Wednesday 24 January 2018

DJ Alison Curtis on her daughter Joan: 'I'm always aware that she's an only child and that's a thing parents can experience guilt with'

Alison Curtis's daughter starts junior infants next month, but finding the right school proved a challenge for the Canadian radio presenter and her husband.

alison curtis
alison curtis
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Joan Curtis-Hegarty's first gig was The Eels at Electric Picnic. She also likes the defunct indie band Gossip, and while she went through a Taylor Swift stage, she has recently returned to her rock roots.

It should be added that Joan is just five-years-old, and while her musical sensibilities may seem a touch precocious, they're hardly surprising when you consider her pedigree.

Her mother is Canadian radio presenter Alison Curtis (41), the respected host of a number of music-led shows on Phantom FM (now TXFM) and Today FM. Her father is Anton (Tony) Hegarty, the bassist with former Irish rock band Future Kings of Spain.

Like her husband, Alison is a multi-instrumentalist. "I was in an all-girl band in high school; I used to play piano and I was a drummer for years.

"But it didn't come naturally to me," she adds. "When I think of the difference between Tony and myself, I worked very hard at everything I tried, but I still loved it.

"Tony, on the other hand, is just really good at it, and I hope he passes those genes on to our daughter."

Born in Kingston, Ontario, Alison came to Ireland in 1999. The plan was to stay for a maximum of six months and then head off to Edinburgh to do a master's degree.

Read more: Today FM's Alison Curtis: "It breaks my heart that my parents aren't here to see Joan"

Her plans went in a different direction, however, when she started temping as a PA to former Today FM CEO Willie O'Reilly. She loved the cut and thrust of the radio industry and quickly decided that she wanted to make a career out of it.

Her trajectory in this regard makes for inspirational reading. Slowly but surely, she went from PA to researcher to producer to presenter.

She also seems to have the Midas touch. Her indie music show The Last Splash was one of the longest running shows on Today FM, and was nominated for four Meteor Awards. More recently, her hugely successful, listener-focused Saturday Breakfast show on the station has been extended to a Sunday morning slot.

Radio wasn't the only Irish love affair for Alison. In 2002, a few years after arriving in Ireland, she met her future husband in Whelan's, a music venue in Dublin. Tony's band had been invited to perform as part of a showcase organised by Phantom FM, and Alison says the connection between them was instant.

"It was kind of love at first sight," she recalls. "We didn't go through that awkward period of 'are we dating or aren't we?'"

Even so, it was a long time before they would get to spend significant time in each other's company.

"I went to Australia about two weeks after we started dating," she explains. "Then I went to work in Japan for three weeks. I was back for two weeks and then he went to New York for four months to make an album.

"I definitely had moments where I thought, 'This is crazy. I'm hanging off this dude I only actually know for five minutes. But I knew that I very much wanted for it to work."

The couple married in 2007, and Alison says they had barely walked up the aisle when people started asking them when the baby was coming along.

"Literally the week after we got married people started asking," she laughs. "I remember thinking, 'This is really odd'...

"I was in my mid-thirties at the time, and my attitude was very much... I just wasn't sure. I wasn't sure if I wanted it, but we thought, oh sure, we'll try... whatever.

"I was the type of person who never really thought about becoming a mother. And I know that might sound very strange."

Unsurprisingly, her ambivalence soon gave way to complete devotion. Joan was born in 2011, and Alison says she finally understood the maternal bond that everyone talked about.

"All of my close friends had children before I had Joan, and they all talked about this love for their child that was like nothing else," she says.

"I love my twin sister [Karen] so much and I love my husband so much and I was thinking, 'How can I love more than I love these people?'

"But it's a deeper thing. It's not that it's more. It's a totally different, totally entwined love that I didn't anticipate. There have been so many moments when I've just been completely blindsided by it."

Joan is now five ("going on 14") and she officially starts school in September. Last year, her parents enrolled her in a pre-primary programme in their local DEIS school. "It starts them with the junior infants curriculum and it's more about what's expected from kids in a school environment," she explains.

"We're so happy we did it. She's writing and reading and the change in her is phenomenal."

Finding a primary school for Joan was more of a challenge. Alison and Tony wanted to find a school culture that resonated with their own values. However, Canadian-born Alison was bewildered by the many variables they had to consider.

"I have to be honest, I found it stressful last year," she admits. "Public schools are secular in North America, there are no uniforms and co-ed is a given. Plus, it's people from different backgrounds.

"When people here were asking, 'Is she going to go to a mixed school?', I was like, what does that even mean?"

After much debating, they eventually decided on an Educate Together school. "When we visited, it just felt really lovely and familiar," she recalls. "It felt like the school that I grew up in.

"The children are from different backgrounds and they are taught about all religions. It's not that I have a problem with teaching religion - I just don't want it to be a huge focus on the curriculum and I like the idea of them learning about different religions."

September will be a busy month in the Curtis-Hegarty household, with Joan starting school and Alison meeting the demands of a second weekend show.

"I get to spend a lot of time with her and I'm very aware of the fact that it's something a lot of parents don't get an opportunity to do," she says.

"However, there may be a misconception that I only work Saturdays and Sundays, but I don't just turn up. I'm doing something every day. So I'm trying to be really conscious of making Mondays and Tuesdays like my Saturdays and Sundays."

This isn't to say that maternal guilt doesn't rear its head from time to time. "I remember being torn between putting her into the crèche and thinking I should be working harder. And I suppose I'm always aware that she's an only child, and that's another thing that parents can experience guilt with."

Alison is also conscious of not losing sight of her romantic relationship as she strikes the work/life balance. The couple had a date night at the Bruce Springsteen concert earlier in the summer and they'd like to organise more of the same.

"We're not great at that, to be honest," she says. "We don't have a huge catalogue of sitters. We really need to work on that - that's our fault.

"I think a lot of couples let the original relationship - the relationship that made the person - fly sometimes," she continues. "You still have the want for that relationship, but it's just time and energy..."

Indeed, it's a predicament that many new parents find themselves in, but one that the ever-dynamic Alison will no doubt find a way out of.


•WELL-OILED / Bio Oil: A good friend of mine suggested I use it while I was pregnant and, honestly, it does prevent stretch marks. And it smells nice too!

•SLING ALONG / Baby Bjorn sling: Joan was in it for the first year-and-a-half of her life. To the point where her little legs were so long she had completely outgrown it, but it meant she went everywhere with me and was very happy!

•NET GAINS / I relied on long before I started writing a blog for them. It has a lot of helpful sections for different stages of your baby's development and it's a very non-judgemental place for new mums to visit online.

•OUTDOOR PURSUITS / Malahide Castle & Gardens. We started visiting Malahide Castle regularly when Joan was two-and-a-half/three. The playground is great for different ages, and you're so close to the yummy Avoca food.

Saturday Breakfast with Alison Curtis, Today FM, 8am-11am;

Sunday Breakfast with Alison Curtis, Today FM, 7am-9am

Irish Independent

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