Saturday 17 March 2018

Aine Lawlor's quiet moments of gratitude

It feels somewhat nerve-wracking to interview such a renowned inquisitor as Aine Lawlor. What's too fluffy to ask her? What's too serious? By way of calming my pre-interview nerves I remind myself that the broadcaster, who is co-hosting RTE's coverage of this year's Bloom festival, as well as The Week In Politics, is more than adept at both ends of the query spectrum.

"I find the trick is to get out of the way of the interviewee, to let them say what they are going to say", she begins, soothingly. "Someone once said to me that the journalist makes the news but they shouldn't become the news and they are words to live by. I never consciously set out to give anyone a rough ride in terms of what I ask them. But of course it's important, particularly in politics, to ask the tough questions."

What about remaining likeable to the audience and the interviewee? Earlier this year, Lawlor revealed that in her early days at Morning Ireland listeners had written in to say that she reminded them of their nagging wives. I wonder if such criticisms made her modulate her approach and if so how? "I think if the listener is very conscious of you as an interviewer, then that might not be a good thing. It's important to be able to step out of the way and let the person being interviewed take the focus."

Aine was last year inducted into the PPI Radio Hall of Fame and was a popular choice, especially given everything she had been through in the last few years. The most difficult times undoubtedly came after the then 50-year-old broadcaster was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery and took part in an acclaimed documentary on her journey. I wonder if she ever had qualms about being so open about it all?

"A lot of people all over the country really helped me when I was sick", she begins. "In getting cancer I joined a kind of community and it was really supportive. You only learn about these things when you become sick and it affects families all over the country. It's a very steep learning curve. It's very easy to not focus on the medicine because there's a lot of tough information in there that you might not always like to know, but the more you know the better you can help yourself. So that was the point of the documentary and the point of it being personal was just showing what was happening in terms of my medicine."

The documentary was illuminating, she says, both in terms of understanding her own treatment and the science behind it.

"I could see the cancer cells, we were able to show people the scans before and after the treatment. People responded to it", she says. "Normally if you're emphasising the scientific that might be a cue for audiences to switch off, but it still seemed to really resonate with people. And it wasn't down to me, it was down to the other brave people that gave their stories and their bodies to us to make the programme."

She was involved in a trial of cancer medication; does she know how that panned out? "I don't have the specific results of my trial but I know that the combination that I was on in another trial did not yield significant benefits and, in fact, yielded an awful lot worse side effects. I still regard that as a good outcome though. Because the first thing is that, of course, I was still getting good medicine, which worked but also now they know that this combination will make people sicker in future. They can rule it out. Trials aren't always 'yabba dabba do, I got the best medicine.' They might not always yield a better treatment but they will always yield information and with cancer the more information you have, the better your position as a doctor or a patient."

She is in "great health" now and says that the biggest affect that the illness had on her outlook on life was, "Just when I get grumpy I try to quietly remind myself to be grateful to have family around and really appreciate them". She laughs: "A little grumpiness is still ok sometimes though!"

Super Garden at Bloom & Bloom Live is on Thursday from 7pm on RTE1

The Week In Politics is on today at 12pm on RTE1

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