Amanda Byram thought she'd left it too late to be a mum, until she met her beau
Amanda Byram tells how, having turned 40, she thought she'd left it too late to be a mother - until she met her new love. Photography: Barry McCall
Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30
In life, in her career and in the fast-moving metropolis of London, Amanda Byram is in a good place.
The Irish model-turned-TV presenter is in a happy relationship, after a long period during which she was "beginning to think it would never happen for me, and I would just have to deal with that".
She is busy, combining TV work with her interest in health, fitness and diet (which includes blogs, regular magazine columns and a signature gym gear collection).
And after two decades of moving between Ireland, the UK and the US, Amanda is now living in South West London with her TV producer boyfriend, in a part of Fulham that is close to the millionaire playgrounds of Chelsea and Knightsbridge but laid-back enough to feel like a proper neighbourhood.
At 42, she is healthy and happy. And open to the possibility of becoming a mum for the first time.
"I'm fit and healthy. So thankfully that's not a huge issue. So who knows? What will be will be."
When we meet in a French café close to her home in Fulham, she was looking forward to the prospect of a return to her native Dublin.
The Castleknock native was due to host the Irish Film & Television Academy Gala Television Awards at the Hilton Hotel this week - a first for the IFTAs, which have now been split into separate TV and film ceremonies.
Amanda talks about how doing the awards on TV3 was "kinda going back to where it all began".
"I got my first job on TV with them, doing the morning show when it started with Mark Cagney," she says.
"I was still modelling at the time, and somebody said to me, 'TV3 are looking for people to work on their morning show, and I think you would be brilliant'.
"So I went in and interviewed, did a bit on camera with a guy called Andrew O'Hanlon, who was looking after this in TV3 at the time, and he said, 'Look, I gotta tell you, I'm really surprised, I've seen every model in town, every actor, every presenter, and when you walked in, I thought; 'here we go, another model' - but I gotta tell you, you've got it, you've got the job'.
"And it was there, on the spot, they offered me the job, and I will never forget it, I was gobsmacked."
That was back in 1993, on Ireland's first live morning TV show, Ireland AM. And it was a tough education for the model-turned-TV presenter.
"It was my schooling in the business," she says.
"I learned every single detail I would need to know about TV, because we were all learning how to do it as we went along."
Amanda only stayed with TV3 for a year. At the time, she was going out with Patrick Kielty, who had just made the move from TV in his native Northern Ireland to working in London.
"We came to the end of that year and Patrick had moved to London, so I thought, you know, I'm always about trying new things, so why not? Let's put it out there, let's try London," she says.
"So I told Patrick, yeah, I'll come with you, and literally, within a week, I was on the Big Breakfast.
"And I wasn't even looking for it, they had come to TV3, because they were doing 10 things you didn't know about Patrick Kielty, who had gone to sit in for Johnny Vaughan, and one of the things was, 'Did you know Patrick's girlfriend is also a TV presenter working in Ireland?'. So I had met with the Big Breakfast people, they had seen me in the studio, and that was my foray into British television, which was again, amazing and unexpected. I kinda blinked and it happened."
That rapid ascent does sound almost too showbiz-fabulous. And Amanda is honest enough to acknowledge there was more than just luck and being in the right place involved.
She, more than most people, knows that you don't get to have a long-term career in TV presenting without plenty of ambition and self-belief.
"OK, look, I often say; 'It just happened' or I was in the right place at the right time," says Amanda.
"But, yes, a lot of it does come down to ambition, to belief in yourself. And I have that. I would like to think it's a kind of laid-back ambition, that I know what I can do and what I have to offer. If I think it's right for me, I will always back myself.
"But there is a different kind of ambition these days that I see in young girls, a desperation just to get on TV, just to be famous.
"There's a whole new generation on TV now, and a lot of it seems to be, 'I want to be on TV!' But there's no real substance, no thought of why they want to be there and what they have to offer.
"There's only that horrible desperation to just get your face on TV and have your moment of fame."
Amanda's own career has seen her move between the UK and the US (she spent several years living in LA and still has a home there).
And it has included some very high-profile gigs on American TV, an arena that has been a notorious graveyard for the ambitions of many UK TV personalities trying to make the jump across the Atlantic.
When the Dubliner scored two big reality shows in the US in the noughties (Paradise Hotel and plastic-surgery make-over show The Swan) it made those industry figures who knew her in the UK sit up and take notice.
She returned from the US to co-host the British game show Total Wipeout with Top Gear's Richard Hammond for five series up until 2013, another high-profile gig.
The work has continued to come in. Amanda may not be at the very top of the TV biz in the UK in terms of fame, but she has done a fine job in maintaining a good career in what can be a very tough business.
As she says herself, she has a "good profile" if not, exactly, "fame". And if this means that she is always busy and seen as a talented presenter who will always add value to a show, she is very comfortable with that.
"To me, fame is a very dangerous thing," she says. "I would never put myself in the famous category. I have profile, which allows me to work, which can open doors and get people interested in you. After that, it's down to you to make it work."
She returned to London after a long-term relationship, with a US cameraman, broke down.
"He did me a favour by not being the right one. Because that was the catalyst that made me move home," she says.
There was one more relationship, an engagement that ended when Amanda decided not to go through with the wedding.
"I got to a point where I was 38 when I cancelled a wedding. So, I had been in these two big relationships that ended. And to be honest with you, I was looking at being very single for a long time and beginning to think, 'OK, if this is how it's going to be, maybe I'm not meant to be in a long-term relationship, maybe I need to accept this. And treasure it'.
"I believed that I was never going to settle down with one guy. At this stage, I was 40, and I was thinking that I had left it too late to have kids, left it too late to marry. And you go out on disastrous dates and you think, 'OK, there's a chance I may be single forever!'."
That all changed when Amanda met and started going out with English TV producer Julian Okines. Now together for the best part of two years, they are happily living together in London.
"I feel lucky that I got to be in a place where I was happy being single, comfortable in my own company, because I think that made me ready, kinda relaxed enough, to come out the other side of a very bad patch and meet somebody special. I remember thinking one day; 'OK universe, I'm ready now.' And then I met Julian.
"And he is absolutely brilliant. His background is psychology degree-slash-model. So his mind is pretty brilliant. And he's hot!"
The Dubliner says she never really felt ready to have children before. But she still sees motherhood as a possibility.
"Look, I'm 42. And I never really wanted to go down that road until I was really, really sure I had met the right person. I think there are choices you make as a woman, you can choose to do it by yourself, to do it with somebody even if you are not convinced they are the right person. Or you can wait for the right person and then maybe find it is too late. We have been together a year-and-a-half. I'm fit, I'm healthy, there are no problems in that sense. So who knows? It's in the hands of the gods."
Amanda is very focused on health and fitness these days, through her website amanda byram.com, her TV and magazine work and with her own range of gym gear, ByramBod.
She admits her own relationship with diet and body image has changed down the years, from the times when she was worried she was obsessing, or over-exercising, to the more balanced approach she now feels she has achieved.
"I went through many, many years of dying to be thin and skinny, instead of trying to be healthy. And like a lot of people, I confused those two things," she says.
"I spent most of my twenties and thirties thinking a lot, almost to the expense of anything else, about my figure and my exercise regime. I did the yo-yo dieting, the guilt-trips about not working out enough, about eating the wrong things.
"So when I started to talk about this - and I think you can never over-estimate how much pressure there is on women, yes, but also increasingly on men - I got a huge response. So that kind of pushed me, in a way, into really devoting a lot of time to health and well-being."
Amanda shares her philosophy -along with practical tips and advice - through her website, her video-blogs and via social media.
And that's an area, the whole Twitter/Instagram/YouTube/Facebook social-media vortex, which provokes mixed feelings.
"I look at how social media can put pressure on young girls in particular, and I am thankful in a way that I grew up in a different age," she says.
"Sometimes I really wonder how young women can cope with the demands, with what they are supposed to be and the conflicting messages they get about body image.
"And then you have this need for approval, and for people to judge each other.
"To be constantly putting up pictures of themselves, commenting on those of other people. It can get very nasty and really damaging."
Amanda says both herself and her partner have recently made a conscious decision to pull back a little from social media, to put their smartphones and tablets away and try to live in the moment, something that is becoming increasingly difficult to do in these times of hyperconnectivity and oversharing.
It was her partner who pointed out that she might be spending too much time on social media, and that it was beginning to affect her mood.
"And he was right, it really was starting to take over my life in a way," she says.
"So now we've taken most of the apps off our phones, Julian has come off Facebook almost totally, we just try to take long breaks, we'll go for a bike ride along the Thames pathway or go out and have a coffee - much better than sitting there staring at a screen."
She does use her smartphone for plenty of FaceTime with her friends and family, and especially her sister Natasha, who has four children and now lives in Ashbourne in Co Meath.
Natasha's fourth child, her son Eliot, was born in April 2013 with Down Syndrome. The sisters are very close.
"She's strong, so strong. And she sees Eliot as a blessing. We all do. She's determined to make sure he can have the best life he possibly can," she says.
The Dubliner says London will remain her home for now. But she is always happy to look at opportunities on TV in Ireland.
"Sure, I'd love to do a primetime show, a chat show, for instance. But it is a very hard business because the primetime chat show is still perceived as a man's world.
"And it's just such a crazy notion, I can't fathom it, it pisses me off no end. Women are stronger than we have ever been, more ballsy than we have ever been, funnier than we have ever been.
"So this notion that we can't present primetime or are not ready to play at the same level as the boys, that's just crazy."
The primetime show may still happen. For the moment, Amanda is happy to be busy, in London and in love.