Wednesday 28 June 2017

How to end a marriage well: Dr Eva Orsmond on new beginnings after 21 years

Photography by Kip Carroll. Styling by Liadan Hynes

Dr Eva doesn't do compromise. Photo: Kip Carroll
Dr Eva doesn't do compromise. Photo: Kip Carroll
Dr Eva is about to appear on Dancing With the Stars on RTE. Photo: Kip Carroll
High expectations: Dr Eva. Photo: Kip Carroll
Dr Eva Orsmond & Wyatt Orsmond in 2013

Sarah Caden

"I come from a different perspective than Irish people," says Dr Eva Orsmond, who, in case you've forgotten, comes from Finland.

"I come from the fact that we have only one life and I have very high expectations for everything. I want maximum of everything and I want to feel alive, 100pc, and if I don't have the maximum or live the maximum, and if I feel something is not 100pc right, I'm not doing a lot of compromises."

Dr Eva could be talking about anything. She could be talking about weight and weight loss, health, motherhood, work, exercise; because this is her philosophy. She is absolute and she is unswerving. 

Dr Eva says that this is because she is Finnish. And Dr Eva says that we think that she's scary because we are Irish, and soft and apologetic and deferential to our detriment.

Dr Eva is about to appear on Dancing With the Stars on RTE. Photo: Kip Carroll
Dr Eva is about to appear on Dancing With the Stars on RTE. Photo: Kip Carroll

She could be right, obviously, as pointed up by the fact that one feels a bit bold when daring to drop the Dr from her name. 

The thing is, though, that there's a mutual enjoyment in this character clash. We get a laugh out of how scolding and strict she is; and she's happy to give us a laugh and laugh at herself. While all the time being deadly serious. Eva means it about her high expectations and, in this instance, Eva's not on her usual weight-and-health hobby-horse. Instead, she's imposing the high expectations on herself and, specifically, her marriage, which ended in September.

Eva has been married to South African Wyatt for 21 years and they have two sons together, Christopher and Evan. The boys are in their late teens, with Christopher currently serving his military service in Finland, while Evan is in his first year of engineering studies in Dublin. They've "had the best out of us" as Eva puts it, but that doesn't stop her eyes welling up a couple of times in conversation and it doesn't stop her from finding it hard.

Which is not to say that finding it hard will stop Eva from making changes. This is the woman who, in her final year of Operation Transformation, got into hot water for telling a leader to "cop on" - she has really adopted the Irish turns of phrase, has Eva - and who makes her living from telling people in her weight-loss clinics to buck up and take care of themselves. She doesn't go easy on others and she doesn't go easy on herself and in Medication Nation, the RTE documentary that will broadcast this spring, she takes to account the Irish tendency to throw pills at every ill. 

Oh, and she's also about to appear on Dancing With the Stars on RTE? Nothing by halves with Eva, though the dancing show she regards as a bit of fun. Well, relatively. She wants to win, obviously, but in terms of timing, she's delighted to have a bit of fun in her life at this difficult time. 

I meet Eva just before Christmas, and she's full of beans and about to open a new Dublin city-centre weight-loss clinic as well as everything else. Since announcing the split with Wyatt in September, she has been in a period of adjustment, and professionally very busy, but, notably, Eva refuses to regard this as a blip. As in, some people would take the attitude that this is all a disaster. Eva, on the other hand, determinedly sees it as a new start.

High expectations: Dr Eva. Photo: Kip Carroll
High expectations: Dr Eva. Photo: Kip Carroll

"I would be lying if I said these things were easy," Eva says of where she is at, "but the most important thing is to emphasise that I wouldn't be where I am or who I am without Wyatt, and he wouldn't be where or who he is without me. So it's very amicable and we obviously have done great things together and even though, obviously, our romantic relationship is over, and I suppose has been for a while, our business relationship is going really well."

"But," she adds. "Life is full of choices and you can't have everything and that's something we have to understand. Change is not easy but change can be good. And when you gain something, you lose something. But I see life as a journey and if there is one thing I don't do, it's regrets."

"I believe I was not getting the best out of myself and he was not getting best out of himself and we only have one life. It's so funny how life goes. There are days I don't know what to think any more."

This is a rare wobble from Eva. She's only human and must have wobbles all the time, but that is not how she presents. How she presents is absolute and unshakeable. 

For example, when discussing her sons, Eva makes no bones about how "pushy" she is and how ambitious she is for them. They tell her she's too pushy, but she says they need it. She tells me at great length how she drove the campaign to get Evan in to engineering. 

"He wanted it, but he wasn't working for it," she says. "I wanted him to be an orthopaedic surgeon, because he has very talented hands, but that was not what he wanted. But the way he was studying, he was not going to get it."

Dr Eva Orsmond & Wyatt Orsmond in 2013
Dr Eva Orsmond & Wyatt Orsmond in 2013

Eva outlines Plan Evan in meticulous detail. It involved him spending five months in France during his transition year and all of the summer before his final year at school. She not only got him grinds in formal French in that last period, but sat in on the grinds herself. "I learn languages very quickly," she says, "so it allowed me to brush up on my French too." 

This might strike some people as suffocating parenting, and she laughs to recount how Evan says she "ruined" his holidays, but the end result is that he got the Leaving Cert points and the course he wanted. So, she makes no apologies for leaning on him and on Christopher, who would like to stay in the military in Finland but doesn't quite have the "perfect Finnish" to do that.

If the boys were small, Eva's not sure that her marriage would have ended. She talks about women with small children and "good reason" who end their marriages. She marvels at how those women manage and recognises that, really, sadness aside, she and Wyatt are in a good place. She also hopes that this will have a positive effect on the boys.  

"Nothing has really changed for them because Evan is with his girlfriend and Christopher is in Finland, and I am still really close and really good friends with Wyatt," Eva says. "I hope that not too much will change; I hope that it stays that way."

She tells me then of the great timing of Dancing With the Stars, which starts on RTE next Sunday. Wyatt and the boys were having Christmas in his native South Africa, so this distracting challenge couldn't have landed at a better time.

"I don't know how to dance but I love to dance, and I think I am a good dancer, but I don't know all those steps," says Eva, with that unapologetic bluntness that Irish people find both odd and amusing. "But I like to have fun and it is ideal from that perspective. And it suits ideally the situation I'm in."

It also suits, over Christmas, to have had some dance-rehearsal exercise on the cards, to burn off all the over-eating and drinking. If that's something Eva indulges in. She laughs at the suggestion that she's immune to overindulgence or an increase in weight. She enjoys a laugh at the impression that she is immune to vulnerability, exempt from flaws.

"I am doing a bit of weight loss at all times," she explains. "I will put on a few kilos and then take them off again. I enjoy food and I enjoy wine, but if you put it on, you must make the effort to take it off. If it's Christmas, and you put it on, but don't take it off immediately, then you're in trouble, because suddenly it's your Valentine's, your Paddy's Day, your Easter. And it gets more and more and more and more difficult to lose."

"You know," she says of New Year resolutions and diets, "long-term statistics are bad; people put it back on. But a study in Finland shows that even if you lose it and then put it back on again, you get the benefit from the time that you were losing it and had it lost. It all counts towards your long-term health."

Long-term health and the long game are what Eva is about, in terms of weight loss. Her work in weight management and, in particular Type 2 diabetes, brought her to Operation Transformation and, later, to her one-off documentary for RTE Sugar Crash. And that, then, brought her to Medication Nation.

Eva is pretty passionate about Type 2 diabetes as a modern scourge and, if she had her way, she would have made a 10-part epic series on it and the way we treat it in Ireland. "Sadly," she laughs, "this is a one-part documentary instead."

Medication Nation is concerned with how Ireland medicates in a general way, but with a huge focus on our overuse of antibiotics and of codeine-based painkillers and on how many people are prescribed multiple medications that don't necessarily complement each other. Even for a doctor, Eva says, it was an eye-opening programme to make, and utterly terrifying. 

"What shocked me the most is the codeine addiction," Eva says. "It's difficult to measure because it's non-prescription, and also people are using it according to directions, but they are using it long-term."

She was also horrified at the extent of Irish people's use of benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax. "I'm a medical doctor and I didn't realise how quickly people get addicted," she says. "There are people who have had their lives destroyed by benzodiazepines, because the body gets accustomed so quickly and then you need more and more."

Eva says she would once have thought that, in a stressful or sleepless time in life, a sleeping pill or a pill to reduce anxiety might have been preferable to a glass of wine, but now she wonders. "Because you will need more of the drug as you get used to it, so you're safer with a glass of wine," Eva says. She adds with a laugh that this is true "only if you keep it to a glass of wine. A regular glass, not an Irish one."

Pondering the nation's use of medications, Eva had pause to look at herself. The time in which she was making Medication Nation, after all, was the time in which her marriage was ending. It wasn't easy and she was, she says, very anxious. 

"If I had not been doing this show," she says. "I might have turned to Xanax to get me through. Now, no way." 

Work, to a great extent, will get Eva through this undeniably difficult time. And the love of her sons, of whom she is incredibly proud.

She tells me, bursting with pride, how a friend rang recently to ask if she was dating. "No!" Eva replied. Well, the friend said, you were spotted in town holding hands with a man. "That must have been Evan," Eva told her, telling me that this is standard in her close relationship with her sons, and not something only initiated by her. They are very close, and she believes that her bossy, pushy love has contributed to that.

Eva says that some of her friends, the same age as her, with marriages the same length and kids the same age, have queried whether her marriage is done. "They are saying to me: 'Are you sure it's over?' You know, there are a lot of couples out there who don't have very much in common but they stay married and together for the sake of money or the family or other things." That, however, is not the Orsmond way.

"It's not like I think I'm a perfect mother," Eva says, "but I do think the boys have seen a lot and they have been given all they need by us. From Wyatt they got the stable, loving father and from me, the pushy mother.

"And it's hard," says Eva, "but I don't want to be in a situation in five, 10, 15 years where I think I should have followed my instincts. And maybe I'll say I made the wrong mistakes or had the wrong instincts, but at least I tried."

'Dancing With the Stars' starts on Sunday, January 8, at 6.30pm on RTE One

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