Sunday 22 September 2019

Maia Dunphy: 'I always wanted a life less ordinary, and I have that with Johnny'

Maia Dunphy (41) is a writer and broadcaster. Born in Dublin, she lives between Dublin and London with her husband, actor and comedian Johnny Vegas. They have a son Tom (2). Her book, 'The M Word' is just out

Andres Poveda
Andres Poveda

I have long dreamed of being one of those women who gets up at 6am, does an hour of yoga, goes for a run or tidies things. But I'm just not that type. Nor do I have a routine.

My husband, [the comedian and actor] Johnny Vegas, is based in London, and I'm based in Dublin. We've been together for nine years, and we're married for six. We never lived together before we got married, and we never lived together after we got married. We've always done this long-distance thing. Then three years ago, when I was pregnant, I moved to London.

Johnny has a son, Michael, who was 12 at the time, and he lived with us. I took on an awful lot. I went from flying over on Friday nights for a mini-honeymoon, to suddenly being in London, pregnant and a stepmother. It was a happy time, but it wasn't the easiest for me. Our son, Tom, was born in London. When he was eight weeks old, I started commuting again. He has been on over 60 flights. They always say that if you want to work in Dublin, move to London. In the end, I moved back to Dublin. Our marriage has gone back to the way it was - we commute.

I hadn't looked for any work in London. I felt incredibly lonely over there; I didn't have the support or tribe that I would have had if I had been at home. So I started a parenting website called The M Word. It's almost like a virtual glass of wine and a hug with somebody. Now it's a book with the same title.

Most of the time Tom sleeps with me when we are here on our own. When people tell me that I'm making a rod for my back, I tell them that if I'm making problems, they are with good intentions. Every morning, Tom leans over and gently tries to open my eyes. It is very sweet, but quite irritating, too. I never use alarms, because I'm always awake anyway. I'm a terrible worrier.

I have to eat within an hour of getting up, even if it's 4am. Johnny always jokes that it's like an aeroplane oxygen-mask thing - tending to my own first. But now, Tom comes first. He has cereal and blueberries, and I have eggs on toast and endless cups of tea. Tom started in creche recently. I was so worried about it, but I think it's going to be great for both of us. I want him strapped to my back until he is 25 and to never leave him, but that is not entirely healthy. It's good for him to socialise with other little ones. The things that are constant in my day, wherever I am, are regular mealtimes and a walk. Every day, I go for a walk for an hour. I don't drive, so I walk everywhere. I just leave an hour earlier. Walking keeps my head from exploding with worry. If Tom is not going to the creche, we go to the park. It's a fair trade. If I have to work with him here, in the apartment, he has to be exercised first. So we go to the park and play on the swings. When we get back, he has a bottle and a nap, and I can check my emails.

I'm a writer and broadcaster. I've worked in television for the last 15 years. Most of that was behind the scenes, learning the ropes. I started off on the production side of things. I loved writing for other people and shows like Podge and Rodge. I branched out into front-of-camera six years ago. Since then, I've made 12 documentaries for RTE features. As someone who works in telly on a freelance basis, no matter how well you do, you are always thinking about the next job. Freelance work is deeply unsettling. But on the other hand, I feel so fortunate to be a freelancer. It's been wonderful for me to spend so much time with Tom, and still be able to work. Tom is with me all the time since he's been born, and I'm unapologetic about it. I bring him to lots of meetings, and occasionally I'll take out an iPad for him.

I had a baby quite late. Most of my friends had babies before me, and as I got older, it became quite lonely for me. You have to gravitate towards younger people, ones without kids, or find other interests. I was never broody, so I worried that I would be a terrible mother. After Tom was born, I liked him much more than I ever thought I would. What a revelation! He has brought so much joy into my life and that of my family. He is the first grandchild on our side. And he has given me perspective. I'm probably less anxious now. Tom will more than likely be my only child, and I want to enjoy every single day with him. I'm always ordering fabric because I make lots of things for him. I did a dressmaking course years ago, so I can be the 1950s housewife.

If we're not face-to-face, we do face-to-screen with Johnny. We find our ways. I hate to say it, but I think that Johnny is going to be the fun one and I'll be the taskmaster. When he has the opportunity, he is a very hands-on dad. We're both very busy. It's only when you're not busy that you start pining for somebody. I always wanted a life less ordinary, and I have that with Johnny. He's not like anybody else I've ever met. He is complex, funny and kind, which is probably the way I am. In the first couple of years there is madness, love and gorgeous stuff. When they fade, you're left with the core values, and ours are very similar.

I try to get Tom into bed for 8.30pm. Then I'll hear the door handle and he'll come padding out in his little romper suit. I play with him and eventually I bring him back to bed. I lie down with him. The next thing I'm asleep as well. I wake up at 1am, still in my clothes.



In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Maia Dunphy worked with Sudocrem's Today's Mum campaign

Sunday Independent

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