Sunday 23 October 2016

Carla O'Brien: tripping the light fantastic

Published 19/10/2015 | 02:30

From Maxi to Nicky Byrne the path for singers into Irish media has been a well-trodden one but the fourth estate has seen notably less breakouts from the world of dance. One recent exception to this is former Riverdance stalwart Carla O'Brien, who via a circuitous path, has suddenly emerged as one of the newest stars at RTE.

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The former Tyrone Rose presents NewsFeed, one of the state broadcaster's newest bulletins, which is on Monday to Friday just before 7pm and 8pm, and is aimed at 18-to-35 year olds. She says that the years she spent as a child winning every Irish dancing competition in sight as well as treading the boards alongside Michael Flatley and Co as an adult have come in more than handy in her new career. "I suppose both are about appearing in front of people and putting your best self forward no matter what's happened during the day."

Carla grew up in Co Tyrone, where she says the Troubles had some impact on her childhood. "I'm the youngest of four and there's quite a big gap in age between me and my older siblings, so I was always a bit conscious that they were a bit more affected by it than I was", she tells me. "We were from the village of Caledon and at the time it wouldn't have been as 50-50. My Dad wanted to leave [nearby] Moy during the Troubles because he wanted to keep his family safe.

Certain people were being targeted in the village at the time, but in no way was my Dad nor my family linked to any of them. He was nervous, as was the general population in the area, that innocent people would be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

In 2005 Carla became the senior ladies' world champion, which is the highest accolade in Irish dancing. After graduating from Queen's University Belfast, she soon joined the full-time Riverdance troupe. Those early years with Riverdance would bring a mixture of joy and sadness. Her father died at the age of 63 after picking up an infection on the farm while she was on tour in America in 2006.

Major changes were also to come in Carla's life. After three years with the show, she decided to begin a graduate programme in management consultancy with Deloitte in Belfast.

"It was a major gear change, and let me tell you, it wasn't easy working in financial services in 2008. I stuck to it and got the head down and completed the programme but I knew it wasn't going to be for me long term."

In 2010 she was the Tyrone Rose in the Rose of Tralee and by that stage she felt that a career in media would be better. She opted to do the masters in media at NUI Galway and was lucky enough to get a position with News at One. "From a very young age, even reading teletext growing up, I was always passionate about media. I was lucky that RTE opened the door for me. Getting a start in media is often the most difficult thing."

Carla is married to Ronan, a doctor, and they live in Smithfield in Dublin. "I met him when I was in Riverdance", she recalls. "He came to Dortmund in Germany - I know, what a glamorous and romantic location! - just for a weekend to see his friend, Conor, who was the physiotherapist with the show. The minute we met, I kind of knew. We just clicked so well in every way. It was all luck really though. I can't take credit for planning any of this; it just all fell into place."

Carla says that having a doctor at home gives her perspective when the deadlines begin to mount. "It's great to have someone there who actually sees real emergencies in their day-to-day. When you're in the media bubble you can lose sight of that perspective a bit. I'm very lucky to have him."

NewsFeed, a roundup of national and international news, is on RTÉ2 every weekday just before 7pm and 8pm

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