Friday 22 November 2019

Waking hours with... RTE 2's Carla O'Brien

Carla O'Brien (31) is the presenter on RTE 2's 'Newsfeed' and a multimedia journalist. She is also an award-winning Irish dancer and was a lead performer in 'Riverdance'. Born in Caledon, County Tyrone, she lives in Smithfield, Dublin, with her husband, Ronan

Carla O'Brien, presenter of RTE 2's 'Newsfeed'. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Carla O'Brien, presenter of RTE 2's 'Newsfeed'. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara Dwyer

I live with my husband, Ronan. We got married in September 2013, and we still feel like newlyweds. We're having a ball of a time living in Smithfield. It's so central. Our apartment backs onto the road, so you hear a lot of traffic. I can always tell what time it is, based on the traffic outside. As a country girl, it took a lot of time to get used to the noise. Ronan is a doctor, and he often has early starts. I met him when I was in Riverdance. He came to Dortmund in Germany for a weekend to see his friend, Conor, the physiotherapist with the show. The minute we met, that was it.

I've managed to stretch it to 7.30am before I get up. Then it's straight onto the phone. The RTE app goes on, and the radio app with Morning Ireland. I usually hear the headlines and then I carry the phone around with me all morning. I'm a bit of a fiend like that.

Without that info-burst in the mornings, I would feel groggy. This is all for my job as the presenter of Newsfeed on RTE 2. As the day progresses, it is like pieces of a jigsaw moving around. It's good to have a bit of a handle on news first thing in the morning.

I have the luxury of waking up slowly, because my working hours are 12pm to 8pm. I don't have to be awake straight away, but I am normally. I usually make a big cafetiere of coffee and then I'll have some oat bran with hot milk, cinnamon and sugar. If I've had too much news, I'll indulge in some Sex and the City reruns. That's a real treat. I have to make the most of my mornings.

If I have things to do, like going to the bank, that's when I'll do them, because I won't have time at the end of the day. I use the gym in RTE, so I usually go into work early to do that. Recently, I've signed up for TRX at 6.30am one morning a week. It's an army bootcamp class where you're pulling your own bodyweight. Once I've done it, I feel smug for the rest of the day.

On the bus on the way in, I'm still checking the news. It makes going into work easier, because you've already started preparing yourself. If it's a nice day, I'll walk through town to get the bus from the other side of Stephen's Green. I love mooching up Grafton Street, but it can be bad for your wallet. Even though I don't start work until noon, I'm usually in at 11.30am.

Newsfeed is one of RTE's newest bulletins. It's on Monday to Friday just before 7pm and 8pm, and is aimed at 18-to-35 year olds. It's just over two minutes long, and you have to include five of the main stories internationally and domestically in that time. It's a challenge telling each story in three sentences. You really hone your scripting skills. I decide on the stories we're going to include and then my editor will have a look.

The stories can change throughout the day. I don't normally take a lunch break. Usually I grab something and eat it at my desk. I have settled into a routine with the programme and I really feel like I have ownership of it now. Late afternoon, we will have decided on our top story and I will record the opening link, then I will record the voice-overs.

I love what I'm doing. I love the fact that I'm pulling content together and creating something to tell a story. Every day has its own challenges, and it's hugely satisfying. You see at first hand the speed at which news changes.

I come from a business background originally. I studied it in Queens University in Belfast, but at the same time, I was doing Irish dancing. I began at the age of five, and I danced competitively up until my early 20s. It consumed my life. Even though I went on to win all five major Irish-dancing competitions in the world, I dealt with a lot of disappointments along the way. When you don't win a feis, it really hardens you. The judging is so subjective, because it's all about opinion. Two expressions were drummed into me: 'Every dog has its day' and 'It'll be sweet when it comes'. And they were all true. When I won, it was a culmination of a lifetime of work.

After college, I was asked to join Riverdance. I loved it, and was in it for four years. I travelled all over the world with the show. I started in Japan and also toured the US and Europe. I worked very hard and eventually, I became a lead performer. I was treated very well, and so I stayed for much longer than the year I had planned. It was wonderful having standing ovations every night, but it was such a comedown when I stopped. I didn't have that buzz of somebody clapping me on the back every day. But what I'm doing now is the closest I've come to that feeling, so I'm heading in the right direction.

I had been dreaming about becoming a broadcaster for a long time. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the counter at home, with a hairbrush in my hand, pretending that it was a microphone. I used to watch Moira Stewart reading the news on the BBC, and I used to put up the subtitles on screen, so that I could read aloud them with her. I remembered that after I left Riverdance, and that's why I did a Masters in Journalism. The minute I walked through the revolving doors in RTE, I thought, 'yes, this is where I'm meant to be'.

After work, I might meet friends in town, or I'll hook up with Ronan. We're quite good at cooking at home. Then we're news nerds, watching the news at 9pm. We often talk about work. He could be dealing with a possible Ebola scare or meningitis - big issues, which make my day seem like small fry. We're usually in bed with books by 10.30pm.

Because Ronan is a doctor, I tell him all my ailments. He thinks that I'm the biggest hypochondriac. I always think that I have a pain in my appendix. He examines me at least once every couple of months for it. Then he says, 'If I had a pound every time you thought you had appendicitis . . .' Someday, I'll really need him and he won't believe me. I'll be the girl who cried wolf.

'Newsfeed' is on RTE 2 just before 7pm and 8pm, Monday to Friday

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