Wednesday 24 January 2018

Tough-talking doctor who's staging her own transformation

Dr Eva talks to Edel Coffey about family, growing up in Finland and leaving RTÉ behind to pursue her love of acting

Healthy options: Dr Eva and Edel Coffey at lunch in the Druid’s Glen resort in Wicklow. Photo: Ronan Lang
Healthy options: Dr Eva and Edel Coffey at lunch in the Druid’s Glen resort in Wicklow. Photo: Ronan Lang

Edel Coffey

For the last six years, Dr Eva Orsmond has been the straight-shooting Sergeant-Major doctor on RTÉ's weight-loss programme, Operation Transformation. In October, she made the shock announcement that she was leaving the show because she was too busy. The decision came on the back of some criticism after she reduced contestant Charlotte O'Connell to tears on last year's show.

Operation Transformation is back on our screens and the rest of the world is hiding its Christmas weight gain beneath bulky jumpers and scarves. Dr Eva, however, is a radiant vision of health, with a deep tan, fresh from a trip to Australia, and a figure that looks to be within the size six to eight bracket.

She looks every inch the doctor, in a black pencil skirt, professional blue shirt and frameless glasses. On her arm, her orange Celine bag adds a dash of individuality. One of her New Year's Resolutions, she says, is to be more punctual. She is 20 minutes late. This is good. In the past, she says, it might have been two hours.

Dr Eva is very good company. A bubbly, vibrant personality with strong, outspoken opinions and high energy, and you can't help but warm to her wacky sense of humour and mangled colloquialisms. There is also the sense that lurking beneath the language barrier is a fiercely intelligent and single-minded woman.

We meet in the Druid's Glen resort, a short drive from her home in Wicklow. She orders the chicken skewers and I wilt under her good example (and her tiny waist) and order a healthy omelette.

She says people are always looking for an easy way to get fit, but it doesn't exist. And you don't have to wait until you are several stones overweight to start a diet. In fact, that's what her new cook book, Dr Eva's 10lb Diet, is all about. "We would see people in the clinic looking to lose half a stone or a stone. That's when people should be addressing the weight."

Dr Eva moved to Ireland in 2000, but grew up in Finland. "Finland was quite different in that it must have been quite modern compared to what Ireland was like in those days – without telling you my age," she says with a smile.

Dr Eva is incredibly coy about her age. "My metabolic age is 35," she says. It is safe to assume that she is at least 43. "Chronological age is another thing. It's all about how you treat your body."

She says she had a outdoorsy life as a child, walking to and from school – "Finland was obviously a very safe society so I didn't have restrictions on me." She moved around a lot with her mother (her parents divorced when she was five).

"I was a little bit allergic when I was a child. I always loved dogs and animals but if I touched a dog I would end up in hospital. My mother would be at work and I would go pet somebody's dog and end up in hospital with asthma. It happened a few times. Over my puberty I grew out of it, and my hobby became taking other people's dogs for walks."

She now has three dogs of her own, including a Rottweiler and a bossy sausage dog that rules the roost.

Dr. Eva knew from early on that she wanted to be a plastic surgeon but realised during her training that she couldn't do it. "You have to do five years of general, then specialise in Finland with two years of surgical training. I wouldn't have the nerves because you have to do general surgery, including emergency medicine, acute stuff."

Instead, she made the decision to work in third world countries. It was during a holiday to South Africa that she met her husband, Wyatt Orsmond. It was not love at first sight, however.

"I had had a serious relationship in Italy for five years. I was engaged and supposed to get married. It was a serious love story but, you know, when you grow up, you start to look at things differently. When you meet someone when you're young it's all about looks and fast cars and holidays and sex and rock 'n' roll.

"We moved in together, but then I just realised I needed more of an intellectual connection with somebody. When I met Wyatt and started to chat with him there was something, but it wasn't the same as falling in love at first sight. Maybe that's why I'm still married after 18 years."

She loved the culture and lifestyle in Italy, where she studied, but she says her home now is Ireland. "Somebody just asked me, did you go home for Christmas? And I'm like, 'Excuse me! My home is here. What do you mean?'," and suddenly she's the stern Dr Eva and I feel sorry for whoever it was that asked her that question. It was the same direct tone that got her into trouble when she told Charlotte to 'cop on' during the last season of Operation Transformation.

"It was about the tone of how I said what I said," she says, a little subdued for the first time in our conversation. "I had a lot of positive feedback from people saying they agreed with what I said. Who were those people who complained? What was their BMI?" she asks, shrewdly.

She says the decision to leave Operation Transformation after six years had nothing to do with that experience. "It was a huge commitment. In one way I loved starting in January and, in another, I dreaded it because I have five clinics and I am a mother. I have my family. Maybe I put too much time into the programme or should have been more selective, but that's the way I am. When I do something, I go for it."

Would she like her own television programme? "I would absolutely love my own programme. I'm not finished with TV. I'm just waiting for the right thing."

In the meantime, she is enjoying some family time. Her eldest son has just gone to Bordeaux for six months and Dr Eva sounds a little Tiger Mom-ish when she says, "I told him he's not coming back until he knows French fluently."

I am starting to wish I had a Dr Eva in my own life. How much more efficient would I be with someone like her calling the shots? She says her sons have a little of her culture in them, but they are definitely Irish.

"In Finland, we would go to the sauna with friends and, in Ireland, everyone is in their togs. In Finland nobody cares. My sons actually have to tell me when I'm at home, 'mammy, would you just put some clothes on'."

She is also using her new-found free time to return to a childhood passion – acting – and has just started classes in the Gaeity School of Acting. Surprisingly, she acted for a year in a production in Finland's national theatre when she was 12. "I'm not doing this course to become an actor, but I'm not going to say no if someone makes me an offer," she laughs. I tell her she'd make a good gang boss in the next season of Love/Hate.

There's certainly the element of the performer about her and she admits she enjoys the attention of Operation Transformation. "There is a prima donna in me."

Her philosophy for the moment, however, is just to enjoy life. "You need to remember we're just living here. It's only a passage, do you know? We could be gone in a second? Gerry Ryan is gone. Why don't we just get the most out of life." Is this philosophy a sign of getting older and wiser? She says, smiling: "I'm getting younger every day."

I wonder what she was like when she was 20 years old.

"My children say I was a nerd. I tell them I was having a great time. I was just very focused. I studied from Monday to Friday and had a good time on the weekend. I always knew what I wanted and if I want something, I'll get it."

And boy do you believe her when she says it!


NAME Eva Orsmond.

AGE She says her medical age is 35.

LIVES Druid's Glen, Co Wicklow.

FAMILY Husband Wyatt Orsmond and sons Christopher (17) and Evan (15).

BEST KNOWN AS The tough-love Operation Transformation doctor until 2013.


LIKES Straight-talking.

DISLIKES Lack of will power.


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