I'm just doing what loads of working mums do'
Had she not been diagnosed with a thyroid disease, Una Foden might have waited before trying for children. Now, juggling a music career with two tots is full-on, but, as she tells Gabrielle Fagan, she loves it that way
There's never a dull moment for Una Foden who, in recent months for instance, added TV talent judge and mentor and moving house to her already bulging list of demands, juggling motherhood and her singing career.
"Life's hectic, but I thrive on being busy and challenging myself. I've chosen to work and bring up a family and I'm just doing what loads of other mothers do - trying to make it work as well as possible,'' says the 33-year-old.
It's a peaceful domestic scene at the new Northamptonshire home she shares with her England rugby star husband Ben (29) and their children - six-month-old son Tadhg and daughter Aoife Belle, three - where Una's talking to me from today.
"Ben and I are a team, which makes life so much easier,'' she continues. "It's wonderful that he's a great hands-on dad. He's much more laid-back than me and makes me laugh when I get stressed, so we're a good balance.''
The pair met back in 2008 and married in 2012, in Kilshane House in Tipperary. "It wasn't love at first sight, but it was definitely lust at first sight! I looked at him and thought, 'You're gorgeous', and the love bit's grown over the years. He's my best friend, and while I wouldn't call him romantic - I've never come home to find rose petals scattered about in our house, put it that way - he's so very loving, affectionate and caring. We'll always cuddle up on the sofa when the kids are in bed.
"I'm the organiser, who's always making lists and giving him a kick up the bum sometimes so we stay on track with chores. But we always manage to have fun and make light of things, even when family life and career commitments seem to collide.''
Right now, avoiding these collisions is somewhat easier, since Una and her bandmates in The Saturdays - Frankie Bridge, Rochelle Humes, Mollie King and Vanessa White - are taking a bit of time out.
Contrary to rumours, however, she's adamant they're not splitting up. "We're 100pc not splitting up. We've been together for seven years and made five albums and 18 singles; we're still very much together, but just taking a bit of time out,'' explains the star, who recently partnered with Cadbury to launch its new Fly Cadbury Air campaign, offering flights to holiday destinations on its private jet and was the first to experience a trip on the jet.
"We wanted to have a rest so we could pursue different projects, before getting back together probably next year. It's great for those of us with families to have time with our kids,'' she adds. "Frankie's expecting her second baby and Rochelle has her two-year-old daughter. Lots of pop bands in the past have had breaks, which has allowed them to do other things.''
She admits the weeks following her son's birth were "demanding''.
"A week before we moved to our new house, Ben had to have an operation on his knee to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, and was then hobbling about on crutches,'' Una explains. "He was obviously gutted at that point, because he was so worried it could affect his chances of being considered for the World Cup squad in the autumn. Thankfully, he's now well on the way to fitness and hopefully will still have a chance of being considered.
"Then a week after his operation, Tadhg arrived, and I had a Caesarean, so I also found it difficult to move around. The birth had been a bit tense because Aoife had breathing problems when she was born - she nearly died because her airway was blocked - so I was nervous that might happen again.
"Luckily all was fine,'' she continues.
A few weeks after that, she flew back to Ireland - kids in tow - to fulfil her role as a coach on The Voice of Ireland.
"I had to be there for the six weeks of live shows. Ben and my mum helped though, so it was a real family effort,'' says the singer, clearly delighted that her mentee, Patrick Donoghue, sung his way to victory in the competition.
The uncertainty of pursuing a dream is something Una can easily relate to, and she admits she had her share of knock-backs before landing her place in The Saturdays after an audition back in 2007.
"To be honest, I can't imagine not being in The Saturdays. The girls are like family because we have so much in common and have been through so much together. We've had the weddings, the babies, the break-ups, and all the adventures travelling the world. It's been amazing,'' she reflects.
"I'd been getting pretty disillusioned before I got that amazing break. I'd spent quite a few years playing guitar and singing at gigs and taking part in talent shows all over Ireland, but I couldn't seem to find my niche. It's such a tough, competitive industry, so it's easy to get disheartened. Funnily enough though, that's when I wrote most of my best songs, perhaps the frustration inspired me. It shows you that you should never give up on your dream.''
She describes the last seven years as "a whirlwind'' of life-changing events - joining the band, marriage and motherhood. "I've had a great time and I hope it lasts for a lot longer. I'd love to stay in music forever and know how fortunate I am to be able to 'live to work', and to combine it with the family. So far, nothing's stopped me - I was pregnant for both our band tours.
"I love writing music, which I've done since I was 12,'' she adds. "Now I've got time at home, I'm really enjoying picking up my guitar and writing my own material again. One day, I'd love to put together an album of my own music, using what I'm working on. I'll know when the time is right.''
Motherhood wasn't something she'd planned on pursuing so soon - but discovering she has Hashimoto's hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid and can lead to fertility problems, changed things.
"I'd probably have put off motherhood, thinking I had loads of time, and to this day wouldn't have had a baby if I hadn't, by chance three years ago, gone for a general medical check-up,'' she explains.
"I was very lucky the condition was detected because it meant I got treatment quickly, so I've never been affected by it. I take daily medication and don't even know I have it, to be honest. It did make us try for children earlier, just in case there were any problems.''
Now she does have her two beautiful babes in her life, she couldn't imagine it any other way.
"Tadhg's an easy baby and is already sleeping through the night, which helps because it's been a bit of shock to the system having two children. What's making coping easier is that Aoife absolutely adores her baby brother. I was warned she might be jealous, but actually, she loves mothering him and showing him off to people. She says, 'Look at my gorgeous little brother'. It's very sweet.
"I feel so blessed to have two children, and to get a girl and a boy. It makes the family seem very balanced and I feel like we're complete as a family,'' Una adds happily. "So right now, I can't say I want any more, but you never know. Never say never.''