Sunday 18 August 2019

'4,000 homeless Irish children is disgusting and very sad' - Laura Whitmore

Laura Whitmore talks to Barry Egan about Tayto sambos, insecurity, Mary Robinson, Theresa May, Lady Gaga and why she is MC-ing Rock Against Homelessness

Laura Whitmore by Jay McLaughlin
Laura Whitmore by Jay McLaughlin
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Laura Whitmore is lost in a snack-filled dream world. "Oh, I have a Tayto sandwich on special occasions," she swoons. "But not every day," she says, adding that: "I get my mum to send me over tea bags. There is a little shop at the end of my road with an Irish section. They have little things like your bags of crisps and tea bags etc." Laura then names the five things she misses about Ireland. "My mam's cooking," she says of her beloved Carmel's cuisine.

"Chicken fillet rolls."

"A decent pint of Guinness. The Harbour Bar in Bray is the best!"

"3 in 1 from Charlie's [Asian restaurant] on George's Street."

"Chips and garlic mayo from Henry & Rose [fast food emporium] in Bray." "You can see I have a theme with food and drink!" she laughs. She also has a theme with American alt.pop-punk ditties. Laura's signature song, when it comes to karaoke in her London local, is Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus. "I think, coming from Ireland, everyone sings. You have to!" the one-time host of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! says as I try to imagine her singing "her boyfriend's a dick/he brings a gun to school" or "I've got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baby/Come with me Friday, don't say maybe." Whatever about Iron Maiden in concert, Laura says her favourite music festivals are Glastonbury in Worthy Farm, England, and an almost as legendary three-dayer in Co Laois. "Electric Picnic will always have a special place in my heart," she says. "Glastonbury is my happy place, and I've had so many great memories there. Dolly Parton, on the pyramid stage, was special and also the first place I ever discovered Frightened Rabbit," she says of the Scottish indie rock band (her love of Scottish things extends to her boyfriend, acclaimed Edinburgh-born comedian and TV presenter Iain Stirling.) What is her album of the year so far? "MDRN LV by Picture This. I've been a huge fan of these guys since I first heard them on the radio. Their performance at Electric Picnic last year was by far the best of the weekend." What is Laura currently binge-watching on Netflix? "I've just finished Sex Education. I'm obsessed with Gillian Anderson. On BBC iPlayer, I'm watching Fleabag."

What about a movie of 2019 so far? "The Favourite. I adore Olivia Colman and so glad she is getting the recognition she deserves. I spoke to her and Rachel Weisz backstage, after they both won their Baftas and I find them both so inspiring. Also seeing a film written with three-strong female leads is so refreshing."

The most successful international export from Bray, since Hozier, has lived in London for the last 10 years. Laura laughs that "everyone is even more confused by Brexit now than they were to start with. I sadly can't vote in Irish elections, but I can vote over here and I did vote Remain, as did most of my friends." Does she feel sorry for Theresa May? "I don't agree with a lot of things when it comes to Theresa May - especially the Windrush scandal," Laura says, in reference to the 2018 political debacle in the UK (concerning people who were wrongly detained, and, in some cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office, headed up by then-Home Secretary Ms T May.) "But when it comes to Brexit, she's inherited a pretty s**t situation. And has stuck with it and tried to work out a deal when many folk, who actually supported it, jumped ship when it got too hot to handle."

"I can tell you one thing, I wouldn't want to be her!" says Laura. A female politician Laura Whitmore would like to be, is Mary Robinson. The former President of Ireland was a guest on Laura's Sunday Session show on BBC 5 Live last summer. "Mary Robinson is one of the best people I've ever met. She is so smart and hard working but has so much compassion and heart." Actually, adds Laura, "she's probably the best person I've ever met."

This is saying something, coming from the Bray wanderer herself. She has interviewed, in her guise as MTV Europe presenter for seven years, everyone from U2 to Madonna and Lady Gaga. The latter she met in 2017 and gave her a gift of a Joanne Hynes silver hair-band from Joanne's Dunnes Stores range that, says Laura, Lady Gaga was so taken with the gift, "she Instagramed it". Laura, who is something of an icon of edgy style, also has a sartorial soft spot for Irish designers like Simone Rocha ("she's incredible") and Natalie B Coleman; "she had a presentation in London in collaboration with the UN" at London Fashion Week in February of this year, "which was all about female empowerment".

When Laura was younger, growing up in Co Wicklow, she went through a phase of dressing like All Saints, with the baggy jeans and trainers. "Then it was the Spice Girls. I am very excited that the Spice Girls are back together. I definitely dressed up as Baby Spice on numerous occasions. I am a big fan of musicians," she adds, "Alanis Morissette and The Cranberries; Dolores O'Riordan was a really strong female role model." Laura mentioned meeting Lady Gaga earlier. Was she as insecure as she seems? "You know what, anyone creative, anyone who is in this industry, tends to be a little bit insecure, and secure, and all over the place. Most musicians are vulnerable, the same as actors. You have to have that, or else it wouldn't work and you wouldn't be good at what you do."

I ask the telly superstar to tell me about that insecure side of herself, someone who appears so full of verve and mega confidence? "Really? I seem to have mega confidence? I don't feel that way! I have huge insecurities but I also believe in hard work and doing your best."

The following will give you a small sense of Laura Whitmore's authenticity: last Friday morning she took the tube from Oxford Street and purposefully counted the amount of homeless people on her short journey. "I stopped counting at 12," she says. Asked how she feels about the homeless situation in Ireland, Laura - who is the MC of Rock Against Homelessness in aid of Focus at the Olympia in Dublin on April 23 - "feels quite disappointed and deflated reading the figures out last week that something like 10,000 people needed accommodation in Ireland. This is shocking in one way, but every time I come home, when I walk through the streets of Dublin, it is not so shocking. It is only when you look, you realise how bad the situation is. It is 2019 and it is not about one or two people falling through the cracks of the system, it's families, and children.

"If you look at those figures, that were released with like 4,000 children homeless, you know that it's just not on for me," Laura says. "It's disgusting and it's very sad. Rather than complain about it, let's do something about it. It is important to remind people how bad the situation is. Sometimes, when you read figures, it doesn't really hit you until you see faces."

Laura recalls when she did the Feed The Homeless Campaign at Christmas in Dublin the year before last, "a young girl coming up to me. She must have been about 18 or 19".

Laura had seen her earlier, "literally wolfing down a meal we'd given her and she kept saying how the roast potatoes tasted like her mum's. And the meal reminded her of the meals her mum used to make her. And I kept wondering, 'How did she end up here?' Then her boyfriend came and took her away. I remembered thinking: 'I am going to go home to my mum in Bray in a warm house, and this girl isn't going to her mum. It really hit home with me."

Rock Against Homelessness, in aid of Focus at the Olympia on April 23, features Camille O'Sullivan, Finbar Furey, Aidan Gillen, Deirdre O'Kane, Tommy Fleming, Duke Special, Natty Wailer, The Celtic Tenors, Jerry Fish, Pat McCabe and some very special guests, and Laura Whitmore as MC with Eoghan McDermott. Tickets priced €35 are available from Ticketmaster nationwide. Cadbury are the proud sponsors.

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