Wednesday 16 October 2019

Angela Scanlon keeps foot in both camps and sees Brexit shame through Irish eyes

The UK is being good to the broadcaster - despite Brexit - but she remains close to her Irish roots, writes Sarah Caden

FLYING VISIT: Angela Scanlon at the GPO on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
FLYING VISIT: Angela Scanlon at the GPO on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Sarah Caden

'I feel I can disassociate from Brexit because I'm inherently Irish," says Angela Scanlon. "I can have an attitude of 'clean up your own mess, lads', because I don't feel responsible for it.

"Friends of mine feel a real shame about it. They would be people who voted to stay, but they feel this collective shame because it's their identity as a British person. The world regards them, yeah, as a basket case, but that doesn't really extend to me, because I'm Irish."

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Angela says she gets no vibe in London that people apportion any blame to Ireland and the backstop, but says she spots a slight change in perspective.

"For a lot of people in England, there is no distinction between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and some of them don't even get that Ireland is a different country to the UK," Angela says. "And you're like, 'No it's not, it is a different country and that's why we're not in the mess you are'. Normal people are acutely aware of that mess.

"It's an absolute joke, the whole thing, but maybe an awareness of the subtleties of how things are in Ireland is no bad thing."

Angela is in Dublin for the launch of An Post's new TV ad, For Your World, in which she stars. The ad, which debuts tonight, shows how An Post has been transformed for the new world of online shopping and financial service, with two new services and a modernised look.  

We meet in the airy courtyard cafe of the GPO, accessed through the museum area, and it is a space which combines modernity with the classic architecture of the old building. She's here only for one night, flying home to husband Roy Horgan and one-year-old baby Ruby in London only hours after we meet.

This is the kind of gig that keeps her foothold in Ireland, because while Angela is really putting down roots in the BBC, her heart is still partly at home in Ireland.

"I don't know if it's St Patrick's Day or hormones," she says with a laugh, "but I sat yesterday with Ruby watching YouTube videos of Christy Moore, The Cranberries, A Woman's Heart, Mary Black, and I was welling up.

"Wallowing in these melancholy songs and forcing Ruby to watch them, too, and she's mesmerised and I believe it's part of her being Irish. That's the stuff you are exposed to in an Irish childhood."

Ruby has an Irish passport, Angela adds, laughing.

Angela Scanlon is that modern kind of emigrant, the kind who can love both their native and adopted homes without really feeling forced to choose. There's no denying the UK is being good to her, though.

Having presented Robot Wars with Dara O Briain from 2016 until it was axed last year, another big 2016 BBC break came for Angela as she co-hosted the evening The One Show during presenter Alex Jones's maternity leave. The BBC clearly felt they were on to something with her as, last year, she got both her own Radio 2 weekend show and a prime-time hi-tech home-building series, which begins on BBC2 next month.

Both jobs started only 12 weeks after baby Ruby was born in February 2018.

Returning to work after what, these days, is a relatively short maternity leave is a "haze" to her now, Angela says.

"Looking back, I think, 'Oh god, I'd love to give her a hug'. Not Ruby, me. Ruby got plenty of hugs.

"We have this obsession with the labour and with getting the baby out. And it's all about the hypnobirthing and the breathing and whatever and then ultimately you get in to the hospital, you have the baby whatever way they want to come out, and then you're like, 'Well done, off you go'.

"It hit me like a tonne of bricks that I had given no thought to the actual bringing home of the human. I was all about how I was going to have crystals and incense, and I had them at the birth, but they were of no use to me once we came home."

Did Angela have that feeling of being far from home and family at the time?

"Ruby was born during the Beast from the East, so my parents, who had planned to be there, couldn't come. So Roy and I were holed up in this stormy week, unable to even leave the house and it was quite scary.

"Getting back to work, in a way, maybe pushed me quicker back into feeling like myself. Because mostly, at the beginning, I felt fear, to be honest.

"You look in the mirror and you think I don't know this weird shell of a woman. You go from this wildly independent person into this person for whom everything is hard."

That feeling passed, Angela says, but nothing prepared her for the "seismic shift" that was early motherhood. She has found a groove now with her "very hands on" schedule of work and Ruby, and it helps that her husband also works for himself and has some flexibility.

She doesn't feel she is missing out on having family close by. "Not any more," Angela says. "Initially, I definitely did. You've become a mother but you want your own mother and you want someone to mind you. And they ring a lot more now. Not to talk to me; to talk to Ruby. I'm coming to terms with that. I'm not taking it personally."

Angela's new TV series, which will go out midweek at 8pm on BBC2, is a home-building and interiors show.

"It's house design with a virtual reality element," she explains. "We were filming for quite a while because there's a build involved. Two architects create these homes in virtual reality and the homeowners go in and root around them and choose what they want and don't want and then they build it."

Angela has loved making it and thinks she brings a light note to what can be a serious and stressful process. "I love the whole process now," she says. "I don't care about fashion on Instagram any more, I'm all about people's homes and interiors. And I'm a total fiend for daft.ie and rightmove.co.uk."

So she looks at houses in Ireland, I ask? "Yes, but it's only looking and only with airy-fairy dreams of a florist shop in Clonakilty," she laughs. "And when I'm 80," she adds, mentioning that her Mitchelstown-born husband is very happy in London right now.

"I have loads of Irish gigs, I feel," Angela says, "and I love dipping in and out. And for now, London is home, but I'm also online going: 'Oooh, that's how much?' and 'How much? didn't we have a crash; have we forgotten about that?'"

Angela says she was trying to relax in the bath last week when her husband came up and told her what he was watching unfold on the TV, as the House of Commons made their "meaningful" votes.

"His face was like he was watching a horror film, or something," she says. "The funniest thing I saw last week was on Twitter, someone said that Brexit is the new Fyre Festival.

"I wonder who's going to make that documentary," Angela Scanlon says with a laugh.

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