Rachel and Sky Sports: a word from the Wyse
Unwittingly, Rachel Wyse found herself at the centre of a debate on sexism in sports media this summer. In expressing his disgust at Sky's GAA coverage Joe Brolly, the controversial GAA commentator, referred to her in a tweet as a 'Baywatch Babe', sparking a firestorm of criticism for Brolly and, eventually, an apology from him to Wyse.
The Dublin-born presenter says it wasn't the first time she'd faced pointed criticism and she moved past it easily. "There is pretty much not one interview goes by I don't get that question", she sighs. "I took it as a huge vote of confidence in me that Sky wanted me to present the GAA coverage and, regardless of whether I'm male or female, that's how I think of it.
"That's what I try and focus on because if you get too worked up about all the other conversations you're really going down the wrong path. I've been involved with sport in my life from an early age and I don't claim to be an expert on every single sport in the world."
Ironically, Rachel is one of the best qualified sports commentators on the air - in terms of actual high-level experience as an athlete. As a teenager, she was a high-level show jumper and qualified for two European championship teams as well as competing at the top of the Irish circuit.
"From about the age of ten I was involved with horses", she tells me. "We'd go to the local stables in Stepaside. I was lucky enough to get a pony and from there I just sort of became semi-professional. My life was school, horses, competing. My mum was so good to me, she would pick me up from school and drive me across Europe for competitions and I probably interrupted my brother's and sister's summers quite a lot."
Her passion for horses took second place after her schooldays were over, as Rachel would go on to complete a degree in business studies and management in Dun Laoghaire. After college she got a job at City Channel, the now defunct local station in Dublin. In some senses they were grim years - she describes not getting paid at times - but what the gig lacked in monetary compensation it made up in terms of the experienced she gained. "When I did my interview [with Sky], my soon-to-be boss kind of looked down at my CV and my showreel and I thought he thought I was lying when I said I produced 15 programmes at the same time, but because it was local television I just did a little bit of everything", she recalls.
Dublin will always be home, but Rachel says she now feels quite 'at home' in London. "I've moved in the last couple of weeks. I'm now living in Fulham with two of my closest guy friends - a Cork guy and a Cheltenham guy, so it's a good mix of racing and GAA in the house. I've been in London five and a half years now, my brother and sister are just down the road, and really it is home, although I know my mum would love if at least one of us moved back to Ireland." Rachel was in a long-term relationship with fellow show jumper Cian O'Connor, which ended a number of years ago, but she's staying mum on whether she's single or attached now.
Rachel was last year named as one of the most influential women in Irish sport, but for her own sporting career, Rachel says she has largely hung up her riding boots now, but still takes part the odd time for fun, or for charity. In 2011 she rode Silent Jo at Cheltenham and raised £60,000 for cancer research in the process. "Andrew Balding, Clare Balding's brother, gave me a lot of help for the charity ride", she recalls. "And it's always great to get back on the horse. I have friends in the sport and I still dip in and out of it. But presenting is my passion and that's what I'm focussing on right now."
Catch live GAA semi-final action from the Hurling Championships today from 3pm on Sky Sports 3