Monday 19 March 2018

Why Tom dreamed of Jeeny

Nutritionist Tom Coleman and cookery expert Jeeny Maltese have experienced tragedy together, but their love remains strong and passionate

Tom Coleman worked hard in the pursuit of Jeeny Maltese but she was worth it. Photo: David Conachy
Tom Coleman worked hard in the pursuit of Jeeny Maltese but she was worth it. Photo: David Conachy
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

She is romantic and sensual and has been described as the 'Latin Nigella Lawson,' while he is chatty and effervescent and has a lifetime passion for health, sports and science. Yet Tom Coleman almost blew it when he first met Jeeny Maltese in December 2005, as he was 32 and she was 27. He shaved six years off his age, but it almost backfired on him as the Venezuelan beauty preferred older men. "She thought I was too young for her," he says. "We met in the Club Q nightclub in Galway, and all I could see was the hair and the hips, which hypnotised me."

The lovely Jeeny was out with her younger sister Dayana, and as a salsa and merengue teacher, she knew how to move her hips on the dancefloor to good effect. She thought Tom was lovely, but dating was the last thing on her mind as she felt overworked and stressed at work and, looking back, believes she was depressed. "I was trying to spare Tom because I was going through a really dark and intense time," she says. "I fell in love with him the minute I met him, but it took more than two years to even call him my boyfriend. I wouldn't even hold his hand in the street. I was a size 12 when we met, and in less than two years, I went to a 20, but he stayed with me when I was at my worst and was there for me."

Tom came back to Galway at weekends because he was studying health science and physiology as a mature student at IT Sligo during the week. "It took so long to win Jeeny over as she was having none of it," he says. "She loved me and her heart was melting for me, but she tried to get rid of me so many times and even tried to pass me off on her sister."

Tom points out that as Latin American culture is all about romance, the emphasis is on making love rather than having sex. "I would never consider the idea of being with someone intimately if I wasn't in love, so I had to be madly in love with Tom before I even thought about any of the other stuff," says Jeeny.

After he graduated, Tom moved to Dublin to work at Special Olympics Ireland, but would still drive back to Galway every weekend. Eventually Jeeny decided to quit her job and return to her home in Maracay in Venezuela. Her parents separated when she was a child and she lived with her mum Silvia Tellez, grandmother Blanca, and younger brother and sister. Her dad, Arnoldo Maltese, subsequently remarried and she has a stepbrother from that marriage. As a child, Jeeny won many beauty competitions and was a teenage model, but decided to stop at 17. "I wanted a peaceful life away from the spotlight," she says. "I begged my parents to let me go away and learn English at 18, and they only agreed if I stayed with their friends in London."

After a year in London, Jeeny visited Ireland with friends, and immediately fell in love with the country and decided to move here. She studied English in Galway and taught salsa and merengue for a few years, before taking a job in the property industry. When she announced that she was returning to Venezuela, Tom decided he was going with her. "Although I wasn't invited, I thought that if I didn't go with her, I might never see her again," he says. "My family thought I was nuts, but I told them I was going for a couple of months or whatever it took."

Tom, now 42, hails from Foxford, Mayo, and is the second-eldest of Mary and the late John's six children. He was very good at athletics growing up, and loved to help his dad, who had a company called Salmon and Woodcock Game Holidays. "I felt so bad because Tom's family were upset as he was leaving a really good job to go after me," says Jeeny. "I was in love and he was really important to me, but I had to go and fix myself first. It was lovely being home and I felt healthier straight away."

Having met Jeeny's family, the pair spent a year travelling on the Caribbean coast and had a ball. They secretly got married on Margarita Island in December 2009, and the only person who knew was Jeeny's mother. Tom came home to develop a health and nutrition business here, but shortly afterwards Jeeny's mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Her grandmother developed lung cancer and passed away, and Jeeny stayed in Venezuela for a year looking after both women."I spent a year filling my mother's body with lovely food," she says. "The doctor was impressed because she was doing so much better than her other patients because of her nutrition."

Jeeny came back to Ireland in February 2010 and then Tom got a job teaching health science at a Spanish university, so they lived in Spain for 18 months. Jeeny went to Venezuela to visit her family in May 2013, and life changed utterly when her brother, Estiben, went to the local car wash one day and didn't return. Jeeny felt anxious when she couldn't get through to him on the phone, and heard what sounded like fireworks going off nearby. They were in fact gunshots, and her worst fears were realised when someone called to the house and said that Estiben had been shot.

The 27-year-old was in the car wash when two guys came up on a motorbike and asked him for his money and car, so he handed over his wallet and car keys without protest. Witnesses later testified that while everyone was really nervous, Estiben remained very calm. "They told him to get in the back seat because they were kidnapping him," says Jeeny, her eyes filling with tears. "This is the new thing they do there, as they kidnap and torture you and put your family through horrible things, like sending them little pieces of your body to demand money. Estiben told them that he couldn't put our mother through that because she wouldn't survive it and he didn't get in the car, so they shot him in the head. When we saw him, he was lying dead on the ground and his face was almost smiling and calm. My brother was calm and good and never drank, smoke or partied. He got up at six every morning to work and then went to college to study law in the evening, and he would look after my mum too. He also used to help young students who were jailed for protesting."

While the murderers were caught and arrested, the situation was tense and dangerous - it was named the most murderous place on earth in 2015, with one murder every 21 minutes. Tom immediately flew over to stay with the devastated family. Thankfully, they now all live in Ireland, and Jeeny's mum lives between her house and her sister's in Galway. Tom and Jeeny have now set up a thriving fitness and nutrition business, My Nutrition Ireland, combining his knowledge on nutrition with her talents as a cook. Their healthy cookery courses combined with information on health and nutrition have become very popular.

"I have never been on a diet, but when I went back to eating all the natural foods back home, I was feeling great and was never hungry," says Jeeny, now 38. "If you eat the right foods, you feel good straight away, mentally and physically. I never want to be super skinny or a size zero, as I'm a Latin girl, so I like to have my tiny waist, flat stomach and my curves. If you eat well, you look sexier because your eyes are bright, and your teeth and skin look amazing. You don't have to kill yourself with two weeks of drinking juices and not eating, as that doesn't work."

As the business grew, Tom and Jeeny began working with football teams, athletes, gyms, brands, business executives and individuals, and they delivered workshops to the Munster rugby team among others, as well as in schools and workplaces. They also run healthy food cookery classes on different themes.

"Food should be all pleasure, with no guilt whatsoever," says Jeeny. "We make healthy sexy food, as in it's healthy, but it looks sexy and it's inexpensive, accessible, easy and quick. Tom does the workshops on the science and nutrition part and what's good for you, and then I show you how to cook. We are looking to write a book and are also talking to TV producers who think we should be on TV."

On a personal note, Tom and Jeeny would love to have a family one day. Sadly, Jeeny has had two miscarriages, but the couple are both healthy so they hope for a good outcome. "It was so close to my brother's death and I was crying all the time, so I think that might have been why I lost the babies," she says. "It was very hard, but now I get up in the morning, smile and decide to be in a good mood and be positive, because life is very precious."

Tom and Jeeny say that there is a lot of fun and flirtation between them, and while they have been tested in the past, their relationship is rock-solid. "Tom is very strong and masculine and is definitely an alpha male, but he has emotional intelligence as well and is so caring and compassionate," says Jeeny. "He will go out of his way to help others and I love that about him."

Tom loves that Jeeny is always keeping the romance alive in their relationship with little surprises, as she has a philosophy that "if you treat me like a queen, I will treat you like a king."

"I just love her caring nature, and she is obviously very beautiful, attractive and sensual," he says. "She is flirtatious, sexy and fun, and I love that she always tries to see the good in other people."

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