Anne Doyle was one of Ireland's best loved broadcasters and remains one of our sexiest women. Her life has not been without its ups and downs, but she has finally found lasting love with restaurateur Dan McGrattan.
She's a national institution. You only realise this when you're out with her and cars stop and people wave. Anne Doyle's suddenly not a woman any more, but that woman who was on the telly for over 30 years.
"I started radio in October 1978," she recalls, "and television on Christmas Day that year." It's hard to believe she was born in 1952. Her birth certificate says January 30. Her mother told her the 31st. "Two birthdays are good," she laughs. Her eyes sparkle in the summer sunshine on Baggot Street. "My eyes are green," she says, "so would my hair be if chlorine got at the bleach."The blonde harbours secret ambitions about the Seanad. She says she would consider becoming a senator if she was asked and if she thought she could be of some service to Ireland. Sometimes her answers wouldn't be out of place in the upper house of the Oireachtas. When I ask Anne how she'd characterise her 1998 relationship with former minister Jim McDaid now, she says: "I had a brief and enjoyable relationship with James McDaid. We parted amicably, both luckily to move to happy places..."
I remind her of the interview we did in 2001, and that our conversation went like this:
Me: "Did you have an affair with him?"
Anne: "Why should I bother saying yes or no? We had a relationship. We had a friendship. I mean it as I say it now. We have a friendship now; we had a relationship then which was more than friendship. We had a relationship for not that long. Maybe six months."
But back to 2013. I say to her now: single RTE star Anne Doyle had an affair with married minister Jim McDaid – would you agree with that characterisation?
"See previous answer," she laughs as we walk down the street in the sun. "I don't regret anything. There were no lighthouses to guide us."
That's a nice segue from the star who until she retired on Christmas Day 2011 was one of RTE's most beloved broadcasters: on September 14, she will chair a symposium on lighthouses in Hook Lighthouse in her home county of Wexford as part of the Gathering.
The spot has deep romantic resonances. When she was 10, on a primary school trip to Hook Head, the young ingenue from Ferns fell in love with the lighthouse-keeper's 14-year-old son. Anne Doyle says it was love in its purest form, but she never spoke to him nor ever saw him again. "I never met him and I still haven't."
Her love for restaurateur Dan McGrattan is a bit more real, thankfully. They met "a little over a decade ago" in a mutual friend's house in Dublin. Anne said she'd kill for a bag of chips. He said he knew just the place. And so he took her in his gold Rolls Royce to Aprile's chipper on South Richmond Street ...
Two minutes after arriving, Anne had a good feeling about Dan. "I think it was a young fella made my mind up about Dan," she explains as we sit to have lunch in his restaurant McGrattan's in Dublin's Fitzwilliam Lane. "When we parked, this young urchin ran up with his fellow urchins to Dan and said: 'We'll mind your car, mister.' Dan said, 'They remind me of me as a young fella, hustling'. I thought: 'What a nice man!'
"He went to give me a tentative goodnight kiss. I said to him: 'I'm sorry. The 10-year rule applies.' But the 10-year rule didn't last for long, because that was that. I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person."
How long before she realised that Dan was someone she could be in a relationship with?
"I'd say pretty quickly. Probably more quickly than he did. He doesn't have the gold Rolls Royce any more; he has an old white Rolls Royce. He must have a thing for old bangers!" she belly laughs, sipping her chilled Chablis.
They live together in a Georgian house in Leeson Street. Anne also has a place in Rathmines. Every morning, she walks along the canal to feed her two resident cats, The Pooka and Marcella. A French woman, who lives in the top of the house in Rathmines, does the necessary if Anne can't make it. "Dan would do it, but I pointed out that my cats are un-accustomed to someone suddenly remembering at four in the morning that they need to be fed. They need a slightly more regular lifestyle."
Anne's own lifestyle is not exactly regular. Her 'domestic goddess contribution' consists of pouring the Special K for Dan in the morning and giving him a cup of tea.
"I kind of scrounge my meals wherever I go," she says, gently making inroads into a steak-and-spuds lunch in her fella's famous restaurant. "I like to tidy, but I am quite lazy, to be honest. Someone once said to me if I saw dust, I would straighten it. I like symmetry."
I ask her if Dan McGrattan is the love of her life.
"We have many lives," she says, "he is certainly a love of a life."
What keeps her love burning?
And the sex? What keeps that burning?
"I'm not telling!" she hoots.
The subject of so much of the last hour's conversation joins the table: Dan, who was born December 30, 1946 in Crumlin, is a real gentleman of the old school. I ask him when was the first time he saw Anne.
"On the TV about 30 years ago," he answers.
Did he say to himself, I'll meet her one day properly?
"No, I just thought: 'Fine-looking woman'."
Dan's restaurant is full of pictures of the great and the good who have visited over the years. Taoisigh (Enda was in last week; Charlie Haughey a regular back in the day). US Presidents (Jimmy Carter). Movie stars (too many to mention). There is even a picture of Dan with glamour model Jordan in a pair of barely there shorts. Dan has a tale of bona fide glamour, however. He tells a story of working as a kitchen assistant on two quid wages in Alfredo's off Mary Street when he was a teenager. He came in one Saturday evening at 5pm to start his shift. "Liz Taylor was sitting having coffee with Richard Burton. I came in the next evening and Kim Novak was having dinner with Laurence Harvey."
I ask him if that is where he got the desire to go into the restaurant business. Anne answers for him: "No, that's where he got the desire to be with me and go with names!" she laughs uproariously.
"Anne is fabulous," Dan continues. "She is the most beautiful, the loveliest person you could ever meet."
Anne: "Good man Dan. Another cue card?" They both laugh.
I ask Anne how she'd react if Dan got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. "I'd faint because I'd know he wasn't well," she says.
"You can never say never," Dan says, getting up to make a business phone call.
Anne says that she woke up the other morning at 6.40 to the sound of Dan on the phone ordering vegetables for the restaurant. "I love him," she says. "He is very smart, very kind, very pragmatic. Weaknesses, he doesn't seem to have a lot of, I have to say. He can be very challenged and focused on his business and making it work."
He is obviously focused on making the relationship work with her too – because 10 years in this town is a long time, I say.
"He doesn't have to focus. He has got me," she laughs. "No, I have great regard for Dan."
"In my life, I have been in love – foolishly perhaps but who cares – with people for whom I really didn't have great regard." She is perhaps referring to a relationship that ended in August, 1996; it was a relationship that lasted nearly 20 years. "I'd say it was one of the lowest points in my life," she recalls, "I was in my mid-30s and in a relationship in which I wasn't happy. We were locked into a situation. I was deeply unhappy. I honestly believe he was deeply unhappy."
The relationship, she believes, ran its course in about nine or 10 years. "I have always felt – now on the rare occasions that I look back at it – that neither of us had much of a killer instinct really. And also he had had a bad accident," Anne adds (referring to what she calls a "work-related accident that happened in the late 1980s.")
"So he wasn't able to work. He is dead now. So even if I had wanted to walk out, to be blunt, I really couldn't, but I don't think I would have anyway. And in the end, actually," she laughs, "he was the one who walked out. I was dumped. That's life. It was a great shock at the time, his leaving, even though we weren't getting on at all. He was absolutely right. It was by far and away the best thing that anyone could have done. You know, I probably should have done it about 10 years before," she says.
She never thought of marriage in the first nine years when the relationship was good?
"I suppose, in fairness, I just never had any particular wish to marry," she says, "and nor had he. He honestly wasn't dying to get married. I do remember having a boyfriend years ago when I was a student and he was a lovely fella, but he was mad keen to get married. It put me off him."
Anne's parents had, she says, "an extremely happy marriage". They were married in September, 1939. "My mother claimed the sun shone every day that month. A good omen."
Perhaps Anne felt subconsciously that she could never top their marriage?
"Yeah," she says. "I often felt that it was because they had such a happy marriage."
The youngest of seven siblings, Anne Aideen Frances Xavier was reared in "a Catholic family" in a small village in Wexford. "I probably looked for God in my surroundings," she says adding with a typical Doyle flourish: "I keep looking." She went to Ferns National School and then Loreto Abbey in Gorey. Her sister, Eibhlis, and eldest brother, John, are dead, both of cancer, in 1989 and 2000 respectively. She has four other brothers, Phil, Pat, Joe and Tom.
Her earliest childhood memory is getting an injection at 18 months when she had pneumonia. The first book she remembers having an effect on her as a youth is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. "It was my first grown-up book, hard-cover, no pictures, loved it then and love it now." Maybe the sense of romance in the novel instilled something in young Anne. The fact remains that the 61-year-old has only had four or five relationships in her life. "I am the usual serial monogamist. I suppose I was foolishly romantic. I was inclined to fall when I fell."
But you weren't so romantic that you wanted to go up the aisle in the white dress, I ask.
"But maybe I was romantic enough," she counters, "not to want to go up the aisle."
Because she saw a lot of people coming back down the aisle over the years? "You'd be run over in the crush. One good thing about older people – my generation and maybe one down and maybe one up – is that they weren't inclined to give up too easily. Scientifically, it is established that two to three years you live in a hormonal rush, so the seven-year itch is based on fact and science."
She's with Dan 10 years, I say. "We're too old to know about hormonal rushes."
Asked did she ever have her heart broken, Anne smiles: "It has been given the odd rattle. I know what heartache is. It is a physical pain. I don't think anyone who has lived a half-decent life doesn't know the pain of a broken heart. Your heart can be broken for all sorts of reasons. It can be by loss, it can be death..."
I can tell by the tears now in Anne's eyes that she is referring to her mother Elizabeth's sudden passing on September 6, 1979. Anne was on holiday in Spain. "It was the biggest shock of my life." Tears rolling down her cheeks, Anne says she was walking along the beach in Fuengirola when someone from the hotel came to her to say they got a phone call: "Your mum is ill."
"I am glad she didn't have a long illness," she says. "I am glad she didn't have to go through a long illness."
Anne was 23 when her father died on March 13, 1975. She will never forget the day of his funeral – "it was so windy that the wind buffeted us as we carried the coffin out of the house," she recalls.
Is she still the same little girl from Ferns?
"Well... I'm not little and I'm not a girl but in my mind I'm not very different, I think, to when I was a child, and perhaps not as broadminded. I had a really open mind when I was a child. I hope I still am, but more so since I retired because you are able to cast off a lot of the constraints," Anne says, adding that she "was getting weary of the job."
Apart from perhaps going into Seanad Eireann one day – if it survives – Doyle Eireann says she would be interested in doing the odd documentary for RTE if the right project came up. "Obviously I have no wish to have a full-time job again, thanks be to goodness," she laughs. "I am no historian, but I am not without knowledge. But under the terms that I left RTE, it does mean I can't work for the station again without the say so of the Director General."
We have talked for four breathless hours. I ask her if there an experience in her youth that helped form her into the fine woman she is now. She doesn't hesitate.
"An aunt," she begins in that unique way of hers, "returned from England, organised a birthday party when I was four. I was ill at ease and escaped down the field; suddenly a grey heron looked at me over a ditch and then took flight.
"I didn't mind going back because I knew the party didn't matter at all."
On September 14, Anne Doyle will chair a symposium on lighthouses, 'If Lighthouses Could Talk!', in Hook Lighthouse in Fethard-on-Sea, Co Wexford, as part of the Gathering.