The art of being Jennifer Zamparelli: 'Turning 40? I'm like, woo-hoo!'
After swearing off buying new clothes for a year, RTÉ star Jennifer Zamparelli gives second-hand chic a try and tells Amy O'Connor about her milestone birthday, learning to say 'no' and how an early career in sales prepared her for the fickle world of show business
It's all go for Jennifer Zamparelli when I meet her in RTÉ Radio Centre. It's only a Monday afternoon but her working week is already well underway, having hosted Dancing with the Stars the night before and a three-hour radio show that morning. She acknowledges that things are a bit hectic with the two shows running concurrently. "I find it gets a bit crazy towards the end of the run," she says, settling into a quiet corner of the canteen.
We are here to discuss, among other things, her recent pledge to not buy any new clothes in 2020. Last month, she tweeted her promise to not buy "a single stitch of clothing this year", calling on her followers to hold her accountable.
"If you see me skulking around Zara, you have full permission to slap me," she told her thousands of followers.
So what prompted her to reconsider her shopping habits?
"It's funny because when I get asked about it, people are like, 'Ooh, it's the whole sustainability thing, it's for the environment'," she says. "And yeah, looking into it, it's pretty horrific the impact fast fashion has globally... But that wasn't at the forefront of my mind. It was the fact that I didn't need any more clothes."
She says she came to the realisation after pulling a Marie Kondo and clearing out her wardrobe. During the decluttering process, she unearthed outfits that hadn't seen the light of day in years.
Jennifer wears: Vintage Christian Dior suit, €90; Oxfam Fashion Relief
"I was coming into work wearing things and the girls in work were going, 'Jesus, that's lovely, is that a new top?'" she says. "I was like, 'No, I just haven't seen it in about three years' or 'I forgot about it' or 'It was in a ball at the back of the wardrobe'."
She realised the extent to which she was participating in fast fashion when she came across two leather jackets in her wardrobe that were practically identical.
"I was like, 'How did that happen? Why am I buying another variation of the same thing?' But it had to be newer, it had to be better."
With that, she decided to wean herself off new clothes. That meant no more online shopping or quick runs into Dundrum Town Centre.
Instead, she's decided to make a concerted effort to wear and rejig old outfits. She has also decided to work with the styling team on Dancing with the Stars to give previously worn outfits a new lease of life. Last month, the show's stylists transformed a silver mini-dress she wore last season into a bold one-shouldered number.
So far, the broadcaster says she's found the whole thing to be "freeing".
"I have a lot of work things coming up and I am just being a lot more inventive. I have a ball coming up so I got my dress from the [Dancing with the Stars] final last year and I'm going to get that cleaned and rebeaded and wear that. I loved it and it's such a waste not to give it another outing."
For her shoot in today's Weekend, Zamparelli is styled in a selection of vintage and second-hand outfits sourced from charity shops like Oxfam as well as other vintage boutiques. It's a reminder that the high street isn't the only game in town if you're on the hunt for a new outfit.
"There's always the option to go vintage and second-hand or borrow," she says. "There are great options out there."
Some celebrities can be frightfully earnest when it comes to making such grand statements. Zamparelli, however, is careful not to come off as too po-faced or self-important when it comes to discussing her new-found shopping celibacy.
"I'm so brave," she jokes. "Get us on The Late Late Show with this."
We may only be a few months into 2020, but it's already shaping up to be quite the year for Zamparelli. Not only is her career going from strength to strength, but she is due to celebrate her 40th birthday next month. How does she feel about hitting that milestone?
"I feel okay," she says. "There was a time I would have changed my age on Wikipedia and I would be having a meltdown. I found it harder turning 30. I found there's a lot of pressure to get the house, get sorted, get married. Biological clock and all that. I'm over all that. I'm on the other side. I'm like, "Woo-hoo! Mid finish line!"
She says her thirties were "mental" but the pace has now slowed and she is happier for it.
"I'm very content. I'm very happy with where I am. I don't feel as hungry for success and I feel that's a good thing. Nobody on their deathbed ever says, 'I wish I worked more.' I'm just very content. My kids are happy and healthy. Things are good with the husband and the family."
That's not to say things have eased off entirely. Not only is she co-hosting Dancing with the Stars, but she is nine months into presenting The Jennifer Zamparelli Show on 2fm.
It is her first time fronting her own radio show having previously spent five years co-hosting Breakfast Republic with Bernard O'Shea and Keith Walsh. How is she finding it?
"It is going really well," she says. "I feel very comfortable now in the studio and in the space."
She describes it as "not your normal talk show" and says it offers a bit of everything. "We have a bit of a laugh but then we also do serious items," she explains.
Take that morning's show, for instance. She talked to a woman who recounted how joining a choir had helped ease her anxiety. She interviewed Mary Kennedy about her exit from Dancing with the Stars. And she spoke to Nicole Ryan, a Cork woman who founded a drug education programme following the tragic death of her younger brother.
Zamparelli says she and her team are conscious of bringing that light and shade to each show.
"When people wake up in the morning, they get on their phones, they look at the news and they know what's going on in the world. They know about the coronavirus. They know it's bleak out there.
"By the time it gets to nine o'clock, they have all that and they want something uplifting, so to speak. It doesn't have to be happy-clappy but it needs to have some resolution. We try to do that as much as we can."
She has a strong relationship with her listeners and takes pride in the fact that they have come to regard the show as a place they can turn to if they have a problem or something they want to get off their chest. By way of example, she recounts a recent item she did on surrogacy during which a listener called in to discuss her experience of being a surrogate for her friend.
"The fact that person was listening and felt the need to give her opinion… you can't plan that," she says. "It's very spontaneous like that."
But while she is generally pleased with the show, she does see room for improvement.
"The goal is we want to get better at what we're doing. We're getting there. It takes a long time for a radio show to bed in. It takes so long. It's like writing a script. The initial stages are the hardest because you're figuring out what works and what doesn't work and which way you want to go. Once you get that, it's easier to kind of build on."
The script-writing analogy is apt, considering Zamparelli's prior experience writing and starring in the sitcom Bridget & Eamon. As she says it, it's hard not to be struck by what a singular career path she has carved out for herself. How many people have managed to parlay a stint on The Apprentice into a successful career in television, radio and comedy?
Still, she says she feels most at home on the radio show.
"Looking at everything I've done, this is where I should be," she says.
Before she got into broadcasting, Zamparelli was an entrepreneur. After The Apprentice, she ran Bella Makeover Studio, a photography and makeover studio whereby ordinary punters could pay to have a makeover and professional photoshoot. She credits this background in business with helping her navigate the notoriously fickle world of show business.
"You need it all to survive in this business," she says. "I think you really need that if you're self-employed and working in this industry. You need to be good at managing your money."
She also credits her days working in sales with teaching her about hard work and granting her a sense of perspective.
"I have stood on Grafton Street selling hair promotions for 12 hours a day. Now I'm just sitting on my arse and chatting. I didn't just come into this industry when I was 18. I have always worked and had really sh*tty jobs. A lot of them were sales and sales is hard-going.
"I think when you come from commission-only sales and then you do something like this it's like, 'This is so easy.' Difficult in a different sense but you're not digging a hole in the road. You're sitting chatting.
"If I'm having a hard day at work, I always think back to that time when I was standing on Grafton Street on no sales at five in the afternoon and having to go back to the office where my boss was going to kill me. I still have dreams about those days because it was a huge part of my life. And it's nice I don't have to do that anymore."
That's not to say things have always been breezy. Having spent more than a decade in the public eye, Zamparelli has had to contend with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Following the recent death of Love Island host Caroline Flack, Zamparelli shared her experiences of abuse on social media, adding that the presenter's passing had "shone a light on how sh*tty the industry can be".
"I have had death threats, I have had people saying they want to rip my head off, I have blocked about 100 people," she said. "And for me to do that they have to be really threatening."
These days, she tells me, she mostly avoids engaging on Twitter. She recalls sending a tweet about an encounter she had with presidential candidate Peter Casey in which she asked him what should be done about people living in Direct Provision. She woke up to "a load of messages" and instantly regretted it.
"Since then, I don't really tweet," she says. "I might retweet but I don't really get involved because it's a no-win situation. You torture yourself.
"It's very good for getting your news and finding out what is happening. I would love to come off it but I do find it very resourceful that way when you need to know what's going on. It's very good for that. I won't really get involved in any hashtags."
How does she negotiate being in the public eye and maintaining her family's privacy?
"Sometimes things come out on air. I'm a talker, that's what I do. I don't mind talking about them. My husband doesn't mind at all, thank God, because I talk about him quite a bit. I've pulled back a little bit from putting [my children] on social media for their own sake because they're getting a little older now and [my daughter] is starting school. At the end of the day, nobody wants to see your kids. Let's be honest here."
Zamparelli says she is still very much in the throes of the "toddler stage" with her two children. Her daughter is about to turn five while her son is two years old. Balancing work and motherhood has proven challenging at times, she says.
"It's like you have this overwhelming guilt all the time," she says. "Sometimes I feel I should be doing more here [in work] and more there [at home] and so you're always feeling pulled."
Occasionally, the two worlds collide but the show has to go on.
"I had a very stressful time a couple of weeks ago on Dancing with the Stars when in the space of 24 hours, my son lost a tooth and my daughter broke her arm," she recalls. "He was with a minder and 20 minutes before I went on air I got a message saying he had slipped and smashed his face and the whole tooth from the root came out. I cried like a baby because I just felt so bad. Luckily there's no nerve damage and he's going to be fine. He's just going to look like a toothless pirate until he's eight."
"The next day my daughter had a fall and broke her elbow. I was like, 'I mean, come on!' Then I got nominated in the RTÉ Guide for Mother of the Year and I was like, 'Don't tell them that story!'
"You know, life happens."
She says motherhood has forced her to reassess her priorities and become more selective with what she says 'yes' to.
"I am great at saying no," she says. "Since I had the kids, I am very precious with my time. I find that quite easy to do now. When I look back at myself 10 years ago, I would do anything. I was all over the place, to my detriment. You don't want to lose the momentum and there's a fear that it's all going to go away. But it's not going to go away. So I'm great at saying no. I pick and choose now. I have to."
"You've got to look after yourself. So much tragedy has happened in [RTÉ] over the last few years and things like that always make you think about what you're doing and why you're doing it. It's great fun. I love my job. Hopefully it will continue but you never know. You just never know."
For now, she's just remembering to be present and to enjoy the journey.
"I'm being mindful all around," she laughs.
"With the clothes shopping, being present... Still forgetting the KeepCup most of the time but we're working on that."