Tuesday 20 February 2018

In the running together

Champion runner Ava Hutchinson is in the fast lane thanks to the help of dad Colman and mum Sharon, says Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

TOP TV producer Colman Hutchinson has been involved in the production of some of the biggest TV shows in the world, but the challenges they bring pale by comparison with the anxiety he feels when he watches his 28-year-old daughter, champion runner Ava, competing in a race.

"I get absolutely terrified," he says, laughing. "I don't know where she gets the ability from because I couldn't run for a bus, and neither could my wife Sharon!"

Ava is the youngest of Colman and Sharon's three children, and she is beginning to make a real name for herself as a runner. She represents Ireland, although she lives in England, as her family went to live there when she was two years old.

Colman, who is from Dun Laoghaire, joined RTE at 19, working as a runner on Hall's Pictorial Weekly. He then worked with the late Aine O'Connor, who kindly spoke to Gay Byrne about him. After being interviewed by the legendary broadcaster, Colman got a job as a researcher on The Late Late Show.

"I just loved it, because we did all sorts of different shows and I worked with great people like John Caden, June Levine, Mary O'Sullivan and Pan Collins," he says. "Gay was fantastic, and if he trusted you, he trusted you completely. I remember doing a whole show on the subject of alcoholism, which was a big part of my life, because my late father and my wife Sharon's late mother were both alcoholics."

Colman married Sharon when he was 23 and she was 21, and they have three children Aaron, 33, Adam, 31 and Ava. They were first introduced through their fathers, who met through Alcoholics Anonymous, as Sharon's dad, Dr Paddy Leahy, had a keen interest in the subject because of his wife's addiction.

While Colman loved his job, his ambition was to become a producer. However, although he applied internally for producer positions at RTE, he was always unsuccessful. He started to apply for jobs in England, and secured a position as a researcher on the TV programme Ultra Quiz.

"It became patently obvious that I was never going to become a producer in RTE because I wasn't properly educated," he says. "I didn't have Irish and hadn't been to university, and I was always on a rolling year-to-year contract. I think that going in as a runner meant that I was always going to be judged as the young lad who ran for Frank Hall, whereas when I came over here, I was only judged on my work with The Late Late Show. People here said it was a fantastic show and they had a huge admiration for Gay, so that was a good start for me. And after that, you were as good as your last show, basically."

Colman quickly rose through the ranks of TV production, producing such stellar programmes as Cilla Black's Blind Date and Surprise, Surprise. One of the highlights of his career to date has been working as executive producer on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the biggest game show in the world.

He has just finished recording pilots of a new show, High Stakes, for ITV and NBC in America, starring Jeremy Kyle. He has also set up his own company, Boxatricks with the original creator of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Together they are hoping to create and produce entertainment formats for the UK and worldwide.

On the personal side, once the Hutchinsons had moved to the UK, they quickly settled into life there, although Sharon was lonely initially as her friends and family were back in Ireland. The children were seven, five and two years old, and Colman recalls that Ava was always a very strong character and a tomboy who gave as good as she got with her older brothers.

These days, his sons Aaron and Adam are both successful TV producers. Aaron is married to Becky, and they have a nine-month-old daughter, Ebba. Adam will be marrying his fiancee Louise in May.

Having run since she was 11 years of age, Ava's talent was spotted at university, and she was offered a full scholarship to Indianapolis at 19.

"I was a bit terrified because I'm really close to my mum and dad and didn't want to leave them," she says. "They said it was a great opportunity, and when they were dropping me off, Dad said to give it until Christmas, which would be just like going on a holidays, and if I didn't like it, I could come back. That was the best thing he could have said, and after about two days, I didn't want to come home."

Part of the attraction may have been that in Indiana Ava met her partner Alex Hains, a 10km runner who runs for Wales. They have been together for almost six years now, and Alex has been coaching Ava for the past year and a half. It is really helpful to have someone to work so closely with, says Ava, and happily they haven't killed each other yet!

Ava is training hard the whole time, running around 100 miles per week, combined with gym workouts, eating healthily, not drinking and holding down a part-time job. She is very grateful to her parents for helping her financially, as it's an expensive business and requires hours of dedicated training.

"Ava works more than we would like her to work," says her proud dad of his daughter, who won the senior women's 8,000 metres in the Inter Club Cross Country championships at Santry a few weeks ago. "She wants to be financially independent, and I feel for her, because it's not possible for her just yet.

"She's such a sweet girl, and I definitely see her as my little girl, even though she's done so much and achieved so much. I'm so proud of her because her dedication is amazing. She has represented Ireland quite a few times, and her dream would be to run in the Olympics."

The dream is getting closer as last Sunday, Ava came first in the Trafford 10km in Manchester. She will be representing Ireland in Spain today for the World Cross Country Championships, having come first in our national championships recently in Santry.

"Mum and dad have been unbelievably supportive of my career," she says. "Dad is one of the most generous people you'll ever meet. He's so thoughtful and kind and a really gentle guy. It's also really inspiring for me, seeing the success he's had from where he came from to where he is today."


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