'I truly always believed that I would meet someone,' says Amanda Byram (41)
Amanda Byram, one of Ireland's biggest TV exports, spoke to Donal Lynch about new love, her broken engagement and her desire for children.
T'was the night of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in London and faced with a catwalk full of impossibly leggy models, most of the Irish women in the audience might have been feeling pangs of insecurity. Not Amanda Byram, though. The Castleknock woman has a body that looks like it was crafted specifically with lingerie in mind and unlike some media critics, who sniped at the supposedly misogynistic tone of the event, she had the time of her life looking at the spectacle of angel wings and garters: "It was an incredible show. It's pure theatre", she says.
"There's such a difference between it and, say, Fashion Week. I go to Fashion Week in London every year and I see models who are painfully thin. The girls in this show were nothing like that. They have asses and boobs and muscle, they obviously train with weights and eat healthily. They're athletes, really. And this idea that they're sexualising young girls? They're all in their twenties, well-paid women wearing beautiful, theatrical outfits. There's nothing pornographic about it. I can't understand how anyone would object to it."
As a model and TV presenter Byram knows well how the industry pressures to look good on camera can eventually build into something more destructive in a young woman and she's disarmingly frank about it: "Look, I come from a modelling background, I know what it's like to have eating disorders to a point where you're working in shows and you need to fit into those clothes. There was a time when I didn't eat enough and I exercised too much. And that's another reason why I'm so passionate about strong not skinny."
Perhaps for this reason Byram has latterly reinvented herself as a fitness advocate. She has a new Twitter page - @Byrambod - where she shares the beauty, fitness and nutrition tips that keep her in tip top shape and she also is an ambassador for seed-based energy bar 9Bar. It's the latest strand of a long career that has made her one of Ireland's most successful television exports. She grew up in Dublin, the child of an Irish mother and an Iranian father and started out on the TV3 morning show Ireland AM in the late 1990s before her personable, inquisitive interviewing style saw her snapped up by Channel 4's Big Breakfast - the biggest morning show in the UK at the time. Since then she has worked steadily in Britain and the US, including a stint in LA, which she had mixed feelings about: "… everything seemed a little bit fake. The teeth. The faces. I'm Irish, I like things a bit more real."
A little fake tan magic is OK on the catwalk however. Besides providing Amanda with the inspiration to look as good as she does, the Victoria's Secret show also provided a useful litmus test for her new relationship.
"He was offered tickets for the show but couldn't go because he was busy with work", she explains of the new beau. "And I knew when he said that, he must be a keeper because if you're a man and you're busy with work you get off for a Victoria's Secret show!'
"I had a lot of people who told me I was an inspiration as a single woman in her forties and so I was a little bit reluctant to say 'well, I'm not, as of quite recently. But then maybe I can still be an inspiration; if I can find a man anyone can! I actually got to a point in my life when I thought if I never find a man I don't care because I've found personal peace."
Part of the reluctance to go into details about her new relationship might also stem from the fact that her love life has been the subject of huge scrutiny over the years. She famously dated comedian Patrick Kielty for a while (he went on to marry Cat Deeley two years ago) and was also engaged for a while to the rugby player Craig McMullen. She once said she was "gutted" after they separated: "I bumped into Davina (McCall) at an event the other night and she's so lovely but she mentioned 'oh you went out with Paddy for the longest time.' And it literally is the first thing people say to me. It's mental, that was almost 15 years ago! I wouldn't say the media ever really damaged my chances with relationships, though. If you're clever about it you don't get papped. To be honest nobody really cares that much."
Having said that she is shrewd enough to understand that "the audience that watches you wants to have something in common with you and you have to give a little bit of yourself." She cites the situation with McMullen as an example of that.
"We had a situation where that ended but we didn't tell people and nobody knew about it. And then the amount of women I talked to after that they were so fascinated and said to me 'Jesus, I knew on my wedding day it wasn't right and I wish I'd done the same as you.' And it was great to connect with people like that and share with someone. But at the time it all happened, it was too raw to talk about."
Given the time she's at in her life, talk inevitably turns to the supposed ticking clock: "I've never done anything in my life for the sake of it. Of course as a woman you think about having one (child) on your own but to be honest I was never brave enough to go through with that. You always hope that you're going to meet someone who will be your partner in crime. I'm 42 in June, as a woman it's one of the cruelties of science and you maybe do it by yourself because you're desperate to have kids, but I don't think I was ever that desperate. And I truly always believed I'd meet someone. When I turned forty I sort of made peace with the idea I'd never have kids. Now, whatever happens, happens."
For the moment, Amanda is enjoying her new relationship and a career that continues to go from strength to strength- she's currently appearing on Channel 4's Sunday Lunch. And she's looking forward to coming home to Dublin for Christmas dinner.
"I probably won't help with the cooking but I will bring home some of my healthy stuff and mix a bit of that in", she says. "I eat all the Christmas stuff, but with a healthy twist. It's been a long year. I'm looking forward to putting my feet up."
Amanda Byram is an ambassador for 9bar, a nutritious, gluten-free energy bar containing natural ingredients. For more information on the 9bar ranges and Amanda's partnership with 9bar please visit www.9bar.com