Every shade of Erin - Conor McGregor's older sister on getting her confidence back
Conor McGregor’s older sister, Erin, was a bodybuilder and fitness model before giving birth to her second child, Harry, 17 months ago. Now, looking to bring ‘the spark back’ into her life, she will be joining ‘Dancing With The Stars’. She talks to our reporter about perfectionism, motherhood and how her brother helped her to stop hating her body
'The challenge isn't about me being a good dancer. The challenge is me facing my adversities and insecurities."
So says Erin McGregor, mother, bodybuilder, fitness model, social-media influencer - she has nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram - older sister to The Notorious Conor, and now contestant in RTE's Dancing With The Stars.
Erin is disarmingly candid in everything she says, spelling out exactly what she means by her 'insecurities': "Will the public like me? Will Erin be OK? Can I be tougher in my skin? That's what the challenge is, not learning the steps," she says. "It's getting in front of the camera and being ok. Because I'm not an actress. I'm not used to being in front of cameras. My family is in the limelight, and there's always cameras around us, but it's not solely around me. I'm not the main person, I'm just in the background."
Because of this, and because she has a 17-month-old son and a 17-year-old daughter, Erin hesitated before saying yes to Dancing With The Stars. Her feelings of uncertainty held her back from a speedy 'yes', even though, as she says, "I think there's a dancer in my heart," and she was at a stage in her life when she wanted - needed - a new challenge. "When it came, I was like, 'I don't know if I want to do this...' I left it to the wire. The fear, the insecurities: what if people don't like me? What if I'm not good enough?"
When Erin says, "I try my best to keep it honest and modest," she really means it. "I have an amazing life," she says, "a really, really good life. I have such a supportive family. I have an amazing brother who literally gifts us such amazing gifts; he's so generous. I mean, who gets to fly in private jets? Who gets to go into a car showroom and say, 'OK, this is the car I want', and you get to ring your brother, and he says, 'OK, just ring the accountant, that's the car you're going to get'? Who gets to go into the personal shopping centre in Brown Thomas and your brother says, 'Pick what you want'. Who gets to do that? Nobody."
She's right. Nobody. But, that said, she admits that, "There's hidden things, of being a mother. Because I know how I feel sometimes on my own in the house with the baby, and I want other women to know that it's ok to feel like that sometimes. So that's why I keep it honest and normal."
Life, she knows well, is not just "red carpets and meeting celebrities". And even though it's wonderful when it happens, for Erin, the main joy isn't that - it's something else entirely. "Who doesn't want to see their family succeed in their dream? Who doesn't get inspired by going, 'This person that I know, that I love, has taken their dream and has gone for it'. That's a lesson in itself. That gives me the courage to face every challenge that I have. That inspires me to keep going."
Need for something new
In the end, happily, excitement and the need for something new in her life won out over uncertainty. "I was looking for something, for a new challenge, for that fire to be lit back inside me. Every few years, I take a challenge on, whether it's competing, learning how to box, learning how to be a mam again..." Now, it's dancing.
Erin's younger child, Harry, is 17 months; his older sibling, Taylor, is 17. In the intervening years, Erin went from "almost a child", as she says, to a grown-up, learning and changing along the way. One of the things she has learned is the honesty that allows her to admit that life, and motherhood, isn't always easy.
"I was 18 when I got pregnant. I was an apprentice hairdresser in my final year. I hadn't a clue what was ahead of me. I was that young when I was pregnant, when I had Taylor, it was a little bit overwhelming at such a young age. I think a lot of women don't talk about that. Because if you do, you might have other women that might say, 'Oh, but it's amazing to have a child', and it is, but it can be overwhelming. On my social media, I talk about that a lot, because I like to make other women feel it's normal, because sometimes I can feel overwhelmed - like everyone else is coping, and I'm not. And that's horrible. I think women should stick together; I'm so pro-women."
When Taylor was born, Erin lived at home with her parents, Conor, and her younger sister, Aoife. "There is the element that I had support, but there's also the element that we were in a three-bedroom house. My sister shared a bedroom with me - she was in school, and that meant she was getting woke up, and I was very conscious of that. Conor was in one bedroom; me, Aoife and Taylor were in the other.
"Aoife was 15, she had to get up for school, so that would have been a trying time. I would have been trying to keep the baby quiet for everyone else's benefit. I moved out for a few months with her dad, and I came running back. That's where I found things overwhelming. I was a kid with a kid. I'd never used a washing machine before, I didn't know how to boil an egg - I still can't boil an egg. My mam and dad did everything; they still would."
They sound, I say, like a very supportive family. "We're so close," she agrees. "There's such a strong structure. My dad and my mam are such hard workers, and I suppose that's rubbed off on all of us. That's the foundation. They put us first. And I see them now putting their grandchildren first."
Away from the cameras, the McGregors, she says, "keep it real normal. We're a normal family. That's his [Conor's] job, that's who he is, when we get together, we're a normal family; brothers and sisters. It's no different than anyone else's."
So, I ask, do you sit around and slag each other? She looks a bit hesitant at that. "It's just normal," she insists. "We have dinner together. I suppose the exciting bits are when we get the fancy gifts, and we're like,'Oh my God…' He [Conor] loves that. He will always pick gifts. Sometimes I hint at the gifts I want, plus me, Aoife and Conor, we all like really nice stuff, so we all nearly like the same things - so he knows what we like, and we know what he likes."
Sometimes, Erin says, rightly, "when we're looking at other people, celebrities, we don't actually realise they're a real person. But that's my brother, so I know. And I know that if you put in hard work and dedication and believe in a dream, that it can happen."
And indeed Erin herself, like Conor, is a perfectionist. "I know if you want to be good at something, it takes a lot of time. It becomes your life. It becomes your obsession. It needs to - it needs to take over."
Life with her second child is different in many ways. "I think the overwhelming feeling of being a first-time mother, you never forget that, but the second one, you embrace it a bit more," she says. "Although as a mother, you still feel guilty all the time. The minute the child is born, you feel guilty - 'Am I doing it right?'" Also, she says, "I'm older, so I'm more tired. I'm 36. On Taylor, I don't remember the tiredness. I could go out on a Thursday, get up for work on a Friday and be fresh as a daisy. Now, I don't really drink alcohol, and even if I go out and don't drink alcohol, I'm still tired."
These days, Erin shares a house with her partner, Terry, Taylor and Harry. "Terry works nearly seven days. He has his week-day work - he's a courier - but he's also a singer and does MC-ing at fight nights. I've had 16 months of maternity leave, so Terry has been holding the financial fort - and that's the difference in my relationship now. I never really had that before. That's really amazing for me, that I had that time with Harry. Terry is really such a great man. He said, 'You stay at home and I'll work the seven days to keep us going.' Sometimes he goes straight from the day job to the night job."
And Taylor, too, is part of the support structure. "My 17-year-old is like a second mammy," Erin says proudly. "She's amazing. When I had Harry, I got very ill after I had him - I was in the high-dependency unit, I had a lot of blood loss - and she came in, and she took Harry and stripped him and changed his babygro. She was like a duck to water. She'd love to be a midwife, she's a natural with children. She loves it."
Something else that has changed in the years between Taylor and Harry is Erin's attitude to the way she looks. "With the first, I would have had nearly like a child's body, because I'm really quite petite, so I would have had a tiny frame. I suppose I never appreciated my figure. I remember my mam saying, 'Enjoy your figure, show it off', and I was like, 'No, cover me up!'" She laughs at that.
And the shock of pregnancy and childbirth was huge. "Your whole shape changes, and I think that's the hardest thing for a woman. Everything about you changes - your boobies change, your waist changes. It's trying to find yourself again. It's hard." In response, Erin says, "I got huge into fitness."
Her mother, Margaret, was, she says, "always a gym goer, from the time my brother was born. After having Taylor, I used to try and do sit-ups, because I was very conscious of my belly" - recently, Erin has been very open about having work done to her tummy, sharing before and after pictures on her Instagram feed.
"Then I went to fitness classes with Conor, about seven years ago. Just before he was signed into the UFC, he would teach a women's class. I loved going. He was just the best trainer, because he's very energetic to be around."
Even without Conor, Erin continued to train hard. "When I was competing, I would have trained twice a day for five days a week. Then I went into boxing for a year, and I trained every morning, five days a week." It sounds great, but some, at least, of this dedication was driven by fear. "I suppose the reason I got into fitness was because I hated my body," she says, with that disarming matter-of-factness.
It seems hard to imagine there is anything to hate, but I guess that's not the point. "I know from talking to different women, a lot of us do [hate our bodies]," she continues. "It doesn't matter what size you are; it's on the inside. I don't know why women feel like that - if it's after we have children, or it's hormones, or it's the way we're built. I don't know why. I would have got a distorted image of myself, because I was always trying to peak things. I'm a perfectionist - everything I go into, I really try and give it my all."
Getting pregnant with Harry changed things. "I was really ill when I was pregnant. I was on medication for the vomiting. I wouldn't have been as severe as Kate Middleton, but I was constantly nauseous. It's so horrible. So fitness took a back-burner. Then, when Harry was born, I was in baby-moon, and I didn't really care so much about my body. After Harry, I think I've learned to say, 'Feck it, it's good enough; perfection is not achievable, I can do my utmost, and that's enough'. Also, she says candidly, "It's being older, and I don't have time! I knew I had to re-evaluate - I realised I want to do something that I love, for fun, and not because I hate my body and want to change it."
And so began the search for something she loved, something to reanimate her. "Being at home all day, after being such an active person, I was like, 'I need that spark to come back'. You need a little bit of you, something to give you that energy. Before Vegas [by which she means the McGregor family's extraordinary trip to Las Vegas in August to watch Conor fight Floyd Mayweather, in a deal that earned him many millions] I tried loads of times to get back into it, and it didn't really feel right any more."
And so, Erin did something she firmly believes in - she asked the universe for help. "I am such a strong believer in putting stuff out to the universe," she says. And indeed, it was Erin who gave Rhonda Byrne's The Secret to her brother Conor. "I gave that book to Conor when he was only a teenager, and it was so funny because I watched him live that life. It had huge impact on his life."
It sure did. So how did it work for Erin? "It had a huge impact on my life too, but there was a little part of me... somewhere inside me I didn't believe in myself and didn't believe that I was good enough. So the universe would bring that back to me... so there's the challenge: believing in Erin again. Believing I'm good enough for this stuff to happen; I'm good enough to be on Dancing With The Stars, I'm good enough to be ok in my own skin, and this is part of my journey, my story, for The Secret to work for me. You have to have the belief and the trust that it's going to come your way, and then let go."
And of course the universe moves in mysterious ways. "Sometimes it's in a completely different way than you ever thought," Erin says. "Like, my dream car was an BMW X5 or a Range Rover. My dream watch was a Rolex. I never in a million years would have thought, 10 years ago, that it was my brother who was going to give me those things. So you have to let go, and trust. That sounds really easy, but it's so difficult to do. You show up, you do the work, and then you step out of your own way."
Dancer at heart
Which is more or less how Dancing With The Stars happened. "Well, before our family was in the spotlight, my dad's a big fan of Strictly Come Dancing, and he'd say, 'My Erin should be on that; she'd win it.' He knows how much I love it. I love the costumes and I love the hard work. My daughter is a dancer. It's something I think that's inside you, and I think there's a dancer in my heart. Does that mean I can dance like a professional? Probably not."
Erin did a radio interview where she talked about her love of dancing, and then, just weeks after Harry was born, she was at her sister Aoife's hen night - "I had a glass of Champagne, I was dancing, and I put it up on my Instagram and I tagged Dancing With the Stars, and forgot all about it, and then - it's all a bit hazy because I was still in mammy-hood - someone got in touch with me." And here she is.
Did she discuss the decision with Conor? "I did have the conversation with him," she says. "'Will I do it, won't I do it?' and he said, 'Why not? Why wouldn't you?'"
Does Conor have his own moments of self-doubt, so that he could relate to her? "He never has moments of doubt. Never, never."
Was he always like that - so convinced? "He was always a child who stood out," Erin says. "Who had that spark in him. He was a very good child. He's just very inspirational to be around. He has the X factor. He gives young people, anybody, that thing: you can succeed in your dream, whatever it is. Start a business, lose weight, whatever your personal goal is."
With the same endearing honesty, Erin says, "I don't know if I can dance - the public will be like, 'She's thinks she's a great dancer, she's not!' I'm actually so nervous. But it's so exciting for me. I'm hoping that this just brings the spark back into my life. The challenge is: I have to accept that if people don't like me - and obviously I want people to like me - but if people don't like me, knowing that my family love me and my friends love me, and that's where I need to toughen up.
"I want people to like me, but if they don't, is it the end of the world? Are they going to pay my bills? Maybe not. I'll be at home probably crying if people say bad stuff, but it's really a personal achievement, a personal growth; personal growth is every step of your life."
'Dancing With The Stars' starts tonight on RTE One
Photography by Kip Carroll
Styling by Liadan Hynes
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