Monday 24 October 2016

Life lessons with Brenda Donohue: if you can bring four young children swimming, you have it in you to be a CEO

Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30

All set for 'Celebrity Operation Transformation': Brenda Donohue. Photo: Damien Eagers
All set for 'Celebrity Operation Transformation': Brenda Donohue. Photo: Damien Eagers
Adventures on air: Brenda Donohue with Derek Mooney in 2006

Anyone that listened to 2fm in the 1990s will be familiar with Brenda Donohue. Originally from Newbridge, Co Kildare, she made her name on The Gerry Ryan Show as a roving reporter, going into people's homes, travelling the world and entertaining the masses with her infectious laugh and ability to get to the heart of the matter. Since then, she's become a stalwart at RTÉ on Radio 1 and in television. A mother of three, she lives in Dublin with her husband Dennis and Ali (16), Robyn (13) and Harvey (7). Along with comedians Karl Spain and Katherine Lynch, socialite Gerald Kean and broadcaster Elaine Crowley, Brenda is taking part in a celebrity version of RTÉ's hit weight-loss show Operation Transformation.

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I kind of rebelled growing up. I am the eldest of five, and would have taken my parents for granted completely. I knew I came from a loving background where I was praised, but all I could think was: "Get me out of here, I want to go to the Big Smoke!"

If I look back on it now, I think it was my mother in particular who gave us all our ability to love and be loved and to give empathy. I aspire to have her patience and kindness. I think the empathy people feel from me on the radio over the years has come from her. My dad taught me to let it go and get on with things in life - probably the words of wisdom I hold dearest.

I think my career had a lot to do with luck. Anyone in this industry knows there is luck involved because we all know brilliant people - brilliant singers that never made it, for example. So I think I was lucky, but I also think fate had a hand in it and I found something I was good at.

Gerry Ryan was only starting out himself when I started on the show. I came on a few months after him, and as a team we were very much the underdog, experimenting all the while. The work itself was a massive learning curve, because I wasn't educated in it. They were amazing days, right at the cutting edge.

I went through all my ups and downs on air. I got engaged and married, had my first baby practically on air. It taught me that in order to get something back, you have to share as well. I learned that the only time you truly connect with people is when you're actually yourself and being genuine.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned as a mum is to just let yourself be superwoman. Acknowledge that you are amazing. I think it's very hard for women, but at the same time, the ability that you have is incredible. It should be praised. I always say, if you can bring four young children swimming, you have it in you to be a CEO.

I'm doing Celebrity Operation Transformation because I love the show. But also because I'm kind of angry with myself. About two years ago, I got down to the right weight for my BMI. It took me about eight months to do it the right away, and it was fantastic. I felt and looked great. But then I let it go at Christmas and then it was January, and now every single pound is back 18 months later.

I've learned that I need to feel the pressure of hitting a target to stop yo-yoing. I don't even want to be a size 10, I want to be comfortable and happy and healthy. I have so much of life to enjoy, great kids, lots of parenting left to do and great craic to have, and I want to do it to the best of my abilities.

I never thought of myself as being too heavy. And I never really had a negative body image. I have two teenage daughters, and I would like to be healthier for them and for them to have a healthy approach to food and exercise. I would like them to be proud of me.

I think it's very hard to live in the moment. You have to train your brain to do it, and I'm trying. These days, we're all trying to capture life on the screen. I have a seven-year-old, Harvey, and I'm trying to enjoy him as he is now because he's growing up so quickly. I want to make the most of him.

I'm married to Dennis 19 years. I love that we share everything together, and we're so invested in our children. I've learned to not take him for granted, or the fact that you know somebody has got your back and that they'll be happier for you than anyone when something goes right.

I had what they call a 'geriatric pregnancy' at 42. I'd had my two girls, and then Robin started school and I thought hang on, I'm not quite finished with this. Then I was 40, and it was harder to get pregnant and I working away, but then all of a sudden there he was. It's nearly like having two separate families. It's a different experience raising a boy.

A life lesson I've learned is that you should keep your friends. We get consumed with family, with our careers, but it's so important to keep your friendships going. Everyone will understand that everyone else is busy. Having not done that in the past, and let people fade out of my life to the point where you almost make strange when you catch up, it's an important lesson.

Losing people in my life has taught me that the stresses you might feel on a day-to-day level in work pale in to insignificance. What matters is the people around you. When someone dies young, your perspective changes. I place too much emphasis on the importance of work in my life, but it's not how you should measure your happiness and success.

'Celebrity Operation Transformation' airs on Wednesday on RTÉ One at 9.35pm.

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