TV3's Colette Fitzpatrick on working with her husband: 'I can assure you he's not whispering sweet nothings in my ear'
From breakfast radio to TV current affairs, not to mention her regular news anchoring duties, Colette Fitzpatrick is at the top of her game. Here, the mother-of-two talks to our reporter about sharing childcare responsibilities, the importance of friends, and looking forward to working with Pat Kenny again.
As he's a studio director, Colette Fitzpatrick works frequently with her husband Niall McDermott: he's often on duty when she's anchoring the news on TV3. Working with a spouse wouldn't appeal to everyone. What happens if you arrive into work fuming with one another over who didn't empty the dishwasher?
"Well, we've had plenty of arguments," she laughs, "but thankfully they've never spilled over to the next day so we haven't had to go into work on a row. Nor, I can assure you, is Niall whispering sweet nothings in my ear. In the director's role, they give you basic, straightforward instructions, and most of the time I don't even see him at work because he'll be talking to me from a different room."
While Niall may be her real-life spouse, it was announced to great fanfare at the TV3 launch 10 days ago that Colette will be co-presenting a brand new midweek current affairs series with a new television "husband", Pat Kenny. Having defected from RTÉ radio to Newstalk, the veteran broadcaster has now set up his television presenting stall at rival TV3, having broken the ice with a brief stint at UTV Ireland.
"I can say with my hand on my heart that I'm absolutely thrilled to be working with Pat again, but look it, I'm very much the junior partner in this scenario," says Colette. "It was so easy to work with him on the Leaders' Debate earlier this year, and it was as obvious as the nose on your face that there was an opportunity there for Pat to come to TV3. He's the type of guy that is on his A game with news and foreign affairs and is the biggest current affairs animal in the country, so having him at TV3 is a real bonus for us."
It's a busy time for the 42-year-old Tipperary woman, as aside from the new current affairs series and her news anchor duties at TV3, Colette's new breakfast show begins this week on Newstalk. To swell the ranks of her media "husbands", her co-presenters will be crime journalist and special correspondent with Independent News & Media, Paul Williams, and Newstalk's own political correspondent, Shane Coleman. Former Irish rugby international and Irish Independent columnist, Alan Quinlan, also joins the show as sports anchor. It is all about chemistry on radio, she says, and they've been having fun during the dry runs, mixing serious stories with more light-hearted ones.
"There should really be a monorail between Newstalk and TV3 because there is such a crossover between the two," she says. "TV3 couldn't have been more accommodating when the opportunity came up on radio, and I'm not moving, I'm just cutting back on my hours there."
Breakfast radio is very competitive, so is she feeling the pressure? "I am, to be honest, as while everyone I have spoken to congratulates me, they also say that they're really going to miss Ivan Yates," she admits. "I feel the same way, I loved listening to him too. Knowing Ivan and his work ethic, I don't think he will be away for more than a year, and when he comes back, I highly doubt he will want to slink off into retirement."
Colette will present Newstalk Breakfast on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, and the 5.30pm news on TV3 on Monday, Thursday and Friday. With the addition of the Wednesday evening current affairs series, it would be fair to say that she has been propelled to the forefront of the most powerful broadcasters in the country.
Many would say that it's not before time, as she has always been a class act, being a consummate professional with a genuine, warm demeanour and no-fuss, no-drama approach, in addition to a wry sense of humour. She also has a sharp mind and isn't afraid to ask the hard questions, to which her colleague George Hook can ruefully attest, having taken umbrage with her line of questioning on Late Review last summer.
Nonetheless, it's a lot of change, and presumably a lot of pressure to deliver. Colette doesn't seem fazed by the myriad challenges ahead. "If you're not nervous, there's something wrong with you," she shrugs, "and I'm approaching the shows with a mixture of nerves, excitement and a lot of emotions. It's all coming together at once, but that seems to be the way life goes, but it's a massive opportunity for me and I'm well aware of that."
As a small child, Colette moved around a lot as her dad Peter was a garda, and she remains very close to him and her mother Phyllis. She has a younger sister Olivia, to whom she is also very close, so much so that she named her daughter after her. They grew up a mile from Holycross village and went to the local Ursuline Secondary School in Thurles.
Colette's interest in news was whetted partly because of her dad's job, and also because her parents were avid newspaper readers and radio listeners who always expressed opinions on what was going on. "I ring them all the time and try to get to see them as often as I can," she says. "I love going home, and all of my best friends are my friends from school. I have a real thing about keeping in touch with my female friends, and if I haven't seen them in a while, I physically need a dose of them."
With busy jobs - last year Colette worked five days per week at TV3 and Sundays on Newstalk - meeting up with the pals became harder. Colette and her friends decided to put away a few euro every month into the credit union, and seven of them went away to Spain for a week a few months ago. Just the women - no husbands or kids - and it was a huge success.
"It wasn't absolutely crazy, although there were one or two mad nights, but by and large we were just sitting around chatting without someone screaming, 'Mammy'," she smiles. "We have vowed to do it every two years, because when you're working and have kids, it can be very hard to manage everything and get everyone together. And while of course I was dying to see Niall and the kids when I got back, it was a long overdue, fun holiday."
Colette and Niall met in TV3 and were married in Tipperary in 2009. They got together on a work night out, and became "just one more cliché", she groans. So what attracted her to him in the first place?
"I think he's a very kind, helpful person." she replies. "If someone is in a spot of bother, he'd be the first to offer help, and you'd always find him changing tyres and that kind of thing. He's just a very decent, mild-mannered individual, and hopefully he passes those traits on to the kids."
A reprehensible perception exists in certain quarters that women lose focus on their careers when they have children, or that they're responsible for the lion's share of childcare. It's the reason why some women are passed over for promotion, or aren't considered for certain positions. As the mother of two young children, Milo (5) and Olivia (4), Colette has strong opinions on the subject, and welcomes the fact that from this month, every employer in Ireland must offer new dads two weeks' paternity leave following the birth of a child.
"Paternity leave was previously at the discretion of your employer, but now that it's a legal right, it's the beginning of a shift in the thinking that childcare is solely a woman's responsibility," she says. "People think that paternity leave is just a great little holiday for the man, but it's actually great for everyone that it's now officially acknowledged that men need to spend time with their families. I always think that it is not so much a glass ceiling for women, it's a sticky floor when it comes to childcare issues. People talk about women being on the 'mammy track' but now we're going to have the prospect of the 'daddy track' too."
Colette's working week is pretty consistent, whereas Niall's hours are more variable, and while Milo is now at school, Olivia has just started Montessori. They share childcare between them, and have a "beyond amazing" childminder called Susan, whom Colette describes as her "wife" and "a total lifesaver". While she's happy to be a working mum, she knows that many other women prefer to be at home.
"Some people tend to look down their nose at those women, which I think is disgraceful," she says. "My new heroes since I became a parent are lone parents, as I think it must be so much more difficult to manage it all with just one pair of hands. I don't know how they do it, and think they are the most incredible people in the whole world. We all get frazzled sometimes, and I do, even though I have a job that pays well, and great support to help me including grandparents on both sides, so I'm really blessed."
When it comes to parenting styles, Colette admits that if it's good cop/bad cop, then Niall is the good cop. "I'm all about eating the right foods and discipline, whereas he's one of those guys who thinks you should leave all the toys on the ground and go out and have fun," she says. "There is yin and yang in our house, but I think it's a good thing. The kids are at a really funny stage now where they are joking with me a lot of the time and laughing at me.
"We were in the car yesterday and Milo said, 'Mammy, do you even have a clue where you're going, because you never know and even Daddy said you have no sense of direction.' He's jeering me and he's only five, but I think it's so funny that he's switched on and listening to everything now. There are no private conversations any more, so we do a lot of talking in code and spelling everything."
Colette believes that while it may still be a man's world when it comes to broadcasting, there has never been a better time to be a woman in the media. There are so many opportunities there for women that weren't there in the past, she says, and the heightened awareness is helped by the National Women's Council of Ireland conducting yearly surveys to examine and measure women and their roles in media.
She also dismisses the bafflingly ubiquitous notion that people prefer listening to men's voices on radio, and cites a thesis that found that this theory stemmed back to someone giving an opinion that was subsequently cited as a fact. When people ask her about this career and longevity, she says that while everything has its day, lifestyle programmes come and go and news is always a good place to work. She believes that her job is to be utterly objective and impartial, and getting emotional around difficult or heartbreaking stories is inadvisable because then you become part of the story.
Colette studied journalism at DIT, Aungier Street, when it was a two-year certificate course, and graduated in 1995. It ultimately became a degree course, and she returned in 2009 to complete it.
Her working career began back in 1996 in what is now East Coast FM, and she joined Today FM in 1998. She worked on the breakfast show until Ian Dempsey came in, and then as a producer until she joined TV3 in 2001. The station is in terrific shape at the moment, she says, and while it went through tough times in recent years, there is a huge sense that those days are now behind them. With the recent acquisition by Virgin Media, the future is looking bright and she is very happy there.
While Colette is beautiful, she finds the emphasis on appearance a distraction when it comes to women in broadcasting. It comes with the territory though, and she has worked out a style that works for her. At the TV3 launch she wore a bright pink, but classically cut, dress, and tends to favour that style.
"I put on make-up in the morning anyway, so it's no different getting made up for TV, and I try to keep it simple and wear dresses all the time because they're easier than a two-piece," she says. "People tend to write into TV3 and comment whether they liked or didn't like my outfit, but I'm used to that now. There was a famous case in Australia where Karl Stefanovic, a presenter on Australian breakfast TV, wore the same blue suit for a year to make a point about the ways in which his female colleagues are judged. Nobody passed a comment. Can you imagine what would have happened if his co-presenter, Lisa Wilkinson, had worn the same outfit every day?"
Colette says she is "dying" for the new current affairs show to begin, and feels that the forthcoming Budget, water charges, and the prospect of Donald Trump being in the White House will make for lively and interesting discussions. Is there anyone she would particularly like to interview?
"Michael Lowry," she says. "He's from Holycross, which was originally my constituency, so he might do me the favour seeing as he is from down home. I want to talk to him about everything and anything, including all the recent controversies, such as whether he did a deal with the Government over the hospital in Clonmel, and the Moriarty tribunal. I think our show is going to be classic current affairs, as we will be making politicians squirm and feel uncomfortable, which is the way they should always be feeling if they are doing their job right. It will be very balanced, very objective and we will be giving everyone a say."
Photography by Mark Condren