Thursday 26 April 2018

'I am not a reality star. I'm not selling my life' - Laura Whitmore talks press attention and new boyfriend Iain Stirling

Laura Whitmore tells Barry Egan about her vulnerability, how women are getting their power back, and how she is funnier than her comedian boyfriend, Iain Stirling

Laura Whitmore
Laura Whitmore

Laura Whitmore was 22 going on 23 years of age when she moved to London on her own to follow - and fulfil - her dream of TV super-stardom. Living in an apartment with her dog Mick, named after the lead singer of The Rolling Stones, the 32-year-old suggests the truth of her living arrangements versus her homeland thus: "My stuff is in England but my heart is in Ireland, always. I don't have to live here for my heart to be here." Her heart appears given to a young man called Iain Stirling...

Does she ever get paranoid that the sudden surge in press interest might put the relationship under a lot of undue, early pressure to work out?

"Yeah. I think I've become more guarded than I probably would have been initially. But then I also learned a while ago to own it. I'm going out with him for a long time."

How long?

"Probably not that long. Eight months. Long enough to know. People wrote about it and guessed. Then one day we just decided to own up. I said, yes, I am going out with him. That's it. Full stop. Move on."

I thought it was cool that he said publicly last month about his courtship of Ms Whitmore: "I'm punching above my weight."

"He's not!" laughs Laura.

You forced him to say that, didn't you? I jest.

"I did not force him to say that!" she protests. "I was like, 'Stop saying that!' I don't think that at all. Also, what is punching above your weight? Is that looks? Is that personality? Intellectual? What are you basing that on?"

So, what, precisely, was he basing it on?

"I think he was saying it because he's a comedian and he was trying to be funny," she says. "Also you shouldn't be forced into talking abut things you don't want to talk about either, because I am not a reality star. I'm not selling my life. And it is that thing as well with women who are single. It is OK to be single. It is OK not to have a child at 30."

She recalls Jennifer Aniston writing an article in the Huffington Post to the effect, saying: "I act on stage and screen but my womb is my property, thanks very much."

"Even though you write about it all the time!" jokes Laura. "I think things are changing for women now. We are getting our power back."

Asked about what she imagines is the biggest misconception about her, she replies: "That I think I'm great, because I don't.

"Or I'm up myself," says Laura who is not remotely up, or indeed, full of herself.

Laura Whitmore should really be a little bit full of herself given she has presented on MTV, I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here Now! on ITV and hosted the red carpet for the BAFTAs. Yet she has retained both her sense of humour and her sense of self throughout it all. Something of a difficult feat when you consider how famous this Bray native has become in England.

Even Earl Spencer knows who she is... four years ago at stately Althorp House in Northamptonshire at a Ralph Lauren dinner which Princess Diana's brother was hosting with the Lauren family, Laura was sitting at the table, feeling completely out of her league, when Kitty Spencer, the Earl's daughter, leans in and says to her: "Nice to meet you. I have to tell you something really embarrassing. You are my dad's crush. My dad's favourite show is I'm A Celebrity."

With shock, Laura nearly fell face-first into her pea soup, exclaiming: "Jesus!"

Then the earl himself came over and gushed how much he loved the show. Laura felt such a fraud being in the self-same posh residence where the future Princess of Wales once lived. She didn't feel fancy enough. Perhaps because Laura grew up in a two-bedroom house in Bray.

This needless sense of feeling like a fraud Ms Whitmore carried with her last year when she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England to study Shakespeare.

"I was so intimidated when I walked in," says Laura, adding that some high profile thesps were rehearsing next door for Hamlet, which Rada's president Kenneth Branagh was directing. "You would see these people walk in and I was like 'Oh my God! What am I doing here?'

"It is how I spend most of my life, waiting for someone to go: 'You shouldn't be here. Can you leave?' That's how I felt with MTV," says the Irish girl who in April, 2008 beat some 3,000 other applicants on Pick Me MTV to win a MTV presenter job in London.

"I expected that one day they would realise that I shouldn't be here. I realised that everyone else thinks the same thing. We are all kind of winging it," says Laura who was back in Ireland to launch Diet Coke's Because I Can campaign.

"Rada was a great experience," she went on. "I thought it would be sitting down with books and theory, theory, theory because I had studied a lot of theory in the past reading Stanislavski but this was rolling around and licking walls. That's what you do with Shakespeare. It was nice not to wear make-up, and wear whatever you want."

Laura, who took a year out from television last year to play Cleo Morley ("a mortician, but her proper title is anatomical pathology technician") in the Peter James crime drama Not Dead Enough. She describes theatre as being like "walking a tightrope without a safety net".

I ask her about her flaws.

"I have loads of flaws. I over-think everything. I have insecurities. I talk too much. I talk too much because that's my job. I get paid to do it. I fill in space. That's an Irish thing as well. We don't like pauses. Sometimes it's nice to not talk."

When Laura is in those moments of vulnerability, what goes through her head?

"When I first started out working in a newsroom I felt worthless. It wasn't about the people around me. It comes from myself, because sometimes you go: 'Am I any good at this?' or 'What's the point of this?' Everyone has self-doubt."

The opposite of self-doubt can be a pretty excruciating condition to have.

"I wish Trump had some self-doubt," she laughs, "But, yeah, probably that [feeling of] worthless. But we all have days when you don't feel great. That's why I say there is a lot of pressure on social media. People can look at my Instagram and say, 'She's got a great life'. But it is not real life. It is life through a filter. I think even I do it. I can be scrolling through and see something and go 'They're doing that. Should I be doing that?'"

I ask her does she ever look online or in magazines and wonder who this person Laura Whitmore is?

"My friends and family see the real me," Laura claims.

What's the difference between the Laura the public sees and the Laura her family and friends see?

"Well... she looks very familiar, except less make-up. It is just me without a filter on, I suppose. And also I am quite private as much as I can be."

And yet most people assume to know so much about you, I say.

"Most people think they know me. People think things. We can all think things. I can look at a picture of someone in a magazine and think I know the person even though I have never met them."

The poptastic jet-setting young Dub has met lots of well-known faces in her job. She tells me she can remember the first time she met Glen Hansard and that meaning "a lot to me" because she was raised on The Frames. Meeting someone like Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, "who I am a big fan of, and realising how so lovely and down to earth, not a snob", Laura also enjoyed meeting P Diddy - "whose lifestyle is very different to my lifestyle".

How is it different? I joke.

"It just is!" she cackles. "I don't think I even have to explain that! P Diddy has a much different lifestyle to me!" she laughs.

Laura grew up absorbing the wit and wonder of Robin Williams and Jim Carey movies. "I think humour is very important in life."

What makes her laugh?

"My boyfriend says sadly not him - even though he is a comedian!" she laughs referring to Mr Stirling. "I think sometimes you have to laugh at life even though there is sadness."

Is her comic boyfriend working out all his material on her?

"Not really. Thank God. Can you imagine how horrendous that would be? Imagine someone testing their material on you all the time? No, he doesn't. I think he keeps it for the stage."

Is Laura telling me that her boyfriend is not that funny?

"I think I'm funnier! And I think he agrees."

I suppose if he wants to keep the relationship going, I joke. You have already got him saying he is punching above his weight! The next thing he'll be telling people that you're funnier than him!

"No! But if I laugh, he knows it's funny. I'm not one of those people who will just laugh at anything. If I laugh, it must be a really good one."

Like Laura.

For more information on the Diet Coke Because I Can series follow Instagram: DietCokeIe and Facebook: DietCokeIreland or search #BecauseICan

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (AND MY FATHER)

Laura was raised by her mother Carmel after she split - amicably - from her partner Sean when Laura was three years old.

"My parents didn't work together but they were great parents," she says three decades on from the break-up.

"It would have been worse to be in a situation where people aren't happy. I think when you are a kid you don't realise sometimes that your parents are human and that they don't have a life before you.

"I was going to say it was not the average way to be brought up but these days I think it kind of is," she smiles. "So, yeah, that's them, my parents..."

Laura adds that her mother always worked full-time.

"I probably had that mentality growing up - if you want something you can work for it.., I know that she sacrificed a lot for me."

Laura recently hosted an event in London for International Women's Day. She was discussing the role of women in our lives and about our mothers: "Like how that does really shape you when you see your mother work five days a week and then come home and try and cook dinner for you and try to have enough money for you to go to your drama lessons or learn whatever it was you decided you wanted to learn that week.

"So she gave me that work ethic; where things don't come to you."

Laura describes her mother as "hard-working".

I mishear Laura and think she says her mother is hard work.

"Well, she is hard work as well. Let's be honest - all of the Whitmore women are!" she jokes.

Asked what she inherited emotionally from her father, Laura says: "My dad has always been amazing. Even now; like he knows I'm here and he is giving me a lift everywhere. He is probably one of the most caring people I know. He's like my taxi service.

"I once got stranded at Slane Castle and he drove all the way down to get me back. That's what dads are for. I suppose what I'm saying is that my dad was very, very kind. I was lucky."

Sunday Independent

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