Nancy Ashmawy: 'Baz and I were always very close but we've had our ups and downs'
Life lessons with Nancy Ashmawy: 'Religious bigotry really annoys me and I have zero tolerance for it'
Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30
Star of international Emmy award-winning show, 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy, Nancy Ashmawy (73) grew up as an only child in Wicklow. She worked in Libya as a nurse, where she met her Egyptian former husband, the late Mohammed Ussri Ismaill. Their son Baz (40) was born there, and then they moved to Cairo and finally settled in Dublin. The marriage ended when Baz was eight. Nancy is very close to her son and television co-star and his wife Tanja, and is devoted to their children; they have six between them, Charlotte (19), Harry (16), Jake (13), Amelia (11), Hanna (5) and Mahy (3).
I would never have seen myself on TV, even up to five years ago. I was quite nervous as a child, and didn't want to upset people, but my nurse training gave me more confidence.
Travel definitely broadened my mind. I met Baz's dad at an ex-pat party, as I was a friend of his sister, and he was very outgoing and good-looking. We had two weddings, one in the Muslim religion and then a Catholic ceremony in a church in Cairo. My parents didn't come over for the wedding. They thought I could have married someone local.
You are who you are, and it's very important to be true to yourself. I was strong and was not the type of person who could have changed for someone. I was very lucky I married into a very progressive Egyptian family, who were wonderful. I was never asked to become a Muslim and if I wanted a glass of wine, I would have one.
For me, if two people aren't getting on well together, it's better to separate. Life is very short and it's not good for a child to grow up in a house with bickering or a bad atmosphere. Baz was eight when my husband went back to Cairo, and I became a single parent. It was hard, but I'm the type of person who just gets on with things.
You should never lose your friends because they're very important. I'm very fortunate as I still have some from way back. When my marriage ended, I had very good friends who were like family to me, so I always had someone to chat with. I was regularly invited to people's houses, and was never made feel like I was different.
I didn't really think about getting married again, because I have been there, done that and worn the T-shirt. My life is very good, as I have Baz, Tanja and the children, who only live three miles down the road from me. I feel very happy and very blessed to be as good as I am, and to have the friends and family that I have.
Becoming a mother was daunting and frightening even though I had been a midwife. You suddenly realise you have this baby to look after, and you really have to experience it to understand. Baz and I were always very close, but that's not to say that we didn't have our ups and downs. We always managed to speak about any problems though.
As a parent, you have to make decisions that may not be popular. You have to decide if something isn't working out, and if it isn't, you have to try something else. When Baz was 14, I thought we should try boarding school down the country in Offaly. I was working full-time and would often think he was in school when he wasn't. He may not have agreed, but I had his best interests at heart. It was a hard decision, but I think it helped him along the way so I'm not sorry.
I think you should try to get the most out of life that you can. The first thing I did when I retired was buy a little place in the Canaries to enjoy my retirement, but then this challenge came up with Baz and it has been absolutely marvellous.
I've learned that people are really the same, no matter what country you're in, and it's just our circumstances that might be different. I can't bear bigots. Religious bigotry really annoys me and I have zero tolerance for it. It's terrible seeing people fleeing their homes through fear - no one wants to leave their own country. We wouldn't want to have to run to Iran or Iraq risking our lives either.
Facing your fears is a good idea, and in my case, it has given me a certain amount of confidence. I was always terrified of water and am not a great swimmer, but now when I go into the sea, I don't have that fear.
You shouldn't really think about your age because it's your health that's important. I'm in my 74th year, and I don't think about what I can or can't do. A lot of younger people come up to me and say they couldn't do the things that I do on the show and I say "of course you can".
As a nurse, I met people who had regrets when they were dying, and the number one regret was if they had disputes with family members. You know how these disputes carry on and they would be over nothing sometimes. After that, a lot of people wished they had taken more time out for themselves or had gone to places they had always wanted to see.
I think we're all a bit scared to have our health check-ups, but it's very important, especially when it comes to hearing. There's kind of a stigma about it, but there shouldn't be. If you have hearing loss, just go to Specsavers and get checked out, and if you need a hearing aid, they're really small now, and so what anyway? Because your quality of life is more important. Family can be very important in noticing things that might be wrong and insisting someone gets something checked out.
Nancy and Baz Ashmawy recently launched Specsavers Sound Check Ireland Roadshow 2016.
The mobile hearing booth will travel around Ireland providing free hearing screenings and expert advice. Visit specsavers.ie/hearing for dates near you