Miriam O’ Callaghan, Ireland’s most beloved leading lady, has certainly paved her own path of happiness. Rebecca Reilly caught up with the legendary broadcaster about her upcoming projects, her love for the Obamas, and how positivity is paramount in her life.
With ties to both Kerry and Laois, Miriam, who was born and bred in Dublin, is one of five children. The daughter of a civil servant and a teacher, her father and mother respectively, she maintained a steadfast support system from an early age. “Although he may not have realised it, my father, who came from a humble farm in Kerry, was a feminist. He believed in all his children, treated us equally, and believed his daughters should be educated, have good jobs and build successful careers. I never thought about not pursuing whatever I wanted.” And that she did. Despite now working as one of the nation’s most prolific journalists, the mum of eight initially embarked on a career in law. A self labelled ‘swot’, the Foxrock native was academically advanced and upon finishing her Leaving Cert in Mount St Anne’s, there were few careers unavailable to her. “I remember when I was deciding what to study in college, my father just began listing out jobs until we landed on one I liked. I couldn’t be a doctor because I hate blood, and I’m not great with animals so veterinary school was out. Solicitor was next on the list – it was as simple as that!” Upon completing her law degree at UCD, the blonde beauty was fully qualified at the tender age of 20.
“I couldn’t be a doctor because I hate blood, and I’m not great with animals so veterinary school was out.”
Soon the bright lights of London demanded her focus and drive, and it was here the young lawyer got her first, and by no means last, gig in television. “I knew I had to spend another year training in Britain if I wanted to become a solicitor in the UK. To be quite frank, I was sick of studying. I’d been attending university since I was 16, went to Blackhall Place, and told myself I’d temporarily get a job in London and go back to law when I was ready.” After applying for a researcher position through The Guardian newspaper, at the tender age of 23, she took up a job as a researcher in Thames Television. Working with fellow Irish personality Eamon Andrews on This Is Your Life, the soon-to-be media mogul was bitten by the entertainment bug. “I loved working on This Is You Life, it was a fantastic time.” From there, it was on to current affairs where she worked as a researcher, then a reporter, and so it was a steady, judicious progression. “After my time in Thames Television, I became a producer for the BBC – in television that’s where the real power is. After working on a number of youth programmes, I was asked to join BBC Newsnight.” A colossal opportunity, her career in law was now not only on the back burner, but fast moving out of sight. Across the pond, a mere spectator in Miriam’s explosive career, RTÉ soon realised she was the missing piece of their media puzzle. Fast forward to the present day and O’ Callaghan is a key player in the RTÉ franchise. Currently probing topical news items on current affairs show Prime Time, Miriam takes a more relaxed seat on summer weekends leading her own chat show Saturday Night with Miriam and can be heard on the airwaves every Sunday with her radio show Sundays with Miriam.
“How can I ask these people to let me in to their lives if I don’t let them in to mine?
THE LONG MARCH
Revisiting the infancy of her career, where she diligently reported on the conflict in Northern Ireland while working in Britain, Miriam will mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in her upcoming documentary The Long March. The feature will see O’ Callaghan and her team visit Paris and southern USA, both hubs of social rights movements, and will see Miriam interview the daughter of the late Martin Luther King. With a personal and professional connection with the Troubles in the North, her husband a Belfast man, it’s not her first documentary on the volatile topic. “We have decided to go on hiatus with the chat show, in order to dedicate sufficient time to the documentary. A couple of years ago we did a documentary on John Hume who was an integral part of the Peace Process. John ended up going on to win an award called ‘Ireland’s Greatest’ which was a search for the greatest person in Ireland’s history. I attribute that as one of my proudest professional moments.”
“We’re only here for a short time. We have to grab life, live it, love it and be kind to everyone on the way.”
An incomparable female role model, Miriam maintains an honest and outward decorum – one that is imperative to an interviewer, she maintains. “As someone who has the privilege of interviewing people, who are often in personal crisis, like the wonderful Vicky Phelan, who is at the centre of the cervical smear case, how can I ask these people to let me in to their lives if I don’t let them in to mine? Always stay an open book that’s what I say. Vicky is direct and sincere. I quite like to think Barack and Michelle Obama would be incredibly giving in an interview too – they’ve eluded me so far, but maybe someday!” Although she has ardently denied any hope of a future in politics, the chat show host still boasts a number of strings to her bow, one of which is philanthropy. After losing her sister Anne at the tender age of 33 to cancer, Miriam highlights the importance of giving back. “I wake up everyday with the joys of spring, happy for my health and that of my kids and husband. Would I feel like this way, or would I do as much if my sister hadn’t passed? I’d like to think I would, but all I know is it made me appreciate my life and what I have.” Despite a hectic work schedule, Miriam loves nothing more than being lazy in her spare time, nor does she ever plan ahead. “If I’m doing what I’m doing this time next year, I’ll be over the moon. More than anything, I want to continue doing good journalism. In the world of Donald Trump, nothing matters more. As long as I do everything I can before I head to heaven, I’m happy!”