Erin McGregor shows her fighting spirit: 'When you're in a rut it's very hard to get back out there - especially after having babies'
Erin McGregor went from a crisis of confidence to lighting up 'Dancing with the Stars'. She talks to Liadan Hynes about winning a role in panto and introducing brother Conor to 'The Secret'
I last met Erin McGregor a few days before it was revealed that she would be a contestant on 2018's Dancing with the Stars.
It was her first big shoot. She was excited, she confided on the day, but also terrified. "I was a nervous wreck," she declares now with a smile. Erin was coming out of maternity leave to perform on the RTE show, fulfilling a secret life-long dream to become a dancer.
Erin, now 37, is tiny, dressed in Balenciaga sock trainers, black joggers and a hoodie. The eldest of the three McGregor siblings (Conor is the youngest, sister Aoife is in the middle), she can do loud and showbiz-y when the occasion requires, but one-on-one she's a real girls' girl, a cosy chatty sort. She's the type of woman with whom it is easy to get quickly intimate in conversation, to compare wardrobe notes, parenting struggles, body insecurities.
"I think when people see me on telly, the showbiz side of me might come out, and they don't realise that I suffer from anxiety a lot," she reveals now, curled up in her seat over her coffee. "Because they're seeing this image that might not look anxious. But I hold those nerves up until the last moment, this feeling of 'can I do it? I can't do it'. With a mental strength her brother knows a thing or two about, Erin talks herself back down. "In those few seconds I'll say 'come on Erin, it's going to be OK. This is what you want, let's do it'."
She is an extrovert, she says, but then wonders if that is something she does "to try and mask the insecurity; 'Oh look at me, this is great', so nobody actually says 'look at her, she's really nervous'. But I do love dancing, love showbiz. Live audiences, the nerves, the adrenalin." After the birth of her daughter Taylor, now 18, Erin, then 19 herself, had gone back to work (a hairdressing apprenticeship) after three months. "When I had Harry (now two), I was older, I was in a very loving relationship, and I just thought 'I want to be with my baby'."
As many women can testify, being home all day with a small child is exhausting and isolating, and often leads to a sort of loss of one's sense of self. By the time DWTS came up, she had lost her confidence. "When you're in a rut like that it's very hard to get yourself back out there. Especially after having babies; it's all about the baby, and you don't really know who you are. I remember the first time going out after having Harry, and feeling like I was an alien that had been dropped in. Everyone else was talking about all this other stuff, and I was thinking 'I'm so disconnected with the outside world'.
It wasn't the physicality of DWTS that scared Erin. "For me, it was definitely more of an emotional journey. It was conquering the fear," she explains.
Anxiety wasn't a particular issue when she was younger, she reflects. In fact, it seems to increase with age. "I think as you get older you become more aware of the dangers of life. Youth can be carefree. When you're older, you've other people, more responsibility. You realise that bad things do happen."
Unsurprisingly, given her lineage, Erin is not one to be vanquished by fear. It was in fact she who originally gave her brother Conor, then a teenager of around 15, a copy of Rhonda Byrne's book The Secret. She is, she says, a big believer in the law of attraction. "He lives by it," she says of Conor. "You can see, you can tell."
Of herself, she says fear is probably something she will always live with, but the point is now that she knows she can deal with it, and would never let it stop her. Her biggest regret about the show is worrying about what other people thought of her. "DWTS was huge for me, because I learnt how to let go, and not really give a s**t any more."
The first few weeks were stressful; Erin was trolled online. Then one night, something clicked. She had had a bad dress rehearsal, and was now in the dance-off. "I remember standing on the stage and hearing what people had said on Twitter, in my mind. It had been a hard week. And so I chose my guilty pleasure; It's Raining Men. That to me is kind of my fun personality. I thought 'Just let go, have fun'. Life is hard enough for everybody. I just thought feck it. Feck this."
It seems to have become something of a motto. "It's OK to move on. I held on to things in my life for way longer than I should have, instead of going 'let go, try something new'. The 'feck it mentality'." Getting to the semi-finals meant performing in the finals, so Erin was involved for the whole run. She cried for the entire last week. "Because I had finally found something that was just for Erin. I've always wanted to be a dancer. Somewhere I had put it out to the universe. But I never knew how it was going to come about. I was a woman at this stage, how would I ever be a dancer? With DWTS I had fulfilled that dream. And now it was over. It was like I had won The X-Factor but I would never be allowed to sing again. That was really hard."
Getting back to her children was great, but she missed the show, the people, the routine. "Everybody kept saying 'what's next?'" she recalls. "You know that pain in your stomach when you've just done your Leaving Cert, and everyone's saying 'so what's next?' And you're thinking 'oh God I don't know what's next'." As is her way, she gave herself a talking to. "Erin, you've been so lucky so far, the right thing at the right time will come about." It wasn't always possible to keep so calm. "Sometimes the doubts will come in. You have to trust; that's part of The Secret."
At one point after the show, her mother had said to her "'Please don't go back into yourself'. And maybe in the last two or three weeks, I had noticed that I was slipping back into that 'oh sure I'll do it tomorrow', or 'I'm not in the humour to go there'. It was my mam who said to me then 'please, I'm starting to notice you going back into that'."
They are a close family, the McGregors. Erin lived with her parents, Tony, a taxi driver, and Margaret, who stayed at home when the children were young and then worked as a sales rep and merchandiser for years when Erin was raising Taylor. She still lives in Crumlin near where she was raised. You get the impression that Conor's journey has been one the entire family has experienced in close-knit formation. His successes are theirs.
"Everyone's like 'your lives have changed', but we're still the exact same family that we were five years ago, 10 years ago," she says now.
The whole clan travelled to Las Vegas last week for this morning's fight. "Of course I get nervous," Erin admits. "I don't think it gets easier, but it's like, we're here, we're here to support him. And you just want the best outcome for him, because he works so hard, and is such an amazing generous person."
Nerves clearly aren't her main response though to Conor in the ring, but more a sense of inspiration at the sight of his determination. "Watching someone following their dreams gives you so much hope. You just want the best for your family member. For me, when I look at him I see a real person, like, he's a tangible person, he's not just someone on the screen. That gives me hope. He's an amazing athlete. We believe in him 100pc."
It was in Las Vegas, also for a fight of Conor's, that Erin met her partner Terry, a musician and an MC, introduced by a mutual friend."I was walking to the pool and a friend of mine called over to me. And I could see this fella in his company, checking me out." At the time, meeting someone wasn't a priority. "I had given up on love, on ever meeting anyone," she recalls. "That kind of stuff was just for fairy tales." Clients at the hairdressers where she worked would tell her 'when you meet him you'll know', and she would dismiss what they were saying.
"I think life makes you a little bit cynical," she explains. "You're like 'ugh, I'm over it; I'm not putting myself back out there'. I'd given up." Not just that, she was, she says, very happy in herself. "I was having a lot of fun. I was happy. And maybe that's what was going on. I was quite happy in myself when I met Terry, so I wasn't looking for someone else to fill that gap."
The next day he sought her out again at the pool, chatting to her friend, asking if she thought he could take Erin out for a date. Her mum, also by the pool, ran through a list of questions with him, quite clearly mentally ticking boxes. "'Have you any kids? No. TICK. Were you married? No. TICK. What do you do? I'm a musician'. TICK. It was really embarrassing," she laughs.
It turned out the customers in the salon had been right. "I feel at home. When I look at Terry and I look at the two kids, they're my home," she smiles. "Once I went on a first date with him I knew. He's a singer, so he started singing to me. What the women would say to me in the salon, I thought, actually it's true. Don't give up. Love yourself. Find your own confidence in yourself. And when you are happy in your own skin, that person comes."
Happiness in her own skin hasn't always been the case. In her early 30s, Erin competed in bodybuilding. She had always been into fitness, attending the classes Conor taught before his meteoric rise. "He's an amazing teacher. He's just inspirational to be around," she says of her brother who is younger by seven years. "I think he has the X factor," she says proudly.
She first got into fitness because "I hated my body. What other reason?" Erin says with typical honesty. "I didn't like my body after the baby. The mum tum; I'd always been into fitness because of that. I know there are a lot of women who embrace that, and empower women; I just really didn't feel that good with it. I wasn't happy in my own skin, at that time." Now she admits she didn't really enjoy bodybuilding. "Because I did it for the wrong reasons, because I didn't like myself." After Harry, she stopped training for a time. Now, fitness is about energy levels as much as anything else. It's also about enjoying the challenge of weight lifting. "I'm a real goal setter. I love that feeling of thinking 'I can't do it. OK, I'm going to do it'." She's summed up her attitude to life; to set herself a challenge, feel the fear, then do it anyway. "I find that if I don't keep pushing through that anxiety, I will stay in it. That is how I conquer it. By constantly trying."
The choreographer from the panto Polly and the Magic Lamp spotted her on The Ray Darcy Show during the summer.
"You know, staying at home with babies is great but sometimes it can be very lonely." She's playing the part of Jasmine's best friend, Ann Wha. "I feel like that part is made for me. I'm quite a strong, Dublin, working-class girl. She's fiery, she's feisty. I knew I could do that."
She is nervous, but "I have promised myself that I'm going to have fun. Because that's what panto is. I love kids; their ability to let go. When I look at them and they're dancing and they're free, that's probably what I really want to be like."
The Olympia panto 'Polly and the Magic Lamp' starring Rory Cowan, Ryan Andrews, Jake Carter, Erin McGregor, James Patrice, and Rob Vickers runs from Friday, December 21 to Sunday, January 6. Tickets are on sale now from Ticketmaster at The Olympia Phone Bookings on 0818 719 330.
Sunday Indo Living