Her first boyfriend was Carlos, "a ridiculously handsome 18-year-old Spanish boy, who'd been sent to Dublin to repeat 6th Year to avoid military service".
Maia Dunphy was only 16 and thought it was "a practical joke" when Carlos asked her out.
What followed, she says, was an enchanting three months of "hand-holding, snogging and sneaking into bars at weekends". Then Carlos went back to Spain. They wrote for a couple of months, but it ended when the letters stopped.
"I wore his school jumper for the entire summer. When Facebook kicked off years ago and we all tried to find the faces of the past," Maia says, she eventually found out that dreamboy Carlos had set up permanent home in "the infamous Beneficio hippie commune in Andalusia". "You win some," she says, "you lose some!"
In terms of an early romantic role model, she was very close to her paternal grandmother; Maia always thought of her as something of "a trailblazer" as she didn't marry until she was 34.
And when other grannies were telling their granddaughters they'd want to be getting a move on, "she always told me to wait as long as it took. She waited a long time to meet my granddad, and then he died due to a medical misadventure after only four years of marriage.
"She had a very strong faith - something I think my generation has never adequately replaced, and something that I wish I had," says Maia. She can remember her granny giving her a set of rosary beads. I slept with them under my pillow, and if I couldn't sleep I'd do a decade. It was as good as any meditation you might do today!"
Maia still wears her granny's engagement ring, and occasionally feels "sad that I will be the last person so connected to it". Maia's own engagement ring to her husband Johnny Vegas was a vintage one. (She thinks there are enough diamonds in the world and says she doesn't understand how anyone would support the mining of new ones.)
Johnny lives in England, while she lives in Ireland with their four-year-old son, Tom. It is a challenging arrangement, by any stretch of the imagination.
"I completely understand why people are so interested in Johnny," she says of the comedian whom she met in 2008 and married in April 2011 in her mother's home town of Seville in Spain.
"Fame is a funny, fickle thing, and as soon as we became involved, he was the first thing people asked me about. Not just journalists or TV work colleagues, but everyone."
Maia recalls a friend offering to change the date of her wedding because Johnny couldn't make it. "Her wedding! That hurt so much, as she'd never even met him; I'd known her for 25 years and it felt like my coming alone wasn't enough."
Maia had worked in TV (Zig and Zag, Podge and Rodge, Dustin the Turkey, Wagons' Den) for many years before she met Johnny, "but once we were together, I was offered reality shows and daytime TV slots in the UK - the kind of breaks people in my line of work might dream of, but they weren't breaks I wanted. I had no interest in suddenly being Mrs Vegas; I had worked too hard for that, and chasing fame for fame's sake doesn't interest me.
"I never traded off him and just kept ploughing my own furrow, but even in Ireland, my 'more famous husband' was always the deal-breaker," says Maia, whose 2013 documentary Merlot & Me was critically lauded, as were her four-part documentary series Maia Dunphy's What Women Want the same year, and 2015's Maia Dunphy's Truth About...[childbirth, breaking London, etc].
In 2013, she was a finalist on Celebrity MasterChef: Ireland. In 2014, Maia won the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year award for Entertainment. And two years ago, she was on Dancing with the Stars.
So, I think you'll agree, Maia Dunphy was always her own woman despite being married to a famous English man.
Maia says she was asked to appear on a well-known show in Ireland some years ago to promote a new documentary series.
"It was a great opportunity, but the booker rang back to say they'd only have me on if Johnny came on with me. I couldn't believe it. I explained that that wasn't how I worked and turned it down, despite the protestations of the PR person who told me I should take the opportunity at any cost.
"The same show rang me back a few weeks later to ask if I'd join a panel discussion on gender inequality, and I still can't believe the irony was lost on them! Obviously I said no!
"Johnny and I are not together now," she continues, "it's difficult and heartbreaking and a source of daily sadness for me. It's something I am deliberately nebulous about because I don't want it to define Tom or me, and I don't want to talk publicly about it.
"Like many people in the same situation, I'm just doing my best to get on with life under painful circumstances. No matter what press I do to talk about work I've done, or things I'm proud of, the headline virtually always becomes a reference to Johnny and it's made me very, very wary."
"The stuff about Johnny is pretty personal," Maia says later, adding that she "hesitated before answering, but it's time it was out there and maybe it will stop people asking. People want to know if we're together or not. We're not, so it's probably time to say so."
We agree that Mr Vegas will not be in the headline of this interview.
"I would just really, really appreciate it if you didn't make the headline about it. It's what always happens and it is soul-destroying. Even when I was promoting the climate change show I hosted before Christmas," she says, referring to What Planet are you On?, "journalists somehow managed to shoehorn Johnny into the headline!"
Changing tack, Maia says her mum Helen made running a busy house look "like a walk in the park" - "and often now, when I'm grabbing a ready meal instead of cooking, I think about how much we probably took her for granted. I often think of the life and career she gave up for us, and how she has never, not once, brought it up as a source of regret. Both of my parents had difficult starts in life, but neither has let themselves be defined by it."
Her father Tom, a finance director at IBM and then president of Dublin Zoo, is, she says, a brilliant man, "so ridiculously modest about everything he has done and achieved. Anyone who has ever worked with my dad gushes about him and it's lovely to hear. He is so rational and reasonable, and so full of that increasingly uncommon trait - common sense."
Maia, the middle child of three, says she can't remember him ever raising his voice "aside from when watching rugby!".
She had a "pretty idyllic" upbringing in Dalkey, almost constantly outdoors playing with a multitude of pets. When Maia was seven, they moved to Paris for two years. "In Dublin we lived in a cul-de-sac where for most of my childhood, there was an unfinished building site somewhere on the road. We built forts and dens from breeze blocks and sheets of galvanised metal, and there were a couple of broken arms and a few tetanus injections," she says.
"I feel a little sad that Tom's generation won't see much of that; not the broken bones or tetanus, but the freedom of playing outside in the street, riding bikes and only going home when someone's mum hollered from the door. I was a very cautious child, always the sensible one, while my older brother was scaling walls and jumping off great heights and my little sister was doing the same. Which is why it was just bad luck that saw me in hospital with a broken jaw aged seven."
It was a summer's evening and Maia had been told to stay in the garden, "but the older kids on the road were having a bike race, and as cautious as I was, I was also a little competitive. So I took part, hit a brick and freakishly went over the handlebars and got my hands caught in the 1980s raised brake wires. I broke my jaw and dislocated my palate from the roof of my mouth. It was a terrible injury that still causes me trouble to this day."
This why is, she says, she "can't get my teeth whitened or perfectly straightened!"
Maia was a late bloomer. She spent a lot of time on her own "and felt like the last girl in the world to have never been kissed. I wouldn't go back to those days for anything." She found it hard to settle in school, and went to five in total. Her last was St Andrew's college in South County Dublin, where she was relatively content.
"I am a chronic people-pleaser, always had just one good friend rather than a group and was very insecure. It was a lovely school, though, and I think I would have been that way wherever I was. I wasn't sporty or into group activities or things like drama, and I wish I'd been encouraged more in those areas, even if only for the social aspect of them."
Like everyone else in Ireland and across the world, right now Maia has moments of anxiety. She lives in an apartment in Ringsend with her young son. "I'm alone with Tom; if I caught it, I don't know what I'd do. I would have to hope it would only be mild. I'm pretty hardy, but I did get horrific food poisoning last year, and looking after a child solo while vomiting for 16 hours is an experience I never want to relive."
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, Maia has been "seeing WhatsApp groups filling up with parents at their wits' end because their kids are frustrated, acting out and throwing daily, if not hourly, tantrums".
Tom has yet to have any. Bar one argument, she says, over broccoli. Tom 1, Broccoli 0. "We choose our battles," says the author of 2017's The M Word: For Women who Happen to be Parents.
Heated discussions about vegetables aside, Maia says being a parent is the greatest thing she has ever done or will ever do. "It's such a cliché, and one I rolled my eyes at before I had Tom, but it really is. Not everyone needs to have children, and I would have had a lovely and very different life had I not had kids, but I wouldn't change it for anything. The perspective Tom has brought is nothing short of life-changing, and I am a much happier person now," she says.
Maia is doing her best to keep him occupied. They have "arts and crafted ourselves into oblivion! We miss my family so much, and Tom announced last week he was building a virus blaster, so he could get the train to see nana and grandad."
Maia says his little lip was wobbling as he said those words "and it broke my heart. My brother lives with my parents too, and has serious long-term health issues, so staying away is the right thing at the moment, no matter how difficult."
Maia had a great couple of months lined up work-wise - "lovely International Women's Day functions, some events at the Mountains to Sea festival, corporate work and a big job next month, which were all pulled. I was also working on a podcast called How To Build a Human, which has had to be put on hold."
Work anxiety apart, Maia laughs that all this has brought out a "new wave of competitive parenting". Someone offered to send Maia the junior infants curriculum so that "Tom could be ahead of the game in September".
"Ah no, you're grand thanks; we'll stick to chaos and cake-making'."
Maia is trying to find time in between "constant parenting" to get a comedy script she started two years ago "to some kind of pitch-able level. I'm also enjoying the pot-luck game show that is online supermarket shopping; there could be anything in the boxes that eventually arrive three weeks after ordering!"
Asked what wisdom she has gained from the last few weeks, Maia says this period will be a great social leveller. "There will be many of us applying for social welfare who've never been near a dole queue before, and people who need help who've never thought of themselves as vulnerable. For the first time since probably the 1940s, there is a solidarity that we're all in this together."
Maia hopes this spirit will last long after normality has resumed "but I don't hold out much hope. One thing that has struck me is all the talk of checking on those who live alone or might be lonely. These people were in the same situation before this, and will be after it, so I hope it makes us all think in the future about checking in on people."
Maia remembers when she came back from London alone with baby Tom a few years ago. "Things were difficult," she says. She was worried about being a burden on people. So she just kept to herself. "I can count the friends on one hand - and I wouldn't need all the fingers - who called into me or texted to see how I was. Now everyone's phone is hopping with the amount of checking in on each other.
"There's a man who lives in my apartment block who says in the 15 years since he retired here, no one has come near him and now he knows everyone on his floor. Giving people time to press pause on the hectic nature of their own lives might turn out to be a great thing.
"For someone like me who couldn't volunteer for home deliveries for childcare reasons, I felt a bit helpless, so I set up a GoFundMe for two of the big homeless support charities.
"To date, we've raised over €6,500 which I've already distributed to Merchants Quay Ireland and Inner City Helping Homeless. I admire their volunteers so much and hope to be able to help out more when Tom is a bit older." (www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-homeless-get-through-the-covid19-crisis.)
Next Thursday, Maia and Jake Carter (inset left) are in Turkey for the final episode of the series of High Road, Low Road on RTE One at 8.30pm. She was asked to get involved with the travel show some time ago; she -generally turns down anything that involves time away because of her son. "But he's four now; this was only a four-day trip and I managed to make it work! I love travel, and given the choice of travelling on a shoestring or not travelling at all, I wouldn't have to think twice. I've done plenty of roughing it in my time, and without a toddler in tow to worry about, it was fine! I met up with Jake during the trip, and he's such easy-going company. I forget he's only 21," says Maia (43), adding that they joked "I could technically be his mother".
They spent two nights in Istanbul and another two in Bursa, Maia experiencing the less luxurious side of Turkey.
"The domes of huge mosques appear around every corner (over 3,000 in Istanbul alone), and it is hectic, bustling, vast and vibrant. When we arrived, Jake was chauffeured to his 5-star hotel on the water, and I was handed a piece of paper with 'Hotel Tulip' scribbled on it."
Maia, who had to navigate the buses arrived at the Blue Mosque after dark, and then "dragged my bags around the cobbled streets to find my hotel. It turned out to be very charming... bar the broken toilet and five flights of narrow, marble stairs I had to drag my suitcase up. And you know what, once you've seen one 5-star hotel, you've seen them all. Who am I trying to convince here!"
Your mother, I say, once described you as a child as "'very self-contained, extremely kind and a terrible worrier". Is that still you?
"I'd say so! I don't sweat the small stuff anymore, though. But kids bring a new set of concerns. I'm convinced now that everyone is born with a personality type. What's important is to accept the way you are and navigate life in a way that suits you. Trying to change a personality type is impossible. Tom is a carbon copy of me, and I'm going to do my best to sign him up for drama, sports and group activities if they turn out to be things he naturally eschews like I did. I won't force him of course, but I think it will be helpful in the long run."
The final episode in the series of High Road, Low Road, featuring Maia Dunphy and Jake Carter, airs on RTE One on Thursday, April 9 at 8.30pm
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