Style-winner Miriam 'does not wake up wondering what to wear'
SARAH CADEN "I BURST out laughing when they told me I had won," says Miriam O'Callaghan after she was voted the sexiest woman on television (otherwise the RTE Guide Style Award) - beating the 'young guns' such as Grainne Seoige, Caroline Morahan and Pamela Flood.
"I thought it was so funny. There were 12 people up for the vote, people who are very stylish and for who, in a very nice way, style is very important. But I'm not the kind of person who gets up every morning wondering what I'm going to wear. So, I was really thrown by it, but afterwards I thought that maybe it's because really, what women want to see is someone more relaxed," the presenter says.
She rails passionately against the pressure to be perfect and preened, and the 'fashion police' who dictate who can wear what and who cannot. She takes pride in the fact that she regularly buys "?49.99 jackets" and her two expensive outfits were bought by RTE.
What she understands is that some of her appeal - particularly to other women - is that Miriam is a working mother who juggles career and kids while also managing to look glamorous.
As has been well documented, the face of Prime Time has eight children, ranging in age from one to 20 years. With her first husband, broadcaster Tom McGurk, Miriam had four daughters - Alannah, Clara and twins Jessica and Georgia; and with her second husband, director Steve Carson, four sons - Jack, Daniel, Conor and Jamie.
Miriam thinks other women notice when she looks tired and jokes that even her own mother commented that her top was a bit low-cut on TV one night last week.
"Maybe women don't like to see perfection in other women," says Miriam. "They don't like it and they don't believe it because, let's face it, it's not real. Because if you're at home all day with screaming kids, you don't have time to be perfect and you don't want to turn on the telly and see someone perfect."
But there's a difference between striving for impossible perfection and making the effort. "Some days, when you're a woman with kids, you feel like you're drowning as a woman in a sea of exhaustion and you get down and depressed in yourself and that's a cycle. So you don't bother to wash and you don't do your make up, but one thing I've always believed is that you have to keep making the effort."
Miriam's younger (by only a year) sister, Anne, who died 12 years ago this month and to whom she was very close, was mad into clothes. Anne was a model and a former Miss Young Ireland who teased her sister for wearing her slippers to the shops.
"When I look back, I realise I had a lack of confidence when I was very young," Miriam recalls.
"You look in the mirror and you think you look ugly and then you think, 'Well, maybe if I was thin, I'd be more attractive'. I was sort of sandwiched in the family. My older sister was very brilliant, Anne was very beautiful and Kathleen was younger again and I sort of got lost. I was neither the most brilliant nor the most beautiful and I wasn't sure what my role was in life, but you don't process that at 16, so you starve yourself instead."
Miriam doesn't remember specifically when she started starving herself, but does remember a teenage summer in London when she weighed only seven stone. The need to be thin left when she became pregnant for the first time.
"When you hear women giving out about how their body is wrecked after having a baby, you just think 'God, there are women who would give their right leg to have the gift of a child'. And so what?
"Your boobs are a bit saggy and your tummy's a little wobbly, but in the greater scheme of things, it doesn't matter.
"I remember reading Kate Winslet saying that after pregnancy you look part-elephant around the tummy because your skin is so stretched," Miriam laughs, adding, "and one of my pregnancies was twins, so it's a bit wobbly and you wouldn't want to be wearing anything that revealed it, but it's not awful either."
Miriam jokes that if there was a way to have a non-invasive, no-pain tightening up her stomach, she might think about it. She is joking, though, and adamant that she would never have cosmetic surgery.
"Look," she says, "I dye my hair, I wear make-up, I've had my teeth whitened, I spend money on face creams. I'm pro-active and I want to go on like that - but I won't go under the knife, because I think it makes everyone look like they've been through a wind tunnel."