In Conversation with Yvonne Tiernan

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Yvonne Tiernan is the other half of famous comedian Tommy, and she is so much more than that.  The down-to-earth mother of three has had a successful career in the entertainment industry, managing numerous Irish and international acts over the years. Yvonne’s latest endeavour is a little more centre stage. The Couch, available to watch on RTÉ Player, is the first series in Ireland to be exclusively online. The innovative show sees Yvonne interview a diverse cast of women, from writer and comedian Sharon Hogan to perfumier Jo Malone. Claire O’Farrell met with Yvonne to find out more

I have to admit I was a little nervous to interview Tommy Tiernan’s wife. As an avid fan of his and a new fan of The Couch, I was looking forward to learning more about Yvonne. She looked effortlessly stunning in person, the kind of look that one can usually only achieve from hours on Instagram. Straightaway she was asking questions about me, the true sign of a woman with an interest in people. Yvonne is a fellow horsewoman, and so I quickly got over my initial nerves and relaxed in for the chat. “Myself and my daughter are always up in the stables. It’s great for her because she is outdoors all the time.”

Yvonne and Tommy have three children together, Isobel who is eight, Louis who is seven and Theo who is three. “It’s really wonderful being in your forties and having small kids. You get excited about all of the little things in life all over again, because you see it through their eyes.”

Rathfarnam-born and Galway-based, Yvonne loves their home in the west. “The skies are so beautiful on the west coast. I think that people in Galway care less about things that don’t matter.”

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Choosing the seat next to me rather than across from me, I immediately got the sense that this is a lady who understands body language and good conversation. “I’m someone who has just always been happier in the company of people. I’m a sharer. I like trying to figure out what’s going on in people’s heads.” It is no surprise then, that Yvonne has an interest in psychology. “I had started to study psychology with the Open University when I was pregnant with Theo. And then he arrived early and I had to pause it. I was going to go back to it this year, and then The Couch all kicked off.”

Yvonne’s life story so far involves touring with The Chieftains, managing husband Tommy, and everything in between that comes with a 25 year career in the entertainment industry. When working for Tommy, she was in contact with the commissioning editor for RTÉ. “I was giving out to him about the lack of good interviews and women on television. He said ‘well why don’t you do it?’”

At the time, Yvonne had just given birth to Theo. She didn’t feel confident to take on the project, but the seed had been planted. “I didn’t feel very physically confident because I had put on a bit of weight, and I didn’t feel emotionally confident because I think I had post-natal depression after having a premature baby. I was a bit all over the place, but the idea went in. I started to think maybe I could do this. Then people started to say yes, guests said yes. I was thinking; oh God, now I have to do it!”

Her natural interest in people and background in entertainment made Yvonne the ideal woman for the job. She says that women’s chatting often gets dismissed as trivial, but our chats are more than idle conversation. “We all have great women in our lives who we rely on. I think that those conversations are kind of a form of daily therapy with women. It’s so important.”

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Working on The Couch, she learned a lot from her interviewees. “It confirmed to me that we are all the same, we are all struggling with something. We all have something that we think we’ve figured out and other things that we haven’t a clue about.”

Proving that chatting can be a form of therapy, one episode discusses the unique parent-child relationship. “My father had had a stroke when I shot the first half of the couch, and in the second half of the filming he had passed away. For the first part of the filming I was very conscious that he was very ill and that we could lose him. So in a way I think I was trying to prepare myself for that, by talking to people who had lost a parent. We’re all affected by our relationships with our mothers and fathers.”

The selection process for the guests on The Couch was very individual, and they are all women that Yvonne felt she could gain something from. “I was coming from a place of looking for answers in my own life. I thought that people who have been through more than you, are better people to answer those questions.”

If you’ve seen The Couch, you will know that as well as being witty and insightful, it’s also incredibly attractive visually. Yvonne says that she wanted it to look more like American television, with a very bright and uplifting feel to it. “In terms of the styling of the whole thing, local lady Triona Lillis styled everything. She’s just brilliant, she is a creative genius. I think that if there’s anything clever that I did in terms of the look of the show, it was surrounding myself with really talented people.”

As a Tommy Tiernan fan, I had to ask what it’s like to live with the hilarious comedian. “Ray D’Arcy asked me that recently and I said we are like Brad and Angelina, you know when you see pictures and everything is so perfect all the time. I said it’s just like that Ray. No, it’s the same as any other married couple who really love each other. I mean he is really funny, but he’s quieter than most people imagine. He reads poetry, which Isobel slags him over.”

There were of course difficulties attached to putting herself into the public eye, especially as she is married to such a recognisable personality. “There was that bit of me that was terrified of putting myself out there publicly. There is already someone in our house who is very well known, and I’m very protective of everybody in my family. That’s been the most difficult part, but I couldn’t let that stop me either.”

Alongside the series on the RTÉ Player, the website is Yvonne’s take on an online magazine. “We have a website called thecouch.ie and we put out audio podcast interviews. Garry Kelly of GK Media and Galway Bay FM is producing a new series of audio interviews with me on the couch.ie. The site was designed by Ray Mac Donnell who is a local website designer. And we have lots of local contributors, who are all friends of mine.”

As well her candid interest in people and what makes us tick, singing has always been a passion for Yvonne. Although she has enjoyed a successful singing career, confidence has been an issue for her. “I sang with Trad On The Prom, but I would always be terrified that I would forget my lyrics. Even when I was touring with The Chieftains and I got to sing in Carnegie Hall and The Royal Albert Hall and all of those places, I never really had enough confidence to put myself out there as a solo singer. When something as big as one of your parents passing away happens, something shifts in you.”

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Yvonne started Galway-based band The Black Berries, in order to perform her kind of music. “Weirdly after my father passed away, all I wanted to do was sing. I started The Black Berries with my friend Ursula. We did some shows around Galway with our other members, Ben Murray and Paul McDonagh. I realised that what I had never done before is just sing to be singing and enjoying it. With every other show that I had performed, I was singing their style of music. So it was the first time that I was able to sing the stuff I love.” The Black Berries’ sound is what Yvonne calls “serial killer country music”. Think opening scenes of True Detective or Nashville, eerie and haunting. “I really love it, and it suits my voice.”

Between singing, presenting, and raising a family, Yvonne certainly has her hands full. However, she seems to have energy to burn, and has big ambitions. “I want to interview Oprah Winfrey, you have to set your sights high. I want to interview men too, I want to interview Gay Byrne. I would love to do another series for online, I would really love to do radio, and I would love to do a series for TV. Even sitting here now I have been thinking that I want to try and write again.”

To watch all six episodes of The Couch visit the RTÉ Player at www.rte.ie/player, or visit www.thecouch.ie

“It’s really wonderful being in your forties and having small kids. You get excited about all of the little things in life all over again, because you see it through their eyes.”

“We all have something that we think we’ve figured out and other things that we haven’t a clue about.”

“I was coming from a place of looking for answers in my own life.”

“I realised that what I had never done before is just sing to be singing and enjoying it.”

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