Doireann Garrihy knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. The co-host of Dancing With The Stars talks about putting a fire under her career ambitions, the dark side of social media and finally finding the right person
People had asked Doireann Garrihy over the years if she would consider taking part in Dancing With The Stars as a contestant, and she always said no. “I’ve a dodgy knee. It clicks out of place; I had surgery on it a year-and-a-half ago,” she tells me over coffee in Dublin’s Schoolhouse Hotel.
Did she ever think she didn’t want to dance because at some point she wanted to be a presenter of the show? “Oh, absolutely. So last summer, I met with someone in RTÉ who said to me, ‘Would you consider dancing in it?’, and I joked and said, ‘No, but I’d love to present it’.”
It “absolutely was,” a goal to present alongside Jennifer Zamparelli since Nicky Byrne left the show for Westlife commitments. She was alone in her apartment beside the Phoenix Park, when she got a call asking her to screen test. “I just said, ‘OK, I have to get this. I know I have what it takes, and it’s just a matter of proving that I do’.
“And if there’s another screen test, I’m going to smash that,” she laughs. “Oh god, I’m going to sound like such a loser, but whatever.
“I made this Dancing With The Stars playlist on Spotify, and every day I’d go for my hour-long walk in the park. I’m not a manifester, but I’d be walking around the park with Bertie [her dog] thinking, ‘OK, how am I gonna do this, what way should I approach this?’”
When we meet, it is the weekend before the quarter-finals; it feels like the show is flying by.
“I’m sad, because it has been the most amazing experience to date for me, career-wise, but also excited, simply because it’s been a full-on time with the breakfast show Monday to Friday,” she says referring to 2FM Breakfast which she presents with Carl Mullan and Donncha O’Callaghan.
The Garrihys could be described as very online.
The family has a combined Instagram following just shy of 600,000. Ailbhe, the middle sister, who works with dad Eugene on Dublin Bay Cruises, has 100k followers.
And so, when it comes to big career changes, Doireann seeks her sisters’ counsel.
As it was when, a few years ago, she decided to go public on Snapchat with her impressions of well-known figures. That project led directly to her RTÉ Player show, The Doireann Project.
Her position in the family has “massively” influenced who she is as a person. “I’ve always loved to perform. But there was always something about being the youngest and wanting Aoibhín and Ailbhe to think I was cool.
“I always wanted to impress them,” she says of her sisters, “and there’s no cooler way to impress your older siblings than if you can make them laugh. So being the youngest definitely contributed to that. And I think it continues to. I love to tell them everything that’s going on.”
After her first screen test for DWTS, she was called back for a chemistry read with Jennifer Zamparelli, consisting of three long links. “Did the second one, and afterwards she turned to me and said, ‘You’re playing a blinder’. It was really nice.”
Although they host adjoining shows each morning on 2FM, and years ago Doireann had done AA Roadwatch when Jen hosted Breakfast Republic, the pair barely knew each other. “We were very much passing ships, because I’m on six to nine, she is on nine to 12; you’re in different studios.
“I left that chemistry test and I just had this feeling that I would be really disappointed, and kind of... shocked probably isn’t the word, but I mean surprised, if I didn’t get it. I just felt like I was the person for it.”
Two weeks passed. She busied herself with other things. And then the call came to come in and talk to the producers.
“It’s so funny, because imposter syndrome sets in then. ‘They didn’t offer it to me on the phone. Maybe they want me to come in so they can critique how bad I was’,” Doireann laughs as she recalls her anxious thoughts that day.
“So I’m now crossing the city, playing my little Dancing With The Stars playlist in the car on my own, thinking, ‘I wonder if I’m going to get it’. I went in and they said, ‘We’d love to offer you the job’.”
Doireann, now 30, has profound confidence in her abilities but shows obvious discomfort when discussing her ambitions.
She squirms as she talks about her designs on the DWTS job.
“I’m awkward as anything now, saying that [I’m ambitious]. But I am. And I think the older I get, the less ashamed.”
Initially, her professional plans hinged on acting and she went to Trinity to study drama and theatre. In college, she loved the practical side of her course, but found the academic aspects “really tough”.
“I didn’t feel bright enough to be there; I used to dread the tutorial. There were people in my year who were so bright and so articulate, and I actually stopped talking in tutorials when it came to third and fourth year. As a result I got really self-conscious about whether I should be there.”
After college, she struggled.
“Auditioning, putting myself on tape for things, I just got really really fed up.”
Her older sister Aoibhín, who had also studied acting at Trinity and gone on to appear in Fair City, had warned her it would be tough.
Aoibhín suggested radio to Doireann as an option; she attended a course in Today FM’s School of Radio and loved it immediately.
“When you’re auditioning for these things, it’s very hard not to go, do I not look the part? Am I too big? Am I too ugly? Am I too brunette?” she laughs.
“You could get completely in on yourself about the way you look. The rejection is really hard. and I’m already quite sensitive, so I found that difficult. I think the fact that it didn’t matter what you look like in radio, it’s all about your personality, it came around at a good time.”
A part-time job came up in AA Roadwatch, and after a year she moved to Spin 1038 as an entertainment reporter. At the time, Snapchat was taking off,
and Doireann began messing about, just for friends initially, doing impressions of influencers. People began telling her to put it out there publicly. She checked with her sisters.
“I said to Aoibhín and Ailbhe, ‘would this be bad?’ Especially because Aoibhín was in the industry then; people might be like, ‘Who’s Aoibhín’s little wagon sister, taking the mick out of us?’ She was like, ‘No, do it’.”
The night Doireann began posting publicly, she gained 40,000 followers.
“I couldn’t sleep all night,” she squeals now, laughing. “And then I had to go into Spin the next day and act like... in my mind, people were going to spot me on the street. After one night. I was like, ‘Oh god, how am I gonna go out for lunch?’” She roars with laughter at the memory.
But her impressions caught the attention of her bosses, and the programme director asked if she wanted to be on air full-time.
“I totally pretended to him that I knew exactly what I was doing, with the buttons and stuff. Hadn’t a clue.”
She accepted a slot covering someone that week, before running off to ask a colleague to explain the desk.
“From there, there was a reshuffling. In radio, the reshuffles don’t happen that often. So you need to be so ready for when they do happen, so you’re the first person in the office to say, ‘I’m the person for that’.”
She was given The Zoo Crew with Martin Guilfoyle, which she stayed with until late 2018. Leaving was something of a leap of faith, but you get the impression she was somewhat burnt out.
“So much had changed for me over such a short space of time. I had 150,000 followers on Instagram within a year. When I’d go on a night out, people were starting to notice me. I probably felt self-conscious at the time about that.”
In 2018 there was an incident where a “really vicious” WhatsApp voice note about her went viral. It claimed she had stolen someone’s boyfriend.
“Before that I felt, well, if someone’s going to follow me on social media, they must like what I do. But it was such a lesson in that’s just so not the case. A good chunk of people follow you to have a look, and maybe wait for you to make a mistake.”
Someone on Instagram sent her the voice note, with a message saying, “please don’t tell me this is true”.
“It was basically, long story short, that I had “stolen” a guy from a girl. It was horrific.
Because when it’s not true, you’re getting calls from newspapers, people saying things like ‘Doireann, I’ve followed you since forever, and I really didn’t think you were this kind of girl’. I just froze. Which I think was the right thing to do at the time; I just did nothing.”
It was really hard though, being in the eye of the storm, and doing nothing. She describes trying to explain to her parents the intensity of the situation.
“I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my parents, and I was so upset. And they, at that stage, didn’t really understand the level of my social media presence. So they were like, ‘It’ll be fine, it’ll blow over’.”
They asked her older sister Ailbhe if it was as bad as Doireann was making out. Ailbhe, also at the table, opened Twitter and searched Doireann’s name. “And the tears started rolling from Ailbhe’s eyes. I was like, ‘If Ailbhe’s crying, can you see how bad it is?’ It was real character assassination.”
Eventually, Doireann posted a screenshot from the woman whose boyfriend she had been accused of stealing, saying none of it was true. “I’d already been thinking, ‘Oh god, all of this is a lot’,” she says now of her general situation at the time.
She was getting cover work in Today FM and work as an MC and she had her plan for her podcast The Laughs of Your Life. National radio was the goal, and so she decided to leave The Zoo Crew and free herself up.
“I made the leap and it did pay off,” she says, smiling, adding that it was against the advice she was given at the time.
There was another reshuffle, this time in 2FM, and Doireann was offered the breakfast-show slot, initially presenting with Eoghan McDermott starting in June 2019, and now hosting with Carl and Donncha.
It’s easy, she says, to retreat when you work on a breakfast show.
“You just have to do things, suck it up, and nap where you can.” That said, she admits to loving her own company, saying she spent a lot of last year on her own. “And I really loved it.”
She is referring to breaking up with her then boyfriend, Paddy Wilson, in April of last year. I tell her I remember reading interviews with her at the time, and wondering if she’d contend that, yes, she was actually happily single.
“When we started the breakfast show and the three of us were being interviewed together, Carl noticed that I was asked about being single, being an aunt and if I wanted to get married. Carl said he was being asked about the breakfast show and Donncha was asked about rugby. And that was it.
Time on her own was necessary.
“You have to. And the older I’ve got, the more I realise that. Yes, you could avoid it, and make sure you’ve loads of nights out. But you need to have those days and nights on your own, to come to terms with it, figure out where you’re going, what you want, what you don’t want. Because a lot of relationship breakdowns teach you what you absolutely don’t want.”
You can laugh at the quotes on Instagram, Doireann adds, but they’re true. Then she mentions another cliche she finds to be true; about meeting someone when you least expect it.
“You’re doing your own thing, and the likes of Dancing With The Stars comes along, and all is going great, and I’ve met someone now who is amazing.”
She’s referring to her boyfriend Mark Mehigan, the comedian who she hard launched on her Instagram account in early January. Was she nervous, putting the relationship out there?
“Yeah, definitely,” she laughs, then stops, and corrects herself. “Well, I was and I wasn’t. I think like, I feel so sure, and things are so great with Mark that I…”
She rang him before we met today, she says. “To be like, ‘Anything you don’t want me to say?’ Because I’m happy to say whatever. Which I’ve never felt before. And he was like, ‘Sure we’re in this for the long haul, say whatever you like’.”
They met through his cousin who produces in 2FM, and mentioned a comedy night he was going to back in October. Doireann knew of Mark, and began to follow him on Instagram.
“I followed him, I will admit. He followed me back. But he DM’d first. These are very important details,” she laughs.
“He’s the funniest person I’ve ever met. Hands down.”
Initially, she wasn’t sure if dating someone in the same industry was a good or a bad thing.
“Is it too much? But he just completely gets what I do, is so supportive of it all, and I feel like I’m the same with him. Can bounce anything off him, and vice versa.
“He gets it,” she continues. “And he’s a great pep-talker. Because you know, things are fairly mad at the moment. He just is the most naturally funny person I’ve ever met. And will find humour in anything.”
They complement each other. “If he’s having a day where he just wants to be miserable and give out about things, I’ll be great to say, ‘OK, but we have this, and we have this and we have this to be grateful for’. And he’ll do the same for me.”
This wasn’t my first time interviewing Doireann; in the autumn of 2020, we sat outside a cafe in Castleknock, the area in which she grew up. At the time, she struck me as one of those people for whom interviews are slightly tricky, because their nature is to be especially chatty and open, but they haven’t yet become comfortable with the public aspect of much of their life.
I really feel like I’ve adapted to that well,” she says now. “And it’s just managing it. Like, you can just be clever about it,” she continues, explaining, as an example, that she deleted the Twitter app just before DWTS began.
She has further plans, maybe a new podcast. And of course there are the two Bord Gáis shows later this year, The Laughs Of Your Life LIVE on April 12 and 13.
“I cannot believe this is happening. In all the different events I’ve MC’d, or TV stuff or radio stuff, there’s never been a live event that’s just me. It’s not like I’m stepping in as the host, it’s actually my show that’s being constructed and created by me. And that’s terrifying. What am I again? What do they want to hear from me again? This is the first time I’ve ever been live on a stage where people have bought the tickets for me. So. It’s huge. But it’ll be amazing.”
Earlier in our conversation, she talked about how her career took off in her early 20s, and she was on air by age 23. When you are on that kind of trajectory, it can be hard to get off. Sometimes she looks back at everything she sacrificed and while she doesn’t regret it, she thinks it might have been nice to also try travelling, or perhaps a spell working in London. Maybe a less demanding job.
“But now that I’m in a relationship that I’m... it’s the first time in my life I’ve gone, ‘OK Doireann, you’re 30 now, and you’re with someone you’re happy with, what is the plan there?’ And I don’t know what the plan is,” she smiles, “but I mean I would love to put more focus on my personal life in general. Cause I do think it’s taken a back seat in ways, in my 20s. Where I’ve absolutely put work first. And it’s not like I’m forcing myself to stop. It’s that I actually don’t want to have that at the forefront of my mind as much any more. I want to prioritise my spare time and personal life more.”
It’s a sign of being in a good place, that she feels she can lean into that, I suggest.
“Exactly. With the right person.” Then she rolls her eyes at herself and laughs. “So cringe.
“It’s the first time it’s ever been, I think, that genuine.”
Photography: Frank McGrath; Styling: Orla Dempsey, @thatsorlatoyou; Make-up: Paula Callan, @paula_callan_makeup; Hair: Sian Sharkey
The ‘Dancing With The Stars’ final takes place today, Sunday, March 19 at 6.30pm on RTÉ One