Tara Stewart on self confidence, racism and breaking taboos

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

Tara Stewart is one cool cat. You may know her as the 2FM presenter with the streaks of pink hair and funky clothes, or you may follow her on Instagram for her charity shop hauls and DIY fashion; either way the only conclusion you can make of her is that she’s out and out cool. And she doesn’t disappoint when we meet her in the flesh on a crisp autumn day before lockdown 2.0, in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The 29 year old instantly enamours herself to us, with her laid-back, sweet aura – she laughs off changing clothes between shots in a pop- up tent in the carpark (oh, the glamour!) and she’s unflappable when cat-callers drive by as she poses by the trees (seriously, take a day off fellas). Success was inevitable for this Irish/Malaysian star, who grew up in Australia and moved here in her early 20s. Her interests are as varied and rich as her life has been, and her personality is as colourful as her outfits. We later caught up for a chat on the phone, which touched on everything from spirituality, turmeric-dyed sock tops, invigorating music, vintage bargains, periods and paying tribute to her heritage. We defy you not to feel energised by this force of nature.

Tara, we’re back in lockdown. How are you coping with everything?
I know! Just before it happened, I had been really busy again, with Instagram bits, hosting panels, that kind of thing, so I’m happy I managed to squeeze those jobs in before they got cancelled! I guess to stay sane, I’ve been keeping up my running, and I want to spend this time by sewing loads, which is something I love to do. I’ve said to myself that if I need to get anything altered , I want to be able to do it myself, so I’ve set myself that challenge!

The first time round, you say you got obsessed with computer game the Sims – will that be the case this time!?
[laughs] Probably! Last time I built a house, and had myself, my boyfriend and my best friend living in it, and I started up all these dramas between everyone; they had an affair behind my back for example [cackles].

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

Spicing life up a bit! You seem quite a spiritual person. Have you been leaning into that in these tough times?
Yes, for sure. My mum’s very much like that – she’s Hindu – so meditation, yoga… that all comes in that space. When I used to spend Christmases at home in Malaysia, I’d visit a prayer room everyday with my grandma and we’d pray to my grandpa, who died when I was quite young. It’s like meditation, you burn incense during it and the whole thing is really nice on the senses. I’ve found it hard to meditate the past few weeks, my brain just gets distracted. But it is something I love, and I’m believer in positive energy, karma, all that.

When did you last see family? That must be the toughest part.
Well, most of my family are in Malaysia, some are in Singapore, some are in England, and my mum and dad are in Australia, so yeah, it has been a while. I just saw my mum in January, thank god, but that was the first time I’d seen her in years, and I haven’t seen my dad in three or four years. I talk to them every day though. My dad likes to email, so we’ll be emailing each other, and my mum just joined WhatsApp – I converted her from Facebook! – so she’s delighted with herself and her emojis! I’m not going to lie, I do really miss them. I’m used to being by myself, I moved away ten years ago and for six of those years I was single and very much fine with that. But, the older I’ve gotten, the more I miss them. Especially my grandma as she’s quite old, but like I said, I’m always in touch.

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

Of course, you’ve been kept busy with your RTÉ radio show. It seems like it is your dream job.
It really is though! I grew up religiously listening to a station in Australia called Triple J, it’s
a youth-driven station that plays new and alternative music, music that you might not otherwise hear in the charts. I actually played music myself when I was younger, since I was nine (FYI, she can play seven instruments! – Ed) and it’s always been such a big part of my life, so having a show where I get to play new music and songs I love literally is a dream come true.

Music is such a help in dark days. What are the tunes you blare when you need a boost!?
I am loving Roisín Murphy’s new album. It’s so good, such a nice vibe! And I’ve been loving Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa’s newest albums, they’ve been saviours. Another fantastic album is by Rina Sawayama, she’s really underrated but I think she’s going to get big. She’s originally from Japan but grew up in England and has a lovely pop, Britney vibe.

That’s what we need these days! You’re big on buying in charity shops. What’s been the biggest bargain you’ve ever found?
Hmmm…years ago, on Depop, I found a vintage Louis Vuitton Speedy from the Takashi Murakami collection in the early Noughties which I got for about €400, so that was a big one – and my first big purchase! Also I found a pair of Burberry sunglasses for €30 lately…but it turns out they’re prescription, I realised when I started feeling dizzy [laughs] I also got a pair of real Prada sunglasses for a tenner recently, and when I looked them up, they’re worth like €150! Vintage shopping is honestly my favourite hobby.

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

Teach us your ways! You’re also great at finding random homeware pieces in thrift shops…
Yes, like the banana phone! That was an amazing find, I got it in Oxfam. Age Action on Camden Street is one of my favourite places to shop, and the Irish Cancer Society in Rathmines too. And Etsy! Etsy is so good for vintage homeware, I’ve gotten so many little trinkets on there. The trick is to check often, because it really is a lottery!

We love your DIY creations. Particularly the top you made recently out of turmeric-dyed socks!
Yes! So, I wanted to make something with a natural dye, as it’s better for the environment and I also wanted something that was easy to do, as I’m lazy like that [laughs] I got the design of the sock top on YouTube, and thought it was a cool up-cycling idea. It turned out so well! There’s something meditative about a project like that too, it’s like baking, you can’t just wing it, it’s mathematical and you have to stick to the rules, so you can get a bit lost in it.

You also post yummy-looking veggie food from time to time – any tips for anyone trying to cut down on meat?
Yeah, so I’m trying to go veggie – I did it last year for two months and then I went to Malaysia and I didn’t want to be that annoying relative being like, “I’m actually vegetarian” so they’d have to cook a whole
new meal, so I just ate meat! But I love vegan and veggie food, and I’m giving it a proper go again. It’s really easy to do; curries are the best, just pack them with veg and sweet potato and they’re so satisfying. Also pizza – it’s still so good without the pepperoni! – and roasts, just with more roast vegetables and Gosh veggie sausages!

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

You’re fearless in what you wear: bright colours, mad prints, cropped tops. Did you always stand out, growing up?
I don’t know, but my dad used to really be into style, and I think I probably got that adventurous side from him. I’ve always been into colour, I always used to have little trinkets in my long hair, like beads or butterfly clips, and I always had my nails polished even though I wasn’t allowed in school [laughs] In my town (in Australia) we had a Kmart and a surf shop, and I wasn’t into that, so I shopped in St Vincent’s and stuff; blazers and floral skirts, that kind of thing. I love that 90s style has come back in. I love the Y2k look, the tomboy look, 90s girly style, all of it!

You come across so confident, but like many women, you admit that this isn’t always the case…
For sure. In my early 20s, I went through a bad breakup – he actually broke up with me through email, while he was literally upstairs. I know! I lost so much confidence through that experience, and he’d also been making comments to me on my weights and how I looked, so it did take a lot out of me and it took a few years to get back to where I am. A lot of that was down to my best friends, and going out with my boyfriend Mango (Irish rapper), who is so supportive of me and made me feel more confident in how I look and who I am.

We all go through days that we have confidence crises, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Yeah! Even today, I had a cry because I thought I looked really bad. I had to shoot some content for a collab I’m doing, and I had the ring light set up, my makeup done, but when I seen the photos, I was like, “Ugh, I hate these” I just decided I wasn’t in the right headspace and to do it the next day instead. So, yes, it is a constant battle for sure.

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

As well as your fearless style, you’re also pretty fearless in what you choose to speak out about. For example, you’ve been passionate about breaking the taboo on periods, something that has caused you intense pain and stress…
It’s something that has always annoyed me, because my period affects me so much. It’s ridiculous that there’s any taboo when every woman in the world gets a period, and it’s something we all have to deal with from a young age – and you never get used to it! The past two years have been so busy for me and mostly involve me being in front of people, which is great, but I always have to be ‘on’ and it’s hard to do that stuff sometimes when you’re bleeding from your vagina, y’know? [laughs] When you get your period, your life revolves around your period. Is it a cramp? Do I need to go to the toilet? Do I need to change my tampon!? I’ve had a really tough time with mine, and I had to go through lots of trials of different methods to manage it and have protection, so I went on a few different pills and I ended up getting a continuous period for two years. It just stopped a few months ago, actually. I tried the coil but my body rejected it, and ending up getting the bar (contraceptive implant). Finally I have a normal period. I still get PMS, a few cramps here and there, but it’s kind of a regular schedule now. I think it’s so important to talk about it because it’s such a normal thing.

The Black Lives Matter movement was also something you hugely used your voice to shout about.
On one hand, being a person of colour, I knew I needed to use my voice, but also just as a normal human being. Racism makes me so angry and it should make everyone so angry. I get so upset about it because it’s so frustrating; I don’t understand how people can have so much hate in their hearts. When I hear stories, or experience it myself, or my mum experiences things, it really breaks my heart. So I felt really passionate about it and the potential to make a difference.

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

You’ve had to deal with snide, racist comments from strangers when proudly wearing a sari or bindi in a nod to your Indian heritage…
I definitely get hurt by it. I know people say, well it’s the hate in their heart, it’s not you, but that doesn’t excuse it or make it feel any better. I get upset anytime anyone criticises me, but especially when it’s to do with that because it’s something I am so proud of. I am proud of where I come from. And I don’t buy the whole, “Oh, people just have to get used to it” – no. You’re either racist or ignorant or you’re not. It’s 2020, that just doesn’t fly now.

How else do you pay tribute to your culture?
The big part is through style and fashion, but also through food. I grew up in an Indian restaurant/Irish bar that my parents owned so I grew up with the concept that you could get a pint of Guinness with your curry… the dream really! [laughs] And music, when I DJ, I use Tamil (south Indian) songs, and I love Tamil tv and Bollywood movies.

Pic: Lili Forberg for VIP Magazine

You’ve been with your boyfriend Irish rapper Mango now for quite some time, and you say that it was Hip Hop and curry that brought you both together!
[laughs] Yeah our first date was an R&B and Hip Hop night in the Sugar Club, and we had kebabs after, so it wasn’t technically curry, but his love for Indian food really bonded us! I’d go over to his house and we’d order from this place called The Curry House…he adores Indian food, which is my dream, because I couldn’t be with someone who doesn’t love it as much as me!

Everything is uncertain right now, but how do you see the next few months panning out for you?
Yes, my plan is to keep doing my show, and to work on season three of my podcast Dirty Laundry – I want to expand further than sustainable fashion, maybe focus on period cups, sustainable makeup…Next year I want to do a thrifty fashion show, that’d be a bucket list thing. I want to start a cooking project too, and I have been painting lots too, so who knows maybe I’ll set up my own Etsy page [laughs]. Everyone has been re-evaluating everything, I think, and I’m one of those people that likes to have a lot going on!

INTERVIEW: Niamh Devereux
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lili Forberg; misslili.net
MAKEUP: Sue Brophy; suebrophy.com
STYLING: Megan Fox. All shoes and jewellery is Tara’s own.


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