There’s a lot of strings to her bow and Una Healy is many things, to many people, but being a mam to Aoife Belle (11) and Tadhg (8), is her top priority, coming above all else. They’re her world, her best friends, and we’re honoured that she welcomed us into that bubble, and allowed us to spend the day with her and her little family.
It was a busy, bustling morning as we joined the trio at the beautiful 5-star Fairmont Carton House. Ushering the kids into the Maria Suite, Una was full of smiles while Aoife Belle and Tadhg were laughing and joking, armed with their iPads, competing to get through the next level of their game. The friendly sibling rivalry had them in a hold.
Later, as they got ready in the room, a pop-playlist streamed in the background, and a tune from The Saturdays – which Una was a part of since 2007 – came on. “Can you believe it’s been 15 years since we released our first song?” she asked, humming along. Gazing towards the kids, she continued, “So much has changed.”
Since joining the band in her twenties, Una welcomed her two little ones, who she now co-parents with ex-husband Ben Foden in New York; she’s gone on to have a solo career; host a UK radio show and regularly presents tv slots on The Six O’Clock Show and Ireland AM; she’s created her own shoe brand; and later this year, she’ll be making her panto debutas Fairy Queen in Sammy, Buffy and the Beanstalk. And while she absolutely loves her career and the variety of it, there’s one downside.
“Unfortunately it’s one of the things that comes with being well known, your private life gets exposed and it can be quite intrusive but you have to accept that’s how it is, and try protect it as best you can.” She does this not only for herself, but for the two children as well, who she tries to shield from the relentless gossip about her life.
Here, she chats to VIP about protecting her privacy and peace, why Thurles is her safe haven, and who she turns to when times get tough…
Una, firstly, thanks for spending the day with us and introducing us to your family. You three have such a special bond!
They’ve got to that age now where they’re like my little friends. They’re really developing their own personalities and I love hanging out with them. They’re wonderful children, I’m so proud of them. They’ve great manners, they’re really funny and they’re such good friends! I love to see them happy. They’re my pride and joy, my greatest achievement. I feel so blessed and lucky to have them.
It’s been a tough few months for you having your personal life played out very publicly, but they probably helped you get through it more than they’ll ever know. Are they your rocks?
Yeah, they’re my life. I love the routine I have with them. I’m looking forward to getting back into the school run, preparing the breakfast and getting the uniforms out. I love to have that routine and stability. That’s what got me through any of the media stuff; I was distracted by the reality of my life and how normal it was. What you might read about in the papers is a different, fake world to what my real life is. I’m very lucky to have that.
How are things now, Una?
I still find any little date I go on blows up into this spectacular news and I don’t understand it sometimes. I’m not dating anyone at the minute. This is the reality of it – you’re [splashed on] the front page of the papers saying you’re in a relationship that you’re not in.
You must find it difficult when your relationships, breakups and everything in between is laid out, and people put it under a microscope…
I think anyone would. Everyone’s private life should be their private life, and whatever you want to put out there you can, but if you haven’t said anything, I feel like nobody cares. It can be very frustrating in that department. Unfortunately, it’s one of the things that come with being well known, your private life gets exposed and it can be quite intrusive but you have to accept that’s how it is, and you just have to try protect it as best you can.
Do you think men are scrutinised for their love/ personal lives as much as women are?
I do think they are, sure there’s always news about Leonardo DiCaprio. It can be quite misogynistic but yeah, men are [scrutinised] too. People seem to be fascinated with other people’s love lives. Love is such an important bond and something we’re all figuring out, all the time – even people in established relationships or marriages, always have to work on it. You want a relationship to work, but also it can be really heartbreaking [when it doesn’t] and that goes for everyone, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the public eye or not.
With the online world being so accessible, how do you shield your kids? Do you talk to them about the stories/gossip?
They’re not bothered by it, and maybe that’s a generational thing, but they’re more interested in TikTok and having the craic. They don’t see any of that and I’m glad they don’t.
When it comes to social media in general, trolling can be a big part of that whether it’s in a personal or professional sense. How do you deal with it? How do you avoid the trolls?
I wouldn’t feed them. I think some people react differently, they’ll expose a troll and put up a comment that might have been sent to them, but for me, I just block them. I don’t like to feed them. Someone said previously, it might have been Christy Dignam from Aslan, that all the stuff that was written on the back of toilet doors, is now online.
Being back home in Thurles, is it your safe haven?
Oh it’s lovely! I love it. Even though I lived away in the UK for a few years, I felt like this was home – and it always will be, forever. I feel really safe. There’s such lovely people in this town who have known me since I was a child. It’s a great town to grow up in. I had a great childhood here, and they’re getting to experience that now too. I remember walking them down to the school I went to and it felt like history repeating itself in a really good way. It’s great. They absolutely love it here.
Talk to us about your own childhood, what was that like?
Ah, I had an amazing childhood and spent most of it in the local swimming pool. That’s where I achieved my dream of an All-Ireland gold medal when I was nine. I worked so hard at it, I was in the pool every single day training. My mother just sent me down to the pool one day because I was bored, and I took to it like a duck to water. I made great memories here. It’s so good to be home.
Did you pass that love of swimming on to your kids? Have either Aoife Belle or Tadhg taken over?
They haven’t actually, they just like to splash around. They know how to swim though and I think that’s very important for everyone, for safety reasons. They’ve no fear of water but I don’t think I passed the love on and that’s fine. I’ll never push them into anything they don’t have the drive for.
What did 10-year-old Una want to be when she grew up?
I had a dress-up nurse outfit as a child. My mother was a nurse, she’s my role model, so I wanted to be like mammy when I grew up. That was probably one of the first careers that I imagined. I also had a secretarial set so wanted to be a secretary and I did a PLC course in that when I left school. The music came when I was about 12.
That music took up a big part of your adolescence. Do you think your teenage self would be happy with how things turned out?
Yeah. I felt like my apprenticeship was getting out there, in pubs and clubs, writing music and winning song contests. All of those things help build me up and prepare me for when I did get the audition for The Saturdays and I’d say that was my big break. It wasn’t a race, it was more like a marathon and I’m still on that. My passion is music and writing and I want to do that forever. I’ll never lose that. I just take every day as it comes. I was very lucky to get into the group and I worked very hard to get there.
Are you still close with the girls? Is there a Saturdays’ groupchat?
Yeah there is [laughs]. We have a little WhatsApp group and were actually just chatting there about how it’s been 15 years since our first single, 16 years since we met – which I can’t believe! So much has happened in those years. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of the world and experienced things which I’m so grateful for, and the girls were a lovely bunch so seeing them do so well now, I’m very proud. It’s definitely something to celebrate: 15 years. Things can be the same for five years and then one day, everything changes, you take a turn and go down a different path but that’s the journey of life, it’s constantly evolving and changing.
On that note, you’re now co-parenting with Ben Foden, and that can be hard enough in the same country, never mind in two different timezones. How are you finding it?
That’s the thing, he is on another continent, on another time zone but he FaceTimes the children when he can and has them there for half the summer and Christmas. It’s a very different dynamic and it’s hard to explain to anyone who might be in a different situation, but that’s how it is for us. Once our children are loved, taken care of and happy, then that’s all that matters. And they are, so we’re obviously doing something right.
Even from spending a few hours with you all on the shoot, that’s very obvious!
They genuinely are happy. I’m very lucky. They have the time of their lives when in New York. There’s not many kids who can say they spend half a summer there doing really fun things, so that’s the upside but the downside is that they don’t see their dad every day of the year like some people. They’ve accepted that too, like I have. They’re happy with the way they’re loved and that’ll always be my priority.
We’re sure you miss them terribly. What do you like to get up to when they’re gone?
I work, and just get on with my day. I miss them all the time, I’d much prefer if they were here but I get that little bit of a break and spend more time with my friends and just keep busy.
Keeping busy is what you do best! You’re doing so much more presenting at the minute, where did that stem from?
While I was in the group I presented a show called Una’s Dream Ticket and that was interviewing kids about their dreams. That was my first taste of presenting and I really enjoyed it. Then tv work like The Voice of Ireland, The Heart of Saturday Night with Loah which was great as I got to interview fellow musicians and peers. When I was a child, I used to record my own fake radio show. One of my childhood friends was Kerry Condon [Oscar nominated actress], she grew up in Thurles. We’d do the fake radio shows together and interview each other. I enjoyed that! And making videos, and dance routines and recording it all on my little camcorder. It’s like TikTok now – I’d have been all over that!
And you’ll be making your acting debut this winter, hitting up the big stage with the Panto!
That’s going to be really fun and I think it’ll be cool for the kids as well. They love it and I think they’ll be excited to see me in it. I’m really looking forward to it, and I love Alan [Hughes], he’s such a nice person. I’m really excited.
Being on stage and performing in general, you’ve been doing it for two decades, is it second nature to you now or do you still get nervous performing in front of people?
I always get butterflies, and I think when they go, you should stop. It’s adrenaline, excitement. Once I get out on the stage, it disappears but I always have those feelings of nerves beforehand. Once they don’t consume you in a negative way, it’s important to have them and I think it’s a good thing.
What about on the music side of things, do you have anything new coming out?
I have actually, yeah! I’m preparing my next single at the minute and it’s almost ready to go so I’m looking forward to putting that out. I’m going to revisit some songs I’ve previously written and I want to keep performing, writing and doing what I love.
When it comes to song writing, a lot of people see it a therapeutic, would you be the same?
Throughout my teens, I wrote down all my feelings in a notepad beside my bed. The melodies would come into my head and I’d use a dictaphone for that and just marry the two and that’s how the songs became a thing. It was like a diary. With loads of the songs, I can look back and remember what I wrote them about.
Outside of music, what else makes you feel good, how do you switch off and mind yourself?
The gym, definitely! It helps my mental and physical health. If I’ve missed a few days I start to feel a little bit down. It’s my little escape. I only do basic stuff, nothing outrageous, but enough to make me feel good. And I talk to my friends. I think friends are the best relationships you’ll ever have in life. There’s this emphasis on love life, but people underestimate how important your girl friends or boy friends are. Those friendships are the most important and I’ve maintained amazing ones!
Whenever you have a knock to your confidence, how do you build yourself back up?
Surrounding myself with the people who love me; my children, my family, my friends, my cousins. They’re a constant in my life and I’m very blessed to have them. If you go through any tough times, to be around your loved ones, you’ll always feel safe.
This life in the spotlight, it gives and takes in equal measure, would you change it though? Given the chance, is there anything you’d do differently?
I think with everything in life, you have to take it all day-by-day and there’ll be some rough days, some good days medium days and days you won’t remember because nothing happened! There’ll be moments in life where you have to embrace it, good or bad, and you’ll get through it. I’m a person who doesn’t hold a grudge. If something bad has happened me or if someone didme wrong, but they’re genuinely sorry, I forgive people and don’t hold onto resentment. It’ll be there for a while, but it goes away. It’ll only consume you if you hold onto bitterness. As they say, it’s like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. It’s hard and you’re going to feel shit for a while if something bad happens, but you can always know that letting it go and moving on is way more important.