Monday 21 May 2018

Dancing with Stardom: Bláthnaid Treacy on carving out a career niche and her prime-time ambitions

The lively host of Dancing With the Stars' high-energy spin-off show, Bláthnaid Treacy is certainly proving her worth as a TV presenter. But, from her start as an infant on Glenroe, she's worked every bit as hard as the dancers to get to where she is… Albeit with a bit of Marty partying thrown in, she tells our reporter

Bláthnaid wears: Pink tailored jacked, €325, matching trousers, €225, T-shirt, €75, all Sandro, Brown Thomas; Ankle boots, €113, River Island. Photo: Daniel Holfeld
Bláthnaid wears: Pink tailored jacked, €325, matching trousers, €225, T-shirt, €75, all Sandro, Brown Thomas; Ankle boots, €113, River Island. Photo: Daniel Holfeld
Mint green jacket, €295, Sandro, Brown Thomas; burgundy flares, €145, The Kooples, Brown Thomas; sandals, €55, River Island. Photo: Daniel Holfeld
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Two distinct camps of people emerged during Snowmageddon. The first group, the forward thinkers, fetched shovels from their sheds and bought enough bread to last a week. The second group, the pleasure seekers, kept themselves busy sending memes, building igloos and turning laundry baskets into DIY sleighs. It's obvious which group Bláthnaid Treacy falls into...

Snow is falling, bread supplies are dwindling and Ireland is about to go into lockdown the day she is scheduled to speak to Weekend magazine. But the 29-year-old TV presenter doesn't take a snowcheck to panic-buy groceries. On the contrary, her main concern is getting to nearby Phoenix Park to "suss out the slope".

She was supposed to be in Cork doing a segment on Today with Maura and Dáithí, she explains, as we chat by phone. Instead, she's enjoying an impromptu Snow Day at her home in Stoneybatter, Dublin. Housemate Elaine is "cooking a feast"; boyfriend Charlie, a jazz musician, is in the sitting room making music with their friends, and there's the feeling that the fun has only just begun.

It's a welcome lull for the TV presenter. For the last nine weeks she has been rushed off her feet hosting Can't Stop Dancing, a companion show to RTÉ's Dancing With the Stars. And rain, hail, snow or shine, the show must go on. Can't Stop Dancing, like most shows of its mould, is a high-energy production. It looks candid and off-the-cuff but it takes an especially vivacious presenter to keep the mood lively and upbeat.

Mint green jacket, €295, Sandro, Brown Thomas; burgundy flares, €145, The Kooples, Brown Thomas; sandals, €55, River Island. Photo: Daniel Holfeld
Mint green jacket, €295, Sandro, Brown Thomas; burgundy flares, €145, The Kooples, Brown Thomas; sandals, €55, River Island. Photo: Daniel Holfeld

Bláthnaid is well up to the task, even though she had a different role in mind when she screen-tested for the show, along with "every presenter in the country", back in 2016. A few weeks later they called to tell her that they had found their two main presenters [Amanda Byram and Nicky Byrne]. However, there was another show, they told her, and they wanted her to host it.

In one sense, Bláthnaid counts herself lucky for being in the right place at the right time. In another sense, she knows the role didn't just land into her lap.

The Irish TV industry is hugely competitive and the Dublin-born TV presenter has learned to create her own opportunities rather than wait around for the phone to ring. She got in touch with the producers of Dancing With the Stars to request a screen-test, just as she contacted the people behind RTÉ's Electric Picnic show when she heard they might be looking for presenters.

"I was banging on doors," she admits. "I found out who the producer was and said, 'Please, please, please, I have to be on this show', and they were like, 'OK - she's eager!'" It probably helped that RTÉ was something of a home from home for Bláthnaid. She was cast as Denise Byrne, the daughter of Glenroe's Biddy and Miley, when she was three months old and she continued to play the role, after school, for the next 13 years. Back then, she was 'the girl from Glenroe' when she was out and about. Nowadays, she's better known as 'the one off the telly'. "It happens more on nights out," she says, "or when you're in DiFontaine's getting a slice of pizza".

Bláthnaid didn't segue into TV presenting straight away. She studied Irish and archaeology in UCD but started to have second thoughts about her career when a friend asked her to moonlight as a runner on a show she was working on.

The stint reignited her passion for the thrills and spills of television and, a few months later, she signed up for a course in film and TV production, which in turn gave her the confidence to apply for a job on TG4's Ó Tholg go Tolg.

The producers were looking for two outgoing Gailgeoirs to couch-surf their way around Eastern Europe. Bláthnaid applied for the behind-the-camera role and got the front-of-camera one instead. Despite the shoe-string budget, Ó Tholg go Tolg made for compelling television. The intrepid presenters met a motley crew of characters, from street performers to squatters, when they backpacked around 20 homes in 12 different countries. "It was a crazy experience," she recalls, "one of the best things I've ever done." When production wrapped, she was itching for more. Luckily, RTÉ's young people's show Two Tube was searching for a new presenter, and Bláthnaid fitted the bill perfectly. At 24, she was still a relative newcomer to TV presenting, but the producers threw her "straight into the deep end". "It was an amazing way to learn, create contacts and figure out the industry," she recalls. "It was like, 'Right, we need to get three superstars on the show this weekend!'"

It was at Two Tube that she learned the "craft of presenting and researching". "You become more articulate," she says. "Something I noticed with (co-hosts) Stephen [Byrne] and Sinéad [Kennedy] is that they have such a way with words. They are really good at composing an email to persuade someone to come and do an interview. It's almost like an art. The way you ask someone something is really important and, actually, that may be something that is lost a little bit with younger generations who want to get into the industry. I've received tons of emails [from younger people trying to break into the industry] and I would just love to send the email back and correct it. 'Come on! This isn't how you compose an email. Think about it!'"

She stops for a moment. "That sounds really mean but when that was me I was re-reading over and over and over again. Even just simple things, like making sure grammar was correct and words were spelled right - and I'm dyslexic."

Bláthnaid continued to work on Two Tube for the next four years, but she always had her ear to the ground for jobs that would get her in front of an older audience. And when the opportunity arrived, she was determined to impress. "It was a chance for producers to see me in a new light and not think, 'Oh, you're the teen presenter'," she says of her first year as the Electric Picnic 'roving reporter'. Over two days, she did 22 interviews, including a particularly lively segment with American singer/songwriter, Benjamin Booker.

"I had done my research and I had a lot to prove that year," she explains. "So I went into it really confident and it was just a brilliant, brilliant interview. We had so much craic and we were basically best friends by the end of it." Her work impressed the producers, as well as Bill Malone, who was Channel Controller for RTÉ2 at the time. "He came down to my desk to say well done. That rarely happens that the head of the channel comes down to your desk."

But instant rapport doesn't come with every interview. She won't divulge the name of her worst ever interviewee, only that he's a "massive American superstar actor" who has won an Oscar and is also in a band. "That might be giving it away just a bit," she laughs. "He was rude - just really, really rude. He wouldn't shake my hand and I kind of thought, 'Seriously? Get a grip. You've got balayage in your hair and you're a fortysomething-year-old man'. I actually almost felt like walking out. I thought, 'Do you know what? I don't need your interview…' But I obviously remained professional."

It's difficult to carve out a niche in broadcasting, yet Bláthnaid is beginning to emerge as the music presenter of choice. On Friday nights, she presents the National Chart Show on RTÉ 2fm. Earlier this week, she hosted the Choice Music Prize in Vicar Street. "My ideal gig would be hosting a shiny studio floor prime slot," she says. "A fun slot with bands coming on. Similar to what I was doing with Two Tube but on a bigger scale and a longer show."

Would she consider working abroad? "Yeah, of course. I think any presenter would be lying if they said 'I've never considered going abroad'. You never know what could happen in the future..."

For now, though, she's focussed on Can't Stop Dancing, where the work is demanding, but "the craic is mighty". "It's not fake," she adds. "Everyone is literally having the best time, including myself. We get to chat to the celebs when the glitz and the glam is off. So their personalities come across a lot more on my show. They can be themselves a lot more." She can also categorically confirm that there ain't no party like a Marty party. "Oh my God! They are just ridiculous," she laughs. "You're literally out all night having the craic." Of course with Marty Morrissey out, and the final looming, the knees-ups are becoming few and far between. "You can see the competitiveness come in, especially now that the finale is only a few weeks away. The people who are left in the competition, they want to win it. Each week they are getting better but so is everyone else, so they have to try and come up with new ideas and tricks to stand out from the crowd."

Bláthnaid is evolving too. Can't Stop Dancing is a challenging gig that has brought her in front of a prime-time audience. On the plus side, the show has given the freelancer the security of a two-year contract. She'll be back to host the show in 2019. In the meantime, she's going to take a well-needed holiday.

"It is hard to make long-term plans," she admits. "You're guaranteed to be offered a gig the minute you book a holiday." The moment Dancing With the Stars finishes, herself and Charlie are heading to New York for a break. They'll also be spending the entire month of July in Mexico. Bláthnaid's brother and his Mexican wife are celebrating their marriage there so it's the perfect opportunity for the young couple to explore Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Yucatan and maybe even Belize.

"I'm already getting the fear," she admits. "Oh God, what if something happens in Ireland and I have to be there for it? In that sense, it can be difficult, but you just have to think, life is for living.

"And the longer you work in this business, the more you realise that you have to re-energise yourself. If you're doing a show like Can't Stop Dancing you are up, up, up." And what goes up must come down. The presenter describes herself as an all-or-nothing type, who is "really high energy and then really low energy". "I'm an incredibly lazy person," she adds. "If I have a day off I will literally be on the couch watching Netflix for hours."

Otherwise, she heads back to her family home in Bray to hang out with her siblings (she's the youngest of six) and her nephews and nieces. It's like going back to childhood, she says, especially when mum, Anne, makes her food. Her mother is also on hand to give Bláthnaid a gentle nudge when she needs it. "My mum has always pushed us to put ourselves out there, and it has only ever benefited me. There are times when I really have to push myself to go for something," she adds. "It's not an easy thing to do, but life is too short."

'Can't Stop Dancing' is on RTÉ One on Fridays at 8.30pm

Photography: Daniel Holfeld

Styling: Roxanne Parker

Hair: Albert Halpin, Callan & Co

Make-up: Paula Callan, Callan & Co, callandco.ie

Location: Glovers Alley by Andy McFadden, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, gloversalley.com

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