thirties wouldn’t think twice about it either.  She’s alive, she’s got a particular view on things, she’s engaged in life and I think it’s all about what’s in your head rather than anything.”

Sadly our time had come to an end and we had to say goodbye.  Carol was an absolute pleasure to interview and is just as beautiful inside as she is on the outside.

Please don’t forget to vote for Loose Women in the talk show category of the National Television Awards HERE and keep watching them Monday to Friday 12.30 – 1.30.

Jul 11

Emma Kennedy – a whirlwind of talent!

Last week I had the pleasure of catching up with the hugely talented and very lovely Emma Kennedy.  Having followed Emma on twitter for a while and read her very impressive website, my head was in a spin.  Where would I start?  Emma’s list of credits for radio, television, theatre and books is enormous and to cover it all would take weeks!  But I needn’t have worried.  Her warm personality and bubbly nature made for an easy and relaxed conversation and before long our chat was in full swing.

Emma is a lady with an endless number of professional hats to wear; broadcaster, writer, actress and comedian, to name just a few.  I asked her which title she preferred.  “I like to call myself a writer,” she said.  “It’s what I do most these days and what I love.  Acting is great fun but it’s the most insane job for a grown up!  It’s essentially dressing up and mucking around for adults.  And even at that, they don’t trust you to do up your own buttons!  Having said that, I’ve had some great times in my acting career and wouldn’t change any of it.”

“I also really enjoy script editing,” she continued.  “It’s something I’ve been doing a lot of over the last few years and I think I’m actually quite good at it.  It’s one of those jobs that’s really satisfying – a bit like doing a crossword or a jigsaw.  It’s wonderful to see it all coming together.  If you’re a writer and especially if you write books that require you to be on top of plot and structure, the chances are you’ll make a good script editor.”

With so much on the go, I wondered how Emma juggles it all. And does she ever say enough is enough?  “I suppose I’m a workaholic,” she laughed.  “I’m always on the go and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  But take my website, for example.  I used to write a very successful blog every day but I had to give up on it a couple of years ago.  What with writing the books, it was simply eating too much into my time.  My rule was I wrote it every morning and I never spent more than half an hour on it.  But I’m most productive at writing first thing in the morning so even taking half an hour out impacted enormously on my productivity.”

Emma’s humour and quick wit surely must have made her the joker in her class at school.  Was she always the one to crack a joke and make the others laugh?  “Well I sort of was,” she said.  “I’ve always loved comedy.  I used to be in the school plays and when I was in university I was in the Oxford review.  I was always involved in comedy but it never crossed my mind that I could do it as an actual job.  Nobody in my family has a history of being in the media or in the performing arts.  When I was young, it was only really special people who got to be on the telly but it’s different these days.  You can get on telly now without any talent whatsoever.”

So it seems that Emma knew she’d be a performer of some sort from a very early age.  “Honestly, I really didn’t,” she protested.  “I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to do until I was twenty-eight.  I used to even be a lawyer – I had a secretary called Madge!  And I was a pretty good one too.  I was a litigator so I took people to court and I did my actual job well.  People would come into my office with a plastic bag full of documents and would sit down and just moan at me about something or someone and I’d just look at them and say ‘oh let it go, just let it go’.  And if I could dissuade people from suing other people, I’d do it.  To be honest, I think people should be dissuaded from suing others – especially in matrimonial cases.  All they’re doing is whittling away the family money.  They say they want to make sure the kids are alright but they should be sitting down in a room and sorting it out!  I genuinely used to forget to charge people too!  But I’m not sorry I gave up a regular paid job.  I’ve never, ever regretted the choices I made.”

Em… a lawyer who forgot to charge?  I wonder what Madge thought about that!  But of all the other jobs she’s had and things she’s done, what’s the thing that stands out mostly in her mind?  “I really loved doing This Morning with Richard Not Judy with Stewart Lee and Richard Herring – I absolutely loved doing that.  But in terms of things that I never would have believed I’d do it would have to be doing Notes on a Scandal with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.  That was an amazing experience and never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d act alongside two such brilliant actresses.”

Emma comes across as super confident and nothing seems to faze her.  I wondered if she ever gets nervous before a performance.  “No, I don’t anymore,” she said.  “I’m absolutely comfortable about the fact that everyone isn’t going to like you and if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout the years is that you can’t dilute what you want to say. You’ve just got to do what you feel is right for you and some people will want to come along with you on that journey and some won’t and that’s okay.”  What fantastic advice!

Emma, who’s represented by Curtis Brown, has written a number of best-selling books, ranging from adult non-fiction to a series of children’s books.  I wondered which type of book does she prefer to write.  “Definitely the Wilma Tenderfoot books are the ones I’m most proud of.  There are three in the series already published and the fourth is coming out in August.  There’ll be a new children’s series of books after that which is going to be quite different from Wilma!”

And what is it about writing that she loves so much?  “I love everything about it,” she said.  “I never, ever get over the thrill of seeing my books on the shelves.  I saw I Left My Tent in San Francisco in the front window of a Waterstones the other week and I just stood there and looked.  It was such an amazing feeling.  The other great thing is when I get letters from children about the Wilma Tenderfoot books, saying ‘you’re my favourite author’.  Books have such an impact on children.  They carry them in their heart for the rest of their lives.  It’s such an amazing feeling to know I’ve made a child feel that way.”

Emma’s latest non-fiction book, I Left My Tent in San Francisco, tells the story of when she and best friend, Dee, headed to America to make their fortune.  Completely inept and virtually unemployable, they’re forced to make the journey from California to New York with only pennies in their pockets and the sequence of hilarious events will have you rolling on the floor laughing.  Her travel stories are second to none with her previous book, The Tent, the Bucket and Me, charting her childhood family holidays which always included a tent, a bucket and a disaster of some sort!  I asked Emma if she could give us a taste of one of her funny stories from either book.

“Gosh, there’s been so many,” she said, “but our first family holiday is as good a story as any to tell.  We arrived at a campsite on the Welsh coast and weirdly, there was no-one else there.  It turned out the reason was they’d all been evacuated because the worst storm ever was on its way. My father put the tent up in circumstances like watching someone in It’s a Knockout with the water cannons on them.  He managed to just about get the tent up and realised it was going to come right back down again in the storm. Just over to the left, there was a caravan on some bricks and the window on the end was flapping so he got us all to climb in to get some shelter from this storm.  But no sooner were we in when the flapping window blew in and so my father and mother and grandmother ran very suddenly down to the end of the caravan to try to put this window back in place.  But of course the effect of three adults running quickly to the end of a precariously balanced caravan was catastrophic.  The caravan came off its bricks, started heaving upwards and my father shouted “get out of the caravan, get out of the caravan.” So we all had to then leap from the caravan.  My grandmother was the last to leap out and just as she did, the whole caravan literally went end over tip, end over tip, end over tip, and then just slipped off the end of the cliff.  Honestly, we just stood watching it in disbelief!  It could only happen to us!”

With stories like that, it’s obvious why Emma’s books are such a hit.  So what sort of books does she like reading herself?  “I like to read lots of different things but at the moment, I have a great pile of books written by friends that I’ve got to read.  Right now I’m reading Prophesy by SJ Parris, then I’ve got to read Penny Smith’s book, Summer Holiday and then next on the list is Grace Dent’s book, How to Leave Twitter.  It goes on and on!”

MacMillan Children’s books in conjunction with ITV’s Daybreak have just launched a new writing competition called What’s the Story and Emma has been announced as one of the judges.  “I was delighted to be asked,” she said.  “The competition is for children between the ages of seven and twelve and they’ll have to write a 500 word story.  The winning story will be illustrated by Lydia Monks and published by MacMillan.  It’s a brilliant opportunity for any child who’s interested in writing and a fantastic thing for me to be involved in.”

Emma is quite an inspiration herself but I wondered who inspires her.  “Well in terms of people who inspired me to be funny, I’d definitely have to say French and Saunders.  They were an enormous influence on me; as was Victoria Wood and Julie Walters.  When I was in my formative years, tv comedy was dominated by men but when the four of them came along it was like, oh hello!  It seems girls are allowed to be funny too!  And I just adored them.  I thought they were brilliant and amazing.”

When I joined the Twitterverse last year, I quickly found Emma, who is truly one of the queens of Twitter.  Her tweets never fail to amuse and entertain and with close to 40,000 followers, she only has to mention a subject to start a great debate.  So what does she love so much about the social network site?  “I love the interaction on it,” she enthused.  “People who aren’t on Twitter just don’t get it – they think we’re just there to announce what we’ve had for lunch when it’s so much more than that.  It’s an amazing forum to engage, not just with your peers but with everyone.  I think the way of getting the most out of Twitter, especially if you have a public profile, is to engage with everyone.  That’s why I’ve done 60,000 plus tweets.  Most of those tweets are me replying to people – I try to ensure that I answer everyone who tweets to me.  And on a business level, whether you’re a musician, a writer or whatever, Twitter is most definitely an effective way of marketing what you have to sell.  There’s no doubt about it.”

With so much on the go at once, I just don’t know how Emma fits it all in.  I asked her about hobbies – surely there’s just no time for play?  “It’s been pretty much all consuming for the last few years because I’ve had to write two books a year.  With that on top of everything else, it’s been really full on.  The last time I’ve had a proper holiday which didn’t involve me having to work at all was four years ago.  So that will give you an idea of my spare time. So at the moment – hobbies? Not a chance!”

At this point I asked Emma to indulge me.  Let’s just say they were making a movie about her life.  Who would she like to play her?  “Well,” she said, grinning mysteriously, “stranger things have happened!  Watch this space.  And in answer to your question, I’d say Sally Hawkins.”  Oooh well I’ll certainly be watching this space.  How exciting!

Again, as always happens when I’m enjoying an interview, the time had flown and we had to say goodbye.  But just before we parted company, I asked Emma what was next.  “I’m writing a new series for CBBC at the moment called Strange Hill High and I’m doing that with the head writer of the Simpsons, Josh Weinstein.  It’s filming in October and will be out next year.  That’s my next big job.  I’m also working for comic relief now. I’m the creative one – bringing lots of new and fresh ideas to the table.  I’d also like to continue writing and maybe write a fiction book for adults.”

Well it doesn’t sound as though Emma will get that work-free holiday for quite a while yet!  What a lovely lady – a pleasure to chat to!

May 11

Cathy Kelly – Novelist, Mother and bundle of loveliness!

1997 was the year that changed my life. It was the year that I held my first baby in my arms and I knew that being a mother was always going to be the most important thing in the world to me. Having worked long hours in a busy job for years, suddenly being at home full time with my little boy was all I wanted to do. It’s also the year I fell back in love with reading. Having a child that slept a lot gave me lots of quiet hours to catch up on my favourite authors and find some new ones. I remember buying Cathy Kelly’s debut novel, Woman to Woman, and it blew me away. She wrote like nobody I’ve ever read before – with wit, heart and superb story telling, and I was immediately a fan. Twelve best selling books later, Cathy is still one of my favourite authors, so imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to interview her!

And so I’ve finally met my match! I’m known to be a bit (okay, a lot!) of a talker but Cathy Kelly can talk… and talk… and talk…!

Cathy was born in Belfast but has lived in Dublin most of her life. She’s currently living in County Wicklow with her husband, John, her twin boys, Dylan and Murray and her three Jack Russell Dogs (who she refers to as her ‘puplets of loveliness’) Scamp, Dinky Star and Licky. On meeting Cathy, I immediately felt that same warm fuzziness that we read in her books. She’s bubbly, warm and welcoming and I couldn’t wait to get chatting to her.

I wanted to know a little about Cathy’s early life – whether writing was something she always wanted to do or something she discovered later on. “Oh I can’t ever remember a time that I didn’t want to write,” she said. “I was already reading books when I was three! My brother was two years older so I was probably copying him. My grandmother thought it was hilarious that I could read when I was barely out of nappies so when I’d go to visit her in the west of Ireland, she made me read the Western People to anyone who’d listen. That was my party trick! But I just loved books and the fantasy world they allowed me to live in. I’d make up my own little stories in my head but to me they were real. Does that make me sound a bit unhinged?”

I was going to answer but there wasn’t time – she was off again! “I loved writing essays in school too. I didn’t like the really formal or difficult ones we used to have to do in secondary but loved when we could use our imaginations and write more freely. Oh and poetry – I wrote bad poetry when I was a teenager. But I suppose every teenager does that!”

So it seems that Cathy always knew that writing would eventually be her job. “Gosh, no,” she said! “I honestly never thought of doing it as a job. It sounds weird to say it, but I never made that connection. Maybe it’s because I didn’t think you could actually do something you love as a career. When I was in school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I briefly toyed with the idea of doing art or physiotherapy and when my brother went on to do science; I thought maybe I’d do that. On my application form for college courses, I eventually put law, journalism and science. I didn’t get enough points to do law but was offered science and realised I just didn’t want to do that. I was actually thinking of going back to repeat my exams so that I might get offered law (can you imagine me – the mad lawyer!) when I got a call to go and do an interview for journalism. So I suppose that was the start of my writing career. I did that for two years and got a certificate out of it – I never went on to do a degree – and then got a job with the Sunday world as a news reporter. I enjoyed the job but it was hard. In the late 80’s and early 90’s there were a lot of drugs on the scene and a lot of poverty. I was always interested in the stories about women and children so I was always given the domestic abuse, child abuse and prostitution stories to do. I’m quite a soft, empathetic person and related to those stories and people well.”

I’d heard that Cathy also did a stint as an agony aunt for the newspaper. Surely this was a perfect job to give her ideas for a novel? “Honestly, being an agony aunt was like getting a PHD in human behaviour. There was so much pain in the stories I heard during that time – people just wanted somebody to listen and, being a people person, I was ideal for the job. I never used any of those stories but it did teach me so much about human beings and helped me to build characters.”

I was curious to know at what point those characters found their way from head to page. What made her eventually begin writing a novel? “When I was younger, I tried my hand at writing a book but I just couldn’t do it,” said Cathy. “It just seemed like far too big a task. But when I was twenty-seven, I decided to give it a real go. I know it sounds disingenuous to say, but I honestly wasn’t thinking of it from the point of view of getting published. It was just something I had to do. I bought myself an old computer and put it on my old round dining table. I sat there night after night and soon fell in love with creating this other world and it went from there. When I had half of it finished, I decided I’d chance sending it off to a publisher and to my surprise and delight, I got a publishing deal with Poolbeg.”

Woman to Woman was initially published in Ireland and it immediately shot to number one on the best-seller list and remained there for eight weeks. It must have been an amazing feeling. “When I got the news that I was number one, I just couldn’t believe it,” said Cathy. “But it was also happening at the same time that my father was going through dementia so those years were a mixed bag. It was a difficult time but there was also a lot of joy. It may sound funny to say but sometimes I even felt a little embarrassed about my success. I remember being in the canteen in work and somebody would ask how the book was doing and if it was still at number one and in a typically Irish, self-deprecating style, I’d mutter a ‘fine’ and put my head down, mortified! God forbid I’d be boasting! Honestly, I find it so difficult to take praise. I take criticism to heart in an instant and want to go away and sob but when somebody gives me a compliment, I just don’t believe it!”

Having hit the best-seller slot for every book she’s written, I wondered if it’s something she now takes for granted. “Gosh no, never,” she said. “As a writer, I’m always insecure. It’s not exactly that I’m waiting for rejection but you just never know. People might get bored with my books and lose interest. I’m forever questioning myself and wondering if I’ve done the best that I could. Having people read my books and getting on that best seller list is a gift that I’ll never take for granted.”

So where does Cathy get all her ideas for stories from? “I love this information age,” she enthused. “We have so much information available to us through newspapers, tv and the net. Even the smallest of things can spark an idea. Sometimes the idea may not be enough to become a whole book but that’s why I loved writing the book of short stories so much. I could take all my little ideas that would never become a novel and make a short story from them.”

As a writer myself, I’m always curious about the writing process. Everyone seems to have a different approach. I asked Cathy about the process. “Well firstly, I really don’t plot it all out,” she said. “I think if I was to sit down and plot a book meticulously, chapter by chapter, I’d never write it. There has to be room for movement. It’s a bit like a suspension bridge that sways in the wind because the story changes as you go. I always have a fair idea where I’m going but allow myself to go with the twists and turns during the process. And as for research – I love it! Honestly, in an ideal world, I’d take two years to write a book and spend one whole glorious year doing research. I just get lost in it and have to drag myself away to actually write the book!”

I know it’s a question that most authors find difficult to answer but I wondered about Cathy’s favourite authors and books. “Oh gosh, it’s really difficult to narrow down,” she said.  “When I’m writing my own books, I tend to stay away from women’s fiction. I adore crime novels and I’m reading a fabulous one at the moment. It’s called Ashes to Dust and it’s by an Icelandic lady called Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It’s a brilliantly plotted book and has me completely hooked. Laurie Graham is another of my favourite authors, but honestly there are just so many.”

Cathy has a reputation for being generous with her time and more than willing to help aspiring writers. So what’s the best piece of advice she can give to somebody starting out on their writing journey? “You have to write what’s in you,” she said, without hesitation. “You can’t sit there and look at what’s successful and try to write to fit in with that. Publishers get so many manuscripts from people trying to be like somebody else and not just being themselves. It’s so important to find your own voice. And read, read, read! It’s amazing the amount of people who come to me and say they want to write and in the same breath they say: ‘I don’t read, you know!’ I find that startling. If you send a manuscript to a publisher and it’s the most fabulous story but your grammar and spellings are all over the place, that’s going to stop them appreciating your story. If you don’t read and try to apply some of the basic principles to your work, then you’re not doing yourself any favours.” Cathy gets a fit of giggles at this point. “Am I coming across as all school marmish? But seriously, what’s the point of not giving yourself the best chance?”

Cathy’s twins, Dylan and Murray, will soon be eight years old and Cathy seems to juggle her life as a mother very well with her writing. “It’s the most enormous privilege to be a writer and it has to be one of the most perfect jobs for a mother who wants a career,” she said. “I get the boys up in the morning and drive them to school. I go straight home to write so I’m always there if there’s a problem and I need to go and pick one of them up. Yes, it’s like any other job in that you have to get your bum on the seat and work when they’re at school but really there’s great flexibility. I just love the whole motherhood thing. You never know how you’re going to take to it before it happens but I just adore being a mum. I mess up all the time – it sure isn’t The Waltons at our house – but we muddle through and are thankfully very happy.”

Cathy is an Ambassador for UNICEF Ireland and has a real passion for the charity. Her enthusiasm and compassion shine through when she speaks about her experiences. “I’ve been out to Rwanda and Mozambique and it’s really overwhelming. But I can come back to a normal life afterwards. I’m always really humbled by the amazing workers who dedicate their lives to it. I just take malaria tablets, get a few jabs and head off for a few days whereas they’re out there all the time really making a difference. Nothing can compare to the poverty they have in Africa. It’s really overwhelming. When you go there and see how little they have and how little hope, it’s heartbreaking. I’ve met mothers with HIV and they’re there with their children and they know they’re going to die. It’s the most shocking thing you’ll ever see. I’ve always had an interest in the Second World War and the holocaust and even read a lot about it as a child. But I wasn’t prepared for the Genocide Museum in Rwanda. It’s built on skeletons of a quarter of a million people. They even have a children’s room, which is the most awful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. There was a picture there of a little boy called David. He was best friends with his mum, his favourite food was ice-cream and he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. His last words were ‘Mum, where can we hide’. I just cried the whole way around. People over there are trying to get their lives back on track and we desperately need to help. It’s our duty – I really believe that!”

It’s clear why Cathy is so loved here in Ireland and around the world. Not only is she a brilliant writer, but a wonderful and warm human being. So her fans must have been singing for joy when she decided to check out all the hype and join the twitterverse (@cathykellybooks). “Oh I love it,” she enthused. “Although I really have to discipline myself. I have to keep the ipad switched off during the day or I’d be tapping into twitter the whole time. I’ve built up so many lovely followers already and I love hearing what they have to say. The direct contact is fantastic. I love all the mad, funny stuff too. Steve Martin is a genius and I love his tweets. I love all the news sites too – it’s amazing that we can hear all the news instantly. I think what makes twitter work so well is the feeling it gives us that the world is actually very small and people are wonderfully the same no matter where they live. I love that. I’m hugely into the idea that we’re all the same. It’s what I love about writing novels too: that someone in India or Australia or Greece or Brazil can empathise with my characters because we all share the same hopes and dreams.”

On 6th May last, The Alan Titchmarsh Show on ITV in conjunction with Harper Collins launched a competition to find a new writing talent. As if Cathy isn’t busy enough, she’s going to head the three person judging team. “I’m really excited about it,” she said. “There are so many marvellous writers out there who are just waiting for the chance to be published. This competition will give somebody the wonderful opportunity to have a novel published in 2012. I can’t wait.” You can read more about The People’s Novelist Competition here.

Sadly, it was almost time to say goodbye but I had one last question for Cathy. I wondered if she plans to continue writing books. “Forever!” she grinned. “Honestly, it’s in my heart and my soul. If I won the lotto millions tomorrow, I’d be delighted and look at who I could dish it out to. Then I’d put my head back down in the computer and write the next book.”

And without a shadow of a doubt, we’ll continue to read them!

May 11

Matt Johnson – a rising star!

Before I begin, can I just say that I am NOT stalking men who bravely appear naked on national telly – nor do I condone such a terrible, terrible thing!  Now if it just happens that some of the men I interview have got their bits out live in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers, who am I to complain?!

On that note, meet Matt Johnson!

Matt is a presenter on ITV’s This Morning so I didn’t have to be asked twice to tackle those planes, trains and automobiles and head over for another visit.  As always, the This Morning team were warm and welcoming.  I even managed to sneak in a chat with the lovely Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes, who were presenting the show that day.  It’s truly like Waltons Mountain over there (not that I’m old enough to remember The Waltons but I’ve heard talk… ahem!) with smiling faces and the scent of happy in the air.

So after watching the show from the sidelines, Matt brought me somewhere quiet (settle down, ladies!!) so we could have our chat.  The former ITV Wales presenter lights up our screens every Friday when he presents The Hub on This Morning.  So how did he manage to nab such a sought after job?

“God, it’s just been such a dream come true,” he said.  “Last year I was working for The Wales Show and I sent off my show-reel to This Morning.  I’ve always watched the show and dreamed of being part of it.  To be honest, I’d have taken a job there in any capacity – even a runner.  But as it happens, they were auditioning for presenters for The Hub at the time so it was perfect timing.  They took me on and I started last September.  It’s completely changed my life.”

Matt’s enthusiasm and obvious love for his job is truly infectious.  I asked him to explain a little more about how the hub works.  “Oh The Hub is right up my street,” he said, relaxing back into his chair.  “There’s nothing I like better than interaction with people.  During the show, there are lots topics discussed – some serious and some light-hearted.  The viewers like to have their opinions on everything so we encourage them to contact us via twitter, facebook and email.  I work with a team of people to gather up a selection of the comments and the presenters, whether it’s Eamonn and Ruth or Philip and Holly, come to me at various points during the show to discuss them.”

I got the impression that Matt is still pinching himself when he thinks of how lucky he is to be part of such a huge show so I asked him about it.  His eyes light up at this.  “It’s really bizarre,” he said.  “It’s true; I really do have to pinch myself every now and again.  I mean, This Morning – it’s one of the biggest shows on telly – and of course it’s the best!  And now I’m one of the team.  It just doesn’t seem real.  I work Fridays so that’s when Eamonn and Ruth present the show.  They’re fabulous and have been so great to me from the start.  And of course Philip and Holly are amazing too.  We’re all like one big happy family.  I come up in the lift in the morning and I can smell toast – I love it!  I feel so comfortable here.”

Em… yes… so comfortable that he had the confidence to go naked for a whole show!  As many of you probably know, the very sexy Gino D’Acampo did his cookery segment naked on the day after they won a National Television Award.  But did you know that Matt quickly followed suit, wearing only his laptop?  Explain young man!  “Well I think it was more stupidity than confidence,” he said, but not without that cheeky grin he’s becoming known for.  “It all started off when Gino said he’d cook naked if This Morning won a National Television Award.  His announcement caused such a stir that when he asked me to do the same, of course I agreed.  I’ll blame it on my ‘new boy’ status and being afraid to say no to the long-standing members of the team!”  Okay, ladies, you might want to take a look here!

So This Morning won their NTA – that must have been amazing – but did it make Matt tremble with fear at the thought of what lay ahead?  “Oooh yes,” he said, laughing at the memory.  “It was completely fantastic to win the award.  The sheer scale of the NTA night had me really awestruck.  Just being there and walking past the likes of Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole was amazing.  But after the event, I began to panic as realisation set in that I’d be sitting here naked one day with just a laptop to cover my modesty!”

As you know, Gino went through many… eh… let’s just say ‘knitted accessories’ in an attempt to cover up but did Matt do the same?  “Nope,” he insisted, proudly.  “Completely naked, I was!  I held on to that laptop for dear life!”  I didn’t ask for evidence!

On the week beginning 16th May, This Morning is launching ‘Your This Morning Week’ where the award winning programme will be brought even closer to the viewers.  I asked Matt to tell me a little about this exciting move.  “It’s going to be a fabulous week,” he said.  “It’s a real innovation for daytime tv.  There’ll be interactive news reviews and exclusive live interviews with celebrity guests and even live Cook Ins where viewers will be able to cook from the comfort of their homes alongside resident chefs via Skype.  And get this; on Tuesday, the viewers will even have the chance to view the show from any angle with a new 360 degree camera that they can control.  How cool is that?”

It sounds amazing!  This Morning will also be launching a new Food iPhone/iPad app on – a first for ITV daytime – that will feature exclusive recipes and tips from chef regulars Phil Vickery and Gizzi Erskine.  With all that going on, it’s no wonder This Morning was nominated for a BAFTA Television Craft Award in the Digital Creativity category and further nominated in the Media category of the New Media Age Effectiveness Awards 2011.

Before moving on to other things, I had to ask Matt about his recent attempts at Guinness World Records on This Morning.  What was that all about?  He puffed out his chest at this, clearly proud of his achievements!  “Well we thought it would be a giggle to get me into the Guinness Book of Records,” he laughed.  “I actually managed to break two records.  The first was for eating the most jelly, blindfolded with hands tied behind my back.  Weirdly, it was the first time I’d tried it!”  Em… we believe you, Matt!  “And the second one was even harder,” he said.  “I had to eat as much mashed potatoes as I could in thirty seconds with a teaspoon!  The two awards are displayed in my house – they’re my proudest possessions, along with my Blue Peter badge and my boxing trophies!”

This last year has been a real whirlwind for Matt.  Not only has he secured the This Morning job, but he’s just recently landed a presenting job with Kate Walsh on a new Channel 5 show.  I wondered how that came about.  “It was really amazing how it happened, actually,” he said.  “Would you believe I never even did a screen test for them?  I just got a call from my agent to say they wanted to see me so I went in and they offered me the job!  I couldn’t believe it.  It was a chance for me to be on telly every day – what a fabulous opportunity.  I’m aware that I’m still young and learning the craft so I couldn’t have asked for a better way to do it.  And my co-host, Kate, is really lovely.  We get on brilliantly.  We’re quite similar in that we never take for granted the privileged situation we’re in.  We’re not two egos trying to outdo each other – we’re just thankful to be there and get on with it.”

So with two London jobs to juggle, I was guessing Matt has said goodbye to Wales.  “Yes, I’m living in London now,” he said.  “I’ve always wanted to come and live here so it’s a dream come true.  I’ll never get tired of seeing Big Ben every day or looking out at the bustling London Streets.  I feel as though I’m on permanent holiday here – I’ve discovered the pub is a great place to do research!”

So the whispers on the grapevine are that Matt is single (gasp!).  Now before you all start throwing yourselves at him, I asked him if the royal wedding had given him any ideas of finding his princess.  “Not at all,” he said.  “Weddings scare me half to death.  But what about Pippa…”  His eyes glazed over and I feared I’d lost him to thoughts of a perfect white dress and what lay beneath.  But in a genius move, I stuffed a Bailey’s chocolate truffle in his mouth and he came back to life.  “Wasn’t the royal wedding amazing though,” he said.  “I felt privileged to be a little part of it as I did some stuff for ITV online.  But didn’t Pippa look amazing?  If I was ever getting married and I saw my wife walk up the aisle looking like that, I’d be well chuffed!”

I could see that a swift change of subject was needed (or another chocolate) so I pulled his thoughts back to his work.  I asked him who he’s enjoyed meeting the most in the last year.  “Honest to God, I’ve just had the most bizarre year,” he said, full of enthusiasm.  “I met my idol, Slash, from Guns ‘n’ Roses and my comedy idol, Ricky Gervais.  I even got to interview them both.  I loved meeting Adele too – she’s just amazing in every way.  I still find it hard to believe that it’s become an every day thing for me to meet such fabulous celebrities.  For instance, Blue were on the sofa of OK! TV with us yesterday and today Eamonn and Ruth are here… I just love it!”

And is there anyone he’d love to meet that he hasn’t yet met?  “It’s strange but it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve thought about that because I can see now it’s a possibility,” he said.  “I just love stand-up comedy and would love to meet Lee Evans.  He’s just a legend.  And another one is Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I’m really a massive fan of people who are funny.”

So aside from going to the pub for ‘research’, what does Matt like to do in his spare time?  “Well I used to play rugby but I don’t do much exercise any more,” he said.  “I still love the sport but mostly watching it on telly with a beer in my hand.  I’m a massive film fan too.  Oh yes, and I’ve signed up to do a triathlon in July – how cool is that?  I haven’t started training yet though and I can’t swim.”  Gasp!  What?  “Haha, only joking about the swimming,” he laughed.  “But it’s true that I haven’t started training.  Ah it will be a laugh.”  Em… whatever you say, Matt!

So I’d heard that music is also a big part of Matt’s life so I wanted to know a little bit more.  “Don’t laugh,” he said, “but I used to be in a tv drama in Wales where I played a member of a boy band.  It was great fun but I’d really love to be a musician in real life.  I’d love to be a blues guitarist or the next Axl Rose – but that’s never going to happen.”

I pointed out that only a few short years ago, he wouldn’t have thought all this telly thing would happen.  “That’s so true,” he said.  “Maybe one day when I’m an actual celebrity, there’ll be a celebrity music show where I can go on and wow everybody and get a record deal and be a Welsh Buble and all will be well with the world!”

Matt has become a fantastic tweeter and joins in with plenty of debate and fun with his tweets.  I asked him if he enjoyed it or is it something he feels he has to do because of his job.  “Oh I absolutely love it,” he said.  “I live on my own (altogether now – ahhhhhh!) so I go on for a bit of a natter and when I’m watching programmes like X-Factor, I get involved with all the chat about it.  I love hearing what my followers have to say too.  After the show today, there’ll be lots of comments on my twitter feed and I love catching up with them all.  Twitter is a great way of not ever feeling alone.”  You can follow Matt on Twitter here.

Matt’s Nan is very proud of him for a number of things.  He’s won the title of Sexiest Male in Wales in 2010, he’s climbed Ayres Rock wearing only a g-string and has jumped from an aeroplane at 10,000 feet barefoot and blindfolded.  Well, he did tell me I could make some things up!  But one of those things is true – I’ll leave it to your imagination!

In his own words, the last year has been unbelievable and amazing for Matt.  So what are his ambitions for the years to come?  “Well, I’ve been eyeing up Phil and Eamonn’s job, to be honest,” he laughed.  “I’d run at it at a hundred miles an hour if I was ever asked!  But don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I’d be able to jump easily into their shoes.  Far from it!  I respect these guys so much.  They do an amazing job.  But it would be such a huge compliment if the bosses ever asked me to cover – I’d be so well up for it.”

The buzzing from Matt’s phone reminded us at this point that he had to be somewhere so unfortunately our interview had come to an end.  Matt Johnson is charming, funny and a joy to chat to.  There’s no doubt he’s headed for great things and although he harbours a dream of singing on X-Factor, I predict we may be seeing him present it one day.  He’s one to watch!

Mar 11

Sam and Mark – A breath of fresh air!

With Red Nose Day fast approaching, presenter duo Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes are about to burst onto our screens in a riot of music and colour.  The cheeky chappies, better known as Sam and Mark, will present a new show, Comic Relief Does Glee Club, which will run on BBC1 from 14th to 18th March at 5.15 each day.

Sam & Mark.jpg 

I caught up with the pair last week to chat about their upcoming projects and to find out more about the secret to their success.  Hailed as the new Ant and Dec, I could tell straight away by their infectious personalities and the twinkle in their eyes just why the nation is falling in love with Sam and Mark.


I wanted to take the boys back and find out a little about their singing career.  We first saw them back in 2003 when they were finalists in the second series of Pop Idol.  How did it feel to stand on that stage in front of millions of viewers each week? 


“It was absolutely incredible to get up on that stage,” says Sam, who came third in the competition.  “It was the biggest and best platform we could ever have hoped for.  Mark and I hit it off really well from the start and it was fantastic that we both ended up in the final three.”


“Yes,” agrees Mark.  “It was a brilliant time in our lives.  It was such an amazing feeling to stand beside Michelle Mc Manus in the final.  Those moments before the winner is announced are so tense.  Obviously I really wanted to win.  There’s no point in saying otherwise, but it was such an honour to get so far.


At this point, I mention that I watched every episode of the series and followed their journeys right from the beginning.  “So who did you vote for then?” asks Mark, fixing me with an unblinking stare. 


Uh oh!  “I… em… eh…” I should learn to keep my mouth shut!


“Aha!” he says, accusingly.  “So it was Sam!”  I plead memory loss and thankfully there’s no fisticuffs.


With their Pop Idol history, I assume the boys are glued to X-Factor each year.  “Oh
Mark.pngwe’re massive fans of the show,” says Mark.  “Because we’ve been there, we can empathise with the contestants and know exactly how they feel.  We still get butterflies in our stomachs when we hear that music at the start and remember how it felt to be about to perform in front of millions.”


So how did the boys end up as a duo, having entered Pop Idol as solo performers?  Simon Fuller was the man who put us together,” says Mark.  It was a shock at first when he suggested it but we’ll always be thankful to him for seeing our potential.  Simon is a visionary and was able to see beyond our musical abilities.  He saw a long term future for us as a duo, not only in music, but in TV too.”


Before launching themselves on the world of presenting, Sam and Mark had a UK number one hit single with a cover of the Beatles With a Little Help From My Friends.  After such an amazing achievement, did they not want to pursue a music career?  “Our careers have just taken a different path,” says Mark.  “I think we’ll always love music.  I do a bit of writing and I enjoy that and I’ve been known to indulge in a little karaoke!”


“Ha!  You’re a bit of a karaoke singer alright,” laughs Sam, and they’re off again!  “Mark is right though.  Music is important to us too.  I sing and play guitar in a band called Mason.  There are four of us and we play gigs now and again. But it’s purely a hobby and that’s the way I like to keep it.”


Sam and Mark have presented some very successful children’s tv shows over the last few years and I wondered do they have a favourite.  “We’ve loved them all really,” says Mark.  “But I’d probably have to say TMi because it was our first big break into Saturday morning tv.  We presented it with Caroline Flack and we were very proud of the show.  We did some really funny sketches… well… at least I hope they were funny!”


“Yes,” says Sam.  “It was a great achievement to be able to put our stamp on Saturday mornings.  It ran for five years so we became sort of attached to it.  But having said that, you can only recycle the same gags for so long!  It’s good to look to the future and branch out into new things.”


Sam.pngHaving presented children’s tv for a number of years, the boys suddenly found themselves on ITV’s This Morning last year.  How did that come about?  “Well we were contracted exclusively to BBC for four years,” says Sam.  “So when we went freelance after that, we decided to look to new projects.  We had a chat with the This Morning people and convinced them to give us a shot.  We love the program and hugely admire the presenters so it was a huge achievement for us.”


“Oh yes,” enthuses Mark.  Philip Schofield is the king of presenters.  We have so much respect for him and to be given the chance to work alongside him was amazing.  We love Holly too.  We’ve worked with her before and she’s just fantastic.”


“And Eamonn and Ruth are brilliant too,” adds Sam.  “We worked with them through the Summer last year and they were such a help to us.  Their son, Jack, is a fan of ours and Ruth brought him to one of the live screenings of TMi.  He really enjoyed himself and we were so chuffed that Ruth brought him along.  In fact the whole This Morning team are like a little family.  There’s a great atmosphere in the studio and everyone gets along really well.  We’re very lucky to be a small part of it.”


With the success rate of the pair to date, I wondered if they might be harbouring the dream of taking over from Philip and Holly.  “Oh of course,” laughs Mark.  “Wouldn’t we just love that!  Seriously though, Philip and Holly make it look so easy but it’s such a difficult job.  They seem to like a boy/girl combo too so I might have to get my dress out if I’m to convince them!”  Hmmm!  I look forward to that!


As with a lot of celebrities these days, Sam and Mark have embraced the wonderful world of Twitter and have over 23,000 followers.  “We love Twitter,” says Sam, “although I’m definitely more of an addict than Mark.  It’s brilliant to get an immediate reaction from fans about our shows.  People aren’t afraid to tell us what they think and we always read the comments and take them on board.”


Sam & Mark2.jpgOne of their most exciting projects to date is the upcoming Comic Relief does Glee Club. 
 I wanted to know more about how it will work.  “It’s going to be really amazing,” says Sam.  “We’ve travelled up and down the country for the auditions and we were really stunned by the talent of the kids.”


“It’ll be an X-Factor type format,” adds Mark.  “On Monday 14th, you’ll see the auditions and then over the next four days, the acts will be whittled down as the public vote them out.  The grand finale will be on Red Nose Day.  It’s going to be a lot of fun and we have some fabulous celebrity judges.”


I’d heard that the main judges will be Carrie and David Grant and Sisco Gomez but what about these other celebrity judges?  “Ah, if we told you, we’d have to kill you,” laughs Sam.  “Suffice it to say, they’re good ones – people who really know what they’re talking about!”


I could see Sam wasn’t about to be moved on that one so I took my Irish chocolates and held them under Mark’s nose!  “Well… okay then,” he says, eyeing up the Baileys ones.  “Singers, Melanie C and Alesha Dixon will be on as well as tv presenter and actress Denise Van Outen.”  Ha! Works every time!


“We’ll have some fabulous guests on the show too,” adds Sam, in hopes of joining the chocolate feast.  The Wanted will be singing Comic Relief single Gold Forever on Red Nose Day.”  It all sounds fantastic and I for one will be watching.


Despite his busy career, Mark is training at the moment for the London Marathon.  “It’s pretty full on,” he says, “but it’s for a good cause.  I’m running to support Whizz-Kidz in memory of my nephew who passed away a couple of years ago.  It’s a fantastic charity and one very close to my heart.”  You can click here to support Mark and sponsor him for his run.  Every little counts!


I’d heard that Sam is a bit of a whiz in the kitchen so I ask him whether it’s true.  “I don’t know if you’d call me a whiz,” he says, modestly.  “Before Pop Idol, I was actually training to be a chef and I still adore cooking.”


So maybe it’s not Philip and Holly’s job he’s after then – maybe it’s Gino‘s!  “Funny you say that,” he laughs.  I keep texting Gino with pictures of the food I make and he says ‘are you trying to take over my slot’?  I have so much respect for cooking presenters.  Having to present and cook at the same time is so difficult.  No, I certainly won’t be doing that.  I think Gino’s job is safe!”


Sam and Mark also have their own radio show on Sundays between 11 and 1 which goes out on the Orion network across the midlands.  How does doing radio compare to television?   “We love both,” says Mark, “but the radio is just something different and we have such great fun doing it.  We get to talk complete nonsense for two whole hours and we’re really good at that!” 


Spending so much time together, the two boys must be great friends.  “No, not at all,” they both answer in unison.  “We can’t stand each other!”


“We’re only joking really,” laughs Sam.  “We’re the best of friends.  It would be a terrible working environment if we didn’t get on.  We try to be as natural as we can on camera so if we weren’t friends, it just wouldn’t work.  You can only put on an act for so long and people would see right through it.”  I feel all warm and fuzzy from Sam’s declaration of love for his friend until he adds; “We’ll be friends long after I leave him to better my career!”  Cue the fisticuffs again but luckily, Mark finds it hysterically funny!


So do the boys have any time in their busy schedule for hobbies?  “Football!” says Mark, enthusiastically.  “I love it.  I’m a big supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers and I play a bit myself too.  I’m an all-round sporty guy really.  But I’m very patriotic too so if England were playing Tiddlywinks Championships, I’d be shouting for them.”


“I’m not as sporty as Mark,” says Sam, “but I do play a bit of badminton.  To be honest, I’d much prefer to be playing my guitar or doing a bit of cooking.”


Having already worked with so many people they admire, I wondered who the boys would most like to work with.  “Hmmm!  Brooklyn Decker,” says Mark.  “She’s really fit!” 


“Oh and Ryan Reynolds,” adds Sam.  “I might even have a bit of a man crush on him!”


“But seriously,” says Mark, when they manage to control their giggles, “we’ve already been so lucky working with people such as Philip Schofield.  And I know it’s probably an obvious one, but we’d really love to work with Ant and Dec.  They’re absolutely brilliant at what they do and it would be an honour to work alongside them.”


Out of all the things the boys have done so far, what would they consider as their biggest achievement?  “It’s really been an amazing eight years,” says Mark, “and we’ve had quite a few top moments.  Probably one of the highlights was when we were nominated for a BAFTA for best presenters for a program we were working on called Level Up.  That was really unbelievable.  Just to be recognised for the work we were doing and loving was an amazing feeling.”


“The Pop Idol tour was a highlight too,” adds Sam.  “Actually the whole Pop Idol experience was amazing.  It felt like such an achievement to get down to the final three out of all those talented people.”


So what’s next for Sam and Mark?  “We’d love to eventually do a family entertainment show for a Saturday evening,” says Mark.  “It would be amazing to do a show that would lend itself to our style and humour.  In an ideal world, that’s what will happen for us maybe a couple of years down the road.”


“In the meantime, we just want to carry on doing good shows,” says Sam.  “We’ve really been massively lucky with the shows we’ve done.  They’ve all been successful and really good fun to do.  We just want to keep having fun and hopefully our audience will have fun too.”


The time has passed all too quickly and unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye.  It’s
 impossible not to be drawn in to their obvious joie de vivre and I’m leaving with a big smile on my face.  Sam and Mark are certainly going places – they’re ones to watch!

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