Tuesday 27 January 2015

Sile Seoige is embracing the time to be herself

Sile Seoige has taken positives out of having cancer at 32 and out of what seemed like career knockbacks. But these trials have made her stronger, Emily Hourican finds, and able to embrace 'the monster' inside her. She has faced up to herself as a hoarder and a worrier and come to regard having a cancer that threatened her voice as a message that she needs to speak up for herself more.

Sile Seoige. Dress, Bastyan, Brown Thomas. Shoes, Kurt Geiger London, Arnotts
Sile Seoige. Left: Dress, MSGM, Brown Thomas. Hat, Shevlin Millinery. Right: Dress, Fran & Jane, Brown Thomas.
Sile Seoige. Left: Dress, Ghost, Arnotts. Right: Dress, Fran & Jane, Brown Thomas
Sile Seoige
Sile Seoige will be wearing a creation by top designer Don O'Neill for this evening's IFTAs
Sile Seoige
Sile Seoige

Before meeting Sile Seoige, I read a lot about her being bubbly, chatty, a messer, even "spoilt rotten" (her words), but, in fact, I find her to be serious, almost solemn, and very thoughtful. Now, granted, it was a foul day, one of many we've had recently, but her thoughtfulness struck me as integral rather than temporary.

But it may be new. Sile finished treatment for thyroid cancer about a year and a half ago, and, although she is well – "I'm fitter and healthier than I have ever been, I feel really good in my body" – a brush with serious illness would be a sobering experience for anyone. And, despite the fact that she can see, and feel, the wonder of luck that allowed her to be treated and recover, there is also the darkness of confronting mortality at a relatively young age.

Not that she spends much time dwelling on the negative. When I ask if she enjoyed how this photo shoot allowed her to be a model for a day, she says, "I feel a little bit self-conscious, but I also feel lucky to be able to do it. There's a time when I wouldn't have been able to."

So, does that feeling of luck last, I wonder, beyond the initial wave of relief at recovery? "There's an initial reawakening afterwards," Sile says. "You think, 'Wow, I'm so lucky.' It's very powerful, almost intoxicating. A level of that filters on, but it won't be as strong.

"It's about being aware, being mindful, and reminding yourself to shut up if you start getting into the negative hamster wheel of 'Oh, this is annoying me, that's not what I want,''' she says. "Being sick is not something I think of, but it's not something I forget, either. That feeling of 'however long I'm going to be here, I'm going to enjoy it' has never left me. But not in a morbid, depressing way."

Sile chooses her words very definitely, pausing from time to time to search for exactly what she wants to say. Partly that is the trained broadcaster in her, partly I think she knows the importance of precision.


"I would be a very open person, and I would have to be mindful of that," she tells me at one point. "If you wear your heart on your sleeve too much, you can get burned."

We're both thinking of Kylie-gate and Late Late-gate. Almost three years ago, Sile's tweet, "I think I just came at the Kylie gig . . . seriously . . . that good," caused a stir. As did another tweet a year later, about a Late Late that saw Ryan Tubridy interview Lorraine Keane and Andrea Roche. "Just wondering," wrote Sile, "are the days of the likes of Peter Ustinov, Spike Milligan and Germaine Greer gone for ever?"

Now, she says of the three-day wonders those tweets provoked, "everybody is entitled to an opinion, but just because they have one, you don't need to absorb that. Luckily, I've become strong enough over the years that it bounces off me a little bit more now. I believe in not having regrets, and that includes making mistakes.

"I'm not referencing Twitter or anything, I actually don't think they were mistakes, but are you going to watch everything you say and every thought that goes through your mind? Although," she adds with a deep laugh, "if you work in the public eye and use formats that are open, it can be zoned in on."

Sile is the youngest of the four Seoige siblings, brought up in Spiddal, County Galway, from which remote spot she and older sister, Grainne, set out to conquer Irish TV and radio. And very successfully, too. Barely finished her Leaving Cert, Sile was interviewing Joel Schumacher and Bruce Willis for Hollywood Anocht on TG4. "I didn't have a clue," she says now of that time, with a disarming lack of pretence. "I was a rabbit caught in the headlights, petrified, not a notion what I was doing.

"I was flying over to London once a month, first class, interviewing movie stars at The Dorchester, or somewhere. That was a brilliant year, but I spent most of the time in front of the camera pretty terrified."


"The day I left Galway, my mom took her fleece off, put it on me and wrapped me up because I was cold, and put me on the bus. They were crying, I was roaring crying all the way to Dublin. Mom said, 'We're here for you, whatever.' I think, in the back of her mind, she was thinking, 'I'm not sure Sile is going to be able for this, but we'll have to let her do it.'" It is a touching story, a window into the warm family background that produced Sile and Grainne.

The name, the look, and the fact that Grainne was already blazing a trail, ensured that Sile had a brand, an identity, straight off the bat, that helped boost her up the career ladder. From Hollywood Anocht, she moved to a host of presenting and reporting roles for TG4 and RTE, including Class Act, Nationwide, The All Ireland Talent Show, Winning Streak, Paisean Faisean, Feirm Factor, Feis & Blood and The Afternoon Show, with a stint on Radio 1's Today With Pat Kenny in the mix too. The pinnacle (for now) probably came in 2008, when she and Grainne together presented their own flagship afternoon show, Seoige, on RTE One. It was a pretty meteoric rise, but nothing can ascend for ever.

There have to be dips and plateaus, too, even if these are temporary. Seoige lasted just a year, and was – as is the way of these things – terminated fairly summarily, with no advance warning to the presenters. Traumatic, undoubtedly, and yet the legacy of the show has been a wonderful one.

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