Monday 22 January 2018

Kathryn Thomas: 'Would I like kids? Absolutely but that comes down to timing and feeling like you are in the right place'

Kathryn Thomas tells Joanna Kiernan about how she finally found a good work/life balance

Kathryn Thomas and Padraig
Kathryn Thomas and Padraig
Kathryn Thomas (right) with Joanna Kiernan

She is possibly the hardest working and most beloved woman on Irish TV screens, yet Kathryn Thomas' original career plan was a very different one.

"I was going to Hollywood!" she announces with a wide grin and a flash of jazz hands. "I wanted to be an actress. I loved it while I was in school and I was quite good at it. I did a few short films when I was in college when I was in UCD and I did all of my London Guild Hall Exams right up, the next exam I would do, would qualify me to be a speech and drama teacher."

There is time yet, I offer as we settle in for our chat at The Marker Hotel.

"Exactly! You never know," she beams.

"I loved it, but in typical Irish parenting style my mom said 'you're not going off to London to be an actress unless you have a piece of paper behind you!' My parents insisted that I go to college, which is why I ended up in UCD."

Kathryn soon found work experience with a production company called Coco Television where she spent her days making tea and coffee and labelling show reel tapes.

"All of these show reels were coming in for girls who were auditioning for this new programme and I'm there labelling the tapes thinking 'I could do this! It's not acting but it is kind of acting!' You just have to be yourself!" Kathryn recalls. "But I didn't have the balls to go to the producer upstairs and say that."

Kathryn decided instead to drop as many hints as she possibly could and a couple of weeks later, the penney dropped; she was asked to audition for the new sports show which Coco Television were making for RTE, called Rapid.

"I did the worst audition known to man. Jason Sherlock was there and of course he was huge at that time, Dublin had just won the All Ireland and he was the poster boy and I was really intimidated meeting him," Kathryn admits.

"I just remember it was a really windy day and the camera was going between us and my nose started running and I didn't know what to do, so I just stayed there and kept up the interview until he had to eventually go 'Eh...Kathryn!'," she puts down her fork to point at her nose, laughing at the memory.

"I literally had snot just all down my face. So that was that, I got into my car and cried the whole way home."

However, snot and all, Kathryn was offered the gig. Rapid was Kathryn's first big break.

For almost a decade, the Carlow native presented the hugely successful travel series No Frontiers. She also presented Winning Streak for a time and took over as presenter on Operation Transformation in 2011 and these days she is gracing our screens on The Voice of Ireland.


"I'm really lucky in that I have never been out of work. I was 19 years of age when I started television and I am 36 now, so in a business that is as fickle as it is and as cut throat as it is, I have been very lucky, touch wood!" Kathryn grins slapping the table.

So does one get used to the ups and downs, the rumours about shows getting axed, the ratings wars and the general turmoil of the industry?

"You absolutely get used to it. You have no routine, you have no assurances," she says plainly. "I have never worked on a show that has been commissioned for two years; so for the 10 years that No Frontiers was on air, you would finish and you'd have worked for nine months solid and have to wait maybe three months for them to say 'Oh yes, we are ready to go again!'"

Experience has taught Kathryn to deal with the uncertainty over the years.

"I'm way over-analysing it or worrying about it because it doesn't do your head any good and it doesn't do the people that you work with any good," she explains.

"You have just got to do your best job while the show is on.

"If and when there comes a time that RTE feels that a change is needed or the audience feels that a change is needed, then absolutely we have to step up to the plate and take it on the chin.

"I don't panic anymore. I used to panic a lot and think 'where am I going to be next year?' or 'will I be able to afford my mortgage?' but I think like everybody you are only as good as your last job."

So is there a time when Kathryn can imagine leaving TV?

"Yes, when my face becomes a face for radio," she laughs. "Right now, I love it. I just feel like I am the luckiest person in the world, I genuinely do. I am extremely happy and I have never been unhappy in my job or worked with people who I didn't like."

So is Hollywood still calling? And would Kathryn ever consider working abroad?

"Do you know who is in Hollywood now? Not me, my sister! She is working for Google and is in Los Angeles," Kathryn says.

"I have taken meetings over there and I have met big agencies, but you have go to live over there. I did have one of those phone calls where they said 'we'll fly you over! We want you to meet this agency! We love what you do!' And they did fly me over and it was all 'you're fabulous!'

"It was 'the meeting' as they call it and it is pretty surreal sitting there, but to make yourself work over there you have to live there; it's not about flying in and out for jobs, so for one the offer wasn't concrete enough and secondly there was no way I was moving and I never thought I would say that," Kathryn smiles.


"I love Ireland and I just don't think I could live anywhere else.

"RTE have been very good to me and so has the Irish audience, so it would be a big decision and it would want to be a serious offer for me to consider moving."

Kathryn is finally at a point in her life where she feels she has got the balance right, she is very happy both in her work and in her private life.

"I think sometimes if you are very content in your work life, your personal life suffers," she tells me.

"It's not that I'm not the easiest person to be with, but when you have spent 10 years on the road, which I did, you don't settle very easily.

"I always have to find the next thing to do, whether that's travelling or going to see my sister in the States, or setting up a new business; I'm not good at sitting quietly, so that's difficult for a partner I think, or certainly so I have been told!"

Kathryn laughs heartily. "Certainly now I feel I have met the right partner and I think timing is everything. I am a little bit older, I am 36 and everything just feels right, so I am still moving a lot, but maybe not at the same pace."

Kathryn has been seeing her restaurateur boyfriend Padraig McLoughlin since the summer of 2013 and he moved into her Dublin home last year.

"I am more content to be in my house, with my partner and my dogs and working away," Kathryn smiles. "I still have plans to go off to Indonesia this year for three weeks, which he doesn't know about yet, but apart from that!" she smiles.

So what does the future hold for the gloriously straight-talking Ms. Thomas? Marriage? Babies? The whole nine yards?

"When I travelled for 10 years I would be asked 'when are you going to settle down?' Then it was 'when are you getting married?' Then I was single for two years and when you are single in your mid-30s people are like 'nobody talk to her! Nobody ask her about it, you might send her over the edge!'" Kathryn chuckles.

"And people were constantly trying to set me up on dates and then glory, glory hallelujah! When I found someone!

"Would I like kids? Absolutely, if we are lucky and we are blessed with them and again I think that comes down to timing and feeling like you are in the right place," Kathryn adds. "I have never been a planner. I am really bad at planning ahead and I do get what people are thinking when they look at me, they are thinking 'you are 36, time is ticking!' and all of that and I wish that the female physiology would catch up with feminism in a way. I think every woman is different and should figure out what they want for themselves."

The Voice of Ireland live shows start this Sunday March 22 on RTE One at 6.30pm.

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