Friday 20 April 2018

Lisa Cannon on being ready to start a family: 'Everything is organically aligning for me'

When Lisa Cannon was let go from the 'Xpose' line-up last autumn, she firmly refused to allow any negative spin on it, and it was, she says herself, a 'firecracker' move for her career. Moving out of the 'cocoon of entertainment' has opened her mind to other TV avenues and now, as Weight Watchers first Irish brand ambassador, she has finally learnt how to cook and feels ready to start a family.

Bodice, Cadolle, Susan Hunter. Skirt, Topshop. Earrings, Catriona Hanley, Design Centre. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Bodice, Cadolle, Susan Hunter. Skirt, Topshop. Earrings, Catriona Hanley, Design Centre. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Playsuit, DKNY, Brown Thomas. Bodice, Cadolle, Susan Hunter. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Dress, Cari's Closet. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Sarah Caden

The last time Lisa Cannon really set her mind to losing weight was before her September 2015 wedding. It was a classic bride-diet kind of thing, which is to say that it was driven by stress and terror and its implementation bore all the hallmarks of both.

"I was super-stressed," says Lisa, who is now the first ever Irish brand ambassador for Weight Watchers. "I was flying around with work [on Xpose], I was over and back to the UK, because that's where the dress was being made. I don't even know what I was eating - maybe a piece of salmon in a Ziploc bag, and a coffee and 'I don't need dinner, I'll just have soup', but that's not a healthy way to exist. And it's not realistic, because as soon as the wedding day was over and I was on my honeymoon, it all went out the window.

"The dress that fit me on the first day of my honeymoon didn't fit me when the honeymoon was over," she laughs, with her characteristic refreshing frankness. "I was eating, drinking. I just had whatever I wanted, and that just does not work for me."

Now, Lisa would admit that she's only realised lately, in her late 30s, that this doesn't work for her and that this fact will never change. She has concluded, in the last while, that her approach to food and attitude to her body and health need to change. Describing her figure as "Rubenesque", Lisa, like a lot of women, has taken a long time to accept that she's not the 'oh I can eat anything I like' kind. And, like a lot of women, she's learning to manage that without falling into self-loathing or comfort eating.

Playsuit, DKNY, Brown Thomas. Bodice, Cadolle, Susan Hunter. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Playsuit, DKNY, Brown Thomas. Bodice, Cadolle, Susan Hunter. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Unfailingly optimistic and positive, Lisa's not quite one to say that this is difficult, but it's a challenge. Luckily, though, Lisa is a woman who likes a challenge. She likes it in her work as a TV presenter, and she likes it in her real life. "But I need direction," the former Xpose presenter says with a laugh.

When we meet, only a week into 2017, Lisa has nearly half a stone by following the Weight Watchers programme for which she is spokesperson. I sit down with her in the lounge of the Radisson Hotel, where she and her parents used to come regularly, and she's like a recently converted evangelist with her bibles laid out in front of her. She eschews the biscuit with her cup of tea and leafs through the diet literature as we start our conversation.

There's the book that lays out the SmartPoints system, full of recipes and details of foods that are 'free' of points and which you can eat liberally, as well as telling me how many 'points' of food she has a day, and showing me the book of points for restaurant chains and explaining to me the different things she has cooked.

Lisa and her former professional rugby player husband, Richard Keatley, had curry she made from one of the books the night before. She's bringing proper lunches in to work in TV3, where she's currently doing maternity-leave cover for Anna Daly on Weekend AM. She's made pasta recipes, too, and Bolognese sauce with Quorn.

"I've made soup," Lisa says. "I've never cooked a soup in my life before."

My surprise at this comes out of my mouth before I know it's going to happen. How did you get this far in life without making soup? I ask. And I regret it. It clearly hits a little nerve, as Lisa refers back to it a couple of times as the conversation moves along and even away from weight and food.

Dress, Cari's Closet. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Dress, Cari's Closet. Photo: Kip Carroll.

"My lifestyle has always been one of eating out," Lisa says. "The industry I work in can have very irregular hours and you can be running here and there and grabbing as you go. Or you go to events and there's food and you have that, but now I realise, with some education, that food is just loaded [with calories].

"I never really had that education about food before, I was the girl who made pasta with the jars of sauces and never thought a thing about it. I mean, you heard that you shouldn't eat processed food and stuff, but that might as well have been Vietnamese to my ears," she confesses. "I just didn't know what that meant."

Lisa wonders, as we talk, to what extent being an only child formed her food habits and attitudes. She always liked food, but never really had to think about it, she says.

A south Co Dublin child of the 1980s, daughter of two English teachers, she attended the prestigious Mount Anville girls' school and had childhood ambitions to be a ballerina, Lisa says she was "that child who never went to bed".

She and her mother and grandmother, who died eight years ago and one year ago respectively, were "like three peas in a pod". Lisa's parents separated when she was 10, but they remained good friends.

"They spoke on the phone every day," she says. "We always had Christmas here, in this hotel, just the three of us. It all remained very close."

She wasn't spoilt, Lisa says, but the love was "abundant" and she felt very cherished. Eating out was a feature, though of her time with her father, who never cooks, and she doesn't remember food as a big thing with her mother, either.

"She wasn't a cook," Lisa says. "I don't remember dinners, but I know that I ate. God, she'd probably kill me if she heard me saying that. She was busy and I was busy at every after-school activity I could find, and I don't really remember the dinners when I was growing up.

"I loved my food," Lisa confesses with a laugh, "I just don't remember it. My mother did cook, but maybe I was so busy doing all my activities and I didn't take an interest. I just sat and ate it! Once it was delivered, I didn't care. I had my bib tucked in under my chin, waiting for it to be served up to me. Maybe that's the only child coming out."

Lisa smiles at the memory of her mother telling her that when she was born, while the other new mothers were struggling to get their newborns to take their feed, Lisa was always "the first to finish the bottle". "Always loved my food," she laughs.

Married over a year to Richard, and together five years, Lisa is frank about the fact that she'd like to lose weight and get healthy in anticipation of getting pregnant.

"I would dearly love to start a family," she says, "but you never know what's going on with your body, so you have to be gentle and put yourself in the best position possible.

"I met Richard later in life so I don't fall into the category of getting married and waiting," she says of the pressure on women now to think about their fertility while they're younger. "I just met the right person later. My grandmother was 37, only a year younger than I am now, having my mother, and she had her last child at 44. Most of my friends would be classified as being older mothers. So I'm not scared or worried; but ask me in a year's time and I might feel differently."

Certainly, the death of Lisa's mother, from cancer at 59, weighs on her. In one way, it has increased her ability to be grateful and happy and appreciative of life. She'd love a big brood "like the Waltons"; but if she has one child, she'll be happy too. It's about being happy with what you have and the life you have, she says, not always wishing it was different. The mindfulness of the Weight Watchers approach is something she appreciates, but also its focus on health and fitness and not just weight.

Like a lot of women, she is a comfort eater. But it's more than that, Lisa admits. She makes no bones about the fact that she's finally come to terms with being a body type that gains and holds weight easily.

"I am that person who can't let their foot off the gas," she says. "I'm that person for whom it doesn't go as I would wish it to go. But that's life."

There was never self-loathing attached to Lisa's body image, though. Being on TV and fluctuating in size never bothered her hugely, though she admits that she always felt better when she was "carrying less timber".

At school, Lisa recalls, she played hockey, and from the ages of four to 19, she was mad about ballet. "Oh, of course!" she says, when I ask if she had the girlhood fantasy of a life as a ballerina. "But once I hit my teens and the chest came in, it was pretty obvious that wasn't going to happen. The chest did not bode well in the tutu."

Did she have an adolescent girl's feeling of her changing body conspiring against her and against her dreams of who she should be?

"Yeah," she answers. "Well, you don't know what you will morph into until it happens, do you? And then, when you turn into a larger, larger, larger, larger chest than most 13-year-olds, that can be embarrassing and it puts you in a different position than you expected. But I kept at ballet - and excelled and I was very good, actually - until I outgrew it. And that wasn't until I was 19 and went to college and booze and boys came into the picture."

With a lot of medical people on her mother's side of the family, Lisa thought she wanted to study to be a doctor after her Leaving Cert.

Then, at the interview for a place in the College of Surgeons, one of the panel suggested that her "flowery" explanation of why she wanted to study medicine indicated a greater inclination for the study of English or the Arts. So Lisa took up a degree in drama and theatre studies in Trinity instead.

Drama was her natural home, Lisa admits, and she not only loved college, but she has loved her career since. While studying, she got herself on to film sets with the likes of Jim Sheridan and Shimmy Marcus. During a summer in New York, she charmed her way into a job as a runner on Sex and the City and "drive and ambition" saw her land work doing "anything at all" on TV sets and films back in Ireland.

After a stint in radio, she got a job as a producer on RTE One's Nationwide and eventually she moved in front of the camera. Lisa loved that immediately and when her mother saw an ad for presenters on Xpose, she went for it.

"I was the only outsider who got the job," Lisa says of her role on the early evening entertainment show, a role that came to an end abruptly last autumn. Initially, Lisa said she was thrilled about the termination, regarding it as a chance to do something new, though later she admitted that no ending is ever easy. With me, she's utterly positive about the whole thing.

"I mean, on the same day they were offering me the chance to anchor my own show," she says of her role on Weekend AM. "It was goodbye to one thing and hello to something else. And for me it's been a firecracker move. I've been to Austria and Disneyland with the show and it looks like we're going to go and cover the Oscars."

"Everything changes in TV all the time," Lisa says of having admitted previously to having an "inkling" that Xpose was coming to an end for her. "The inkling comes from being in TV. Shows last a certain amount of time and they evolve and you always have an inkling - that's the nature of it."

Lisa also explains how Weekend AM is a more lifestyle-based show than Xpose, and wonders if this is actually the start of a shift in focus for her. Weekend AM is big on cooking slots and here she is, a diet ambassador and cooking herself for the first time. "Maybe everything is organically aligning for me," she says. "The cocoon of just entertainment has been taken away, but a whole world of lifestyle and so on has been opened up."

She's plotting what's next, Lisa says. Of course she is. She mentions a movie show as "a passion"; says she'd love to do a travel show. She talks about her eponymous website, which she hopes to launch this month. "I'm at a turning point," Lisa says. "It feels very positive."

"Maybe I'll do a cookbook," she says with a laugh. "For people like me - people who are not allergic to putting everything in their mouth, but think they are allergic to the kitchen."

The day we meet, Lisa has just discovered that she has lost 6lbs over Christmas and the week after. She's pretty stunned and entirely delighted. Lisa's goal is to lose a stone in total and she stands up to grab at her waist and show me just where she wants to lose it from.

A week later, before this piece is written, I hear she has lost a further 3lbs. She felt ready, she says, not to be thin, to be healthy.

"I think sometimes in life, you go, 'Ah sure, it's grand,'" Lisa says. "And then, suddenly, it's not grand."

Photography by Kip Carroll. Styling by Liadan Hynes

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