Monday 26 August 2019

'I can't be Muireann and I don't want to be' - Mairead Ronan on her new Today FM radio job, relationships and sexism

Mairead Ronan is ready to take on her new broadcasting challenge next month. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan
Mairead Ronan is ready to take on her new broadcasting challenge next month. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan
Mairead and Louis
Mairead Ronan on Ireland's Fittest Family, RTE
She’s a star: Mairéad and professional partner John Nolan with their trophy. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Mairéad Ronan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mairead Ronan and John Nolan during the Final of Dancing With The Stars
Mairead Ronan has been handed the plum lunchtime slot at Today FM
Mairead Ronan and Kai Widdrington during the Sixth live show of Dancing With The Stars . NO FEE FOR REPRO/kobpix
Mairead Ronan, Dr Eva Orsmond, Vogue Williams, Lorraine Barry, Amy Huberman, Jennifer Zamparelli at the RTE New Season Launch 2017
Presenter Mairead Ronan and her partner John Nolan taking part in Dancing with the Stars
Mairead Ronan and John Nolan during show Eight of Dancing With The Stars. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Mairead Ronan and John Nolan at Today FM’s Be A Dancer For Cancer event. Pic: Brian McEvoy
Mairead Ronan and John Nolan during the Final of Dancing With The Stars
Marian Finucane and Mairead Ronan. Photo: Ssako Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Mairead Ronan and Louis Ronan at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby
Louis Ronan, Mairead Ronan at Dancing With The Stars 2019 Wrap Party
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

"It's not enough simply to succeed," the American writer Gore Vidal once said, "others must also fail." So it was last week, as the pendulum of Irish radio swung again.

On the upswing was the personable and talented Mairead Ronan, who landed her own lunchtime show at Today FM. She will fill the slot vacated by Muireann O'Connell, who tweeted that she had been "fired" by the station.

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Deftly defusing any suspicions of ill will, Ronan posted an image of a call between the two women, and, she tells the Sunday Independent, it was all extremely warm and amicable. "I can't really tell you what exactly was said because it was a private conversation, but I did tell her that her tweet was ballsy. She said that she tweeted it and then turned her phone off and I said that was grand, but she tagged me into it so my phone was hopping. It's all good between us."

The appointment was given an added frisson, by the news, which came last Thursday, that O'Connell had, in fact, grown her audience share in the months before she was let go. I wondered would this, along with the clear affection O'Connell is held in, add to the pressure on Mairead?

"I don't feel like that no, because I'm not going to be doing the exact same thing. I can't be Muireann, I don't want to be Muireann and I don't really see myself as replacing her. There's only a certain amount of these jobs in the country. I'm not the one who makes that call in this case and I won't be the one who makes the call should it not work out for me. It's a bit like sports, just because you've been put on a subs bench it doesn't mean it's over, it just means one coach doesn't like you and there will be another opportunity."

If sporting analogies flow freely that might be because Mairead is also currently filming for Ireland's Fittest Family, where she works alongside athlete Derval O'Rourke and rugby great Donncha O'Callaghan. Combined with her Dancing with the Stars fame and her stirring appearances on Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge, it seems like Mairead has been everywhere in the media lately.

But she says talk that she is having a 'moment' belies the hard graft behind the scenes. "Saying I am having a moment sort of sounds like I've just walked out of the Love Island villa or something, and the reality is very different."

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She’s a star: Mairéad and professional partner John Nolan with their trophy. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Mairead's late blooming stardom also came as her personal life began to come together, after a rough time in her twenties. She got married to her first husband in 2004, aged only 24, and the couple welcomed their first child, son Dara, in 2008. However, a year after the birth of their son, the marriage was over. 

"I wish I could tell myself back then to slow down. I spent my life being overly busy - running to standstill. I suppose I was trying to fill a gap inside myself. I thought I had to have certain things by certain ages. After my marriage breakup I said I don't have to do that any more, I just have to be me."

Mairead met Louis Ronan, whose father is a cousin of property developer Johnny Ronan, at an event at The Curragh and they were married in 2015. They have daughters Eliza, born in 2016, and Bonnie, who was born last year.

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Mairead and Louis

One of her biggest regrets is that her mother, Maureen, never got to meet her grandchildren. "Our son is 12 and my mum and him look so alike. Any child who loses their parent early in life feels robbed. You think you'll need them more when you're 12 or 13 and, of course, you do need them then, but in my 20s I really longed for my mother like never before. I wished she was around to run things past her. Only your mother can tell you how it is and not sugar coat things while also having only your best interests at heart. I have two older sisters who also tell it like it is so I'm lucky with that too."

Despite her recent career success she says that sexism in Irish media is alive and well. "There is sexism in media, of course there is. Women have to be so much better to be noticed. They have to be better at everything. Men will get away with stuff for longer than women will."

Mairead recently moved into her first home, in Dublin 3, with Louis and the kids. The plan, she says, is to work hard for a few years and then maybe take it a little bit easier.

"At the moment, it feels like everything is happening but I'm just going to take my time," she says. "I'm thrilled but terrified."

Mairead Ronan will present a weekday show (noon-2pm) on Today FM from September

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