Jennifer Zamparelli: 'I really found being a full-time mum is the hardest job I've ever done, and I've done some s***ty jobs'
Two kids later, Jennifer Zamparelli knows that being a full-time mum is not her preferred option. She tells Claire O'Mahony about finding her work-life balance
Jennifer Zamparelli may have squared up to Sir Alan Sugar on The Apprentice and then juggled crazy hours working on both TV and radio - but she says being a full-time mother is her toughest gig ever.
And don't get her started on summer-holiday packing for two small children. "Holidays - oh my God," she laments. "We went to Bristol and we went to Lanzarote with my family, and just packing… Now I'm packing for three people - well, obviously Lau [her husband] packs for himself - but myself and the two kids. I have to get ready two weeks before. Spontaneity is definitely gone. You can still have a good time, and you can still go out and enjoy your night, but you just need to get so organised."
Having two children means a lot less time for herself, she admits. "I think you need to become very good at time management during your day. In the beginning, I could not get out of the house before 10am - it just takes so long."
After she had her first child, Florence (3), Jennifer took what might be considered a fairly short maternity leave - 10 weeks - before returning to her presenting role on 2fm's Breakfast Republic. Following the birth of her second baby, Enzo, in January, she decided to take nine months off, with an official start date of September 3 back on the show, and the 38-year-old says she'll be more than ready for it.
"I really found being a full-time mum is the hardest job I've ever done, and I've done some s***ty jobs. You just don't get a minute. I think going into work would be a bit of a break, you know? It's full-on and I take my hat off to anyone who does it because it's just a thankless job, really," she says.
"I've taken a lot of time off and I'm quite fortunate with my job - I can get home fairly early in the day from the breakfast show, so that's great. I feel so lucky to be able to do that. Would I be able to do that full-time, forever? I don't think so."
But it hasn't been a case of just immersing herself entirely in parenting: when we speak, Zamparelli is mid house move and this needs to be completed before she goes back to work. Officially back to work, that is - she and co-writers Jason Butler and Bernard O'Shea have also already been working on the fourth season of the hit RTÉ sitcom Bridget & Eamon, which is currently filming. Because Enzo is such a good sleeper, the baby came into the office with her for some writing sessions.
And then there's her publicity work; Zamparelli's also the ambassador for Milupa and is the face of the baby cereal's campaign to support parents who are going through the weaning process with their children.
"I got involved with the brand because it really helped me through a bit of a stressful time, to be honest, when I was weaning Florence," she explains.
"You have a lot of anxiety as a new parent. The weaning stage is quite stressful and I was just always worried about choking and, 'Am I doing it right? Is it enough and is it the right stage?' Their website has great tips and guidelines because you're bombarded with so much advice from family and friends that it's nice to just get some expert advice and go with what's right for you and your baby, because everybody is different."
One area where she has managed to step back during her maternity leave is in streamlining her media consumption. "I haven't got a bleedin' clue what is going on, and it's great," she says cheerfully.
"I've been on a digital media detox for the last while because, obviously, if you're doing a breakfast show, you're opening the papers and you're on social media constantly to figure out what's going on, so it's nice to have a bit of a break and not have to care what Kim Kardashian is up to."
However, whereas previously she didn't post pictures of Florence online, she is now doing so because she thinks it's important that other women can relate to the realities of parenthood.
"Opening up the conversation is always a good thing in all aspects, especially the whole guilt thing and mothers going back to work. I think there's a little bit more support and there's always someone who is the same as you or worse off."
That doesn't mean she doesn't approach social media - and screen time for children - with caution. She minimises Florence's time on the iPad ("Otherwise your kids turn into zombies") and has a 'no phones' policy at certain times in their house. Since she's first been on social media, she's had to block perhaps 55 people, she says.
"People are entitled to their opinion, and I'm all on for that, but there's no need to be nasty. I think it's dangerous, I think it needs to be monitored, and I worry about the younger generation in my family being on it. I would always have a chat with them about being careful and have a chat with their parents about monitoring their activity and seeing what's going on."
Florence treats little brother Enzo as if he's her own baby ("I need to keep an eye on her because she could kill him with the amount of kisses and hugs she gives him. She squeezes the poor child to death") and is also in the full-blown 'threenager' stage.
"I get annoyed with myself - not for losing the rag but if I get angry with her, I beat myself up about it," Jennifer says. "Toddlers can drive you demented and she's going through a tantrum stage, so I'm sick of putting her on the step for 'time out'.
"You really have to work on yourself and not raise your voice and talk to her properly. That's a whole other thing. You just want to do what's right and with the discipline thing, you just try and be as level-headed as you can, and be consistent, and hopefully she grows out of that."
She maintains that motherhood hasn't changed her as a person - she and Lau will still do the festival circuit and go to gigs - but it has helped her become more focused on having a balanced life.
"Before, it was all about work and constantly working, and being afraid to stop working in case the work stopped coming in. I think I've become a lot more relaxed. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, the most important thing is I have a balanced life and I spend time with my kids. Nobody on their death bed ever said, 'Oh, I wish I spent more time working.' I make sure I have enough time with my kids, my family, my friends and my husband."
Does she have any characteristics of the traditional Irish mammy? "There's a lot of potato at mealtimes in our house, and I think that's it really. I don't have a wooden spoon!"
Does she share any traits with Bridget? "The gin," she deadpans, and says that while she's not a narcissist or a chain smoker like her on-screen character, she too is a bit of a gossip and that her family don't tell her anything because she can't keep a secret.
There are no plans to add to the Zamparelli brood. "I'm not one of those people who loves being pregnant," she says. "I waddle. I had everything from acne to losing my hair. I couldn't sleep. I was sick for six months of the pregnancy - I just didn't enjoy it and I don't think I could go through that again, so it's no more kids for me."
Zamparelli - or Maguire, as she was before marrying long-term partner, Lau, in 2014 - has been a constant presence on our screens and on air since she made her debut in the reality TV show The Apprentice in 2008.
It seems difficult to equate the ice-businessperson persona she presented on the show, which saw her fired by Sir Alan Sugar after seven weeks, with the satirical and comedic turns she became better known for in Republic of Telly and, later, Bridget & Eamon. In fact, she hopes that people don't remember her in The Apprentice.
"First of all, it's one of those TV shows that are quite unforgiving. Second of all, I had such a horrible time, I get anxiety when someone mentions it," she says. "I really struggled on that show and I found it quite difficult. I didn't really click with anyone on the show and then, when I moved home and I was asked to go into Fáilte Towers, I was with Brian Dowling, Don Baker and Evelyn Cusack and all these people. We had such a great time and it was so relaxed, and I was so happy to be at home."
Based on her assurance and confidence as a presenter, you wouldn't expect that Zamparelli ever suffers crises of confidence, but in the early days of Breakfast Republic, she would get nervous having to read out texts in case she fluffed them.
"The unfortunate thing for us was that our first show in radio was our first show on air, so it was like a dress rehearsal that went out to hundreds of thousands of people and it was quite unfair, but it was a huge learning curve," she says.
"We got slated and rightly so, but there was only one way we could go from the bottom and that was up. Luckily, I learned pretty quickly what does and what doesn't work on air."
Also, she does not find the writing process particularly enjoyable. "I get quite stressed out. I love this time of Bridget & Eamon when the series is written, but the hardest part for me is opening up that laptop and putting words on the page. You doubt yourself. I've definitely gotten a lot better and a lot more comfortable with it. I've learnt so much from Jason Butler and Bernard O'Shea, who are two great writers and have lots of experience."
She's also more comfortable with herself physically as she's gotten older - no doubt helped by her many nominations for Most Stylish woman at the VIP awards.
"I look back at pictures of me when I was 17 and 18, and I'm much better-looking now. I get a little bit depressed sometimes when I look in the mirror and think, 'S**t, I thought I was better-looking - I am in my head,' so I'm dealing with that," she jokes.
"I think I'm way cooler now than I ever was but, like I said, that's just probably me in my head. I was very unsure of myself in my 20s and more unhappy with how I looked than I am now. I'm more comfortable in my own style. I know what works, I know what I like, and I don't try and please anyone but myself anymore."
She believes that, regardless of gender, anybody in the public eye has to develop a thick skin. "First of all, it's so fickle, and then second, work-wise you're hot and then you're not. You just don't know how long it's going to last in this industry, so you have to be very conscious of that and accept it. You realise you have to look after yourself and your home life, and make sure you have a lot of balance."
Zamparelli may have gotten her first break in television but she says she would find it difficult to have to choose between the two mediums of radio and TV. She loves the spontaneity of radio and finds TV more stressful because she's also writing and co-producing, but she also loves the acting side.
"I like them like both [my] children - they're both very different and bring joy in my life in different ways."
In the future, she'd like to do even more radio and more theatre. But you're unlikely to see her emulating co-star Bernard O'Shea and brushing up on her tango moves in Dancing with the Stars anytime soon. "I don't think so," she says. "Hopefully I'll be too busy. Although it's a great show, I'd be too terrified I would fall on my snot!"
Find Jennifer's weaning experience, feeding tips, inspiration and advice at facebook.com/MilupaIreland