'I was getting slices of ham thrown at me' - Amy Huberman
Here, the actress and author talks motherhood, fashion and the perils of mixing sticky hands and fancy clothes
Bright-eyed and dewy-skinned - Amy Huberman certainly looks like she's getting some. Sleep that is. It must be one of life's inexorable laws that if you put two parents with young children in one room, the conversation will inevitably turn to that most precious commodity of shut-eye.
"Sleep isn't too bad, bar the occasional bad night" she laughs. "I'm worse! They get up so early, I should go to bed earlier, but I break through the pain barrier. I say I'm going to bed at 8 o'clock but if I haven't washed my face - which only takes three minutes - then I'll procrastinate and go on and load the dishwasher a million times."
As a mum to one sleep-resistant 22-month-old, I'm slightly jealous that Amy, mum to three-year-old Sadie and Billy, 18 months, has cracked the bedtime routine. But the fact that I'm not seething with sleep envy is testament to how incredibly likeable she is.
The phrase 'nation's sweetheart' gets bandied around a lot when it comes to the actress and wife of rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll and it's pretty apt. Her enviable lifestyle should put her in the bracket of 'people you'd love to hate', but she's so much easier to love instead. She's talented (with numerous IFTA nominations for roles in The Stag, Threesome and The Clinic) and stylish - there's rarely a best dressed shortlist that doesn't feature her name. But she's also down to earth, self-deprecating and funny (just ask her 290,800 Twitter followers).
Today we're meeting at the RDS to discuss the launch of the Dublin Horse Show and the Puissance high jump sponsored by Land Rover for whom Amy (37) is an ambassador. She tells me that last time she was in this boardroom, overlooking the showgrounds was a few years ago, when she was crouched on the floor pouring over polaroids of Dublin's finest in their frocks and fascinators, in a bid to help pick the winner of the coveted Best Dressed Lady award.
"Everyone goes to so much trouble," she says, looking a little anguished at the recollection of having to rank one person's efforts over another's. It's clear she put genuine effort into the decision but whilst she loves the buzz of ladies' day, and the fact that so many women (and men) strive for sartorial success, ultimately she's more a fan of dressing for yourself rather than in pursuit of someone else's approval.
"If you want to win a prize then I guess there are certain parameters - no one's going to love it if you wear a tracksuit - but otherwise I think you should wear what you want," she explains. "Fashion should be a fun thing and a personal expression. I always think there's a credibility when you wear something you love."
It's an attitude that informs her own outfit choices, which see her regularly praised in the press for hitting exactly the right blend of classic chic and quirky individuality. But surely hitting the mark so often with the critics comes with added pressure to continue to 'get it right'? "Totally," she agrees. "Well, maybe a bit. But at the same time you don't want to be beholden to those kind of things. Not everyone is always going to love it, and you might not love it as much as when you've worn a different outfit. But I always hate when you see those people who have made a little bit of a braver choice and it's like 'uh-uh' (she makes a 'wrong answer' buzzer sound) And why really? I'm not into doing that, shaming people, cut people some slack. Fashion is this fluid language and that's what it should be. You're not hurting anybody and if you love it - great!"
But two little people who have impacted on what she wears are her children, Sadie and Billy. She reckons her style has changed since becoming a mum, "although I don't know if it's just evolved because I'm older as well," she adds. "My wardrobe is simpler. But I try not to get into the habit of wearing the same things, blue jeans and black jumper, blue jeans and different black jumper that's clean...or not clean."
Ah yes, the quest to avoid 'mammy uniform' and the mammoth task of keeping things clean - something else that apparently affects all parents whether you're an Irish A-lister or a lowly reporter. I feel compelled to confess to her that the silk-mix trousers I'm wearing today have only just been returned to me, handwashed by my mother, the only person able to tackle a stain made by my son's buttery hands. "Aah! Butter!" Amy can clearly empathise. "It's the oily things isn't it?! I went to a communion last week wearing a silk shirt which was really stupid of me," she says. "There were a billion kids there with greasy hands and all I could think was 'I did not think this through! DRY CLEANING!' I was getting slices of ham thrown at me!"
She laughs: "It's like, 'you're really cute, but step away from me. I'll look at your cute buttery hands from across the room, put your cute buttery hands on someone else, I'm wearing silk. We can hug this out later when we're at home and I'm in my pyjamas'."
Handwashing is too much of a time-consuming task to tackle. "We've got a wool wash I pretend is a handwash, it's grand," she smiles. "Actually, there are some things I like to think have come out smaller because of a high degree wash and not just because you've been eating cakes for two weeks."
Of course life isn't all ham-spattered silk and feeding the washing machine, she still knows how to work a red carpet. The striking floral stress, by designer Umit Kutluk, that she wore to this year's IFTAs sold out everywhere. Today she's looking effortlessly chic in monochrome and a splash of red lippy.
"There's days where I love just being in lounge wear," she reveals. "But I do love getting dressed up. It doesn't have to be fancy, sometimes it's just a favourite pair of jeans and a favourite pair of boots, but I do love leaving the house if I'm not with the kids and knowing that I don't have to worry about chasing after them in heels, or spilt food or bolognese sauce stains."
If she had to choose would it be high heels or slippers? Red carpet or early night? "If I know that the next day I can sleep in then I love getting out there," she decides. But sometimes the choice between the two does have to be made. "Initially I was like 'no I won't (choose) I'll still do all the things', but it becomes an energy thing," she explains. "When you're working and you're busy doing other things, it's just hard to do it all and you need your rest. I actually kind of do now really, really enjoy nights where I don't have to work and I can just get into my pyjamas really early! I love, just as soon as the kids are in bed, getting into my pjs and dressing gown at half seven and slothing around for a few hours and then getting into bed - heaven!"
A quick insight into her jam-packed work schedule and it becomes very clear why slothing around is such a desirable luxury. She's just wrapped on the RTÉ comedy drama Can't Cope, Won't Cope and recently completed filming in the UK with comedian Jason Byrne on a Sky short comedy. She's been writing a screenplay, working towards the autumn/winter collection for her shoe range and involved in charity projects including the Get Blown Away ISPCC Childline fundraiser.
Since retiring from playing rugby in 2014, life hasn't slowed down much for Brian either who's now a regular on screens commentating for BT Sport.
It'll be six years next month since the couple tied the knot at a church ceremony followed by a sumptuous reception at the four star Lough Rynn hotel in Leitrim. There was no flashy magazine deal, in fact the couple have never been keen to court the limelight, there is no brand 'Bramy'. Perhaps the best insights into life chez O'Driscoll -Huberman come from their own social media pages. Brian recently posted a hilarious candid video on his Instagram of Amy engaged in some vigorous bank holiday cleaning (wearing the black top and jeans mum uniform no less) whilst she regularly amuses her Twitter followers with jokey photos such as one recent one of her prodding Brian "checking my male" or balancing play dough on the rugby legend's head after photographing a sign reading 'please do not place items on ledge'.
In March she shared a snap of the pair enjoying a night out at the Adele concert in the 3Arena. Well she was enjoying taking the mickey out of Brian anyway, the picture showed her playfully dabbing his eyes as he gazed up at the Someone Like You singer with the tagline 'Uh-oh. Someone got emosh at Adele'. Her tweets from the Bruce Springsteen concert two weeks ago were equally giggle-inducing.
Making time to spend together as a couple, away from the kids, even if it's just for a few hours is something she feels is important. "It is lovely just to have the headspace so you're not kind of 'on call' in the background," she explains. "You're totally giddy, then you catch on and think 'I'm so drunk, I've to go home!" She gives a chuckle. When the couple book their holidays for this summer there will be a family one 'somewhere warm' and then "maybe just the two of us for a couple of nights". It will be the first time they've been on a plane with the children since Sadie flew to Australia with mum in 2013 to support BOD's Lions campaign. Amy famously described the flight out at being "like a dirty protest in a Cambodian jail 35,000ft in the air". "But we won't go that far, it'll just be a couple of hours so it'll be fiiiiiiine," she says optimistically. "Fine, she said…before the crying starts on the plane. Although maybe it'll be just me crying on the plane…and the two rows ahead and behind…"
It's probably best not to overthink it, especially as they already struggle to make time to book anything. "We're always a bit 'let's book it for the week after next'," laughs Amy. "Brian has a little bit of foresight with his schedule, but mine is a little bit more ad-hoccy. He's not playing anymore but his weeks are still quite structured around the rugby. Now that the season is winding down he'll have a bit more time over the summer. He definitely knows more than I do when we can actually go away."
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She hopes to be in town for the Dublin Horse Show, which this year falls a little earlier in the calendar running from July 20 to 24. Now in its 152nd year, the event, hosted at the RDS, is a staple of the summer social circuit. "I just think of it as summer and associate it with summer," says Amy. "It's a lovely thing to come and do and such a buzz on the day, especially when the weather is good."
This year she reckons she might bring Sadie down to see the horses, despite fears that it might lead to demands for a pony. "They're so huge up close, she might be grand with not having one," says her mum laughing, until someone else in the room warns her that there'll also be adorable Shetland ponies on site.
It was the move towards wanting her own horse that signalled the end of Amy's own horse-riding days. She got into the sport when she was aged nine. "I'm not sure why because our family aren't horsey people," she says. "But I loved horses as a kid. I wasn't good at team sports, but I didn't mind getting on horses and galloping through fields. Then it got to a stage where, with the pony clubs, you kind of did need to have your own and my folks were like 'this is not happening'," she laughs. "That was where we ended it, they were like 'we'll maybe get you a guinea pig but you're not getting a pony'."
One of the big events at the Dublin Horse Show is the Land Rover Puissance, the thrilling high jump competition - over a wall that gets steadily higher until only one rider remains - that provides a finale to the show. "I love it," enthuses Amy, "it's always kind of the fun one." Ah, then surely with her experience in the saddle she must secretly long to compete herself? "Never! I would never do the wall," is the emphatic reply. "I loved ride-outs, just riding through fields, but I was never good at jumping. I didn't love the dressage stuff. I think I was just a bit nervous about it. I'd a few experiences where the horse would just stop before it and I would go over the jump."
The memory of those experiences resurrected itself recently when she needed to ride for work. "It's funny how your mind-set changes as you grow up," she muses. "I didn't have fear as a kid but I've had to be on a horse for two different jobs in the last few years and I've been nervous. One was in the Dublin Mountains and it was snowing and I remember being nervous because the horses were edgy." The other was a shoot that required her to sit side saddle in a wedding dress for a horse stunt. "I got brave and said 'I'll do it' but then it got to it and I was there, in a wedding dress, going 'I don't know if I want to…' But they had a stunt person who made it look really slick - and I took the credit," she grins mischievously.
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Having taken tumbles headfirst over horses and with a husband who has suffered more fractures, lacerations, tears and broken bones than I'm sure either he, or she, would care to remember, I wonder does she worry about Billy and Sadie inheriting a penchant for adventure sports?
"I haven't really thought about those things," she admits, furrowing her brow a little. "I think within reason I just want them to enjoy whatever they're doing. At the moment, I'm so in the moment of where we are now that I never really wonder [what's down the line]. I might change in a year or two and go 'what are they doing?!' but for now it's all about the small victories like 'wow, they're walking'."
Celebrity offspring often seem to inherit an early passion for fashion - think Suri Cruise strutting around in high heels at the age of three or Gucci-clad four-year-old Harper Beckham being hailed as 'incredibly chic' by her mother. But it's hard to imagine Brian and Amy's daughter, or son, being baby label lovers. "She (Sadie) is kind of getting into it…" says Amy slowly before pointing out that there's absolutely nothing wrong with kids who do want to accessorise their Gucci and Chanel. But she adds: "I still think she's too young. I mean, she enjoys being in a dress…" But play comes before preserving designer togs. "They're in and out of the garden, sitting in puddles and I'm changing them all the time," she laughs.
That said, young Sadie has an appreciation for mum's own wardrobe. "She loves it if there's a sparkly dress," smiles Amy. "She's like 'wear the delicate dress' because I'm always saying 'that's delicate, that's delicate." Ah, those little buttery hands again. "Their little words are so cute," Amy beams.
And with that it's time to go on to another engagement. Amy is being a little mysterious about what the gig is, cryptically revealing that 'the lippy's coming off but the lashes stay on'. Most intriguing, and from her eclectic CV she could as easily be going home to put the washing machine on as heading out to launch a new beauty product. She brushes my hand away, extended for a formal handshake and gives me a hug instead and declares that, before anything else she's off to get a "dirty big toasted cheese sandwich". See, that's the stuff nations' sweethearts are made of, greasy fingers be damned.
Photography Naomi Gaffey