Wednesday 16 October 2019

Lucy Kennedy: 'I'm the Irish Bridget Jones...fat arse, big nose'

Lucy Kennedy tells Barry Egan about not being perfect, the break-up of her parents' marriage when she 15 and how she used to mark the Argos catalogue at the engagement rings page to drop hints for her partner

Lucy Kennedy photographed at the Gibson Hotel.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath
Lucy Kennedy photographed at the Gibson Hotel.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath

The nuns in Holy Child Killiney taught Lucy Kennedy what it means to be quiet. She was voted librarian at the school for three years in a row. Nowadays, you couldn't imagine Lucy being silent anywhere. She makes Greta Thunberg appear like a Trappist monk.

"My mother Gilly was just like me - with blonde hair and big boobs. She is great crack, very chatty, very friendly. I have my dad John's laugh. Myself and my two sisters - we all cackle."

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Maybe it is because she was up at the craic of dawn to co-present her breakfast show on Radio Nova with Colm Hayes, but within five minutes of meeting her for coffee in the Gibson hotel at 1pm, Lucy is cackling with laughter like Lady Macbeth on helium, as she says things like: "While I give out about having a big nose and fat arms, I don't care enough to do anything about it." She attributes the "fat arms" to "having babies".

Lucy is wearing a fancy outfit and high heels this lunchtime because a) she has a meeting, and b) the heels stretch "my legs… because I'm a short-arse".

Lucy laughs that people on the street often tell her that she looks like Lucy Kennedy, usually when she is wearing a tracksuit and no make-up. "But I am vain." Pause. "But if I cared, I'd lose weight and I wouldn't have takeaways. I'm not the perfect girl. I bite my nails. I've a fat arse."

Jesus, now you've a fat arse - as well as being a short-arse - to go with the big nose and the fat arms! I say.

"And cellulite here, on my elbow, now that I think about that!" she cackles, pointing at her elbows, which seem perfectly fine to me. "I'm the poor man's Davina McCall meets the Irish Bridget Jones! I am delighted to be called the poor man's Davina McCall because she has never changed. And I won't change. I will never change at this stage."

Something of a flawed domestic goddess, Lucy says there is nothing she likes more in the world than "a pair of marigolds and a big bucket of suds", while her steam mop is one of her "best lifetime purchases".

The host of Living With Lucy and Ireland's Got Talent goes through "a bottle of Cif a week". "I find that cleaning relaxes me and gives me a sense of achievement. I'll never have good nails, though." Housework, she says, is "my fetish". (Disproving, perhaps, American feminist Betty Friedan's theory that 'No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor'?).

When Lucy lived in Ballydung Manor with Podge & Rodge - the RTE show that announced her to the nation in 2006 - an audience member gave her a gift of a hoover. When she recorded an episode of Living With Lucy with Barry Keoghan in Los Angeles, she did the Irish movie star's washing. She told him: "When you are collecting your Oscar in years to come don't forget that I washed your underpants!"

The mind boggles at what it would be like to live with Lucy. So I ask her husband, management consultant Richard Governey.

"Similar to every other family with three small children, life is hectic and a lot of the time we are like ships passing in the night," he tells me on the phone. "Lucy is super-fun and says it as she sees it. Probably not surprisingly, she is the talker! She is always looking for the next 'project'.

"She's an amazing mum, selfless and very caring. I am very proud of her and love her very much."

Having left the house at 5am, Lucy will be normally home at 12.30pm, then she has her first school collection at 2pm, her second at 2.30pm and the third at 3.30pm.

"So, I am taxi, cleaner, storyteller, nurse, doctor. I'm like every other working Irish mother."

How does she cope?

"Wine."

No, seriously.

"No, seriously, I'm one of these people who loves chaos. I love chaos. We have three happy babies."

Jack is nine, Holly seven, Jess is three in December, and "took a while to make - about six months because I was nearly 40". "I always wanted three," she continues, "and I am one of three." Lucy was the middle child between Anna and Gemma.

Is the door shut now on having more children? "Oh, God, yes. Absolutely. Three is our magic number. The next thing will be a goldfish."

What is her house like? "It's normal. Fifty shades of grey. Four beds. I live in a semi-d in a cul de sac," she says. "I have the glass box extension that everybody has... I am the same as everybody else, but I'm on the telly."

(At the moment she is not, in fact, on the telly. Ireland's Got Talent, which she hosted, is "on ice", while her other Virgin Media show's fate seems a touch uncertain too. "If I'm happy with the plan for Living with Lucy then yes there'll will be another series. It's my baby so I'm fiercely protective of the brand and the programme.")

Fancy houses with glass box extensions are a far cry from her accommodation in her early 20s when Lucy was renting in Rathfarnham with her friends Joey and Vicky. "We had our own compartment in the fridge." Her bit of the fridge was "probably baked beans and wine".

"It was such good crack and they are still my best friends. We were quite nerdy. We used to smoke in the house."

Cigarettes or crack cocaine?

"Cigarettes! I never tried drugs in my life. Aged 43, I can look you in the eye and tell you I have never tried drugs. I have never been offered drugs. Which is very weird for someone in the media. I think people think I'm already on them."

Back then, Lucy was a sales rep for Indigo, an internet service provider. "Then I left there and I had gone into television production and then I was on the dole, off the dole, on the dole, off the dole, for maybe five years. It was awful. I hated it. I'm a Taurus, so I like to know what I'm doing and when I'm doing it."

What was her poor parents' reaction to Lucy on Podge and Rodge? 'We sent you to Holy Child and this is how you repay us!'

"They kind of laughed it off, but I'd say deep down they were thinking, 'What the hell is she doing?'"

What she was doing was making a name for herself.

"I turned down some big shows on RTE towards the end of my time there when I was doing Living With Lucy on RTE six years ago," Lucy says. "I turned down programmes that didn't suit and they turned down ideas [from me] that they didn't want. No animosity. We just couldn't come to an agreement.

"So then I left RTE and joined TV3 and did Late Lunch Live with Martin King for two and a half years."

Then she decided to pitch Living With Lucy to TV3. (After two years the show can go anywhere.) This being Lucy Kennedy, the pitch wasn't perhaps your typical elevator pitch. More your maternity ward pitch. . .

"So Richard and I were trying for a baby and thank God it happened," she says, meaning she got pregnant, "around the time I was pitching Living With Lucy to my boss, Pat Kiely [MD of Virgin Media, as it is now].

"I had really bad morning sickness to the point where I just wanted to vomit. For the whole pregnancy, I felt like I was on a boat permanently. I remember being with Pat and thinking, 'Please just don't get sick'. I was ten weeks pregnant and I said to him, 'The thing is, I think I might have a bump doing the show', and he said 'congratulations'.

"So for the first series of Living With Lucy on TV3, I was heavily pregnant. I pulled Finbar Furey around on a camel in Lanzarote! Three bumps!" she cackles.

Lucy can remember being in a nappy waving out the window in her granny's house in Cheshire. (Lucy's mother is English.) "I was two." Growing up in south county Dublin, Lucy had "pigtails and dirty knees". She was always pulling up weeds and hanging off slides.

"I suppose I was the naughty one, even though I wasn't. I thought I was wild… I nearly broke the poor nuns' hearts at Holy Child," she cackles later (adding that "my own girls are dying to go to school there and I think my son will go to Michael's".)

"I thought I was crazy trying a cigarette at 16! But, looking back, in comparison to now, I was actually a nerd. But back then, I thought I was wild!"

Did Lucy get wilder when her parents' marriage ended when she was 15? "No, I didn't." Did she become withdrawn? "No. I didn't think about it. Thank God, it was an amicable separation. It was almost something that we didn't notice. We were like 17, 15 and 11. My dad still did the school run."

There was nothing Lucy noticed between her parents prior to the break-up when she was in her mid-teens?

"No, thank God, there were no fights, throwing plates, or anything like that. Thank God, because you do hear of horror stories. I think we were lucky. We have always remained a tight-knit family. Myself and my sisters are particularly close."

I ask Lucy can she remember the conversation when her parents told her they were separating.

"I think maybe it would have been a sit-down big deal, 'OK, we've got something to tell you'. It was done so well, in fairness to them, that it has never haunted me. That is a testament to them, because we all know people who have separated and it has just gone arseways and been handled so badly . But for us… we're all happily married, none of us have any scars. If anything, it probably made us stronger in a way.

"I think when your parents separate, you grow up quite quickly because your life has changed. You adjust."

Her mother and her father, who is from Dublin, are still, she says, "very good friends, which is nice, and unusual".

"My dad used to have a swig of cod liver oil every morning. No wonder they got separated!"

Did Lucy's mother talk to her to explain etc? "She just said, 'We fell out of love. It just happened, but Mum and Dad will always love you.' That kind of chat.

"Then Mum met someone, but Dad didn't. Dad is still single and looking for love, I might add, at 82! It is time he joined a men's shed and stopped looking at the ladies. Mum is 70. She has a long-term partner/friend of the last 20 years, who we love. So we are lucky."

Lucy first met Richard when she was going out with someone else. A pal of Richard's in fact. She said to her boyfriend one night, 'Your friend Richard is very funny'.

"I kind of left it at that," she says now. "Then two years passed." They are now together 20 years. What's the secret?

"I married my best friend. The secret to any relationship is having a laugh. Because between losing jobs, finding jobs, babies, trying to conceive, mortgages, worries, bills, whatever it is, you've got to be able to sit down and have a laugh. And he just makes me laugh. So, I would say marry your best friend and you can't go wrong. And have a laugh."

This philosophy was pretty evident from their first date, whether Lucy liked it or not. And she didn't.

The first time Richard came to collect Lucy at the aforementioned flat she was renting was memorable for the wrong reasons.

"I was bleaching my moustache. He arrived early, eager boy. I didn't think he was going to be half an hour early."

You were mid-bleach, I say.

"Yeah. Mid-Jolen. And it was the full-blown white foam. So I had it all over my arms and on my moustache. The door bell rang. I presumed it was Vicky who had forgotten her keys and I answered the door."

You can imagine Lucy's - and Richard's - horror when the door opened "to effectively Hulk Hogan!" she cackles.

"I stood there in shock and screamed and ran inside and tried to wash it off. He never said anything about it for about three years. And the chap still fancied me!" claims Lucy of that incident when she was 23; she and Richard bought a house together when she was 30, got engaged at 31, got married at 32, and had the first baby at 33.

Lucy hinted about getting married for about three years when they started seeing each other. Every time they went out, she'd get her hair done and wait for the big proposal.

"Then eventually what I did was when we were living together, I'd get an Argos catalogue and I marked the page in the engagement ring section of the style that I wanted - which was Princess cut - and I know that a lot of boys read stuff when they are on the loo, so I marked the page, and I left the Argos catalogue beside the loo. He obviously just thought, 'Psycho!'"

But he obviously loved you enough not to break it off on the spot? "I don't think he was going to dump me after nine years. I mean if he didn't dump me after the Jolen, nothing is going to break this guy!"

What's it like to live inside her head?

"Surprisingly chilled for someone who's constantly busy and talks for a living. I'm a typical Taurus: so calm, earthy and stubborn. I don't believe in rows and bitchiness. What you see is what you get, and what I say to you is what I think of you.

"I'm generally very, very happy unless someone hurts my feelings or someone that I love. That's when the bull comes out and I see red. I won't budge on my opinion if I truly believe in it. I would fight to the death for my family. I've had the same best friends for most of my life. Trust and loyalty are everything to me."

Lucy thinks "there are a few misconceptions about me. One being that I'm the cool chick from Podge and Rodge, whereas the reality is that I'm the girl next door who's in cosy PJs at 7pm and bed at 9pm.

"But probably the fact that I come across maybe as a total messer but I'm a businesswoman. It's only when I show my more serious side that people are quite surprised. I have lots of clients that I've worked with for years, repeat business, big brands. I'm a proud ambassador for Renault Belgard, Eddie Rockets and Eminence Ireland.

"I have my own production company, I have just written my first of three children's books, I present The Colm and Lucy Breakfast Show on Radio Nova, Living With Lucy is my baby and I have another two business ideas in development."

For the last five years, Lucy has told herself on New Year's Day: drink less wine (Malbec), try to reduce her swearing (about traffic, slow drivers, her future husband coming to the door when she has bleach on her moustache, etc), lose weight, join a gym and write a children's book.

"I failed miserably on all of them until last year when Gill Books asked me to write a book and I sat down and wrote The Friendship Fairies," which is out on October 11.

"The book is about three sisters, like Anna, myself and Gemma. So, it is Emme, Holly and Jess. Emme is my niece, Holly is my middle daughter and Jess is my baby. It is about three sisters who are fairies and they are helping human children learn the basics in life. When I was in Lanzarote during the summer, and Gill sent me the cover of the book, my eyes filled up."

With wine, I joke.

"With wine! And tears!" she cackles. "I just felt so proud of myself. The most proud I've been, ever."

The Friendship Fairies, by Lucy Kennedy, illustrated by Phillip Cullen, is published by Gill Books Friday, October 11, €11.99

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