RTE's Blathnaid Treacy: 'I'd hate for girls to think the only way to become famous is taking off your clothes'
Photography by Kip Carroll. Styling by Liadan Hynes
Blathnaid Treacy has a good look. The 27-year-old radio and TV presenter, face of RTE2's Two Tube and roving reporter at Electric Picnic, does all her own styling, and the day we meet, she is working a 1970s kind of vibe, with a camel-coloured suede jacket, retro striped T-shirt and a denim mini. It's Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides, with an edge.
In general, there is a bit of edge to Blathnaid. You don't spot it immediately - it's half-hidden beneath her good manners and general enthusiasm - but it's there alright, and a good thing too. It sets her apart, makes her believable when she says she wants "longevity" in her career, and keeps things interesting as we chat our way through her life and work so far. I get the impression that, for all her smiles and fresh-faced talk of "amazing", "incredible" opportunities, this is someone forceful, someone to be reckoned with.
First, we deal with Glenroe. Blathnaid, at the age of three months, became the newest star of the long-running drama, playing Biddy and Miley's daughter, Denise Byrne. "I think there was a nationwide search for this baby," she says when I ask how that all came about. "It was in all the papers; I know tons of people in my class auditioned for it. They were filming it in Ardmore studios in Bray, and in Kilcoole down the road, so I think they were looking for a local kid. My mum brought me in for one of the auditions, and the rest is history. I had a curl on the top of my head, and Mick Lally, who played Miley, had curly hair, and I wasn't crying. All the other babies were crying, and I wasn't. They must have thought 'we can work with this'."
Blathnaid carried on for 13 years, working her way through various storylines. "By the end, I was doing one or two days a week, after school," she recalls. "I was up in the library in RTE recently and found some old episodes, and there I was . . . I was cringing!" But at the time, she says, "It was really, really normal for me. And it finished at a good age, just while you're getting pretty awkward, coming into those teenage years."
Because she was ever uncomfortable with the inevitable recognition. "Being in the show, being on the set, was so much fun. The thing I found hard about it was people recognising me on the street. I really hated that. I was only a kid, and quite a shy kid. I didn't know how to handle it at all. We'd be on holiday in Portugal, at the pool, and word would get around the complex, and then it would start. At primary school, people would slag me - this is Ireland, we're a nation of slaggers. It was annoying, but they weren't bullying me, it was just annoying and repetitive. And the theme tune has followed me around forever. I love it now, but it used to be so annoying."
And so, when the show finished, "for the next 10 years I just wanted to be a normal person, I didn't like being recognised". She finished secondary school - first, Colaiste Iosagain, then switching to Loreto in Bray - then UCD, where she studied Irish and Archaeology. She knew she wanted to get back into production, "but I wasn't sure what area".
A friend asked her to lend a hand as a runner on a short film he was making. "I went to the set and went, 'Oh my God, I love this, I want to come back to it'. The cables running across the floor, people saying 'Be quiet on set!' - it brought me back to that time in my life. It's so exciting, especially if it's live. You can't get that adrenaline anywhere else." Yes, I say, and that's partly why most people don't want to do it, to which Blathnaid answers with a laugh, "I love that kind of pressure".
And so she did a year's course in film-and-TV production in Bray, then applied for a job on TG4's O Tholg go Tolg, a couch-surfing travel show. "They needed two girls who knew their way round a camera and spoke Irish. I initially went for the camera-operating role. Eventually, they said, 'We want you to present it. We think you'd be great . . .'"
And so she did. "Myself and Laura O'Connell, the camera operator and co-presenter, went off and travelled all over. We went to Macedonia, Sarajevo, Montenegro; we stayed in Germany with a load of clowns, and on a farm in Romania where we had to make our own dinner: literally, pick our own peas and carrots, kill a chicken. That was mental. I couldn't do it, so the guy we were staying with did it. He killed it, and you know the way people say 'running around like a headless chicken?' It's actually true - it was running around for about half an hour without its head." Did she still eat it? "Yes. It would have been a waste otherwise."
When that finished, Blathnaid wondered about moving to London, but decided to wait until O Tholg go Tolg aired, "to see if anything came from that. It did, thank God". The day before the show went out, she got a call from RTE, asking her to audition for Two Tube. "I did the audition on a Wednesday, O Tholg go Tolg aired on the Thursday, and RTE rang on Friday and said 'Can you start today?'"
She is now into the fourth year of Two Tube, a weekday entertainment show aimed at teens, which she co-presents with Stephen Byrne, and she's loving it. "I got to interview Jim Carrey last year," she says, "and Harrison Ford - that was incredible, because I'm obsessed with Star Wars - Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Aniston." Using Two Tube as a platform, Blathnaid has managed to leverage her undoubted talent - on-screen she is very watchable, fizzing with energy and fun, always able to ask the smart question - into spots presenting one-off music events, such as the Meteors with Eoghan McDermott, the European Border Breakers Award (EBBAs), hosted by Jools Holland, and Electric Picnic.
"I was knocking on doors in RTE," she says frankly. "It's your own career, you're the only one who's going to do anything with it. You've got to put yourself forward, people aren't going to come running to you. The first thing was the Electric Picnic show last year, where I was a roving reporter. It's the perfect job for me, I heard they were doing it, and I said 'I need to be on that show . . .' I don't know if that twisted their arm or they already had me in mind, but then the producer got in touch."
Festivals, she says, are "my thing. All my friends are musicians, my family are musicians. My brothers are in a band called Columbia Mills, they're very up-and-coming at the moment." Her boyfriend, Charlie Mooney, is also a musician; he plays jazz. But more than that, she will not say. "I'm not going to talk about my boyfriend, if that's cool," she says. "I'll keep it private." So she doesn't wish to be part of a celebrity couple, I take it? "Oh my God! Oh Jesus! No!"
Blathnaid is the youngest of six, with four brothers and one sister. Her father is an aircraft engineer, and her mother, after raising six kids, went on to be a secondary school secretary and special needs assistant. Apart from her dad, they all sing. "My mum sings, my sister sings, we're not all in bands, but we all love music. Christmas is insane in our house - we all stay up until 5am, singing." Blathnaid's music credentials are also much in evidence in the radio show she presents on Spin1038 on Saturday nights. "It's called Saturday Night Takeover, and it's on from 6.45pm to 9.45pm, so you still get the day to yourself, and it's nice to have another string to your bow."
So she's working Monday to Friday on Two Tube, and Saturday evenings at Spin1038. Does it feel like a heavy workload? "I don't feel overworked. I think now is the time to work your ass off. It's a funny industry. Every show has a shelf-life, and you need to always be thinking ahead, looking to see what else you can do."
And, I say, if you're thinking of maybe having kids later, now is the time to put the hard work in. At this observation, Blathnaid nearly vomits. "Oh Jesus Christ! You're making me choke," she says. With excitement or horror, I ask, knowing full well what the answer will be. "With horror! That won't be for a long time . . . give me a few years."And then, with a hint of steel, she adds, "I find that really funny, how women are always asked about family. Guy presenters are never asked. Men are never asked. It's weird."
Right then, a line from Inside Out, the hit family film of the summer, pops into my head: "Sir! Reporting high levels of sass!" Yes, Blathnaid has some sass, and thank goodness. It makes her who she is. And then, later, she tells me how hard she has worked for that sass, and the confidence that goes with it, and I admire her all the more for it, but first, she lays to rest the kids question once and for all: "I'm not planning on having kids anytime soon. I will, in the future, hopefully, but not anytime soon. I'm young, I'm focusing on my career and having a great time. That's why I'm happy to be working six days a week. I don't have any other responsibilities, and I love what I do, my job is my hobby, so it doesn't feel like work."
In the years since school, Blathnaid has realised she has a touch of dyslexia. "It is something I've come to realise myself. It was never properly spotted. It was missed in school. I wouldn't say I'm horrendously dyslexic, it's just that the letters move around in certain words, and numbers move around. I'll go to the airport and try to find gate number 13, but I end up going to gate 31."
Even mild dyslexia can, as we all know now but didn't until quite recently, have an effect on self-confidence, and, sure enough: "I used to think, 'I'm so bad at reading', even though actually I wasn't; there was a reason why I couldn't. It knocks your confidence big-time. If you have to stand in front of people and speak, or you've to read an extract from a book, you think, 'Oh Jesus, how am I going to do this?' and you end up making more mistakes because you're nervous."
We talk about Malcolm Gladwell's book David and Goliath, in which he writes about the advantages, the desirable compensations, that can come about because of dyslexia. Does she see anything like that in her own life?
"As I've gotten older, I'm definitely not as shy any more. I used to be really shy as a kid, and I'm not shy at all any more. I have that attitude - screw it. So maybe that could be what happened? I just have thrown that all away.
"Now I tell people 'Oh, I'm dyslexic, by the way.' What's the point in being shy? In being embarrassed? Why give a crap what someone else is going to think about you? Do whatever you want to do, and have fun. People are always going to have opinions, and who cares? The moment is here and then it's going to be gone, like that," she snaps her fingers. "Let go of all your inhibitions and just chill. If you think something is going to be really embarrassing, just do it."
In fact, this 'just do it' thing is one of the major motivators in her career: "If someone asks me to do something and I feel a tiny bit weird, a bit anxious about it, that's the time to say yes. If I do it, I know that I've conquered it and I won't be anxious about it any more."
Increasingly, Blathnaid is tipped as a 'rising star' in RTE. How does that make her feel? Any apprehension?
"It's great that I'm getting recognition, that's amazing. If no one was saying anything about you, that'd be really sad. It's amazing when people say that. They're saying they think I'm good and that I'm going to go somewhere, which is brilliant to hear. Hopefully they're right. And I'm going to keep working my butt off so that I have longevity in my career."
What about being a role model to the teenage girls who watch her on TV? "It's kind of a weird one," she admits. "It's a really important job that we have, myself and Stephen. I respect the job that I've been given - we're presenting a show that's aimed at teenagers and young adults. I was at an awards show and a woman came up to me, one of the waiters, and she said, 'My daughter watches you all the time on Two Tube - she loved your nose ring, and she got her nose pierced.'" Blathnaid's response was to say, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry," although the woman didn't mind. Just don't get a tattoo, I say. "I have a tattoo," Blathnaid flashes back with a laugh, adding, "Its only a small, little one."
However, what she does take seriously is her position as a woman in the media: "I feel strongly about why women are in the media, and that it should be because you're talented, not because you're taking your clothes off. I have six nieces and three nephews, and I would hate for them to open a magazine and for me to be there in a bikini. Because, why would I be wearing a bikini? I'm in the media because I'm a presenter and I get to speak to cool people, so why would I be in a bikini?
"I'd hate for young girls to see that and think, 'Oh, that's how you get famous, take off your clothes'. That's ridiculous, you use your talent." Then she says, "That's just how I feel. I'm not speaking for everyone, only myself. And I don't want you to turn it into a big, huge thing."
Because really, that's not what drives her. What drives her, its clear, is the sheer, unadulterated fun of her job. "Meeting really interesting people, getting to pick their brains. Getting to access all areas. I appreciate every second of it. The excitement hasn't worn off at all."
Stella & Dot, see stelladot.com
Photograped by Kip Carroll
Styled by Liadan Hynes
Hair by Lee Stinton; make-up by Eilis Downey, both Brown Sugar, 50 South William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967, or see brownsugar.ie
Photographed at 37 Dawson St, D2, tel: (01) 902-2908 or see 37dawsonstreet.ie
Sunday Indo Life Magazine