It's 2am on July 2005, in Venice, Italy. Glenda Gilson hasn't a clue what is going on behind her back.
Her friend Andrea Roche has taken Glenda's mobile phone from her bag while Glenda is in the ladies' room of the legendary Harry's Bar. Andrea quickly texts Glenda's then-boyfriend, rugby player Brian O'Driscoll - who is in Ireland, and quite possibly asleep: "I love you. Will you marry me?"
Andrea carefully puts the phone back into Glenda's bag seconds before her friend returns, smiling and oblivious to the fact that she could now be engaged.
More drinks are ordered. The wine flows, and when we leave at 2.30am, Glenda - still unaware of her late-night marriage proposal to Drico - whistles to the theme tune of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill as we walk across a moonlit St Mark's Square.
It's only when we pass the Bridge of Sighs, as we head in the direction of the luxury boat we are all staying on (for a LIFE magazine cover feature) that Glenda finally checks her phone. She stops whistling Kill Bill. "Rochey! Rocheeeey! Rocheeeeeeeeey! What have you done?"
Her horrified shriek can be heard all the across the city that floats on water. "Rocheeeeeeey!"
Almost 15 years later, Glenda is quietly sipping tea in The Westbury hotel in Dublin. The Ireland AM presenter waxes philosophical about that Italian trip, and about the past.
"Venice was fun from start to finish," she says. "You know you are guaranteed a bit of crack when you are out with Andrea Roche. She is hilarious. We are still great friends to this day. I remember vomiting over the side of the boat because the sea was so rocky. It wasn't from drink, Jesus. It was sea-sickness!"
How do you look back on your life?
"Life is for living. I look back and I loved every bit of it. There was no social media back then. I don't regret anything in life. I think you learn from every experience you go through. I don't regret anything that I have done with my life. It all seems like ancient history now..."
Purpose and meaning to life The Castleknock girl who used to pretend to be Madonna in front of her bedroom mirror is now very happily married to businessman Rob MacNaughton, and they have a 15-month-old son, Bobby. "I don't think I will ever sleep again like I did before I had Bobby," Glenda laughs.
Sleep deprivation aside, Glenda says that Bobby's arrival has given new meaning to her and Rob's lives. "We have a purpose, I suppose. I'm not going to say it's easy. It's a nightmare sometimes, of course, but you wouldn't have it any other way," Glenda says, adding that her parents Aileen and Noel are the perfect babysitters. "So, we get out for a bit of dinner and a few drinks, but it is not the way it used to be, because you can't cope with the hangover with a baby. I don't care what anyone says. I used to be able to get home, after coming in at five in the morning, and I'd get up the next day and be grand."
In any case, Glenda says, "I was getting sick of that. Rob and I had reached a stage. I remember a bank holiday weekend coming up and thinking I didn't want to go out.
"So," she continues, talking of her new existence, "now, with Bobby, we plan things to do at the weekend. The three of us are swimming all the time."
Rob and Glenda were together four years before Bobby came along. "We wanted to have our time as a married couple before we had a child, and we did," she says. "We had our holidays. Then the next step was to have Bobby, and thankfully we did, and he arrived healthy and safe and good. That's all you want."
Might Bobby have a brother or a sister at some point?
"I'd love that. It is not happening just yet. But, yeah, of course, we'd love the gentleman's family, the boy and the girl."
What is Rob like as a father?
"My mum is always saying to me, 'You know, you have a great husband'. Rob is very much involved with Bobby. My dad probably never changed my nappy as a baby, but Rob does with Bobby. He is so hands-on. He is a great dad.
"When I was doing Dancing With The Stars," Glenda says, in reference to the RTE show she was eliminated from in January, "I was gone constantly. I used to come home for dinner and bath time and put Bobby to bed, and then I'd leave. Rob did everything. Even at night when Bobby woke up, Rob would deal with him.
"And Rob was working as well, but he knew the stress I was going through and the long hours, and that I was wrecked from it. He just kind of took over, and I was very thankful for that."
Were you shocked when you were eliminated from Dancing With The Stars?
"I wasn't shocked, but I was kind of upset. I suppose because you do put so much time into it. I was rehearsing from early December, seven hours a day, and I was doing Ireland AM in the morning," she says of the Virgin Media television show on which she got a job when Xpose was axed late last year after 12 years on air.
"So, it was full-on. In previous years, Thalia Heffernan got booted out in movie week; Holly Carpenter was booted out in movie week, too. I don't know if the Dubs do too well in movie week," she says, referring to the Dancing With The Stars theme on the week she was voted off the show.
"Maybe I didn't have the support behind me. I didn't cry about it, or I didn't get annoyed when I was axed. Someone has to go every week. I wasn't a great dancer, but I don't know if I was the worst dancer. It was probably tough for Rob for the first few weeks because I had the fear of god. I would come in and say, 'I'm after doing seven hours of practice and I still don't know the dance!' Then Wednesday comes along and you say, 'I've to go on live TV and dance!'
"For two weeks before, I couldn't sleep. And I felt panicky. Like, I don't dance! Maybe I should have thought of that before I went into Dancing With The Stars. When we go out for the night with a few drinks on board, I am not a big dancer. I might just put the hand in the air and that's it. I prefer to chat. Look, Dancing With The Stars was a great experience. I am so thrilled I did it."
What added to Glenda's anxiety was that her aunt and godmother Hazel died on Christmas Eve - "at three minutes to Christmas Day.
"My poor mother has lost three siblings in less than six months. She lost a brother and two sisters. Hazel was three years older than my mother. My mum also lost her other big sister, Olive, and Dave, her other brother. So they have gone from a big family to only three of them now. So, it was a tough oul' few months, and Christmas was very tough.
"She was an incredible woman. I have great memories of Hazel and Liam," Glenda says, referring to Hazel's husband, Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor who was tragically killed in a car crash outside Moscow in October 2005. "She was my godmother and he was my godfather."
What are Glenda's memories of Liam?
"Oh, I loved him. As families, we used to holiday together. We would do Christmas together. We'd do everything together. We went down to Michael Jackson in Cork together. I was six. I ended up on stage, dancing. Liam was a great storyteller."
And sandwich maker.
Glenda remembers well Liam's culinary skills at his and Hazel's home in Lucan. "Liam would come in in the evening and get a slice of bread and pack the butter on, and he would have jam, cheese, ham, and cranberry sauce on top of it, and then he'd add a rasher, an egg and a banana. Anything that was going, he would put it into his sandwich and eat it. He was mad. I'd be like: 'Liam, what are you eating?' He'd be like, 'Glenda, that's lovely'."
Louis Walsh knows Glenda probably better than most. "She's a tomboy," he says. "She is always full of fun and energy. She knows all the latest news on music, movies and sports. That's why she's a tomboy. She likes the company of guys, and she is always the centre of attention. She is always up for fun when you meet her. She's a great mother and always good to be around. I had dinner with Glenda and Caroline [Flack] after X Factor a few years ago. We always had fun."
"Caroline was gorgeous," says Glenda of the late Love Island presenter. "She had the dirtiest laugh you'd ever hear in your life. A lovely girl. I always found her lovely when we met up. She'd just chat away with Louis."
Does Glenda believe social media and the tabloids will cop on in the wake of Caroline's tragic death?
Glenda shakes her head. "Caroline's message was: be kind. I put it up on Twitter with a picture and 'Rest in peace, Caroline'. I got some abuse: 'Where were you when she needed your help?' I just don't get why people think they should be able to tell a celebrity, or anybody, what they think of them on social media. It is just not on. It's dreadful. Social media can be lethal."
When Glenda was eliminated from Dancing With The Stars, she received a positive reaction from the public pretty much everywhere she went. Well-wishers shouting from their cars as she walked down the street - 'Well done, Glenda' etc - was not unknown.
"I did get one person the night I was kicked off," Glenda remembers. "This lady came over to me and said, 'Well, Glenda, you know it is a personality competition'. I kind of looked at her and went, 'Hold on. So, you mean I've no personality and that's why I didn't win? Hold on, I can deal with not being able to dance, but you're now crushing the personality that I've worked on for 38 years? That would upset me'. Then she kind of back-pedalled. I think she just got muddled up with words. She didn't mean to be mean to me. Hopefully, I have a bit of a personality," she laughs.
"I think people need to remember that it's a dance competition and not a popularity competition. I think it's unfair to see people who can dance [really well] in the dance-off week after week. The best dancer must win the show... but then, maybe I need to remember what Louis Walsh always says: 'It's a TV show, not a dancing show'."
'The good scrubber'
Like Louis said, Glenda has a great personality and is a great mother. Glenda is not, however, a great cook.
"I can't cook! I'm so bad," she laughs. "Rob is the cook in our house. I'm the good scrubber in our house."
The good scrubber turned 39 earlier this month. You're almost 40. Have you had work done? I joke.
"Do I look like I've had work?" She shrieks with laughter, before letting out an even bigger laugh: "I think I need work done! It's funny, the minute I had a child, I saw myself ageing. Maybe it is the lack of sleep. I said to my mom, 'I look so old, don't I?' And she was like, 'Well, the first time I ever saw myself ageing was when I had children'. So, yeah, you kind of see lines in your face that you didn't see before. I suppose it is lack of sleep and that you are just constantly tired. What are you going to do? Go and have a few more. No one is going to listen."
Who is Glenda Gilson? She is a warm and witty woman, who is hugely likable. I'd like to think I've have seen the non-showbiz side to Glenda over the years. (She is friends with my little sister, Marina.) Her mother Aileen told me a few years ago: "Glenda is a very normal young woman. Glenda is extremely strong, but she can get awfully upset about things. She is a great daughter, and myself and Noel love her to pieces and are delighted with the way things have gone for her."
"A lot of people think I'm quite a strong character," Glenda says now, "but I'm a bit of a softie underneath it all. I am quite a sensitive person," she adds. "A lot of people don't know that. During Dancing With The Stars, [fellow contestant] Brian Dowling and I sat down and had a discussion about his mother passing away. The tears just dropped out of my eyes. He said to me: 'I thought you were really strong and tough. But you're not'."
Photography by Kip Carroll
Styling by Chloe Brennan
Sunday Indo Life Magazine