Monday 11 December 2017

Mairéad Ronan on how Louis healed her heart: 'I feel so lucky I have to pinch myself'

With a marriage breakdown and the loss of her mother all before she was 30, Mairéad Ronan (née Farrell) has suffered her fair share of hurt. But with a son she cherishes, a new husband and a job she adores, the TV and radio star tells how these days, she's on top of the world. Photographs by Naomi Gaffey

Mairead Farrell: Top: Next, €31 Skirt: River Island, €47. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Mairead Farrell: Top: Next, €31 Skirt: River Island, €47. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Mairead Ronan - Green Dress: Pinko, Harvey Nichols, €420
The happy couple: Mairéad with her husband Louis Ronan at their wedding in Ballyclerihan, Co Tipperary
Mairead Ronan - Silver Dress: French Connection €95
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Brand new job, new husband, new name - it has certainly been an action-packed 12 months for radio and TV star, Mairéad Ronan. She may have been up since 5am to produce The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM, but she's glowing as she arrives to our afternoon photo shoot.

Brand new job, new husband, new name - it has certainly been an action-packed 12 months for radio and TV star, Mairéad Ronan. She may have been up since 5am to produce The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM, but she's glowing as she arrives to our afternoon photo shoot.

Funny, likeable and smart, Mairéad flashes a pair of fabulous legs as she changes into our stylist's picks - but she insists she has to work for it.

"I'm not a naturally slim person," she explains. "I have an underactive thyroid gland, so I have to move and do stuff, otherwise I feel my knickers getting very tight. I was running and gyming it big time coming up to the wedding, but I've been a very bold girl since then. I'm getting a few short runs in, but I'll get back on track in September."

Mairéad doesn't need to go jogging to give her a glow at the moment - her constant smile is because she's a happy newlywed, having married businessman Louis Ronan on June 5.

It is the second time round for the 35-year-old broadcaster, who was first married at age 24. A few years previously - on the night before her 21st birthday - she lost her mum, Maureen, to breast cancer, aged 60.

Mairead Farrell and Louis Ronan pictured after getting married in Tipperary.
Picture Dylan Vaughan.
Mairead Farrell and Louis Ronan pictured after getting married in Tipperary. Picture Dylan Vaughan.
The Wedding of Mairead Farrell to Louis Ronan at St Michael Church Ballyclerihan, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary
Mairead Farrell pictured after getting married in Tipperary. Picture Dylan Vaughan.

Mairéad's marriage was over within a few short years. She and her ex-husband have remained good friends, and are devoted parents to their son Dara (8).

"My mum died, I got married, had a child and was separated - all before I hit 30," she says. "I was swept off my feet and getting married seemed right at the time, but my mum wasn't long dead so it was a strange time for me. I didn't think I would get married again after I essentially failed the first time. The Leaving Cert is certainly not the biggest test you will face in life, and believe me, the break-up of a marriage makes you feel like a massive failure."

Mairéad met her second husband Louis five years ago. Louis is not property tycoon Johnny Ronan's nephew, as is often reported. His dad, also called Louis, and Johnny are cousins.

The couple's first encounter came, somewhat fittingly, when Mairéad was working on an outside broadcast at a singles event in Punchestown for The Ray D'Arcy Show. He popped in to visit her colleague Jenny Kelly, as their parents were friends. Mairéad, uncharacteristically, had a hangover, so when they were finished work, Jenny sent her off to get a cup of tea, saying, "This is Louis, he will mind you for a half an hour."

"We got chatting and Louis was lovely, but I didn't think anything more of it," says Mairéad. "Then we kept bumping into each other, and he sent me a lovely Facebook message. He asked me out, and for a long time, we just met for coffee and dinner. After a year with Louis, I knew he was really special and I wanted to get married again. He's a complete old-school gentleman, very handsome and kind, and he healed my heart."

After four years together, Louis proposed to Mairéad last year in Italy, which came as a shock to her. "I had messy hair, no make-up on and it wasn't a candlelit proposal, but that wouldn't be Louis' style anyway," she laughs.

While Mairéad hails from Finglas in Dublin, Louis is a very proud Tipperary man. They were married in a little church in Ballyclerihan, after which they celebrated with 200 people in the garden of his family home. Was it important to Mairéad that she had a church wedding?

"No, it was more important to Louis than me," she says. "I have faith but it's really on my own terms, so I'm not a fantastic Catholic because I cherry pick. We had an amazing day though, it was brilliant."

Mairéad tried on loads of dresses and hated them all, so had one made that was designed from a "mixture of a few dresses". Her favourite part was that the sweeping skirt had pockets for her hands and lipgloss. She actually first spotted her gorgeous veil in Weekend magazine, and subsequently made contact with designer Jill Wild. Her friend Imelda flew in from Singapore to be her bridesmaid, along with Louis' sister Zara.

Dara was best man and he did a reading in the church and made a fantastic speech at the reception, for which he received a standing ovation. Is he a potential broadcaster in the making? "Well some people said so, but I didn't think he would do it because he was panicking a few days before the wedding with the amount of people that would be there," says Mairéad. "He practised it a lot and it was a really lovely moment."

When a marriage breaks down, parents are usually careful about introducing subsequent partners to their children, as it can be a minefield. Was Mairéad cautious about that?

"Well it's not like there was a ton of men between my first and second marriages," she smiles. "There wasn't anyone else, but I didn't introduce Dara to Louis or his family for a long time until we knew it was really something. They've become very close, so Louis asked Dara to be best man because he said he couldn't think of having anyone else, which was lovely. Dara has a fantastic dad already, and Louis was never trying to be his dad. He's a pal to him and another great male figure in his life, and it's great as Dara adores both his dad and Louis."

The wedding was attended by familiar faces like Ray D'Arcy and Jenny Kelly, Ian and Ger Dempsey, Marian Finucane, Davy Fitzgerald and Louise Duffy. Mairéad's own family were there too, including her dad, Robert, and older sisters, Olga and Simone. Simone is her godmother - she was 12 when surprise baby Mairéad was born - and is like a second mum to her.

Mairéad has a great relationship with Louis' mum, Kate, and is very close to her own dad, whom she says is "fantastic", and sisters. It must have been sad, however, that her mum wasn't at the wedding?

"Yes, it's a strange one," she says. "I just try to be thankful for what I have, but sometimes I feel robbed when I see people going away with their mums for weekends, especially because now I have the money to do that stuff, whereas I didn't when I was 20. It was very hard when she died, and I'm so long without my mum now that sometimes I struggle with remembering conversations we had and things like that, so I'm kind of clinging to memories.

"I feel bad pining over my mother when I have a very healthy dad who is still here and is great, so you have to draw a line sometimes and say, 'Right, there is enough grieving done here.' My dad never met anybody else, as he always said, 'There's no one as glamorous as your mum.' I would have loved my mum to see me on TV or heard me on the radio, because she thought I was really shy."

One big surprise for Mairéad was the honeymoon which Louis organised in secret - she only found out that they were going to the Seychelles when she arrived at the airport.

When they came home, it was to a national conversation about the fact that Mairéad had decided to take her new husband's surname. Several newspaper columnists expressed surprise at her decision, given that she had made her name professionally as Mairéad Farrell and had retained her own name during her first marriage.

"I was kind of sad about some of the articles," she sighs. "In my mother's time, you just changed your name and you had to stop working too, but now we have all these choices. It was totally my decision, and for me, it's a lovely thing for us not to have different names.

"I didn't change my name last time, because I was so young that I didn't know what I was doing. I had been on TV, probably only once, so I didn't think I should change it for work reasons, but that's ridiculous. I wouldn't pass comment on any woman who has or hasn't changed her name, as it is everyone's own decision."

While she's now a very successful broadcaster, Mairéad started off doing a degree in HR, and then left to do a sales and marketing course at DIT. On the day of her mum's funeral, she got an interview for a place on a media course at Ballyfermot College, which Maureen had encouraged her to pursue. She did work experience on MTV's The Lick in London, and blagged some more experience on Today FM. She worked on Eamon Dunphy's show and helped out on The Ray D'Arcy Show, on which she was offered a job in mid-2003.

Mairéad was part of the D'Arcy team for 11 years, co-producing, producing and being part of the winning on-air banter between Ray, his wife Jenny Kelly and Will Hanafin. She moved to become producer of The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show last August, and while it meant a mere 16-foot shift in physical terms to another desk in the Today FM office, the move to the hugely popular morning show was a seismic one, professionally.

"We were like a little family, and we all stayed so long for that reason," says Mairéad. "It was just time to move on, and one of the reasons I thought I should make a change was because it was really Ray's show and his thing. I also think you should change when your focus isn't where it should be, and while of course it should be on your family, it equally should be on your job.

"I got to a point where I didn't care as much, so I needed to move on, and now that I'm producing Ian's show, it's like putting new batteries in something and refocusing the mind. It's a big responsibility, but Ian is fantastic and has been in the business so long and is very clear and focused. I'm absolutely loving working with him, Mario Rosenstock and the team."

Four months after Mairéad changed jobs, Ray made his move to RTÉ Radio 1. Did she know the move was on the cards? And would she liked to have moved to the national broadcaster too?

"I was surprised as I didn't know it was time for Ray to move on too, and I found out the same way everyone else did," she says. "When I sat back and thought about it, I wasn't really surprised, as he was given an offer that could never be matched in Today FM. He has been offered chat shows in the past that he turned down, but this is the right time for him and it's going to be fantastic as he gives a huge amount of himself to everything he does. I don't know if I'd have been brought with him if I had stayed, but I don't even think about it as it wouldn't suit me working in the middle of the day anyway. It would be the opposite to what I have now, where I get home much earlier in the day. I don't get to hear the show much, but I did hear it recently and it sounded great and I texted Jenny about it."

What about having her own radio show? Would Mairéad harbour ambitions in that direction? "I have never been offered my own radio show, I think because I have always been seen as a contributor," she says. "Sometimes I think I would like one, but other times I think, would I be bothered with the hassle of it? Because while Ian does it so naturally, you always have to be 'on'."

Mairéad says that while her career was her primary focus for years, once Dara came along, she wanted a better work/life balance. She starts work at 6am and finishes at 2pm, which means that she can collect her son from school. It's a full-on schedule, she admits, and it doesn't leave her much time for herself, but she's thrilled to have the best of both worlds on the career and family fronts.

"Being home earlier definitely benefits Dara, and I saw a big shift in him this year," she says. "He loves me being home, and he won student of the year in school. I think most kids would like a parent at home in an ideal world, but the majority of families have two parents working just to keep the show on the road."

Louis does his fair share of keeping the show on the road too. Not only does he get up with her at the ungodly hour of 5am, he makes her a packed breakfast and lunch to bring to work every day, and - wait for it - turns her car on so it's warm when she gets in. Louis works in his family business, and also goes in to the gym and work early so he can be home earlier in the afternoon to spend time with Mairéad and Dara.

"Louis is a good guy," smiles Mairéad. "I have a strict routine every morning, so I lay out my entire outfit for the next day, underwear and all, the night before. My dad comes to the house every morning and takes Dara to school. We've had an au pair, Sophie, for a while. She's great and we wouldn't be able to do it without her. She only works until 9am because I pick Dara up from school.

"Life is very busy, and the biggest challenge is trying to do everything right. I'm very hard on myself in a lot of ways, over not exercising enough or not eating right, or not seeing enough of my dad or sisters."

The busy-ness is compounded as Mairéad has also been popping up on our TV screens every Friday, when she co-presents The Seven O'Clock Show on TV3 with Anton Savage. She has also done a lot of TV work on The Panel and Celebrity Bainisteóir, and is delighted that Ireland's Fittest Family is back again for a third season on RTÉ in the autumn.

Given her interest in fitness, would Mairéad ultimately like to present something like Operation Transformation? "When you enjoy watching a show, you can't help wanting to be a part of it, but Kathryn Thomas does an amazing job," she says. "Ireland's Fittest Families is a really fun show to work on, and I would genuinely watch it even if I had nothing to do with it. I love the families, and Davy Fitzgerald is a really good guy and great fun to work with. He and I have become great pals."

On the topic of expanding her family, Mairéad says she would really like to get a dog soon as she has always wanted one. When it comes to two-legged creatures, she would be delighted to have more children, but remains philosophical about it.

"It would be a lovely surprise if it happens, but if it doesn't happen for us, we have an amazing little package in Dara already," she says.

"It would be the bonus ball in the lottery, as I'm a very lucky girl. I'm very much in love, I feel healthy, and I have a great husband, little boy and job. As box-ticking goes, I'm ticking quite a few and am pinching myself as I do so."

'The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show', Today FM, weekdays 7am-9am

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