Tuesday 27 January 2015

'I just want to live my life happily'

She was voted off Failte Towers last week, but young Donna McCaul also raised thousands for Aware, the charity close to her heart. The singer has found happiness with another woman after a childhood in Athlone marked by sadness, loss and panic attacks. Barry Egan met her

HAPPINESS AT LAST: Donna McCaul, left, with her partner Lauren White. Donna has helped Aware, a voluntary organisation for people with depression
HAPPINESS AT LAST: Donna McCaul, left, with her partner Lauren White. Donna has helped Aware, a voluntary organisation for people with depression

It is a fine state of affairs when you start fancying 20-year-old lesbians in The Shelbourne bar. But Walkinstown singer-songwriter Lauren White has a smile that beams brighter than a full moon. Not surprisingly, her girlfriend looks at her moonily all evening. I don't blame her. They haven't seen each other for almost two weeks. Primarily because the aforementioned girlfriend is Donna McCaul who, with her younger brother Joe, has been bringing joie de vivre to the nation in Failte Towers, RTE's new hit celebrity show.

Donna has a certain out-of-kilter Dolores O'Riordan look to her, coupled with the most piercing azure eyes. Miss McCaul also has an endearing culchie vernacular (she uses words like "ye" and puts "like" and "stuff like that" at the end of sentences) and never appears to stop smiling.

"She's the smiley one," Lauren concurs. "She's bubbly and the room lights up when she walks in, because everybody sticks to her."

"That's because I'm a little messer, like," Donna agrees, "and they think, 'Oh, here's the little mad one'."

Fair play to The Little Mad One, though. Through her "12 or 13 days including the two days training", Donna raised over €30,000 for Aware. Asked was there any personal reason why she picked that charity, she hedges at first, saying that she "doesn't want to get too much into... because of people close to us who would get upset." She eventually becomes more candid.

"Yeah, we did lose a few people close to us due to suicide and stuff like that," she says. "Aware is for depression but it also has groups for suicidal people as well." She claims that she never suffered from depression herself. "Thank God, because it is an awful thing to have," she says, drinking her glass of rose champagne in the bar of the hotel on Wednesday night -- her first proper drink, she says, since getting out of the show last night; Lauren is on the whiskey and red lemonade.

"I know a lot of people who do suffer from it. It is not a very nice thing for their family," she continues. "But what can you say to them when they are really down and when anything you do seems not to help? At the minute in Ireland, there are 500 people who take their own lives every year. So it is obvious that there is not enough help for them."

In a bid to lighten the mood, I ask her how often she thought she was cracking up inside Failte Towers. "Oh, a few times," she laughs. "We all had it really tough in the house, like. I cried a good few times. It was once on TV when I really broke down. That was because it was so stressful. People don't realise how stressful it was. Everyone was breaking down. I saw a complete and utter difference in Evelyn Cusack."

"She was a completely different woman the day she left," Donna claims. "When she walked in, she was all happy with rosy cheeks. In the end, she was literally blocking everything out, like a zombie. She was on the verge of having a complete and utter breakdown."

Even allowing for exaggeration, Donna's success on Failte Towers perhaps shows just how un-homophobic Ireland is: that an openly gay woman went so far in a show where the Irish public's votes decided who stayed and who was booted out says possibly more about the reality of Ireland 2008 than anything on the so-called reality TV show.

"I suppose they must have been pro-gay, or they wouldn't have voted for me. I know it has not only to do with me and Joe, because we were in there for a charity. They were probably voting for the charity as well," Donna says.

In her groundbreaking book Sexual Personae, American feminist and lesbian Camille Paglia was vilified for her political incorrectness by labelling lesbians as miserable. Tonight in the Shelbourne Donna and Lauren are anything but. They both laugh out loud when I ask Donna who did she dislike the most in the hotel. "Nobody. There were a few who ... look, I loved everyone," she says.

She never felt the inclination to give Michelle Heaton a slap at various points?

"No, actually," Donna claims, "I got on really well with Michelle. And before I went in, there were people saying to me, 'Watch out for her'."

"Michelle is a very pretty girl but she is not my type. And even if I wasn't in a relationship, I still wouldn't be attracted to her. But she is a good-looking girl." For some reason, my mind is drawn to the show's sparky judge Bibi Baskin. I am thinking of that famous time when Gerry Ryan, during a radio discussion on whether people would like to be buried or cremated when they die, asked a caller where would he like to be buried. Answer: "Up to me balls in Bibi Baskin!"

I wonder would Donna like to be buried in Ms Baskin.

"Would I fancy Bibi?" Donna shrieks. "She's a good-looking woman."

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