Friday 20 April 2018

This has been the toughest year of my life - RTE's Claire Byrne

She has secured her position as one of RTE's biggest stars, but she tells Niamh Horan returning to work 10 weeks after giving birth was not easy

RISING STAR: Claire Byrne admits that juggling a successful career with motherhood is difficult
RISING STAR: Claire Byrne admits that juggling a successful career with motherhood is difficult
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Claire Byrne is riding high. Now RTE's undisputed 'go-to' girl, she is at the zenith of her broadcasting career.

But behind a new elegant coiffure and breezy confidence, the current affairs host told the Sunday Independent that 'having it all' as mum and career woman isn't easy. In fact it's damn hard.

Claire Byrne
Claire Byrne

In a quiet corner after most of the stars had left last week's RTE autumn schedule launch, she said: "This has been the toughest professional and personal year of my life."

The mother of two returned to work after giving birth to her daughter Jane late last year. She already has a son Patrick who is just 14 months older than his sibling. She was back at her desk when Jane was just 10 weeks old and the reality of being a working mother hit home.

"I am doing both and I am not going to say that it is an easy thing to do because it's not. I would quite honestly say to you when I came back to work in January of this year after having Jane, it was the toughest professional and personal year of my life. Without doubt.

"Coming back to work 10 weeks after the first baby is one thing, but coming back to work 10 weeks after the second baby and then starting a new show? It was absolutely crazy.

Una Foden and Claire Byrne at the RTE new season launch at the Smock Alley Theatre. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Una Foden and Claire Byrne at the RTE new season launch at the Smock Alley Theatre. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

"I was walking out the door some mornings and I was leaving mayhem behind and I just thought, 'this is all getting away from me, everything is happening too quickly.'

"It is not easy," she says, "But going back [in the upcoming season] I feel like I have found a bit more of a rhythm and a bit more used to having two children as opposed to one."

She admits the picture perfect image of high-flying moms having it all is a far cry from reality.

"Everything is great in the broad scheme of things but everything is not great. Some days children bump their heads or won't eat and you still have to go to work, I can't not turn up for a show that I am presenting. So it's not easy. It's do-able, just about. But it's tough."

Claire Byrne and Gerry Scollan
Claire Byrne and Gerry Scollan

She said that she didn't have any major emotional issues leaving her children at home because she always knew how important her career is to her.

"No I didn't because it never occurred to me when I was pregnant or on maternity leave that I wasn't going to go back to work so I was always going to back. So it wasn't a big emotional shock for me to leave the babies."

Juggling both television and radio, Claire says: "There are some nights when it gets to 10 o'clock and I'm about to go on air in half an hour and I'm like, 'I haven't seen my children since 10am this morning', and that is a little bit tough.

"But that's one day out of the week. But the next day I know I can be with them. So it's all a negation and it's all a bargain. And it comes down to your own emotions as well.

Gerry Scollan and Claire Byrne in 2012
Gerry Scollan and Claire Byrne in 2012

"You're kind of pushing and pulling all of the time, but you know, I think when you make the decision to go back to work, you've got to be at peace with that. That's the way I am."

It's been a long road for the Laois-born presenter who started her career in TV3. After making the brave decision to step down as news anchor at the station, after battling TV3 in the courts to go on air on a different station, she moved to Newstalk radio station in 2006 where she quietly cut her teeth in the world of current affairs.

For a time she worked from the crack of dawn on her breakfast slot before returning to present the nightly news on TV3.

In her new home, she had a lower profile and enjoyed less glamour than under the bright lights of TV but she worked hard - determined to reach her ultimate goal as a television news and current affairs presenter. In 2010 the move paid off and Byrne moved to RTE where she agreed to present light entertainment on The Daily Show until March 2012.

After a major shake-up in early 2013, she joined the current affairs programme Prime Time as an anchor, joining Miriam O'Callaghan and Pat Kenny. But it only took a year until the announcement that she would front her own current affairs show, Claire Byrne Live, which went to air on RTE One last January.

Having turned 40 on Tuesday she reflects on how she came into her prime in her later years.

"I devoted a lot of my life, my 20s and a good part of my 30s, to my career. Not because I was on fire with ambition, it was more because I absolutely loved what I was doing. Now, in a way, I've got better balance in my life because I have Gerry and my two children to worry about and they will probably always come first and the job comes second so that's turned things on its head a little bit for me, which is a great position to be in."

After a celebratory week, which included a party in Kilronan Castle and being whisked off by husband Gerry for a romantic meal at Neven Maguire's restaurant, she said the milestone age has yet to sink in. "Whatever that was supposed to feel like, well I don't really feel it.

"So when I walked into the room in Kilronan and they had all the balloons with 40 on it I was sort of looking over my shoulder to find the 40-year-old . . . but it doesn't bother me.

"Sure what can I do about it? You're going to get older and that's it. It doesn't knock anything off me. I am happy to be 40. I never worried about getting older.

"I think for a moment, when I was about 25, I worked in TV3. And I said to my boss there that I was probably too old for TV3 at that stage. And I look back on that now and I just think, 'How naïve was I?'"

She returns on air this January - with her eyes firmly fixed on covering the general election.

Claire Byrne Live began in January this year and had a really strong first five-month series with ratings averaging at over a quarter of a million people watching the full hour-long programme each week.

The new series of 'Claire Byrne Live' will start back on RTE One on Monday 7, September

Sunday Independent

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