Laughter bellows around us as George McMahon and his daughter Frankie race for the swings in the playground of the Castleknock Hotel. It’s quickly followed by a nail biting competition as to who can go the highest and the three- year-old is having the time of her life, but to be honest, it’s hard to decipher who’s having the most fun. “This – running after and playing with the kids – is when I’m happiest. They’re my greatest achievement,” the actor beams.
While friends for over two decades, George and his beautiful wife Rachel Smyth only decided to take things in a romantic direction a few years ago. Now happily married with two adorable children, they admit it was the greatest decision they ever made; “I honestly couldn’t imagine a life without them now. Everything fell into place in the best way possible.” It was their love of the arts which brought them together in the first place. Rachel has spent the majority of her life working tirelessly in the dance world while George built his career in acting. Amalgamating their passions, they now run a stage school for children in Bettystown which garners all of their attention when George isn’t on the set of Fair City. This year will mark his 20th anniversary in Carrigstown, and he hopes there’s at least another 20 to go!
We chat about life in front of the camera, being a dad to Frankie (3) and Kody (7 months) and plans for the future…
George, we had so much fun with you and your family on this shoot. The kids are so cute, they’re such a credit to you and Rachel.
Thank you! We’re delighted. Frankie can be a liability, so we’re relieved it went well [bursts into laughter]. She definitely stole the show and she’s a natural in front of the camera… is she a chip off the ol’ block?! She’s quite expressive! We brought her to Alan Hughes’ panto at Christmas and literally every single day since then she’s talking about Aladdin and the characters. She’s acting out their roles too. I think we’re doomed with a performer in the house!
There are so many benefits for kids getting involved in the creative world, from building imagination and confidence to the physical side of dance. Would you be an advocate for getting little ones involved in these sort of classes?
Absolutely, sure that’s what myself and Rachel try to do with the stage school. You can see the skills kids unknowingly learn through performing arts, whether it’s creativity or social skills, but also just the ability to stand up in a room of people and say their name. It’s a simple thing that we all take for granted but a life skill to bring with you into school, college and work. There so many practical benefits from being involved in the arts.
Tell us about Glitz Performing Arts Academy, how did it first come about and how’s it going?
Well, once upon a time when myself and Rachel were just pals, she owned Glitz and I had Performing Arts Academy. But when we got together we started working for each other and slowly but surely the two amalgamated. Now we’ve been in business together for five years and it’s great.
How did the pandemic impact the company? Were you able to continue by going virtual or did you pull the plug for a while?
We did what everyone else was doing by going online but we found that Zoom fatigue set in quite quickly, especially with the younger kids. A lot of them were doing remote learning from school all day and then they were doing a hobby online too, so we just found engagement was quite low so we pulled the plug on it until they could get back into class. There was no point trying to drag something out of it when they weren’t getting the same buzz and enjoyment, as before. You can’t compete with in-studio learning.
While off, it gave you some time to focus on life with newborn Kody…silver linings!
Ah, he’s just the best! He’s going through a lovely phase at the moment and we’re able to get a good night’s sleep. He’s all smiles, goo-ing and ga-ing. He’s great. Frankie loves him. The more he engages with her, the more she’s enjoying being a big sister. It’s really nice watching them together. There’s moments though when it’s really hard with two kids, they’d have you exhausted running around after them. The difference between going from one child to two was big. You’re always afraid to come across as if you have this perfect Instagram life where everything is rosy but it’s not like that, there are moments when we’re frustrated or we’re at each others throats over silly things because we’re tired or the kids are moaning. There’s a big mix and obviously the good outweighs the bad.
How did Frankie first feel about the new addition to the family? She’s obsessed with him now, but was that always the case?
We kept telling her that there was a baby in mammy’s tummy but I don’t think she believed what was coming! There’s been a couple of moments where she’s acted out of character and we can only put that down to her feeling a little bit left out, but she’s absolutely grand now which is great.
Tell us about your experience with fatherhood, is there anything in particular you learned about yourself?
The main thing I’ve learned is that I can function on two hours sleep [laughs]. Sleep is something I’ve always loved. Eating and sleeping are two of my favourite things! Now, especially with two kids, you finally get one down and the other child wakes up…it can be tiring. The other thing about fatherhood, is when Rachel was pregnant with Kody, I was afraid that I wouldn’t love the next child as much as I love Frankie…of course I do though. It’s a weird fear that I had. I knew I had so much love for her and wondered how I could possibly do it again, but it’s amazing and you just make more room. It’s lovely.
Have you and Rachel always wanted a big family, would you like to add to the brood again some day?
Two was the target. I’d keep going and going but Rachel has to carry them. We feel like we have a complete family now. Having kids is something that we always wanted. We’re only together five or six years but we’re friends nearly 20. There are still people who say, ‘wow I can’t believe Rachel and George ended up together.’
Between work and home life, how do you and Rachel manage to keep the romance alive? Do you take time out for yourselves, wether it’s date nights at home or going out together?
Yeah, we’re blessed that we have great support. Rachel’s mam who joined us behind the scenes on this shoot is brilliant. She’s a great advocate for date nights and stuff like that. She’ll take the diary, slot something in one night a month and mind the kids overnight. We need those little breaks away. We work together, teach together, live together and we have the same social circle as well. We have to be mindful about keeping things fresh.
George, we have to talk about Fair City… you’ve been working on the soap for 20 years now!
Yes, it’ll be twenty years this year! It makes me feel old, I can’t believe it. It sounds silly but I still feel like a newbie even though I’ve been there for two decades. There are so many actors who have been in there so much longer and I still look up to them. It’s amazing and frightening how quickly twenty years go by but I’m delighted to be amongst it. It’s a nice place to work, the people are great and there’s a nice community. I’ve a great relationship with the the crew, from props to the art department, the camera gang… everyone! I love acting and it’s an opportunity to tell some stories.
Speaking of stories… what’s been your favourite storyline over the last few years?
My very first one – which was a teenage pregnancy storyline – it’s the one that sticks out and the one that launched Mondo into Carrigstown. In more recent years, I loved the love triangle between Kerri-Ann, Decco and Mondo. Something really cool happened with that. When Daddy’s Home starring Will Ferrell, Mel Gibson and Mark Wahlberg was released, they appeared on a Gogglebox special. The Hollywood A-listers were watching Fair City and that was the storyline. I often show it to my students on YouTube, joking about how it’s a big deal [laughs].
Could you imagine life without Mondo?
I couldn’t! I feel very connected with him. We’re the same person and he’s been a huge part of my life, my whole adult life to be honest. He’s basically part of my identity now.
You must get recognised a lot when you’re out and about…
Oh the beauty of the masks! It helps get me in and out of Tesco in a flash, or I don’t get caught browsing the middle aisle of Aldi or Lidl buying hedge trimmers!
What are your plans now for the future, George? Is there anything in particular you’d like to see come to fruition over the coming months?
Personally, we’re going to try go on honeymoon this year. We’re looking at going away for a week on a cruise in June, we couldn’t do any longer away from the kids. We were very lucky that we had our dream wedding away in Spain and that felt like a honeymoon, but I’ve been informed that it doesn’t count! Obviously the pandemic hit and we had the kids,
so this year it’s time to go away. Professionally, I just want to be able to pick up scripts, rehearse and perform. It’s all very simple.
INTERVIEW: Michelle Dardis
PHOTOGRAPHER: Lili Forberg
STYLING: Zeda The Architect
HAIR AND MAKEUP: Lisa Smyth using Charlotte Tilbury and Moroccanoil
Shot on location at Castleknock Hotel. For bookings, visit castleknockhotel.com, call 016406300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Jilly McDonough
Catch Fair City on Sunday at 8:30PM and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8PM on RTÉ One.
For more on George and Rachel’s stage school visit fb.com/glitzstageacademy