RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan says she works 10 times harder than any man
Poised and ready for hair and makeup, Miriam O’Callaghan is musing over her illustrious career – when she confirms that hosting The Late Late Show isn’t in her future.
“Just last night I found the letter I wrote 14 years ago, the last time the role of presenter of The Late Late Show was up for grabs. In it, I withdrew my name from the ring on that occasion too, saying I no longer wanted to be considered for the job as I wasn’t prepared to leave Prime Time, and that position – 14 years on – remains exactly the same.”
All Farrah Fawcett hair and deep-set eyes, the 63-year-old is engaging, vivacious and impossibly empathetic. But it’s not her career-defining interviews which have people stopping her in the street.
“If I had a cent for every time someone walked up and said, ‘Do you really have eight children?’” laughs the journalist.
“You read about people who plan their lives out perfectly – I’m not that person. I am so far from perfect. My eldest daughter gets anxiety when she sees my dishwasher because everything is thrown in.
“I have eight happy children though, how lucky am I? I am always so grateful.”
Helming Prime Time since 1996, her own talk show, Saturday Night with Miriam, would follow soon after, and in 2009 she made her debut as a radio presenter.
Off air, the Dubliner was equally busy raising her clan. What’s all the more remarkable is that her career never faltered. In fact, it flourished.
“How can you have a career and have a child? Just do it, and realise you are going to have to work 10 times harder than a man,” she says with
“I used to go into work exhausted and be drowning in Pampers. But nobody wants to hear that, so (you) just keep on trucking.
“But never miss anything important. I never missed a parent-teacher meeting or a school play. Someone gave me great advice years ago, ‘Prime Time will happen again tomorrow night but you won’t get those school concerts back’. I might have been running in late, but I always got there.”
The RTÉ star’s children now range in age from 17 to 34, and Miriam has only the fondest memories of her bustling home.
“My mum said it was like coming into Heuston Station. It wasn’t a precious place, the boys would be kicking a ball around - they’ve definitely broken a few panes of glass, but you can fix that.
“I think I did love being pregnant,” laughs the broadcaster of her sizeable family. “When my son Jack was born, I had warned my husband Steve, ‘Don’t worry when they come out they always look a bit squashed’ – they sucked Jack out and he came out looking like Noddy.
"Stevesaid, ‘he’s beautiful’ and then they handed him to me and I said, ‘Jesus, what’s wrong with him!’ He looked fine after, of course.”
Steve is also an integral part of Miriam’s health and happiness.
“I met him in the BBC and he gave up his career to come home with me because I had four young daughters from my first marriage. I always felt bad about that, so I was delighted when he went back to the BBC – it’s your only life, make of it what you can.”
The power couple, who worked on the BBC’s current affairs programme Newsnight together, have always enjoyed a very progressive relationship.
Speaking of their long-distance union that sees Steve, who is the director general of BBC Scotland, split his time between Dublin and Scotland, Miriam adds: “I think you should give your partner the freedom to do what they want and if you love each other and your bond is there, everything will be fine.”
Described as the Irish Oprah Winfrey, Miriam may seem to live her life in high gloss. But her lived experience has also been shaped by the many tragedies that have befallen her family.
“In 1995, my best friend – my sister, Ann – died of cancer. She was only 33. My dad dropped dead eight weeks later, getting a mass card printed. I think I learned a lot from that - I don’t sweat the small stuff. They are huge, devastating moments.
“Life is unfair. You can reel against it but you are better off embracing it.”
While she is happy to go toe-to-toe with politicians, deep down, she says she’s still the shy teenager who once lost her way.
“When you read about being successful decades later, the 16-year-old is still partly there – I think you remain that shy, quiet girl. I went to UCD at 16 to study law. I look back now and it was a time in my life where I was quite down and lost and insecure. My parents didn’t make a big deal of it and said, ‘You’re going to be fine, and I got out of it.’
“My mum was, and is, incredible. She is a hale and hearty 90-something-year-old. She lives independently, she still goes up to Mass every morning.”
It’s the same upbringing that has led Miriam to seek out the humanity in the stories she covers, and The Agreement – a landmark two-part documentarymarking the 25th anniversary of The Good Friday Agreement – is no different.
Airing next week, The Agreement examines the intense negotiations leading to the North’s political settlement in April 1998 and the critical referendum campaign in the weeks that followed.
“I feel very strongly that 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement, we got peace on this little island of ours and that’s huge. It is worth reminding people that 25 years ago, people were being blown to pieces up the road. Violence is always wrong; it’s some mother’s son or daughter lying in that coffin – it’s never OK.”
The Agreement is on April 3 at 9.35pm and April 4 at 10.15pm on RTÉ One, with live coverage of the 25th anniversary on Prime Time.