Karen Koster on the moment she realised “it was okay to walk away”

Karen Koster Pic: Evan Doherty for VIP Magazine

We thought she might have done a sidestep and joined the cast of DWTS! But, no! Three weeks after signing off on Virgin Media’s Six O Clock Show, Karen Koster popped back up where her TV career began 20 years previously – on Ireland AM! She lasted a whole three weeks off air, she just couldn’t stay away!

In this – her first big interview, since stepping off set and since her mum Brenda passed away suddenly, nearly two years ago this May – Karen tells us that even though she had the privilege to choose to step back from The Six O’Clock Show, those breakfast show cover gigs helped soften the blow.

“It took the panic away,” she tell us today. “Because TV is all I know.”

What she also knew though is that for some time prior, the universe has been sending her signs. Though not necessarily spiritual, momentum was building in her, she says, telling her it was okay to walk away. While clearing out her mum’s house shortly after she passed, Karen came across all her old VIP shoots which her mum had collected down through the years. Pouring over them, it came to her then, that she had done enough, that life is short, that kids grow up fast (Finn is 9, JJ, 8, Eve, 5). And so she wrote that resignation letter and with that a new chapter opened.

In this new (freelance) chapter Karen is breathing a bit more deeply. She has time to cook now, and time to be there to enjoy it, instead of being on set at dinnertime. The new house is also being decluttered, nearly daily, she jokes. The kids’ homework is top of the class. And, herself and her husband John – who is officially retired himself – are enjoying more time together.

Here, she tells all, and explains why for now, there is no next step…

Karen Koster Pic: Evan Doherty for VIP Magazine

Karen, you gave us a fright! We thought you were retiring!

[laughing] I never said I was retiring! I just said I couldn’t be a Virgin Media staff member anymore! Being a staff member is a major security, it’s something no one gives up easily so writing that resignation letter was hard. I also had never quit anything in my life before. What I said was, ‘I’m not never going to work again, it’s just I can’t show up four days a week anymore’. I’m not made to be a stay-at-home mum – I think that’s a far harder job than going to work every day. But I did need a bit more flexibility because there’s no working from home when you’re a TV presenter.

We texted you at exactly 7.03am when you popped up on our Ireland AM screens, three weeks after stepping off The Six O’Clock Show set, going, ‘Eh, hello?!’!

[laughing] I know, I laughed when the message came in! I think being on Ireland AM probably softened the blow for me. It was almost like a little parachute because I knew in the back of my head that those dates were already in the diary to do a bit of cover work so it didn’t feel like such a shock to the system. That really helped my mentality when I did exit. It took the panic away.

We hear you on the panic. Having worked all your life to suddenly stop is a shock. That loss of structure can be hard too. But, decluttering the knicker drawer AGAIN does eventually lose it’s sheen, you know?!

Though decluttering can be very satisfying too! [laughing] It honestly came down to – and this was a conversation I was having with the bosses on-and-off for about a year – it came down to the hours; they were just really hard going with a young family. The kids would come home from school and I’d walk out the door. I was getting home from work and putting them into bed. I kind of thought when I started it was such a lifeline to get off the earlies on Ireland AM. I thought, ‘I’m not going to be tired anymore, I’m gonna have much more energy, I’ll be a new person’. But the whole structure of the day was just the wrong way around. I loved the job, I just didn’t love the hours and I didn’t love getting home late four days a week.

You also have a lovely new home to come back to, a home that you weren’t in much.

I felt like I wasn’t in it. We were doing all this lovely work to the house and then I was just not there. Another thing, I would make dinner, say three times a week, and then leave it to be heated up. At 6.05pm I’d get a text from John saying, ‘Thanks for dinner, it was lovely’, and it just got to the stage where I was like, I want to be home to have that dinner with my family. I’m sick of leaving a dinner to be heated up and me having dinner alone at 8pm. And then there was the kids’ homework I wasn’t supervising – and I would have been a class nerd – I wasn’t happy with the standard [laughing]! It’s a tale as old as time but I guess that pull home was just there.

Karen Koster Pic: Evan Doherty

Still though 20 years on TV is nothing to be sniffed at. Your TV career is not ‘all’ of you but it is a big part of you.

It’s a huge part of me, it is all I know! And I just love being in a TV studio. I was 22 years old going in, going out 42! I started as a runner on RTÉ and scrounged around for any scraps of work. Then there was an ad in the paper for a reporter on Ireland AM, I didn’t get that job, but they said they might need someone to fill in and so I then started filling in on a Friday, doing the weather for Alan Hughes. So Ireland AM was my apprenticeship, I was there for three years before Xpose came along.

Not being bound by financials must have made the choice a little easier? But still the loss of your own stable financial independence is something.

100 per cent. I do know that I am very lucky that I had a choice to choose to step away. I’m hyper-aware that this isn’t a choice many working parents have. I was very lucky the way our circumstances fell. I do feel privileged.

How long did it take you to make the decision?

I agonised over it – AGONISED! It took me about six months but John would say it felt like six years! I was just non-stop talking about it, boring him so much about the pros and cons. There were other external factors and it was almost like a perfect storm. If one of those external factors had happened in isolation I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger but it was all these things – and I’m not a spiritual person, particularly – but, I did feel like the universe was telling me to step down. I felt like there was a momentum gathering in me.

What were those signs?

I don’t want to make this a sad interview…but mum being gone so suddenly – that shifted my whole axis. I kind of went, ‘Oh God, imagine something happened to me suddenly’… and there was me thinking I’d have all this time with the kids. But the major thing was when we were cleaning out the family home – about a year after mum’s death – we came across all the old VIP covers and features and all the press cuttings which she had kept, and I just was like, ‘You’ve had a good run, Karen. Those 20 years were solid.’ Because when Xpose was at its peak, it was a really big deal. I was like, ‘You can be happy with that’. I always felt if I wouldn’t be doing it anymore it would have been because I failed, or wasn’t able to make it work, but when I looked back on those press cuttings I was like, actually, it’s okay to step away. I also wanted to get to 20 years. And, TV3/Virgin Media turned 25 back in the autumn and I wanted to be around for that.

Karen Koster Pic: Evan Doherty

We have been holding out for this cover shoot ever since your mum, Brenda, passed away, nearly two years ago. You pretty much went to ground after she passed. You did the bare essentials. This is the first real interview you have done since.

Yeah, I kind of went to ground. It took enough out of me to keep the household running and then to put the war paint on and try be the bubbly girl at six o’clock. Anything else was too much and tipped me over the edge. To be honest there was no way I would have given up The Six O’Clock Show a year and a half ago, because I did need it. It served a purpose 100 per cent and my co-host Greg O’Shea was a lifeline. It was my comfort zone, my reality, really. It bought me time to deal with the rawness. Grief to me felt like my skin had been peeled back and the tears were so surface level. Now, I feel a bit more healed in that sense. I feel like I am able to make bigger decisions now.

We read a quote there recently, by CS Lewis, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”

Oh yes. I remember waking up and feeling really scared. Even though the worst has happened you are still left with that…fright.

There are so few certainties in life. The only one we truly know is that we all will die. Yet when it happens it’s such a shock.

I know. It’s so unbelievable.

What is life? Where are we? Who are we? All the big questions you ask yourself…it’s a low and perplexing time.

I know, I know. It’s the finality that is so shocking. It’s like, woah…I’m not going to see that person ever again. It’s such a blow. I remember saying, I will never be the same again, I felt like everything had just suddenly altered. My body felt different, it was such a bizarre feeling. I felt the same way when my first child Finn was born. I felt on a cellular level that I became a mum that day. You feel loss so profoundly – in a physical way.

Your mum never got to see this new home; we know that upsets you.

But I actually had told mum about this house because I’d seen it and loved it. That’s why I wished she’d been here. It’s in Donnybrook so we didn’t move far down the road from Ballsbridge. We moved in not even a year and a half ago. It all happened very quickly after mum died. John probably wouldn’t have bought at that time but I think mum’s death was just another indicator that you don’t know what’s around the corner. It’s my dream house, an old house. And, we have a garden which has changed my life – football and playdates! It’s a house made for kids and family.

Karen Koster Pic: Evan Doherty

New house, new chapter – are you happy?

I’m really content. But if you’d seen me the last day of the show, I was wailing! Dave Moore from Today FM was one of our last guests and his co-host Dave Whelan had left not long before and he was like, ‘Karen, look at all the people who have pivoted’. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, okay’. Because my worry was that I would step away and evaporate! And I suppose that could still well happen. But the fact
that VIP called and Ireland AM called, I was like, ‘This is okay, I am not going to disintegrate. I am not going to turn to dust – yet!’ I also saw John enjoying this whole second act of his life and I was like, ‘I don’t have any hobbies’ while he was wracking up loads! I thought maybe there is another act in me.

Are you collecting hobbies now like freelance jobs?!

[laughing] Good one! Well, I’m trying to work out more and trying to be diligent about that. I always let the gym slip on the priorities list, there was always something else to do. I am also trying to get back into reading, I have a degree in English literature from Trinity and I couldn’t name the last novel I finished.

Sorry, did you just say you have a Trinity degree in English literature?

Yes! My degree is in French and English literature, though my French is so appalling I panic if anyone asks me to order when away in France! But yeah, I did four years in Trinity straight out of school. We read so many books and I can barely remember any of them. I do remember loving Gothic Fiction, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Anything with a haunting house, I loved.

Are you into the true crime genre today?

Any book that is more taxing than a celebrity memoir has been just beyond me! I haven’t had the attention span in recent times!


Always! I am definitely cooking more because I am home at dinnertime. Do you know what has also has been a lovely upside from stepping back? Having more time with John. Because when I was home in the evenings before everything was about the kids, but now we can grab an early bird or go to the movies – that has been a lovely off-shoot. And yes, I am absolutely decluttering! If it’s nailed down, it’s going in the bin! But, no, no pivoting in to anything major, I haven’t had the brain space for that but I’m enjoying simple pleasures, like being able to take a breath.

Karen Koster Pic: Evan Doherty

And like going for a facial with your sister, Zoe, yesterday!

Yes, I treated the two of us and we got facials at the same time and went for coffee that lasted two hours. It was good for the soul – and the face! I would have never had the time for that before. And we said with mum no longer here this is the type of stuff we should do more often. If mum’s loss has taught us anything it’s to have time for one another. Mum used to be quite literally our mothership, she was our HQ to pop back to to have the chats, and we don’t have that family home to go home to anymore. So we said, more of this please in 2024.

(John appears and joins in the conversation) John, how did you feel about Karen’s decision?

John: I was just delighted she made a decision and stopped talking about it all the time! Also, I’m retired now…!

Are you really?

J: Yeah, I’m retired two years now. I sold everything. I sold Quote Devil two years ago and then sold Pembroke Insurance a year ago.

Did you struggle with stepping away?

J: No! The reality is, I built up a business and if you build a successful business it should be able to operate without you. My job was to make two or three big decisions a year, then you let other people manage it so the business was running itself, primarily. As a result my work with Quote Devil was quieter in the last few years. That said, during covid when every business stopped advertising, I doubled up. I let every station know that I’d take up all their empty ad spaces.

Karen: Quote Devil, as you probably heard, was never off the radio!

J: I ended up hiring loads of people and I expanded the company aggressively during covid. All the defenders left the pitch and left me with an open goal. So then after that when an offer did come in, I went, fair enough. Do I miss it? I miss the staff. But I felt like I’d done my time. I retired at 49 but I was self employed at 22.

Karen Koster Pic: Evan Doherty

So you don’t work at all now?

J: Well, I do work, I own a load of property, I always have projects on and I’m busy all the time. I play a lot of golf, I go to the gym, I recently did a 1,000km car race (called the 1000 Miglia) over all seven emirates and up mountains in Oman, that’s the kind of stuff I do now! I caned it in business for thirty years, I don’t do that anymore.

Would you two ever work together?

J: We’re thinking of maybe doing a podcast! [laughing]

K: Like Peter Crouch/Abby Clancy! No, there’s no couples’ pivot, yet. It’s not like we’re gonna be launching our lifestyle brand!

Karen, we thought we might see you on DWTS!

K: John won’t watch DWTS with me!

J: I hate that show!

Have you ever been asked to take part?

K: Only tentatively. I think they throw the net out quite wide to see who may be interested but I’ve never been in the position to say absolutely please put my name in the running. I know I’d love it…

J: Oh God, then I’d have to watch it!

Talking about watching TV, have you been watching The Six O Clock Show with new co-hosts Brian Dowling and Katja Mia?

I watch it with one eye, hoping they won’t have anyone on that I’d be dying to interview! I think they’re doing a great job, I think they’re absolutely brilliant! I think Katja is so charismatic and made for TV, she’s smashing it. I know what the show schedule is like so I don’t know how she’s fitting in the rehearsals as well for DWTS! But no, I haven’t had that pang wishing I was there. The novelty of being home at that time of day is still outweighing the want to be sitting in the hot seat, as much as I love that red light!

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