Saturday 25 March 2017

'I know that if I am too thin it doesn't suit me' - UTV news anchor Alison Comyn

News anchor Alison Comyn tells our reporter how juggling a TV career with family life can be hectic - but she still finds time for chocolate

Alison Comyn, the UTV Ireland news anchor
Alison Comyn, the UTV Ireland news anchor
Newsreader Alison Comyn at the launch of UTV Ireland
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

'It is full on," says UTV Ireland news anchor Alison Comyn of her hectic day-to-day-schedule. "I am up for about 7am every morning to get my two children ready for school. During the week, it is the only time in the day that I see them, so even though I could possibly stay and have a lie on and let my husband do the morning bit, I want to see them and I want to spend that time with them."

It has been over 18 months since Drogheda native Alison's return to our screens after leaving TV following the birth of her second child, and working in print journalism for eight years, which allowed her to raise her young family. The mum of two lives in Drogheda with her husband Malachy Murphy and their children Holly (13) and Luke (12).

"I am into hair and make up from about 1pm then meetings from 3pm and I do Ireland Live at 5.30pm and Ireland Live at 10pm, so I don't get home until midnight, and it takes me a good hour at least to wind down then," Alison says.

"I can't come in from work and just go straight to bed; my head is just too full of live television - the interviews, what I could have said, what I liked, what I didn't.

Alison Comyn
Alison Comyn

"So it is about 1.30am or 2am before I am asleep and then I am up again for 7am.

"So at some stage every day I have to give myself headspace and that is when I will go for a walk on the beach or to the park with my two dogs. The exercise is great, but for me, it is more about minding my mental health.

"Stress can be a big enemy for me, I have to watch it and listen to myself. Doing live television can be very stressful," Alison adds.

"From the minute you come into work, you are straight into research and interviews, debriefs and briefs; it is a very busy day right the way through until night-time. So I have to have time to compose myself every morning and prepare for that," Alison adds.

"I have to get my head nice and clear first thing in the morning and then I have to have a sleep before I leave for work, which is something that has been really hard to train myself to do, but something we should all be doing; you eat three or four times a day, so chances are you should have a nap at some stage too, particularly if you are going to do 15 to 17 hour days. So I will try and get myself and the dogs nice and tired, then the three of us will curl up and sleep for an hour. That is the only way that I can be at my peak when most people are winding down in the evening."

Despite having good intentions, however, Alison is the first to admit that she can lose the run of herself from time to time.

"I tend to really push myself very hard and there are times when I don't listen to my body," she says. "I have just had my first two sick days recently in three-and-a-half years, simply because I try and push through and that is a bad thing to do.

"I find it really hard to relax. I am a very highly strung person and I have to nearly force myself to relax, which isn't very relaxing," Alison laughs.

UTV Ireland Anchor woman Alison Comyn uses exercise to help her mental health. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan.
UTV Ireland Anchor woman Alison Comyn uses exercise to help her mental health. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan.

From an early age, Alison has been a fan of being outdoors.

"The first real sport I was interested in was horse riding; I used to really love it as a child, I started when I was about nine and it petered off maybe when I was around 14 but I used to love show jumping and gymkhana," Alison says.

"It was the first real outdoors activity that I did and it gave me a great taste for that side of life. I still love the outdoors."

In her school days, once Alison reached 5'7", she was put straight on to the basketball team.

"I enjoyed basketball and tennis, but I was never a very natural athlete, even though I have what some call an athletic build," Alison explains.

"I enjoy keeping fit and if I put my mind to something I will try very hard at it, but I am too competitive and that is definitely an issue for me," Alison grins.

After school, Alison began running. "Again I am not a natural runner, but when I am out there I enjoy it," Alison says.

"The old knees are not great after years of road running though. I used to love doing 10km runs, but I can't really do that anymore. I am still not so bad doing a 5km, but my right knee clicks like a metronome as soon as I get over about 7km or 8km.

"I think it is important to know your limitations and adapt as you get older too," Alison adds.

"I took a break from running to help with knees and I am now back running, doing a 2.5km every three days."

Any free time Alison gets, she spends with her children.

"The weekends are kept religiously for family time, but the children have lots of activities now; rugby, hockey and they both play instruments too," she smiles.

"We eat out every weekend as a family, which sounds very extravagant, but I miss all of the dinner times during the week, so this is the time for us to sit down and catch up and nobody really wants to cook because it's been a busy week. And whether it is Sunday lunch or a Saturday, it is just the four of us sitting around the table.

"That 'superwoman' term you hear always jars with me a little because, yes, you can have it all, but not at the same time," Alison adds.

"That pressure - to look good, to sound good, to be all knowledgeable, to be a fabulous mother and a domestic goddess - it is all too much to ask of one person. So you have to be very careful to not believe all the hype and spend your life trying to be this impossible ideal."

Spending decades in front of a TV camera has also given Alison an interesting take on body image and people's often superhuman expectations. "These days I relax a little bit more at the weekends, but in the past I put too much pressure on myself to look a certain way and project a certain image the entire time, which is just too much for anybody to take on.

"People do judge you though and they have no problem saying it to you either," Alison grins.

"A couple of months ago I was bringing the dogs to the park and this woman stopped and we were talking about the dogs for a bit and just before she left she said 'I can't wait to tell everybody that I met the woman off the telly and you should have seen the state of her'," Alison laughs.

"Thankfully, you get a thicker skin as you get older, 20 years ago I probably would have gone home, cried and changed into a ball gown to walk the dogs, but I don't mind so much now. The older I get the more confident I have found myself becoming.

"I have tried everything; different hair, different exercises, different fad diets.

"I know that if I am too thin it doesn't suit me - and if I put on too much weight it doesn't suit me. Eventually you find a nice happy medium and a healthy way of maintaining that," Alison adds.

"It is not rocket science. I would never starve myself, but I know that I can't have three pasta-filled meals every weekend, followed by cake, without it having some effect on me.

"It all boils down to common sense and you do need to look ahead; I want to be a healthy, active person in my 50s and 60s and 70s and for longer if possible, so now is the time that I am really conscious of that."

Alison's day on a plate
Breakfast

• Cereal with berries or brown bread and a banana.

Lunch

• An omelette or a salad.

Dinner

• Chicken and salad. I will often have a very light lunch and then bring something bigger with me to work for my evening meal; like a spare portion of dinner left over from the night before at home, which might be a curry or a tagine or a paella.

Treats

• Breakfast biscuits are my downfall. I don't know why I think they are healthier than anything else, but they keep me away from the chocolate in the vending machines. Of course every now and again I do indulge and have a Kit Kat with a cup of tea, but everything in moderation is fine; that is what a treat should be, a treat! If you're having it every day it loses that appeal.

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