Life Begins at 40: Pamela Flood on how tragedy and strife made her who she is now
When Pamela Flood and Ronan Ryan got together she was a successful TV presenter and he owned three restaurants. And then everything changed. But the couple stayed together and they have survived a tough couple of years. Now a blissed-out new mother and getting ready to host the Tommy Hilfiger LIFE readers' evening, Flood talks to Sarah Caden about learning to walk on quicksand and why she is still livid with 'Liveline'. Photography by Sarah Doyle. Styling by Liadan Hynes
Published 14/11/2011 | 06:00
'For after Christmas," Pamela Flood adds, emphatically, barely half a breath after saying that she has started to look at creches for Harrison, her seven-month-old son. "Yeah, after Christmas," she says, wrinkling her nose at the idea. "And only a couple of mornings."
In her old life, Pamela might have panicked at the thought of having only two mornings a week free to work. As a freelance TV presenter, one easily gets into the mindset of needing to have something always in the pipeline, to always feel sure that you're in demand and busy. But that was her old life. Now, Pamela is in demand and busy all right, but in a different way and in a manner that makes her happier than any job she's done before.
"It's like Worzel Gummidge syndrome," the former Miss Ireland, former Off the Rails presenter laughs. "I was never a clucky person. I liked babies. I liked my friends' babies. I liked my cousins' babies. But I wasn't one for cooing into prams. But it's like I've got a new head. I love all the babies. I want to sniff all of their heads and tickle all of their bellies. And it's just: who is this person? Who is she? I don't know, but I like her better."
This year, Pamela turned 40 and became a first-time mother. Relatively late in the day, she admits, her life has been turned upside down. And she loves it. She loves the "bits and pieces" of work -- an occasional beauty slot on RTE's Four Live that will return in the new year, some presenting of the National Lottery and MC-ing the forthcoming Tommy Hilfiger LIFE readers' evening -- but her focus has shifted.
In many ways, though, Pamela's perspective on the world began to shift longer than just seven months ago. The death of her mother five years ago turned everything on its head. It seemed to set Pamela's biological clock ticking, it indirectly led to her splitting with her long-term boyfriend and, ultimately, to finding love with restaurateur Ronan Ryan, whom she earmarked early on as "father material".
It hasn't all been easy, Pamela adds. Being dropped, with Caroline Morahan, from Off the Rails was unexpected and ushered in a period of reassessment. Also, there was an element of risk in suddenly choosing to be single in her mid-30s. Further, Ronan's loss of his three restaurants soon after they met put the fledgling relationship to the test, but they came through the other side.
"We survived and we're happy and we're here," says Pamela. "In one short sentence, I love where I'm at. Motherhood is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me and I'm sure every parent feels the same way, but I find it hard to talk about it without welling up," she says, her eyes filling with tears, true to her words.
Pamela Flood was born and reared in Tallaght, when the suburb was new and shiny, with great green spaces around the houses and with nothing like the image it has earned since. "It was so safe," Pamela says. "Tallaght is a massive place and where I grew up was heaven for a kid. It was heaven to be a kid then." Her childhood there was "idyllic", with her parents and her younger brother, and the proof of that is the fact that she didn't fully leave home until her mid-30s, her stay only broken by a brief move to London. The death of her mother, then, shook Pamela to her foundations.
"She had always had problems with her chest," Pamela explains. "She always had a cough. If we got separated in the supermarket, I'd just stand still and listen for her cough. But she was diagnosed with COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease] while I was in London and gradually her hospital stays got longer and longer, and the times she was well got shorter and shorter."
Then, one afternoon, Pamela's dad rang her to say that her mother had taken a turn and he'd called an ambulance to take her to hospital. Her mother was unconscious, and didn't regain consciousness before she died, several days later. "People ask if you're not sad that you didn't get to say goodbye," says Pamela. "But, no. How do you? How can you ever say goodbye?
"I think, biologically, something kicked in for me then," she continues. "My mum died when I was 34 and that's something that very much makes you think about your mortality and your future and babies and, definitely, by 35, it was time for children."
Pamela talks about the tick-tock of that clock as something powerful, loud and totally unexpected. She explains that she had always felt a fear of the huge responsibility of shaping someone and sending them out into the world, but how that fear was then dwarfed by the desire for a baby. Further, she talks frankly about how the long-term relationship she was in at the time, with Michael Sharpe, just wasn't right.
"In that relationship," she says, "we just weren't ready to start a family. I was ready, I could hear the clock, but it just wasn't right. It was a great relationship, in lots of ways, but, definitely, as a couple we were not ready to go forward and make children. It was possibly a difficult time in life to finish a relationship and think, 'OK, I'm going off now to find a mate,' but I didn't think about it like that exactly. I may have been 36 when that broke up, but in my head I was still 19."
She may have been something of a late starter in motherhood, but in terms of her career, Pamela Flood got going early. She was barely out of her teens when nightclub guru Valerie Roe spotted her modelling potential in Coco's club in Tallaght. Pamela went there every week with her friends and, one night, Valerie asked if she'd like to enter the Miss Coco's contest, which, with the encouragement of her friends, she did.
Pamela won and represented the club in the Miss Ireland contest. She didn't win, but she got a taste for modelling, joined an agency and, the following year, won the Miss Ireland crown. It was great fun, Pamela says, and far more exciting than the safe, pensionable job in the bank that she packed in, against her parents' advice. Later, she went to work for now defunct record label, Polydor, which also had that showbiz sense of fun about it, before starting in RTE as a continuity announcer.
In 2000, Pamela began on Off the Rails, the show with which she remains most closely associated, and may be forever more. With Caroline Morahan, she was one half of a likeable, lively duo that seemed eminently stylish and sleek, but not at all intimidating or off-putting to ordinary women. For seven years, says Pamela, it was the dream job and then, abruptly, it ended.
"Yeah, there was nothing wrong with it, but I see why they wanted to change it," says Pamela of how she and Caroline were suddenly ditched and replaced with Brendan Courtney and Sonya Lennon. "You know, it was a case of, 'Don't wait until something is on the wane to change it,' and Brendan and Sonya brought something completely different, a breath of fresh air, to the show. And I'm not just saying that to be politically correct.
"I got seven years out of it, and every year was a bonus, because we never knew if it was coming back for another year. Of course, being unemployed is never great, but I had a few things on the burner when Off the Rails ended. I had started filming Marry Me, I was doing Who Do You Think You Are?, so I felt busy and had a good seven months before the recession kicked in."
During that good seven months, Pamela met Ronan Ryan at a wedding. "A wedding," she laughs. "What a cliche." She was working hard and very keen that no one perceived her as a rejected or dejected TV presenter and,
at the time, Ronan's career was also going well. "We were both in a great place when we met, but within a few months, I went from being really busy to not being busy at all and Ronan went from having Town [Bar and Grill], South and Bridge and everything being fine, to everything not being fine. It was trying. We had a couple of months of wonderful, no cares in the world, and then it was really tough."
Ronan Ryan's business difficulties have been well documented in recent years. South, in Dublin's Sandyford, closed in 2008. A year later, he lost Bridge, in Dublin's Docklands. Treasury Holdings took over Town Bar and Grill when it was going into examinership and, until recently, Ronan ran it for them. When his bid to buy it back failed earlier this year, he walked away from the restaurant but is now on the brink of opening something new and it does Pamela's heart good to see him excited about and energised by a project again.
"The circumstances weren't ideal in a new relationship," she says of the difficult early days of their romance. "Because it would be great if you had a few years under your belt to get to know each other and understand how to be each other's crutch, but when it's only new, it's like walking on quicksand. But we got there."
When things were falling apart for Ronan, he took a serious bashing on Liveline, as suppliers and creditors rang in to berate him. Cool, calm and courteous, the only moment Pamela seems anything but content is when she recalls the radio show. "It was just unmerciful," she says. "It was just incredible and it still makes me really angry."
Ronan phoned Pamela that afternoon and asked if she was listening to Liveline. She wasn't, but she went to his side right away, listening to the radio in her car, horrified. "I listened to the whole thing online later," she explains. "Oh, Jesus. I thought it was an annihilation. Really, it was incredibly unfair, incredibly one-sided. I know there were people trying to get through to the show and say, no, this is not how I was treated, but they didn't get on air. I'm still just livid.
"And as someone who watched him go through it and helped him as best I could, I have nothing but admiration for Ronan. He has more moral fibre than anyone I know. And he didn't try to fleece anybody, he didn't pull the wool over anyone's eyes, he didn't run away. He stood there and took the flak."
It's possible that it did Pamela and Ronan some good to have their relationship tested so early on. As she says, you don't go into trivial relationships once you hit your mid-30s and while she wasn't mad to get married, she was interested in finding "a keeper".
"Also," she says, "the lovely thing about meeting Ronan and him being a daddy already -- Zach is nearly 10 -- is that I saw how good he is with Zach and thought, 'Oh, you are so father material.'"
Harrison -- a smiley boy with beautiful eyes, whose photo Pamela shows me on her phone -- was born in March of this year. He's the first grandchild on Pamela's side, and her father dotes on Harrison, whom he makes laugh like no one else, she says.
"I was almost 40 years on the planet before Harrison arrived and so I got very used to doing things my way, sleeping as late as I wanted and when I needed to," Pamela says. "I was set in my ways and knew how I liked things to be and then the little bundle comes and throws everything into the air."
She points out that she didn't get the chance to blow-dry her hair before coming out to meet me -- although it looks lovely and she's a serene, blonde vision -- but every mother knows what she means about feeling a little more slapdash than in the days before the baby. "I used to get bored blow-drying my hair. Ha!" she exclaims.
In her teens, Pamela goes on, thoughtfully, she imagined 40 would be very different to what it is. She thought she'd be married, with two or three children, and that she wouldn't even entertain the thought of staying at home with the kids. Now, in the case of the
latter, she's not so sure. "He's everything at the moment," she says, "and I love it. I just want to freeze him where he is right now. I love going in to RTE and meeting the people I've known for 13 years, but I'm not sure."
She was never in television for the attention or any notion of being famous, says Pamela. She just liked the work, the people and the energy of the business, but now she's thinking beyond the small screen. Her love of animals has set her to investigate the idea of opening a pet-grooming business and, if that could be juggled with minding Harrison, it would be just perfect. A bit of telly, a few pooches and her darling little boy; if she had all that, Pamela would be an even happier woman.
"I'm 40 and I'm lucky to have him. And I embrace 40 and I celebrated it. All birthdays are to be celebrated; aren't you lucky to be here? But I still can't believe I'm that number," Pamela says with a laugh.
"More children would be lovely in an ideal world, but my age is a bit of an issue," she says on the subject of expanding her family with Ronan, adding that Zach and Harrison are mad about each other and lovely brothers. "And I'm conscious that my energy levels might not be great for two. Having babies younger has its benefits, in that you have more energy and, like with hangovers, you bounce back faster -- now I take three days to get over a hangover, though I can't remember when I last had one. But I love how it's all about Harrison now. He's the centre of my universe and I love that."
The last five years have been extraordinary in Pamela Flood's life and while she's determinedly a glass-half-full girl, she can't help but ponder and regret the fact that her mother isn't here to enjoy Harrison with her. "Oh, I'd love her to be here," she says with a loud exhale and her eyes welling with tears of sadness rather than the happy ones of earlier in the conversation. "Even just for five minutes," Pamela adds. "Just to say, 'Look at him! Look what I did.'"
Pamela Flood will be hosting this season's Tommy Hilfiger fashion event in association with Sunday Independent LIFE magazine, in the flagship Tommy Hilfiger store, Grafton St, on Thursday, November 24. The night will feature fashion shows showcasing the winter and Christmas collections for men, women and children, as well as a complimentary Jacob's Creek wine reception, canapes, shopping discounts and prize draws. See page 9 for full information on how to register your attendance
Photography by Sarah Doyle
Assisted by Cait Fahey
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Assisted by Clare Macdougald
Make-up by Paula Callan for Brown Sugar, 50 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hair by David Cashman for Reds, 21 Dawson St, D2, tel: (01) 678-8220
Shot on location at D-Light Studios, see www.d-lightstudios.com
Sunday Indo Life Magazine