Miriam O’Callaghan is making us a “fancy” coffee in her kitchen at home in Rathmines, Dublin 6. Miriam loves her coffee. She jokes that she drinks 25 cups a day especially on a Prime Time show day when she also ritualistically fasts after breakfast because she says, she just can’t think of good questions if she’s satiated! She wants to remembered, by her eight children, she says, as kind and loving, but also as a load of craic, which she is!
Serious she may be while presenting the likes of Prime Time every Tuesday and Thursday and her Radio One weekend show on Saturday and Sunday, but off air it’s all laughter and lightness, which is why this 61 year old mother-of-8 makes a perfect January cover star. For those of you in search of a new dawn, this new year, we hope you find inspiration in this interview below with a woman who sees a new dawn in each new day. “This is my one wonderful life. I’m not going to waste a moment of it worrying about rubbish,” she tells us enthusiastically.
We talked to Miriam for our January issue about family life, getting Covid, how she doesn’t care if her house is a mess and how she has never ever has had a plan.
Miriam, since we last spoke you became a granny, you put your family home on the market and then took it off again and, there’s been nearly two years of Covid – where to start?!
Let’s start with my wonderful granddaughter because that is the happiest, most exciting news ever! As you know I have always been careful not to talk about my children and I’m conscious that she is not my child but what I will tell you is that she’s a magnificent little girl, she’s ten months old, her name is Eabha Anne, they named her Anne after my late sister, she’s divine and I absolutely love her. I could talk about her for the whole interview but I can’t!
We spy her baby chair over there in the corner of this kitchen in this family home in Dublin 6 that you love so…
I do love this house. And it’s why we took it off the market. Shortly after we all had Covid, I decided that it would be lovely to have a bigger garden and fewer bedrooms now that 4 of the 8 children have moved out. So we got it all cleaned up and painted and looking swell and we put it on the market. There was a lot of interest and one couple returning home from living abroad were just about to bid the asking price when we decided to take it off the market. I felt bad but I knew it was the right thing to do. The truth is that when we all thought about it, none of us wanted to sell, especially my four boys who are all still in school and college and love their home. Steve and I bought this house in July 1997 just shortly before our eldest son Jack was born and it’s full of happy memories, so I am delighted we are staying put. In a way putting it on the market made us all realise how much we love our home.
Hold on a sec there now, did you just say you all got Covid?
We did! This time last year! On Christmas Day! One of my sons is a student but works in a bar down the road in Rathmines. He’d been working in the run up to Christmas and he was concerned he might catch it. Sure enough, we all sat down for Christmas Day dinner and because we never spend enough time together, we were around the table for about 10 hours, even playing games! He woke up the following morning and came into our bedroom wearing a mask saying ‘I think I have Covid, I don’t feel well’, and I was like, ‘Don’t be ridiculous”! I said to Steve, ‘there’s no way he has because if he does, we all have it’. And then he got his results the following morning: positive! And then we all tested and we all were positive!
All of you?
Everybody at that table! All my kids bar three of my girls were there. Funnily enough two of my daughters were self isolating already, but they didn’t have it!
With so many of you infected we presume you didn’t isolate? There would hardly have been any point…
Once my son found out he was positive he stayed in his room but as the day went on and the positive results kept coming in – it was like a comedy – he gingerly came out, mask on. So, we didn’t stay in our bedrooms, no, we just didn’t leave the house!
Was anyone seriously unwell or has anyone suffered long Covid since?
Steve was a bit sick, one of my son’s got quite ill and I got quite ill with high temperatures but no long Covid, thankfully. We were just so lucky I didn’t visit my mother which we had planned to do on Boxing Day. It was fun – not! But we did manage to laugh!
You have to find comedy in times like that…
We also realised how nice people were. All my neighbours kept dropping in food. We never had such nice food! Initially I felt great and was doing the Mother Hen and cooking for them all and minding them all, because I was worried about them. I was doing my typical Miriam, ‘I’m grand, I’m never sick’….but eventually my body said, ‘Are you joking, you are actually taking the piss?’. And so I took to the bed for about a week.
As a new year lands, tradition has it that self-reflection and examination are, once again, front and centre in our thoughts. 2021 passed in a bit of a blur so hopefully this months brings a new dawn, a new horizon…maybe? Can we hope?
You’ve got to have hope. I do. I always remain optimistic. And yes while January can feel like a time for renewal, a time to start afresh, for me I don’t need January because I wake up every morning with a fresh mindset anyway. I say, ’This is a great day and let’s make this day as good as yesterday and better than tomorrow’.
Many will be envious of this mindset. We know that the loss of your sister, Anne, aged 33, inspired this perspective, but there has to be more to it…?
I am conscious that some people do not wake up feeling great. And obviously if you have a lot of difficulties in your life or you have just been through tragedy, you’re not going to feel great. But, I am blessed with a positive disposition. My husband will say it is occasionally exhausting!
[Laughing] I don’t want to come across insensitive to people who do not wake up feeling the way I do, but I can’t lie. This is my one wonderful life. I’m not going to waste a moment of it worrying about rubbish. People say life is imperfect, and it is, but it’s the only life we have. I’d love to believe in heaven but I kinda think this is it and so I’m gonna live it the best I can. I recently read about someone who lived on this road 400 years ago. And it reminded me of how we are only blinks. Our lives are blinks. People walking up this road hundreds of years ago and in hundreds of years time there will be different people walking up this road. So I’m not going to waste anytime. I just feel lucky I got a chance at life. All I want my children to say is, she was kind to us, she loved us and she was good craic!
Which you are! The bit about life being imperfect is crucial. Because accepting that allows a sort of ease within…
Whatever the opposite of perfection is, I am that! That means I probably never do anything particularly well! Look around my house, there’s chips of paint everywhere and I don’t care. I honestly don’t care. Also, if you are seeking out perfection, you’re not just hard on others, you’re hand on yourself too.
Okay how about this: Miriam’s Guide to Wellness?! You’re 61, how do you stay fit and active?
I have weights in my bedroom. I do a 20-minute workout every morning after my shower and in the evening before I go to bed. I do it mainly for muscle strength because post the age of 30 they say your muscles give up, and I like my arms, it’s one of my good features, so I work on my arms, my legs and my tummy – which is the worst part of my body – even though I love my tummy because it has given me eight healthy children. But the stomach is horrendous.
Do you walk?
I walk a little with our dog, but I’m always busy in the evenings preparing the dinner. I do manage my ten thousand steps a day but that’s simply because of the way I live my life. I have a lot of stairs in my house and honestly I get the steps in by going up and down!
Do you eat well?
I think I do eat well. Often my daughters will criticise me and say I don’t. On a Tuesday and a Thursday when I present Prime Time I’ll have porridge and raspberries for breakfast and then probably drink about 25 coffees!
25! You don’t honestly?
25 is an exaggeration! But I drink a lot of lattes! I probably could drink six in day! And people say, how do you sleep? Brilliantly! I also don’t eat all day on a Prime Time show day! I know people will say that’s very bad for you. Others will say it’s a type of fasting. But I just do it, it’s my routine. I then come home from doing the show, I have two slices of toast with cheese and a glass of red wine.
Why no food all day on a show day?
I just find if I’m satiated, if I eat a big lovely dinner, I just can’t think of good questions! I loose my energy!
“The workplace doesn’t work. Now’s our chance to reinvent it”, said Time magazine. Where do you stand?
If I’d know that 35 years when I had my eldest girl that I didn’t have to be in the office for every meeting, I would have been home with her. We waste a lot of time sitting around the office. You don’t have to physically be there. But there is a problem, especially for young people, because where do you fall in love now? I met my husband Steve at work in the BBC. I think the camaraderie of an office work space cannot be underestimated.
Isn’t not just work that has changed, the world has too. And that sense of change is embodied by Vogue’s cover star this month, Kristen McMenamy, who’s in her fifties, has been married a few times, has four kids and is a bit of a revolutionary…are we in a new dawn?
Covid came at the tale end of the MeToo movement and maybe accentuated and sped that up more. Recently more women are on big boards. I think women now realise that we can be what we want. So I’m not surprised that Kristen is on the front of Vogue. I think women feel more confident at any age now. But you know, this is not anti-men. I have four sons and they are just as nice as my four daughters. So I don’t believe men set out to wrong women. I think its just the way society was constructed in the past. It was very patriarchal. But that has now changed.
Is open dialogue how we enact change?
And the old cliche, you can’t be it if you can’t see it. You can’t underestimate the importance of something like a Vogue cover with a model in her 50s. You can do all the talking you want but frankly if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Look at Oprah Winfrey who’s in her late 60s and is still the most powerful woman on tv in the world. But she doesn’t talk about her age, she just is, she’s just there, she’s visible. I’m not sure about dialogue…just doing it, that’s it. And society facilitating it.
Somebody who just “did it” last year, was Olympian Naomi Osaka who prioritised her mental health by stepping away from the Olympic Games, saying ‘It’s okay to not be okay.’
That was such an important thing to do. She wasn’t the first though, we have a lot of courageous people in Ireland who have said the same, but she just did it on a global scale. It’s important to mention social media too who conveys many of these messengers of change. But there is tyranny on social media also. Twitter is obviously the worst, but I stay on it, because I love it and I find it so informative and I find the trolls quite funny actually. But Instagram which started off as a very nice medium has now itself become tyrannical, particularly for young people, who are being sold pictures of perfect lives. But nobody’s life is perfect. And even if it’s perfect today, you can be sure that life has a way of coming and swinging a bat right at ya!
How has life on Prime Time been this last year? And how have you managed to keep the content varied because Covid is a fierce dominator?
There can be Covid overkill. I try to avoid it on my radio show because if this is our only life you can’t spend all the time talking about bad news. Also you can make people very anxious. Having said a lot of the time on Prime Time we have to do Covid because people worry and I am there to cut through some of the knowledge and hold Ministers to account…but you know people still come up to me in supermarkets and go, ‘Jesus, Miriam will you stop depressing us!’ [laughing]
You must be the opposite of depressed with your recent JLR radio figures. Sunday with Miriam on Radio One has had an increase of 4,000 viewers, while the likes of Ryan Tubridy, Joe Duffy, Claire Byrne, and Ray D’Arcy all suffered losses…
Look, those figures go up and down, they are unpredictable. When they go up it’s sweet and when they go down it’s annoying. I love my radio show, because I’m interested in peoples lives, in how they tick and if they’re positive how they stay positive, and if they’ve had difficulties how they got over them.
You’re really proud of the fact that you have eight children, aren’t you?
I never think about it that much!
It’s a lot of children though!
[laughing] Yeah, I read about me and go ‘eight children’, she must be mad! But I have never planned my life. I didn’t plan on having eight children. I’m constantly amazed by people who do plan. I feel so blessed and so guilty for my luck to have eight healthy children, to the point that I made a tv series in our production company with my husband Steve about those struggling with fertility issues. I am also patron of a number of children charities like LauraLynn and Cliona’s Foundation. I feel so lucky.
What have those eight young people taught their mum about life?
I have unintentionally produced pretty radical feminists in my daughters. Again, I didn’t bang it in them but you pick up what you see and my mum who was a school principal, and is still going strong today, is a pretty radical feminist herself. I’m obviously a feminist too, and I think it has rubbed off on not just my daughters but also my sons. My mum always says my sons are so gentle. The older I get the more I think its got to do with nature nurture. Steve is very gentle. His dad was very gentle. My dad was very gentle. My brother is very gentle. There’s a lot of gentle men in my family.
INTERVIEW: Bianca Luykx
PHOTOGRAPHY: Evan Doherty; thisisevan.com
STYLIST: Roxanne Parker
MAKEUP: Michelle Kinsella using Charlotte Tilbury products
HAIR: Michael Doyle for Peter Mark
Shot on location at The InterContinental Dublin. Click to intercontinentaldublin.ie or call 01 665 4000 to enquire about their Suite Celebrations Package which includes an overnight for two in a junior suite, full Irish breakfast, a three course dining experience as well as complimentary access to the health and wellness club and late checkout. Book from January to March 2022 from €450 for two people sharing.
Thanks to Jilly McDonough at RTE