'I would forgive my husband for having an affair because I was so moany' - Jennifer Zamparelli on her second pregnancy
As she goes public with her second pregnancy, Jennifer Zamparelli tells Sarah Caden about how being mother to two-and-a-half-year-old Florence has focused her ambition and made her able to say no; how she’s got rid of her working-mother guilt and how she’s had to compartmentalise like a man in order to stay funny.
Oh, and how she’s thrilled to be earning more than her male colleagues. Joking
Jennifer Zamparelli orders a peppermint tea, but she had a coffee just before meeting me. She really enjoyed it, which was a breakthrough after months of morning sickness and a complete aversion to caffeine.
It's the first time Jennifer has done an interview during this, her second pregnancy. When we meet, it's still a bit of a secret, but she knows by the time publication comes around, the cat will be out of the bag. Characteristically, Jennifer doesn't mince her words when describing how she's been feeling.
"Rough, really rough," she says, now out of the morning-sickness woods, and due in January. "More in the evenings, though, because I was out on set in Wicklow all that time, filming Bridget and Eamon, and not home until eight o'clock, when it all kicked in. And I was surrounded by pregnant women on set. Oh my god, it was the moaniest set. Eventually, when I told everyone I was pregnant, I had to apologise for what a moany cow I had been.
"You forget, don't you," she goes on, "after the first time? The sickness, the tiredness. The first pregnancy is lovely; you can go home from work and stroke your belly, and have a nap, and lie in the bath, and think, 'Ooh, what size is it now? What week am I now?' I would forgive my husband for having an affair, because I was so moany and so tired, and so hormonal and cranky."
The last time I met Jennifer Zamparelli, she was still Maguire. Her summer 2014 wedding to English-Italian actor Lau Zamparelli was a few months away, and children weren't part of the plans we discussed. In fact, back then, her child was the early morning Breakfast Republic on 2FM, which was a bit of a baby giraffe, as yet unsteady on its feet.
What a difference three years can make.
And it's not just the name change, a decision that earned Zamparelli a bit of anti-sisterhood flak. Nor is it the fact that, after a shaky start, Breakfast Republic is a hit for 2FM, or the fact that Bridget and Eamon is a comedy hit set to keep running. Both of these successes have lent Jennifer a bit more self-assurance and a good deal more celebrity, but being a mother to Florence (two-and-a-half) has made a change in her that this pragmatic, straight-talking Dubliner won't deny.
"The minute that baby pops out," Jennifer says, "you understand what really matters. It's great, really, because you just get perspective. I think it's all about quality control once you have a kid. You do [work] stuff because it means something to you, not just because it's there. I don't just go on shows for the sake of being on the telly. I do stuff that I really want to do and really love doing, and I put such huge effort into Bridget and Eamon because we've so much creative control, being producers, writers and in it. So that's great to do."
It's not that you do less or that there are things you are missing out on or passing on, Jennifer clarifies, it's more that once there is a child in your life, you prioritise differently, and maybe even prioritise better than before. "There's actually a great freedom," Jennifer says. "It's much easier to say no to things now and make decisions. Like: 'Am I going to do that and spend five hours away from Florence?' No. I'm going to stay with Florence instead, thanks."
There are those, maybe the same ones who pounced on her for shedding her maiden name, who would suggest that this comment is letting the side down. That could be perceived, I say to her, as an admission that a woman's ambition is altered by motherhood.
"No, my ambition is just focused more." Jennifer says. "I think women are very hard on each other, first of all, and always trying to be the martyr. We're still trying to be that ambitious person, and we don't want to let anybody down or admit that we can't do something."
It's possible to have it all, Jennifer says. "But not all at the same time!" she exclaims with a laugh. "Because there aren't enough f**king hours in the day."
The gender-pay-gap debate in RTE didn't impact much on Jennifer, not least because she's finished and out of there before a lot of her colleagues arrive at work.
"I think [pay] has to be looked at case by case, and all I can say is I'm delighted to be getting paid more than the lads [Bernard and Keith]," Jennifer says, deadpan. "No. Myself and the lads get paid the same. We were entering into a partnership of three people doing the same thing, so it's something we discussed in advance. And I think it came from them, not me.
"In media, though," she continues, "it's difficult to gauge. Because some people come with a huge fan base, and might bring more to the table with experience or their profile, or whatever.
"With talent, there are so many variables. I'm sure there have been discrepancies with talent where they are the same sex and getting paid differently."
Has she noticed it as a big topic of conversation in RTE? "No," says Jennifer. "I don't think so. They are business people. I think if there are people who are unhappy, they are going to go to their bosses. I mean, that's the sensible thing to do, rather than to go to a newspaper, right?"
Anyway, Jennifer says, she's not actually privy to much RTE chat. "I do my thing, and I'm gone."
Doing her early morning thing and then going home allows Jennifer maximum time with Florence, care of whom she and Lau, with the flexibility of an actor's life, can divvy up between them. Florence also attends creche three mornings a week, as, says Jennifer, she's mad for friends and the company of other kids. "It's embarrassing going out with her at this stage," Jennifer laughs. "She just runs off, going, 'I have to make friends!'"
Like a lot of modern mothers, being a parent isn't exactly as Jennifer imagined, but that's not a complaint. For example, she and Lau found themselves at the National Concert Hall recently. To see The Wiggles. "The fucking Wiggles," Jennifer says.
"We thought we'd be that cool couple who still go to Electric Picnic," she laughs. "But you know, having partied for so long, and partied so hard for so long - I can barely remember my 20s - the change was kind of welcome in a way."
In those hard-partying 20s, Jennifer was mostly in the UK, where she first came to public attention in the 2007 run of The Apprentice. She was portrayed as a hard-nosed ice queen on the show, and didn't get along with Alan Sugar, a clash she has often attributed to his lack of height. After that, she returned to Ireland to appear on FailteTowers, a reality-TV show with the likes of Brian Dowling, Bibi Baskin and Derry Clarke. From that apparently ill-fated appearance on The Apprentice, her TV career began, though Jennifer says that wasn't the plan.
One of six children raised in Dublin's Baldoyle by a garda father and a mother who loved am-dram, Jennifer was the youngest in her family by a long chalk. She was, by her own admission, cheeky and bold. She hated school - "too much of a messer and a little shit", she said to me in 2014 - and was only engaged by the school plays.
After school, she made a stab at a secretarial course, but was bored silly and left after six months to start selling packages of hair-salon treatments on Grafton Street. This involved going up to people and talking them into a purchase, something at which Jennifer proved exceptionally good. She then took this gift of the gab to New York, then Cardiff and Bristol, where she met Lau Zamparelli.
They lived together in Bristol, where she did some theatre work and he was in insurance, then he went to London to study drama and, ultimately, she moved back to Dublin. They split up for a while, but he followed Jennifer to Dublin, where she had set up Bella the Makeover Studio, a business that did professional-style studio photographs, including hair and make-up. It was a business Jennifer continued to run successfully as her media career took off.
She started with Republic of Telly in 2009, making her mark as the interviewer who was prepared to ask anything of people on the street - harking back to her hairdo-sales days - and of Irish personalities. Famously, she asked Michael O'Leary how it felt to be the "biggest prick in Ireland". She also asked Grainne Seoige if she cringed during some of the acts as co-host of the All-Ireland Talent Show. Seoige was openly upset and angry with Jennifer afterwards.
In 2014, when we first met, Breakfast Republic, the 2FM breakfast show she co-hosts with Bernard O'Shea and Keith Walsh, was only a few months old. They were taking a bit of a bashing at that stage, as the show bedded in, but it has become one of the station's most successful offerings.
"It was three voices; it was different to what had gone before; it was all new," she says. "I had never done radio before, and we were getting used to each other. But now we're in a good place. It's better now we're not trying so hard. You know, it's breakfast radio - people don't want to hear the big, long stories that they have to focus on. They want soundbites and a laugh and good music. They just need us to be ourselves, and it seems to work, and the [JNLR] figures are great. We are part of people's routines."
Jennifer says that an improved ability to compartmentalise has allowed her to be better at her work, better as a mother and better at managing the working-mother guilt that devastated her for a time. When Niamh Horan interviewed her for this magazine last year, Jennifer talked about pangs of guilt as she got up at 5.30am for work, more of them while she brushed her teeth, and on and on through the working day. She's learned to control that now, Jennifer tells me.
"I'm managing it because I made the effort that way," she says. "A man does that automatically. Women are all the same, we all have that struggle. But with comedy in particular, if you don't have that spontaneity, which is where the magic happens, then there's no point in doing it. It's not fair on anyone if I'm not totally focused on it like they [the men] are.
"You see," she continues. "men are much better at compartmentalising stuff. Scientifically, it is proven that they are, and I just try to do that and copy that. Like, when I'm on set, I try to enjoy it while I'm doing it and focus on it and give it everything. Because if I'm straddling work and motherhood, both will suffer. I was better at that this time [while filming the forthcoming series of Bridget and Eamon]. With the last series, when Florence was about seven months old, I was a basket case. I was just so distraught. And you could probably see it in the work. This [new series] is much better as result. I'm just more relaxed and I was happier, and she was happier, too."
Jennifer is very proud of this new run of Bridget and Eamon, and shows me photos on her phone of Lau being oiled up, topless, for his role as the Turkish-waiter boyfriend of Bridget's mother, a new character played by Deirdre O'Kane. It's a perfect casting, as Bridget owes a lot to the Irish-wagon characters O'Kane has played down through the years. Jennifer was thrilled that O'Kane agreed to do it, and she got a lot of parenting advice from her, she adds.
Having found some sort of balance with one child, does Jennifer worry about how that might be tipped when the second baby arrives in January? She worries more, she confesses, that there won't be any more love to give, but everyone assures her that "your heart just grows". Florence, for her part, is very excited about the arrival, though she "hasn't a notion" of the reality of the impending interloper.
Two will be plenty, though, Jennifer says. She won't be going for the big family that she grew up in. "I'll be on Groupon looking for a deal on the snip for Lau," she says with a hearty laugh.
Jennifer knows that her time will her stretched even thinner, but she's ready for that. Once you accept the loss of spontaneity that occurs once you're into parenthood, she says, you're half-way there. The only time that loss bugs her is if child-free friends text on a Tuesday evening to say that they're down the pub, and ask if she's joining them. "I'm, like, 'Are you fucking crazy? I'd need a month's notice for that!'"
She doesn't envy them the freedom too much, though. She had hers. She likes where she is now and where she hopes she's going. At the same time, Jennifer knows that you can't plan for life's turns once you add children to the mix. She laughs to recall how she entered the labour ward with her "bouncy ball and her whale music" and ended up giving them permission to "just cut it out!" That person seems like a world away now, a million tiny changes ago, changes that add up to a different person, a different life.
"You can't plan for any of it, so you roll with the punches," Jennifer says. "I feel now that everything's smaller - my clothes, my house, my car, my space, my time. It's all getting tighter. But in a good way."
Photography by Kip Carroll