Friday 15 December 2017

Gingexit: Angela Scanlon's future lies in Britain for now, but she yearns for home

She's co-hosting one of the BBC's flagship shows, but Angela Scanlon still reckons she's a dishevelled hobo most of the time , writes Sarah Caden. Big things are happening for the former fashion blogger whose ultimate dream was once to own her own boutique. Once she got the TV bug, though, there was no going back, but she laughs at the idea that she could ever have been an 'Xpose' girl and puts 'Dancing with the Stars' rumours to rest by explaining it clashed with her BBC breakthrough.

Dress Simone Rocha, Havana. Coat Topshop. Shoes, Aquazurra, Brown Thomas. Photo: Aaron Hurley
Dress Simone Rocha, Havana. Coat Topshop. Shoes, Aquazurra, Brown Thomas. Photo: Aaron Hurley
Bomber, trousers, both River Island. Shoes, Gucci, Brown Thomas

Recently, at home in London, Angela Scanlon's husband, Roy Horgan, discovered her sitting in bed, crying her eyes out.

"I was in the bed watching Brooklyn," Angela says. "And bawling. It was ridiculous. At one level, you relate [to the film's theme of emigration and homesickness] but it's so far removed, really, from now. And Roy was, like, 'OK, I'll let you have the moment; but you do know there are 22 flights per day from London to Ireland?' And I'm sobbing, 'But that's not the point'.

"I knew myself it was ridiculous," Angela adds, laughing at herself. "Dublin to London is a commute. If I was based in Cork, it would take me that long to get up to Dublin. Perspective, perspective."

That small, endearingly domestic picture says a lot about Angela. One is that she is a woman given to laughing at herself, easily, regularly, appealingly. Also, she likes a bit of drama. She likes the slightly melodramatic weeping over her own emigration from Ireland to London, and we shouldn't be surprised at this predilection for a bit of drama. For while Angela is utterly down to earth, she's also a woman with undeniable ambition and drive to make it in television.

Bomber, trousers, both River Island. Shoes, Gucci, Brown Thomas
Bomber, trousers, both River Island. Shoes, Gucci, Brown Thomas

If there's a world where a bit of a love of drama is no harm, it's the world of television. And Angela is seriously making her mark in that world, both here and all the way away in London.

When I meet Angela in Dublin before Christmas, she's home for a few days and due to record a voiceover for the BBC's Robot Wars after we speak. That can be done in Dublin, obviously, which kind of blows apart her connection to 1950s-set Brooklyn. Angela began co-presenting Robot Wars with Dara O Briain last summer, and it's part of her blossoming relationship with the BBC. Not that a blossoming relationship with the BBC means she's exclusively about living in London and being wedded to British television.

No more than emigrating to London in the 21st Century resembles heading off forever on a 19th-Century coffin ship, taking up work in England is not a jettisoning or rejection of TV ventures in Ireland, or with RTE. Of that, Angela is emphatic.

Still, there's no denying that she's doing well over there.

Angela Scanlon has worked in television proper for only three years, when her documentary about what it means to be a redhead, Oi Ginger! was made for RTE2 and became part of its Reality Bites strand. Before that, Angela was a fashion journalist and stylist, but she outgrew that and decided to commit herself to broadcasting, where she felt she could find a home for her ambitions and talents.

The TV toe-dipping constituted fashion items for daytime TV, RTE's then movie show, Off the Rails and Xpose for the most part, but Angela never saw herself as getting a foothold and becoming an Xpose girl.

"Em, no," she laughs. "It's not me. Well, you know, maybe at one point, when I really wasn't sure what would be me, but no."

Oi Ginger! Angela explains, was born out of a meeting in RTE, where she pitched a fashion-related idea that received a lukewarm response. "Then, as I left," she says, "I did a typical 'OK, well if not that, how about this?'"

That one-off, irreverent, lively documentary then led to a second doc, Angela Scanlon: Full Frontal, and then a series, Close Encounters, through which she proved her talent for seeming to chat away to people like the man on the street, while also managing to deliver the drama.

Getaways, the travel show that was an RTE/BBC Northern Ireland joint production, came knocking, and that led to offers of work as a reporter on The One Show, where this month Angela will become temporary co-host with Matt Baker, while Alex Jones is on maternity leave. It's two or three evenings a week, as Angela shares the maternity cover with Watchdog presenter Michelle Ackerley, but, symbolically, it says a lot.

As Angela puts it herself: "You know, it's their flagship show. It's got four million or five million viewers. and that's a bit terrifying, but I don't think about that too much or I'd lose it. If you become too aware of people looking at you, and worrying about what they think, it's exhausting. I can't let myself do it."

But this job means a lot to Angela. It's the reason she's not on RTE's Dancing With the Stars, she says, when I mention the rumours at the end of last year that she was supposed to be Amanda Byram's co-presenter instead of Nicky Byrne.

"I'd say [Dancing with the Stars] will be a really good show," she says with a nervous laugh. "Agh, look at me being all awkward now and folding my arms and stuff."

She pauses. "Yeah, I think it will be a really great show.

"But The One Show starts at the same time, so that's that,"Angela says.

But there are 22 flights a day, I say, and she laughs again.

Angela says she's "a bit free range". It's her dad's description, and it applies to most of her family, she explains. Fundamentally, this seems to mean that they're a bit offbeat, paddling their own canoes without apology or explanation. It's not aggressive, but it speaks of a certain self-confidence, without which you can't laugh at yourself as easily as Angela does. Also, it allows you to admit that you're optimistically ambitious, which isn't always easy for women. But Angela has this 'here I am, giving my best and hoping it fits' vibe that works for her.

For example, when I ask her what she thinks makes them keen on her in the UK, she says: "God knows. I certainly don't know. I'm not even sure if they do."

And yet, the evidence is to the contrary, given the role on what she herself acknowledges as their "flagship" show. She's yet to get recognised on the street in the UK, she points out, and she's utterly too free range for the whole celeb red-carpet thing.

"When I first went to London," she says, "I would have been, 'OK, I've made the move over here and now I need to throw myself into it'. You know, you're consciously trying to make people aware of you, if only in a subtle way. But now there's enough of an awareness of me, I think, so I'll only go to events if I'm working, or there is something I need to promote.

"And if you look at me in the photos at these things," she says with a hearty laugh, "I'm always like a deer in the headlights. I go there thinking, 'Yep, I've got this', and then I just can't do it. Some people have it really nailed, but that's practise. That's being professional and I admire that from afar, but it's really not me."

Despite being a former fashion journalist, Angela insists that the real her is very non-celeb chaotic. "My family take the piss out of me, because this is basically my uniform," she says, gesturing at her red Converse, black skinny jeans and sweater, and leopard-print coat. "I always think I look like a bit of a hobo. I'm fine on the TV, but in real life I'm a bit dishevelled."

She's not really, obviously; it's all relative, and while Angela says she can't do the red-carpet soignee stuff, she is also, recently, a face for the new foundation from L'Oreal. She's in a TV ad with Cheryl, for God's sake. A bit free range seems to be working for her.

Ratoath-born Angela studied business in DIT, before heading off to travel in Australia and South-East Asia. It was during that time that she decided that a career in fashion was for her and, specifically, that she would open her own boutique when she returned to Ireland. "I still have all these notebooks full of plans and ideas and stockist information," she says.

"It was going to be like Anthropologie, with clothes and homewares and stuff," Angela explains, adopting a tone that conveys the rose-tinted-glasses aspect to the plan. On her return home, with the plan incubating, she began working in the Westbury Mall boutique Chica - "very boom time" she says - and the scales fell from her eyes. Through working with the sisters who owned the very popular shop, Angela saw the serious slog involved and shifted her plans. The end of the boom didn't help, she adds.

After that, Angela began "flogging bags" in the Loft in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, and heard there about an opening for an assistant to a personal shopper in Dundrum Town Centre. She began work as a personal shopper, and then began pitching herself as a stylist and fashion writer around town.

She was pretty ballsy, I suggest, and Angela doesn't bother pretending otherwise.

"When you think of it," she says, "when I was in Australia, I didn't even know how to attach an image to an email; but the world moved really fast in the years after I got home. Like, I came back saying, 'Oooh, I've heard about these things called weblogs'.

"I suppose I was quite ballsy, and I kept pushing myself on people, but I had no connections in the world of newspapers or fashion, and that was an advantage, because I didn't have a clue about hierarchies or how to behave. I'd write emails to people and then think, 'Hmm, I probably shouldn't send this', and then I'd recklessly send it. And, you know, you might only get a reply saying, 'Join the queue', or 'Go away', but you only needed one person to say yes to get you started."

A fashion blog with the Irish Independent was a start, she says, "but I had so many starts that I thought were it, and then they weren't."

It reached a point, Angela says, where she realised she needed to make a choice. She was doing bits of writing, bits of styling, bits of TV, but not committing to any one thing. She realised that she needed to decide on one track and stick to it.

TV, she says, was it.

Also, Angela adds, she didn't want to spend the rest of her life, professionally and personally, being the girl whom people asked what they should be wearing this season. Nor was she going to be able to make a lucrative brand of herself in fashion and styling.

"I'm weirdly allergic to the idea of being a brand," she says. " I see that it works and it's a good idea, but I don't think I could, whatever, launch my own eye palette or anything. So I had to decide, once the boutique dream was gone, what could I really throw myself into and love?"

TV, she decided, just might be it and Oi Ginger! confirmed it, particularly when it led to a series of her own, and offers from the UK. She got herself a London agent, and about four years ago, she and her now husband of nearly three years, Roy, moved to the city. Well, they moved there, but kept a rented place in Dublin. You know, just in case. And, I wonder, in order that Irish broadcasters wouldn't think that she was finished with them? Angela says she's not too worried that anyone would think that. There is no way, she says, that she's turned her back on a career here, and the world and the industry is so fluid now that working both places is always an option. We're back to those 22 flights again.

Angela and Roy got married in June 2014 in Co Wicklow. She has talked previously about their outdoor wedding and how there was no indoor plan-B should the weather prove inclement. It was a ballsy risk, but it all went off beautifully, thus proving to Angela once more that a ballsy risk can be well worth it.

The move to London would never have worked without Roy, says Angela. Roy, whose family have a successful food distribution business here, didn't have the same career motivation to go as she did, but Angela was the one who wobbled as they found their feet and was the far more homesick partner.

"Being married helped," she says. "In the same way that coming into TV relatively late [in her late 20s] also helped. I heard Davina McCall recently on Desert Island Discs and she said she was glad she found success after she was 25, because she wouldn't have been able for it. I can totally relate to that.

"I can only imagine that it's so easy to be seduced by fame when you're very young, and you're not sure what you're doing or who you are. But the whole celebrity aspect of this job is the bit that appeals to me the least. And being married is part of that. I couldn't have stuck at London long enough to have got a break if I hadn't had that support from my husband.

"That's been massively important and, crucially, made it just like a real life mixed with this pretend world."

As her weeping over Brooklyn testifies, Angela isn't in a mode where she sees London as forever. She misses home, she misses her family and her sister's children. Yes, most of the friends she and Roy have in London are Irish, she concedes with a laugh, but it's not a Niall Horan-Laura Whitmore "celeb posse".

The longer you stay and branch out your career in the UK, the more you extend past just Irish people, though, Angela laughs again. "You think, 'Ooh, look, this English person is actually quite nice'," she jokes. "'And they're even funny, too!'"

Roy has his own business there, still food-related, that is involved with electronic stock labelling and "predicting customer usage and monitoring sales", Angela explains.

The days of emigrating forever might be gone, but that brings with it the endless debate and dilemma over if and when to come home, Angela observes. Among her friends, it is discussed a lot, and most of all among those who either want to start a family, or have children about to start school.

"I suppose long-term, I don't think that London is the plan. But then, it all depends. I've really come to realise how we're so family-centric in Ireland and when you don't have the structure of, like, your family around and [going to] your mam and dad's on a Sunday, you become much more reliant on friends. They kind of act like a substitute and your friendships become stronger more quickly. "But then when people have kids, you see how the support of family is very important and you feel how far away London is then," she says.

"So we'll see," Angela says, "and that's not a brush-off."

In a way, the free-range girl can't be expected to have a plan. She has balls and determination, but maybe not a carefully mapped-out plan, and that's going pretty well for her so far. "If you asked me yesterday what I was planning," Angela says with a laugh, "I'd have said that I was moving to Clonakilty to open a bookshop-slash-florist. So, you know, we'll see. Maybe that's the retirement plan."

Or maybe Roy's tech-retail know-how could make it happen now, I say, while keeping London ticking over, too. Anything's possible, what with those daily 22 flights.

"Or maybe that's the retirement plan," says Angela, a woman really only getting into her stride.

Photography by Aaron Hurley.

Styling by Liadan Hynes

Sunday Independent

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