Lunch with...Sharon Corr: I'm proud of my work on The Voice – but don't talk to me about X Factor
Interviewing Ireland's top female stars, the question of age can be a thorny one. Despite being infinitely Wikapediable, most women of a certain age refuse to answer – or shave a few years off at the very least. So it makes a pleasant change when Sharon Corr volunteers hers before we've even ordered lunch at The Cliff Townhouse on St Stephen's Green.
"I'm 43 years old," says Sharon, matter-of-factly. "I don't see what I have to gain by lying about my age.
"I also don't like the message that it sends out – that I should be ashamed because I'm ageing. I never want my daughter to think that somehow she's failing because she's ageing."
With a continuously successful music career, barrister husband and two beautiful children, certainly singer-songwriter Sharon has every reason to be proud of what she's achieved in those 43 years.
As one-quarter of 1990s pop-rock sensation The Corrs, the Dundalk beauty has travelled the world with five number one albums, won a BRIT Award for Best International Band and even been awarded an MBE.
Now, ahead of the release of her second solo album later this year, this Corr says she's finally ready to drop the 's'.
"Coming out of The Corrs, I was a little bit unsure as to who I was as a solo artist," admits mum-of-two Sharon. "So that slightly knocks your confidence.
"When you're known all over the world for doing something, then you're going, 'Well, that was just a part of me, what's the complete me?'
"Suddenly you're going: what am I really interested in? What's my own voice musically? What are my influences?
"It took me a while to identify who I was. Even since my first solo album (Dream of You in 2010), I've changed a lot. I think more of me is coming into my work now. It's been an amazing journey of self-discovery.
"When I came off the road to have my babies, it was like somebody chopped a couple of limbs off," she adds. "I really missed it. My whole impetus is just to make music, regardless of whether I'm putting out records.
"I have a beautiful piano in my house that is just my favourite possession. I'm around it all the time. I play for therapy. There's one song on the album called 'Raindrops' where I was mega-pissed off and what got me over having a bad day was I sat down and wrote the song.
"I'm very inspired by the likes of Joni Mitchell and Dusty Springfield. That's what I was aiming for with my own album.
'Each song is a personal journey – whether it's sad, funny or emotional. It feels very retro; it doesn't feel like The Corrs.
"Nowadays I think record companies are undermining the intelligence of the record-buying public," she says. "They think: 'If we stick that in a box and auto-tune it, (people) will love it and it'll be number one in the charts'.
"That art of songwriting isn't as prevalent as it should be. I don't feel as much competition in that world of auto-tune and the top 20. If anything, I think there's a chance to stand out."
Having found her own voice, for the past two years, Sharon has been helping others find theirs as a coach on RTÉ talent show The Voice of Ireland.
She says: "I would never ever have pursued a TV talent show.
"When I realised it was blind auditions, that opened me up to the idea. Nobody's getting picked on the fact that they've a great outfit on, or they're skinny or crazy-looking.
"So I went back and watched episode after episode of the American Voice.
"I figured if people like Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green – who've sold millions of records all over the world and know what they're talking about – were going to say yes, then it must be credible.
"It's not just some supposed music mogul standing up there going, 'You're crap', and he has never sang a note in his life."
In case you're wondering whether Sharon is taking a swipe at Simon Cowell, she continues, leaving little doubt. "Another element of the industry nowadays is the dilution of talent and creativity that goes on on the likes of The X Factor.
"It does not actually encourage the fundamental basics of learning your craft – going out there and being crap, going out the second time and being slightly crap and doing years and years and years of that (until) you deserve to be on that stage.
"It's almost like if you dress it up, it will be more talented.
"As a TV talent show, it's inevitable that people will compare The Voice to The X Factor.
"The difference is it's one that nurtures (contestants) and is of a higher quality. The integrity is there.
"I'm really proud of it."
Speaking of reality TV shows, elsewhere on ITV, The Big Reunion sees 1990s chart-toppers B*Witched, 5ive and 911 get back together to go on tour.
So what are the chances of Sharon and siblings Andrea, Caroline and Jim sharing the stage again?
"There isn't a plan, but I would never say never," she says.
"Our last tour was eight years ago, so it's a long time. We love each other and we achieved stuff that was almost unthinkable together. But I'm all for moving forward. I don't really want to live in the past.
"I feel you're not developing as an artist if you're constantly doing the same thing."
When it comes to her marriage, however, Sharon says she wouldn't change a thing.
She wed Belfast barrister Gavin Bonnar in 2001: "We're married 12 years, I aspire to 50.
"He still makes me laugh, I love being in his company and I miss him when he's not around."
After recording her album in LA, Sharon's latest creations take place in the kitchen of her Dublin home – where she can be found making homemade stew for her son Cathal (7) and daughter Flori (5).
Today, it's head chef Sean Smith who's slaving over a hot stove to create our impeccably presented fish dishes.
"I cook every day at home," she says. "I believe in making my own food and the kids are healthier for it.
"I brought them out to LA because I would have just died of heartbreak otherwise.
"They were on the beach every day while I was in the studio. It's a very interesting lifestyle for them. It's a little bit unconventional – but I don't really believe in convention."
Although she doesn't have an act in tomorrow night's live final of The Voice, all eyes are sure to be on coach Sharon anyway.
Skin-tight gold pants and a dress with a neckline resembling a lace thong are just two of her more memorable looks on the show.
"I would never ever claim to be a fashionista," laughs Sharon, who plays at the Westport Festival of Music & Food this June.
"I was actually going to wear jeans and a T-shirt here today!
"My stylist Ingrid Hooey is the real fashionista. She gets me out of my box.
"One thing I try to do though is support Irish fashion. The (thong) dress was by a fabulous young Irish designer called Sarah O'Neill.
"When you saw me sitting in the chair, all you could see was from my boobs up.
"There was a lace piece on it that looked like the 'V' of a thong – so it actually did look like a thong! When I read the Twitter feed after the show, I was literally weeping with laughter. I love laughing at myself.
"But the dress was beautiful and I would wear it a hundred times over."
Nonetheless, the down-to-earth star was happy to hand over the title of Ireland's Most Stylish Woman at the Peter Mark VIP Style Awards last night.
'Fashion isn't the most important thing to me, my music and my kids are. It's not like I'm at home doing the hoovering in my gold pants!
"Women are just under too much pressure (to look good). It's so foisted upon women to pretend they've got longer eyelashes, bigger boobs or a smaller waist. It really drives me nuts.
"I think women should support each other. Very often, there's just way too much bitching going on.
"Laughing at people because they've got a bit of cellulite – that's just cheap.
"Again, it's the message that I pass on to my daughter. If I pass on the message that you need to be super-skinny or pretend you're 20 when you're 40, then all those achievements that she's gone through from 20-40 are ignored."
Sharon adds: "Becoming a mother changed me utterly. Having a baby, you're in hospital, you're baring all – it's the most vulnerable moment in the world.
"Before then, I really had myself very protected. Now I'm like if people don't like who I am, that's perfectly fine.
"I never want to get to an age in my life where I can say I didn't do something because I was afraid of what people would think."