herald

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Could Gerry really be dating the ambassador?

They may seem like an odd couple but radio star Gerry Ryan has refused to deny seeing former South African ambassador to Ireland, Melanie Verwoerd.

Weekend reports linked the motormouth to the glamorous and demure former ANC activist and member of the SA parliament.

Now a radio host herself, separated Ms Verwoerd is a friend of former SA president Nelson Mandela and is now head of Unicef Ireland.

Like Gerry she is also separated from former husband, Wilhelm - whose grandfather introduced apartheid in South Africa.

"I do this for three hours every day for a living - when I say no comment I mean no comment," Gerry told a newspaper today.

Reports at the weekend said the 52-year-old broadcaster is reported to have struck up a relationship with the cultured and intelligent Ms Verwoerd, who is 11 years younger than him.

"If it's true it's unbelievable. You'd never put them together. She is beautiful, confident, articulate and very, very smart. If they are going out together, Gerry will be the one who has to stand up and listen," said one RTE colleague who knows both.

Last March, he shocked the nation when he announced the end of his 26-year marriage to his gorgeous wife Morah, who is the mother of his five children.

Although the RTE broadcaster met Melanie in January, they did not strike up a close friendship until long after he separated from Morah.

The pair it's reported have been extraordinarily good at keeping their relationship out of the public eye. However, one of their first meetings was broadcast on the national airwaves.

As the President of Unicef Ireland, Melanie reported to the show live from Kenya where she was highlighting humanitarian efforts in the country.

During the interview, the popular radio personality expressed how impressed he was with her work and the other people who had travelled over to Kenya to make a difference.

Melanie has been living in Ireland for the last eight years after moving over her with ex husband Wilhelm. The couple, who have since split up, have two children, Wilme (18) and Wian (14).

Since the break-up of Gerry's marriage, the father of five has only spoken a handful of times about the experience.

In June he explained how he had been getting on with life but the usually open Gerry said that the joint statement he made with his wife would be the only comment he would make on his separation.

"I get up, go to work and do my stuff. I'm not the first guy to be separated in marriage," he said. "I read a lot of commentary in the newspapers about that but it's all speculation, American pop psychology. What happened is a very private thing, we made a statement about our marriage, and that is it."

Gerry admits that the public who ring his show to pour their hearts out need to know something about him.

"I cannot expect people to tell me about their lives unless they know something about my life," he told the RTE Guide.

The motormouth presenter has emphasised how important family is to him.

"Family is everything. Without family you have no continuity, you have no future and you have no past," said Gerry, who has spoken about raising all his five kids on the radio. Charlotte or Lottie is now 22, Rex is 18, Bonnie is 15, Elliot is 12 and Babette is eight years old.

Her ex's link to apartheid

Melanie Verwoerd's ex-husband Wilhelm is the grandson of the man considered the principal architect of apartheid.

Hendrik Verwoerd said that it was pointless to educate the Bantu people. He asked why teach them maths, when their futures were as servants?

Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated in parliament in 1966, but he left a legacy that still has huge repercussions. Wilhelm said he was sad about what his grandfather did and joined the ANC with Melanie.

So who is she?

MELANIE Verwoerd was the youngest woman ever to be elected to the South African parliament, a former ambassador and head of the Irish branch of one of the world most respected organisations, but now she could become more famous for her links to Gerry Ryan.

The 41-year-old grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, during the 1970s. Her political career bucked the male status quo and she turned her back on her Afrikaans roots to join the ANC. In 1994, aged 27, she was elected to the parliament where she served for seven years. However, as tension calmed somewhat in South Africa, she left one highly successful career to embark on another -- in Ireland.

Having fought the apartheid regime, she moved here in 2001 to take up a role as an ambassador.

During her time in the job, trade from South Africa to Ireland increased by 60pc.

But again, she decided for a change of pace and relinquished the ambassadorial job in 2005. This time, though, Melanie decided to stay in her adoptive country and was even given her own radio programme on RTE 1, called Spectrum.

Last year, she has been appointed executive director of Unicef Ireland, where she will be at the helm for at least another two years.

She has two children from her former marriage to Wilhelm Verwoerd. Their daughter Wilme (18) and son Wian (15) both live in Dublin with Melanie.

She has a Masters in feminist theology.

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