Saturday 10 December 2016

The Bray Wanderer - Laura Whitmore

From presenting ITV's 'I'm A Celebrity . . . Get me Out Of Here!' to anchoring MTV News, she is perhaps the most famous Irish TV female star in the world. Laura Whitmore talks exclusively to Barry Egan about men, the media, and why she feels so passionately about homelessness in Ireland

Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30

Laura Whitmore
Laura Whitmore
Laura Whitmore has no airs and graces about her. She is a woman who has rewritten the book on cool

Michelle Obama noted that "being smart is cooler than anything in the world."

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"Coolness is not an image that can be bought or worn. True cool is an attitude that is projected from a person who is extremely comfortable in their own skin," wrote American author Suzy Kassem in her 2011 book Rise Up and Salute the Sun.

The last time I met Laura Whitmore she rewrote the book on cool. Despite wearing something probably designer-y, Laura held my then-six month old baby on her lap for 15 minutes while I attempted to interview her.

I was worried that Emilia would get, ever-so-gently, sick on the MTV superstar. The MTV superstar was, however, more worried about whether Emilia needed to be fed her bottle.

Babies are great at sussing out people - and my baby's instinct was clearly that Laura Whitmore was sufficiently sincere and lovely not to get sick on. Seven months later in a bar in Dublin, Laura Whitmore's first question isn't "How long is this going to take?" or "Is this going on the cover?" or "How great am I?" but - "How's the baby?" She wants to see pictures. She also wants to drink herbal tea and talk God, Donald Trump, Enda Kenny, honesty in men, Tayto crisps and inner, non-material matters.

"I am incredibly spiritual," she says. "I believe in working hard and being kind."

I ask her what is her greatest fear.

"To not appreciate what I have."

Laura Whitmore, I think you'll agree, is quite a self-aware and philosophical young woman. Certainly no clueless prepossessing pop muppet with a fixed grin and the vocabulary of a boiled egg.

She owns her past. It is her truth.

"My parents split up before I was born," says Laura, who was born on May 4, 1985. (For the record, she looks more 25 than almost 31.)

"My mum Carmel and dad are great mates. I am very lucky to have both in my life equally," Laura told me in an interview with the Sunday Independent's LIFE magazine last November.

"I've got two lovely half-brothers who are my full brothers to me. One is turning 17 next week - and he is a proper grown-up - and the other one is 20."

It says something about Laura Whitmore that her heroes are not chi-chi fashion designers and rock stars. Her heroes are, she says, her family."My mam. My friends. The people who graft and work hard behind the scenes without the glory."

When was the last time she cried?

"Watching the movie Brooklyn. I guess it drew some comparisons to my own life in a way," she says, referring to the fact that she moved to London from her native Bray in 2007.

She is wearing skinny jeans and a denim shirt today. It needs pointing out that Laura Whitmore wearing skinny jeans and a denim shirt looks more glamorous than some women in a haute couture frock by Christian Lacroix. Two nights previous, she says she was at home in London "sitting in a onesie watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine."

She says her favourite lyric of all-time is by The Frames. "Star, star, teach me how to shine, shine," she half-recites, half-sings.

"I have two star tattoos on my wrist," she adds, showing the tats. She has an idiosyncratic sense of humour. She says she'd bring a Martian who came down to Earth for the night "probably to a gig in London and a good boogie on a dance-floor. Maybe some curry ships on the way home." God bless her imagination. She names Roald Dahl as her favourite writer. "It's his fault I've such a vivid imagination."

What five items would she bring to a desert island?

"A phone. A ship with fuel. A captain. A bottle of Sancerre - and some Tayto."

I ask her what goes through her head when she is about to go live for I'm A Celebrity. . . Get Me Out Of Here! in front of millions of television viewers

"'Lets try not to f**k this up Laura,'" Laura who rarely if ever f**ks it up replies with a hearty laugh.

"I can't believe I've anchored that show for five years. The longest running anchor on the ITV2 show. It's a great crew and everyone works really hard. I'm not sure if it's maybe time for me to hang up the jungle boots for the next project soon. Though I've been saying that for a few years now…"

Asked if she were to interview Donald Trump for MTV, what would be her opening question and why, she replies without hesitation: "If you could listen to one song before you die what would it be? Music taste tells a lot about a person."

Does she think his racism is as bad as his hairdo? "Donald Trump is an evil villain in a comic book movie. He is a real life Lex Luthor with worse hair. It scares me that a man who is not only racist but also extremely sexist has managed to get so far in life."

Is Laura a political person? "Not particularly. I care more about the issues than the politicians themselves," she says. "Someone once said, politics is showbiz for less attractive people."

"As human beings, a lot of us are naturally selfish - we care about the issues that affect us. That's maybe why homelessness is so bad in Ireland. If it doesn't directly affect us we don't care. But the Gay Marriage Referendum was truly a beautiful thing, because so many people cared. It got everyone talking. It's important to know what's happening around you. And no matter how insignificant it seems to use your vote if you can."

Enda Kenny or Micheal Martin?

"I've been living in London for eight years and have my own problems worrying about David Cameron," she says.

There is something very real about Laura Whitmore. Implacably decent, even normal - quite a feat for a beautiful young Irish woman who has enough global publicity, from UK and France Vogue to the New York Times, US Elle and Harper's Bazaar and beyond, to make her a bona fide international TV star - Laura Whitmore is not full of the proverbial. Full of compassion and indeed wit, she is the MC of the Rock Against Homelessness concert at the Olympia on April 24, which Independent News & Media have organised as part of the 'One For Ireland' campaign (which aims to raise €1m to fight youth homelessness) with proceeds from the concert going to Focus Ireland's youth projects.

How does the homeless situation in Ireland make Laura feel?

"I've been living in London for almost eight years, and although there are a lot of homeless people in this city, it always shocks me to see it's more prevalent, or at least apparent, at home in Ireland," she says.

I read her out some figures supplied by Focus Ireland: 208 families and 363 children have now become homeless in the first two months of this year, as a record total of 125 families became homeless in January. The number of homeless children in the capital has doubled in the last year, with 1,616 children in emergency accommodation compared to 803 in 2015.

"Those figures are beyond crazy when you consider we are talking about children being homeless - children, kids, who haven't even had a decent start at life."

It's sometimes hard to believe that this is happening in 2016 and in Ireland, a developed country, isn't it?

"Children are so vulnerable anyway and to have so many young people unprotected, exposed and have a safe childhood removed is both upsetting and sickening," she answers.

Why do you want to get involved in the Rock Against Homelessness concert? "I suppose, for me, live music is a feelgood event," she answers, referring to the fact that the concert features everyone from The Strypes to HamsandwicH to Le Galaxie to Something Happens and Mundy and Camille O'Sullivan. "So to be able to do something positive to create awareness and help something negative, is ambitious but makes sense," Laura continues.

"I have younger brothers and cousins who live in Ireland and although I spend a lot of time travelling, I feel a strong connection to issues at home. I also remember listening to Jarlath Regan podcast An Irishman Abroad with Mick Finnegan and how homelessness can affect people you wouldn't expect at all. If you haven't listened to it, I recommend it. Very honest and insightful."

Every eye in the place is on her the afternoon we met up in Dublin. Laura Whitmore is not just the most famous person in the room but one of the most famous people in Ireland. How many Irish female stars feature in Italian Vogue, as Laura did in 2014 when the magazine photographed her and her style at Glastonbury?

Or indeed what Irish female, upon meeting Florence Welch from Florence & The Machine on the plane over from London to Dublin a few years ago and being asked to come out on the town with Ms Welch, demurely declined thus: "I have to go to my mum's retirement party tonight"?

She is grounded and self-deprecating. Most big TV stars are crass and self-absorbed. This is probably something to do with growing up in a two-bed house in Bray where the soundtrack from her room was the sound of the Dart coming in.

She tells me the story of being at a Ralph Lauren dinner in the very grande Althorp House on 13,000 acres in Northamptonshire last summer and feeling - endearingly - "completely and utterly out of my league. It was at the Spencers' residence. Earl Spencer was hosting it with the Lauren family."

Lady Laura of MTV and ITV2 recalls sitting in the house where Lady Diana grew up "when Kitty Spencer, the Earl's daughter, says to me, 'Nice to meet you. I have to tell you something really embarrassing. You are my dad's crush'. I said, 'What?' And she said, 'My dad's favourite show is I'm A Celebrity.' I went - 'Jesus!'" Laura says now hooting with laughter.

She was doubtless hooting with a similar awed disbelief in April, 2008, when she won a once-in-lifetime job on MTV as a presenter; she beat over 3,000 other applicants on Pick Me MTV. "When I first started the MTV job," she told me in a 2012 interview, "I didn't know whether people were laughing along with me or at me. Or maybe it is the Irish mannerisms. You get away with murder, I find, when you're Irish. It's the banter."

Indeed when Laura first moved to London, she knew absolutely no one. "Now everyone is living in London," she added with a laugh in 2012. "Pretty much the entire country of Ireland is over there. I didn't think about it: I was just so excited to be living in London and working for MTV," said Laura, who had gone to Dublin City University (DCU).

Asked how does she explain Ireland to friends in London, Laura tells them that Irish people "are friendly and be prepared to have a good time.".

"When I was home for work before Easter," Laura continues, "we brought some work colleagues out on a night in Dublin. Let's say they had a very good time."

What things about Ireland do you miss?

"To be honest," she says, " I've been to Ireland three times in the last two weeks: twice for work and once for my brother's surprise 21st. It doesn't feel that different to popping to south London from north London sometimes."

Would she move back to Dublin one day or is she way too ambitious with her career in England and Europe to do that for a good few years yet?

"Who knows," she replies with Sphinx-like presence. "I love travelling, so not sure where or when I'll settle down. London is my home now but Dublin has a lovely spirit that I will always be connected to."

Would she like to get married one day?

"Yes - when the timing is right …"

Are you conventional in the sense of settling down, getting hitched, having a few kids and living in domestic bliss in London?

"There's no such thing as conventional," Laura answers.

Is she a domestic goddess? Or a bit of a non-entity around the house?

"I'm a bit of a nester. I'm the one making cups of tea and snacks for everyone," says Laura, who lives with her friend Conor McDonnell - the photographer who did Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's wedding in Italy in 2014 - and her dog Mick, named after Mr Jagger. (Laura looks like an agreeable mutant of the aforesaid Mick's daughter Georgia May Jagger and Lara Stone.)

What is the quality she most likes in a man?

"Honesty."

Who was the greatest love of your life? "My family."

It's a bit like David Bowie's Space Oddity when Ground Control comes on the intergalactic telephone thingy to tells Major Tom that he's "really made the grade/And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear". I tell her that the Irish nation wants to know if she is single or in a relationship.

"It's not really their business," Laura says with a half-smile.

"Maybe I am dating someone..." she says, trailing off.

"But the dating world can be a scary place. A lot of my mates are on dating sites - they scare the shit of me!" Georgia May Jagger doppelgänger Laura Whitmore says, meaning dating sites not her mates.

"But it is scary how things can get blown out of proportion. And I've learned a long time ago it's good to keep some things for yourself," she adds.

"It's unnecessary pressure to have people speculating. I've always been private with certain parts of my life. Sharing a picture of me and a boyfriend on Instagram, months after being followed unknowingly and pictured on a first date, doesn't mean I have to tell the world every single detail of my relationship. "

"And believe me, my life would be a lot more exciting if half the things written were true. I do find it difficult for a woman in this business that you get judged more on what you wear or who you are talking to than what's going on in your brain."

"And demeaning that as a girl if someone approaches you, it must of lead to something else. I'm not sure if guys get it the same. I'm just a girl at the end of the day getting on with life. But I always love having banter and chatting to people. Maybe it's an Irish thing 'the crack'.

"Most of the guys I've been pictured with are just people I've had a laugh with and some banter. Can you imagine being connected to everyone you chatted to on a night out?! What a scary thought. I'm very loyal to my friends and the people in my life. And they know me very well, thankfully and they know when things are fabricated."

What is her motto? "Work hard and be kind." True to her word of working hard, Laura is off to Los Angeles for TV commitments the day after we meet up in Dublin.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how actually swish and ritzy and fancy pants glam is Laura Whitmore's life? "Less than 4. I am always working."

On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you? "One of my good friends Max said to me recently that being happy is nothing to do with money or defining where you are. It's just waking up everyday and being appreciative of what you are doing, what you are experiencing and who you are with."

On a scale of 1 to 10, how accurate was the tabloid tale about you and Leo in London after the Baftas?

"Less than zero," she says and stops. "That's all you're getting!" She gives me that look - the kind of look House of Cards' Claire Underwood would give if she was the rock chick First Lady. I've interviewed Laura so many times over the years at this stage that I can read her mind by the look in her eyes at a question.

"I'm just a girl trying to work hard and get through life and some things are taken out of context or press write things that are completely untrue," she texts me later, "so you have to learn to protect yourself. I find saying nothing is better."

A major pop music devotee like Laura will, of course, be well aware of The Tremeloes singing: 'Silence is golden, golden; But my eyes still see/ Talkin' is cheap, people follow like sheep.'

Presented by Independent News & Media, Rock Against Homelessness is on at Dublin's Olympia theatre on April 24. MC for the night is Laura Whitmore. Camille O'Sullivan, HamsandwicH, The Strypes, Le Galaxie, Something Happens, Mundy and Friends, Brian Kennedy, Heathers, Jerry Fish, The Stunning and The Celtic Tenors will perform, as well as a very famous surprise guest on the night. Proceeds from the concert will go to Focus Ireland's youth projects through the One For Ireland campaign.Tickets for Rock Against Homelessness are available from Ticketmaster Outlets Nationwide, and cost €25.00. Phone & Internet Bookings are subject to 12.5pc service charge per ticket, agents €2.15.

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