Jennifer Maguire... The Taming of The Shrew
She was the ice maiden on 'The Apprentice', then the bitchy one on 'The Republic Of Telly'. A seemingly mellower Jennifer Maguire talks about childhood, motherhood, misconceptions, love, her husband - and her 'arsehole' former fiance
During her time on the BBC's The Apprentice in 2008, she was described by the media variously, as an "ice maiden" and looking like someone "frozen alive while chewing a wasp".
The latter was precisely what Michael O'Leary's face resembled when Jennifer Maguire - for it is she - asked the Ryanair big-wig on RTE 2's comedy show The Republic Of Telly in 2010 thus: "What's it like being the biggest prick in Ireland?"
A question for Ms Maguire could so easily be, perhaps, what is it like being the biggest - and coldest - cow in Ireland? Yet in person, rather than being icy, stuck-up and generally up-herself, gasbag Jen is rather lovely, rather warm, and, unsurprisingly, rather witty with it. Just as unsurprisingly, Jennifer, like most people in possession of a savage tongue, is quite the sensitive soul too.
In fact, Jennifer once told me in an interview that she burst into tears on RTE's Failte Towers in August, 2008, when, as she and the other contestants were waiting on the steps to hear if the public voted them in or not, "I heard some guy screaming from the crowd: 'Get her out - she's a c***!' Most people thought I was crying because I was in the bottom two, but I was devastated. I couldn't help myself from breaking down, and I am not one to cry easily, ever."
Jennifer believes that the perception of her as being tough comes from "being hired to a job like something like The Republic Of Telly - and your job is to make people feel uncomfortable, and to squirm a bit might come from that as well," she laughs.
In her defence, it is arguably a tad misogynist for a woman being funny, however cruel, on TV to be branded a cold bitch. If a guy did that he would be dubbed a ground-breaking comic genius. "It depends on how you look at it," she says. "There was a lot of silly stuff I did on the red carpet. "
"There was a lot of bitchy stuff I did," she says, doubtless referring to . . . how long have you got? . . . her cutting if not catty question to Grainne Seoige (to the effect: does she cringe while watching The All Ireland Talent Show) or telling Marty Whelan he should retire, or informing Georgia Salpa - hilariously - that she was a "g**bag", to say nothing of asking Kian Egan how large his trouser-snake was.
"But I think we were taking the piss out of ourselves, fundamentally, first and foremost on that show," the demi-diva of divisivemess says with debatable truth.
How close is the real Jennifer to that persona or person on The Republic Of Telly?
"I think there are elements."
How would her husband Lauterio Zamparelli describe her?
"He would say I am a very positive person," she says of the Italian actor whom she married in Monaghan's Castle Leslie last summer.
"He would probably say that I am great fun. I wouldn't say 'cold' or 'bitchy' would be in the vocab when he would be describing me. Maybe some people [would see me like that].
"That's the thing about being on the television or on the radio, people have their opinion on you, and I am delighted that they do," she says, slipping into Oscar Wilde mode - a la "there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about" - "I certainly have my opinions of people. And you do. It's weird. People don't see all of you," she says.
Be that as it may, Jennifer says she enjoys it immensely when people recognise her and come up to her in the street. "I love it. It's great. They only have nice things to say, especially now when they're complimenting the breakfast show," she laughs in reference to RTE 2FM's Breakfast Republic that she hosts with Keith Walsh and Bernard O'Shea. In terms of her TV career, Jennifer has left The Republic Of Telly to concentrate on a new comedy sitcom (RTE called it an "Eighties'-tastic series"), Bridget And Eamon, which is based on a Republic Of Telly sketch.
Born Jennifer Jean Isabel Maguire on April 9, 1980, she was the youngest child of a big family. "I think I was an only child more so than a youngest child," she says, "because there was a seven-year gap between me and my next sister," she says of Michelle.
Was that why she came into the entertainment business: because she was always looking for attention?
"I wasn't one of those kids, I don't think, who was always looking for attention, but I think I was more of an only child, because they had moved away - to America and all that kind of stuff. So what drove me into this business?" she asks rhetorically.
"I think I kind of tripped and fell into this business. I started off doing a lot of drama and I met my husband through the theatre company, then got side-tracked by sales, then went on The Apprentice, and then got back into telly, then ended up on breakfast radio and now I'm doing a comedy sitcom. It kind of all went full circle I think. It's not that I'm doing something completely different."
Famously, Alan Sugar, in May, 2008, fired her, as she recalls, "in front of eight million people". Before he ditched her from the show that gave Jennifer her start on television, the brazen young Dublin woman said to him: "If you would rather have a liar and a cheat in your company" - pointing at a person, who lied on the task - "then you can fire me now."
His reply, predictably enough: "Ok - you're fired." Jennifer finds it amusing that Sir Alan did subsequently say on The Jonathan Ross Show that he was scared of her and that he believed she was going to perhaps hit him when he reacquainted her with her P45 on The Apprentice. "Well - he is only five foot," Jennifer laughs now.
How does she look back on that young girl who was on The Apprentice? "I try not to. I try to forget about it. I didn't enjoy the experience. I went in very young. I was 26, 27. I went in genuinely wanting a job, and wanting to move to London. I sailed through the interview process and then I had cameras in my face; it frightened the shite out of me really. It was very intrusive. I found it very difficult. I didn't enjoy that experience. It was a bit of relief, to be honest [being fired]."
Feelings of being the only child notwithstanding, Jennifer was the youngest of six siblings - Linda, Cathal, Isabel, Barry and Michelle - and grew up in a relatively small house in Baldoyle in county Dublin. "All I can remember is that we had two double beds pressed up together in the bedroom. I was the smallest. I had to sleep against the wall. I shared a bed with my sister," she says referring to Michelle.
"My other two sisters were in the other bed and my two brothers were in the box room and my mam and dad in the other room. There were six of us. So it was kind of crowded. But then they all kind of left - for London and New York when they were 17 and 18. So then, for a big part of my childhood, from the age of 10, I was by myself in that house. I was four when my first sister," she says of Linda, "got married."
How has that affected her psychologically? What kind of house does she live in now?
"I like a quiet house," she smiles. "I suppose that is to do with work as well. I like the telly not being on and no music. I love quiet in the house." She and Lau, as she calls him, live in Ranelagh on Dublin's southside. That said, her husband, she says, "likes noise, and the music on. He has terrible taste in music. His music taste is so cheesy. Like Nineties boy bands. Anything that's cheesy he likes."
In terms of the cooking arrangements at their house in Ranelagh, Lau does all the cooking. "I will never be a good cook, because I am not allowed in the kitchen. That is his domain. He loves cooking. So I just let him at it. And no," she laughs, "he doesn't just cook pasta."
Whatever he cooks, Lau seems to be well versed in serving up regular portions of the food of love to his beautiful TV and radio star of a wife. She talks about him, glowingly, perhaps tongue-in-cheekily, too. When they first met in 2006 in Bristol, Jennifer cast him in a play she was directing - Frank McGuinness's Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, at the Old Vic Theatre School - because she liked the cut of his jib. "I turned the tables on the casting couch!" she laughs.
They commuted between London (where her future husband was based) and Dublin for the first four years of their relationship, before, in October, 2010, he moved to Dublin to be with the love of his life. They now have a six-month-old baby, Florence, and live love's young dream in the aforesaid leafy hipster haven of Ranelagh. Romantic love appeared very much like an alien concept, once upon a time, for Ms Maguire. Jennifer once told me that she believed that in a decidedly disastrous former relationship with Axel Pfaender she mixed up love with obsession. She had good cause to believe this.
In 2008, her ex gave an English tabloid intimate information about his former fiancee - enough intimate information, at any rate, for the News Of The World to write that the "27-year-old enjoys nothing more than risky mergers in public places."
These risky mergers, so to speak, we were told allegedly occurred on a plane, her boss's boardroom table and perhaps most risque of all, the Passport Office in Dublin. When the story came out, the only good part about it was Jennifer's absolute relief that she did not marry this charming man.
"When the story came out," Jennifer told me in an interview for the Sunday Independent's LIFE magazine in 2010, "I felt like someone pulled up my skirt on Grafton Street and I couldn't pull it down again. I was totally exposed. And the fact that I still have to talk about that prick kills me, because I know he would love that. The thing that's the most upsetting is the story being there for evermore for all my kids to see, if I can have any. Remember - this is the man I was going to marry," she says referring to Mr Pfaender. "So you can imagine the trust issues I have. My family never liked him, and I should have known better, but I was very young and stupid."
I ask Jennifer now did the whole episode make her extremely cautious.
"No. He was always an arsehole," Jennifer Maguire says with a face perhaps understandably looking like someone frozen alive while chewing a wasp.
An "arsehole" to whom she got engaged?
"Yeah. But I was young. I was 21, and I was engaged - c'mon!" she laughs.
What kind of guy gives a story like that to a tabloid newspaper?
"I had a lucky escape," she adds. "My parents didn't like him, but they never told me. They would always let me find my own way. They would never sit down and go: 'Jennifer, are you mental? What are you doing? Don't marry this guy.' They kind of let me do my thing and find out for myself. Which I did. Thank God!"
The star is here to talk up Pregnacare® New Mum's new campaign, which, Jennifer says, she is "delighted to be working on. "From hearing the research, I can definitely relate with other mums. Since giving birth to Florence back in March, I have unluckily experienced acne like many other new mums. Added to the late night feeds and early starts, I just didn't feel great. Like any new parent, life can be a little hectic when trying to juggle family and work. But in taking the Pregnacare® New Mum supplements, I know I have the extra nutritional support when I need it."
On the day I met Jennifer, Sex & The City star Kim Cattrall was on the front page of the Daily Telegraph proclaiming: 'I'm not less of a woman because I haven't had a child.'
Did Jennifer feel less of a woman before she had a child?
"No. And I think if it didn't happen I would still have a very happy life."
" You know, I know a lot of people who are going through difficulties in trying to conceive and going down the IVF treatment; and I think they feel a lot of pressure. But I can still have a happy life without having a child, absolutely, and I still would have. Do I feel complete? I've always had a maternal side; I've always wanted to have a kid. I've ten nieces and nephews. So I've always wanted to have a kid. Always. I really wanted a baby. I waited for so long. We were trying for a while."
I ask her what a 'while' is.
"Probably two years."
"So when she [Florence] came along, it was just excitement. It is unbelievable. I have been blessed with a baby who sleeps. She's the perfect child. She gets that from me!" she laughs.
Florence, who is six months old, has been sleeping through the night since she was four weeks old. "I was waking her for feeds" - much to the horror of Jennifer's mother Myra. "My mum was like: 'Are you crazy? Don't wake up a sleeping baby! If I can give you any advice, don't wake up a sleeping baby! Ever!' I have stopped doing that and she kept going. She is very advanced."
"I was easygoing as a baby," Jennifer adds. "That's what my mother tells me."
I point out to Jennifer that her mother was hardly likely to tell her beloved daughter that she was a bloody nightmare.
"Well," she laughs, "she tells me that the others were nightmares. Well, my sister was a bit of a nightmare. Always whingeing. Always crying," Jennifer says, diplomatically not naming the sister in question. "And Lau was an easy baby too. His mam tells me that. So I don't know whether it was nature or nurture, definitely a bit of both," Jennifer says, meaning the placid nature of their young sproggette.
"I suppose we are very relaxed around her. And because I have ten nieces and nephews, I am quite used to being around babies. It's not like I'm going: 'Urrrrrgh! What's this?'"
Would she like another child?
"Yeah, I will probably get a real one this time. One who cries and stays awake at night. I would love to go again. It is just a question of when. Not right now," she says, "things are very busy doing Bridget And Eamon."
Jennifer is honest enough to admit that she has to think when she will have another baby in terms of her career. "You do. I think women kind of over-think it too much, I suppose. We over-think everything, if it's not work or money or career. There is always something. There is never really a right time [to have a baby]. So sometimes . . ."
Asked what she inherited from her parents growing up, Jennifer says her mother "is quite adventurous. I probably act before I think which in some respects is good. But it can get me into a lot of trouble. "
Is she referring to the "arsehole" she almost married? "No. I wasn't thinking of that!" she laughs.
Her father Michael was a garda who also taught children with special needs to swim in St Michael's House in Baldoyle. She says she inherited her strong "work ethic" from him. I ask Jennifer what did her garda father think of RTE's cops-and-crims series Love/Hate? "It wouldn't be his thing," she laughs. "Too violent for him. No. I think he chased [name of Irish singer] once around Howth on his moped. I think he was doing something not great anyway. Maybe it was his dress sense!" laughs the thirty-something, who once described herself to me as looking like the princess in the Antz movie, "you know, the one with the big head."
Motherhood, life, love, or Lau, something seems to have mellowed Maguire. She seems less of a. . .I-don't-know-what. Sufficiently less of a I-don't-know-what, for me to ask: has the one-time shrew of the box been tamed?
Jennifer Maguire was speaking as an ambassador of the Pregnacare® New Mum supplement. New research commissioned by the brand found only 25pc of new mums have reported looking after their own health and wellbeing in the period of time post-pregnancy. For more information visit: www.pregnacare.ie
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