Monday 20 November 2017

'TV shows like Operation Transformation? That's fat-shaming,' says RTE's Blathnaid

Presenter Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh says she would like to work on Ireland's 'Strictly Come Dancing', writes Niamh Horan

Relatable: Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh has high hopes for a new TV show. Photo: Steve Humphreys.
Relatable: Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh has high hopes for a new TV show. Photo: Steve Humphreys.
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

RTE star Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh has hit out at shows such as Operation Transformation for body-shaming contestants.

The outspoken broadcaster said there is "no need" for invasive weight-loss TV shows and believes those working in the industry must take responsibility for the messages they are sending out.

Set to present the Ploughing Championships on RTE this week, Blathnaid said Operation Transformation "was never a programme I watched" because of her views. "I have been the person who did reality TV before. I know how everything is edited and I know how things are done and I don't understand [why they do it]. I call it fat shaming - and I don't think there's any need. There is no need to fat shame people.

"Programmes that do that - and I know that they do their fitness too and they are creating an entertainment programme - but they all want their ratings and I am delighted for them but there is a place where responsibility is key.

"I am sorry but the real reason I want to lose weight is because I was getting to the top of the stairs and I was out of breath. I don't want to die young and I don't want to have a heart condition. That is the reality of healthy weight-loss and has more impact on people."

Reflecting on how the contestants have to strip off on camera for their weekly weigh-in Blathnaid said: "I don't think there is any need for it. But I have always felt that."

The current ‘Operation Transformation’ contestants
The current ‘Operation Transformation’ contestants

But the radio presenter, who is full time at the station, said she knows that the show pulls in big ratings for Montrose bosses: "That doesn't take from the fact that the audience love it and it's brought in huge profits. They need to sell programmes and I am delighted for them. If they sell programmes, then it reflects on my salary (well it doesn't, I get paid either way) but it reflects on commercial [profits]."

Winning fans with her fiery, outspoken and relatable persona, the RTE star also described how, for many years, women in TV have been restricted to a certain 'type': "They have to be thin, they nearly always have to be," she said, adding, "I think RTE should represent all types of women because Ireland is all types of woman."

However, she commended the station for softening its attitude on the accents of its presenters: "In main programming you have Kathryn Thomas who has a very strong Carlow accent, which I always celebrated, any rural accent, because when I came in here you were kind of told 'you have a flat Meath accent - you want to work on that.' But things have changed and they do celebrate accents more," she said.

Blathnaid (45) commended RTE bosses for supporting her to do her Masters degree in women's studies in UCD and says they have been responsive to her development as one of their main female stars. "To be honest with you I probably have more freedom than I ever did but it took a long time to achieve it because I didn't fall into a typical look."

She also gave credit to RTE bosses for: "letting me grow up - they are letting me be the woman I am."

Now the presenter says that she would love to work on the Irish version of Strictly Come Dancing but wonders if the station will give her the chance. She believes RTE should utilise her as a full-time salaried staffer.

"Look at the average age of TV presenters on the BBC and do you know what? The BBC has embraced it with Claudia Winkleman on Strictly Come Dancing. I would like to get [the presenting role] Strictly Come Dancing. But will I get a chance? And if I get a chance will I be taken seriously? I wonder. I don't know the answer to that. Because I haven't asked the question to someone's face yet. I have pondered it. I love that Claudia is on air and - if I am being paid - I should be used to my full potential."

Asked why she would question whether she would land the gig, she said: "Because I am guessing, and I hope I am wrong, I think - when they are sitting around - they don't see me unfortunately."

When asked why, she replied: "I think they look for the Tess Daly type but they don't realise that Claudia has the personality and warmth that she has, or see that the punters believe her and like her. You know? You need a person who can say 'it's hard on you contestants. I know what it is like' and also someone who can put manners on the judges."

Asked what she means by a 'Tess Daly type' she replied: "Well, I am saying very blonde . . . younger. I hope I am wrong though."

Speaking about a new breed of female presenter now creeping into showbiz she says: "We worked all our lives and then all of a sudden somebody has a profile from modelling or a reality show and they call themselves a 'TV presenter' or they say 'oh I have my own column' - half of them don't write it which is what cracks me up - but yes it is frustrating but whether we like it? We have signed up to showbiz."

Speaking about the current TV schedule, she said there is very little that she is "stuck to" - except for Brendan O Connor's Cutting Edge, which has been nominated for an IFTA. The presenter believes there will be a major shake-up within the organisation in the coming months: "We are in very early stages, I am not lying to you, between now and Christmas we are going to see massive changes.

"Obviously we have a new boss and a new system coming in and I would imagine they have to ripple down to reflect the audience more.

"I know when we meet them in here everyone is talking about how 'things will change'. When they say we have cut-backs I don't get worried because I say, well that just means we are going to have to think harder. I am the opposite to what everyone else is: worried." Asked if she would like to be on television again Blathnaid said: "Oh absolutely. But I think that will happen. I don't know where I am getting my confidence today but I feel that will happen."

Sunday Independent

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