Abbii Badmuss Yusuff

First Published November 2020

OFFALY’S QUEEN ABBII

If this was any other year, then the new MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND would already be well into her reign. Last year’s title holder, NASA data scientist Fionnghuala O’ Reilly, would have passed on the tiara and sash at a spectacular, sold-out ceremony in the famous and historic Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House back in August sometime. But hey, 2020 y’all! This is the year that will more than likely go down in Irish history as being the very definition of a year like no other! But, there will still be a Miss Universe Ireland 2020, and Offaly’s ABBII BADMUS YUSUFF has her sights set on making history by bringing that crown back to the midlands. 


Miss Universe Ireland director Brittany Mason and her team have already pulled off a minor miracle this year by even making it to the point where the selection of a Top Twelve was possible. While the exact timeline of what happens and when between now and the moment this year’s winner is finally crowned remains in flux for obvious reasons, this year’s event does – for the first time – include a public voting element which will help determine who becomes the last lady standing and Ireland’s next representative on the Miss Universe stage globally. To give Abbii your votes, all you need to do is go to the official Miss Universe Ireland website – www.missuniverseireland.eu – click on Abbii’s image [Abi Yusuff on the website), and cast your votes as you decide.  


The Miss Universe pageant is without a doubt the most famous of its kind in the world, with the Miss Universe Ireland set-up being one of the very best there is anywhere on the planet. So for Edenderry woman Abbii to be crowned Miss Universe Offaly is already an honour in itself. When we had the pleasure of spending some time in her company recently, the delightful Abbii – who has also played Gaelic football for Offaly at county level – explained how it all came to be…

“I’ve known about the Miss Universe pageant for a couple of years now, but it was never something I really focused on. But over those last couple of years, I’ve been seeing different bits and bobs of different people, different contestants like Fionnghuala last year, and Grainne Gallanagh as well. I’m the kind of person who likes getting myself into different things. So when it came to this year, to 2020, which has been a tough year for me, I decided to apply. Different females in the past have been role models for me, and Fionnghuala [the first woman of colour to win the Miss Universe Ireland crown] from last year is a role model for me too, she just inspires me so much. She proved that at the end of the day being Irish and being part of Miss Universe is not just about your colour, it’s about what’s in you. And that’s something that I wanted to show too.” The most recent Miss Universe Ireland winners, Grainne Gallanagh in 2018 and Fionnaghuala O’ Reilly last year, have both been very visible and active in the public eye, especially on social media. Grainne, a nurse by profession, has taken every opportunity to promote womens’ health, while Fionnghuala, a data scientist with NASA, has been to the fore in highlighting the roles that women can reach for in STEM related subjects and disciplines. And even when Grainne and Fionnghuala have been on the receiving end of various kinds of online abuse, they’ve always remained focused and positive in their outlooks and their ambitions. Was that something that surprised Abbi? 


“I think that people are brave behind the computer screen on social media, or with text messages. I feel like as women, these individuals, like Fionnghuala and Grainne, they pick themselves up regardless of what people have to say. And that’s what I focus on too. Being black myself, I face racism on a daily basis. Some of it might be just minor, but some of it can be something that’s very, very hard to take in. So you have to learn to live with it, because some people are always going to criticise you, regardless of if you’re doing good or bad.

It was a terrible question to even have to ask, but I wondered if, since becoming Miss Universe Offaly, Abbii had to face any racism over that?

“I have had a few comments thrown at me. But with myself, I’d rather just leave it to the side and not let it get to me, because that’s what those people are trying to do. I’m Irish at the end of the day. We’re all one. There’s no difference to me. Everyone’s the same.”

So when Abbii decided to actually get involved in the Miss Universe Ireland competition this year, what was the big reason that made her decide to go for it?  


“Well, the pandemic that’s going on now worldwide now has been such a huge, huge problem. And with all of that happening, we haven’t been able to showcase ourselves. And I think with me, I have a lot of personality. The first couple of months of 2020 were very rough for me, we were very, very busy. I’m a full-time worker in a medical device company, we’re providing ventilators. I was working six days a week sometimes, on long ten, eleven hour shifts. I had some health issues at the time as well, including some anxiety, so I was just feeling broken. And that’s not me!I’m always the go-getter, always the one with the winner’s attitude. So after feeling down, I thought it was time to pick myself back up. And I just thought right, Miss Universe Ireland is something that would suit me. It’s something that I am willing to put myself out there for, to teach young women of today that they can build themselves up, and they should live every day as if it’s their last.” 

So once Abbii had decided to apply, what was the process like from there? And how did she feel when she eventually heard that SHE was, in fact, Miss Universe Offaly? 


“So I first applied in July, and it was like a job application [laughs]. They wanted to know every detail about us, which was fine [laughs]. And then there was a period of a while, weeks, where we didn’t hear anything back. Then we got an email where they said they’d keep us updated. And that three weeks was…I don’t know…like the longest three weeks of my life! [laughs]. And I hadn’t said anything to anyone at that stage that I had applied, because the thing with me is I like surprising people [laughs]. They’re not surprised when I do stuff, like when I come out and say, ‘Oh look, I’ve done this’ [laughs]. So we got to August, around my birthday, and we were told we’d made the next round of applications, and we were asked to submit a video of us cat-walking or modelling for the bikini shoot, and just a short interview video, just so the directors of Miss Universe Ireland could get to know us more. So I did that, and gave it to them. And doing that video was amazing, because looking back on it now, I was so, so nervous, I was a wreck at the time! But then when I got the feedback, they said they really loved my energy, and they liked this, and liked that about me! So that became my passion from that moment, that I wanted to do this. From then on I was like, ok, head-down, let’s go! I was still working at my full-time job, but looking after myself, treating myself better. Then one day, randomly, about two weeks or maybe three weeks after that, we got an email. And it said, ‘Congratulations, you’re in the Top Twelve of Miss Universe Ireland.’ I nearly dropped! [laughs]. I woke at six-am to that email! And I had to keep it to myself that day as well, because they weren’t announcing it until Wednesday. It was a shock, but such amazing news to wake up to, and something I’ll never forget.” 

What was the reaction like when Abbii was finally able to tell everyone? 


“I was at work the day that I was allowed to tell people. So as soon as Miss Universe Ireland announced it publicly, I went and told one of my work colleagues. And the hug that she gave me was amazing! It was something that she didn’t expect because she only started working with us a couple of months ago. And then after that I was like, I need to walk out of here and send this to my sister, and I sent her the screenshot [laughs]. The reaction, and the support of my family has been so, so great. I have a huge family. My mum couldn’t be prouder. She works at Dunnes Stores at home in Edenderry, so she knows a lot of people and she talks to a lot of people on a daily basis. And they’re all coming to her and saying, oh, your daughter is this and that, you know. Everyone is proud of me. So I’m ready to go the full way! [laughs].” 

Obviously everything about 2020, even in the most general sense, is different than normal. But under normal circumstances, all of this year’s Miss Universe Ireland contestants would have met Brittany and the rest of the Miss Universe Ireland team – not to mention each other – in person by now. Not so in 2020, however…


“No, unfortunately not, I haven’t met anyone yet. We’ve all met virtually, that’s the only thing we’ve done. But honestly, I can’t wait! I wish the pandemic was just over. Or even that the restrictions were just lifted, because there is a Miss Universe Galway here [where Abbii is living at the moment]. Even if we were in counties close by, maybe we could meet up as individuals, one or two other people at a time or something. Just to get to know each other a bit more. But even with the directors, Brittany herself, she’s been with us every step of the way. So it’s like she’s actually been with us, she’s been doing her best in the circumstances, and we really, really appreciate it. She’s lovely, I can’t get over her. I love her energy! She inspires me, too. She pushes you. She’s good at her job and knows what she’s doing.” 

As mentioned earlier, back in 2018 when Grainne Gallanagh held the Miss Universe Ireland title, she focused a lot on womens’ health because, as a nurse by profession, that was an area of particular importance to her. Last year, Fionnghuala O’ Reilly, as a data scientist with NASA, turned her attention to women in the S.T.E.M. arenas. If Abbii finds herself wearing the crown of Miss Universe Ireland for 2020, what would she like to use her platform to highlight? 


“I think I would be on the Grainne side of things as well, looking at womens’ health. I think a lot of women nowadays, we need to be able to speak up if we have issues. There’s always people to turn to in terms of mental health, and even physical health. I’m someone that used to play football [for Offaly, by the way, folks], I’m a big athlete. I used to run the Harriers in Tullamore, too. So I know it’s important to keep your fitness going as well. But I’m not even going to lie to you, I’m not the fittest person out there at the moment [laughs]. But I want to get back into it. I’m joining a G.A.A. football team in Galway here. It’s about building yourself up to the best of your ability. Everyone is unique, and different in their own ways. And sometimes women need to shine, and say look, this is the power we have and what we’re capable of.” 

So what’s the next big step or big date on the Miss Universe Ireland calendar? 


“Well the Top Six finalists for 2020 will be announced soon, so there’s a crazy time ahead! [laughs]. Myself and the rest of the girls are all trying to showcase ourselves, put ourselves out there on our social media platforms, just trying to get everyone to know us better. We have loads of assignments, little bits and bobs, for the judges as well, just for them to get to know us better too. The Top Six will be influenced by the public vote, so if everyone can vote for me, I would really, really, really appreciate that! Thank you! We just had our first official Miss Universe Ireland interviews as well, with four American judges. And actually, it was fun! [laughs]. By the end of it! [laughs].”

While Abbii is from Edenderry, she’s living down in Galway at the moment. I asked her about the journey that took her there…


“Yeah, I’m from Edenderry, but I moved to Galway in 2014, I moved to study Accounting in G.M.I.T. I went in to study Business actually, and I did two years of that, then I went to Accounting which was a three year course. So that’s why I first moved to Galway. But I don’t regret doing so because I was able to get my education here. And furthermore, when I finished college, I went on to work in the finance sector, as a trainee financial advisor which was a great achievement for me. And I’ve got my job now in a medical devices company, so I’m pushing myself, always, always, always.” 

How would Abbii describe herself to people who, because of the current Covid health restrictions, might not get a chance to meet her during her time as Miss Universe Offaly? And does she think her friends would describe her in the same way as she describes herself?


“I don’t know [laughs], I think they’d all have different words to describe me [laughs]. They all think I’m mad anyway, I know that! Me, myself? I think I have a lot of love, I’m a loving person. I have a lot of love in me to give. I’m caring. I’m easygoing. And I’m humble, too. And I try to always stay positive and true to myself as well. To relax, I like to go for a walk in the woods, maybe do some online shopping, or just go for a drive sometimes. And try to talk to the family and catch up with them, because none of the family live in Galway, they’re all in different places. So trying to catch up with them is a job of its own [laughs]. I have two brothers and two sisters. An older brother and an older sister, and then I’m the middle child. Then a younger brother and younger sister as well. But when I say older and younger, the oldest is twenty-eight and the youngest is eighteen. And separately to that, I have half-siblings on my dad’s side, and there’s ten of them. So there’s fifteen of us altogether. Some live in America, some live in England, some are in Nigeria.”

One thing that’s clear about Abbii, and comes across time and time again in our chat, is her positivity, and good humour, as laughter freely and liberally permeated our conversation. But what, I wondered, makes Abbii happiest of all in life? 


“Hmm? What makes me happy in life? What makes me happy in life is to be calm. I don’t like to stress! [laughs]. Once I get stressed, it’s kind of impossible to control anything. I think I’ve actually managed to grow up and still be myself. And a lot of people are kind of looking up to me at the moment. So, for someone who’s still not, you know, anyone really yet, that makes me happy too. And I want to keep doing better and keep putting myself out there for people to see that they can do things as well. I try to always have a smile on my face, and to stay positive!” 

~ You can stay up to date with Abbii’s Miss Universe Offaly journey – and hopefully beyond that too – by following Abbii and Miss Universe Ireland on Facebook and Instagram. To vote for Abbii, simply visit the official Miss Universe Ireland website – www.missuniverseireland.eu – click on Abbii’s image, and cast your votes as you decide. And REMEMBER, if any businesses out there want to become part of Abbii’s Miss Universe team as a sponsor, and possibly help Abbii follow in the footsteps of Cailín Toíbín (2017), Grainne Gallanagh (2018, and of Dancing With The Stars Ireland fame in 2019), and Fionnghuala O’ Reilly (2019),  just drop her a DM! 

ENDS

Grainne Gallanagh

First Published August 2018

FROM BUNCRANA TO BANGKOK

In the fabulous surroundings of the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin last Thursday evening, Donegal’s Grainne Gallanagh was crowned the new Miss Universe Ireland, by her predecessor Cailín Toibín. Twenty-four year old Grainne, a nurse who’s based in London, will now go forward to represent Ireland at the final of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 17th. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Grainne for a little bit of a chat in the days just after she received her crown and sash. And before we even spoke, I got a measure of just how sound Grainne is. We were originally scheduled to chat on Saturday evening, but the day passed without anything happening. Now that can often happen from time to time when you’re hoping to speak with someone who’s in demand, and as of last Thursday evening, Grainne is VERY much in demand. So you take it in your stride and just see what happens. On Sunday morning, however, I woke up to a text from Grainne, sent at 1.50am the previous night (so right at the end of a very long few days), offering her apologies for not being in touch, explaining that the day had just been hectic (as you’d expect), and offering to chat instead on Sunday at whatever time suited me. Now keep in mind that this Sunday just gone was pretty likely to be one of Grainne’s last days to herself, of any kind, for about the next year! 


But there she was, thinking about others. I guess that comes with being a nurse. But like I said, sound. With beauty, brains, a huge heart, and a sun-bright soul – and this top-level sense of soundness – put your money on this young lady to do us proud when December comes, folks. 


I began our chat by asking Grainne how she was feeling, just a few days after being presented with the crown and sash of her new role? Had she begun to get a sense yet of how much her life was going to change for the next year or so?


“Do ya know what? I’m absolutely still on a high! I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet at all, to be honest with you. I’m so, so happy that my face is sore because I can’t stop smiling! [laughs]. I just got home here today from Dublin, to my hometown in Buncrana in Donegal, and when I got out of the car all my cousins, and my aunties, and my friends, and all were all down to surprise me. And everyone’s so happy, so it’s lovely.”

What went through her mind at the moment her name was announced? 


“We were just standing there holding hands, me and Aoife [Rutledge] the first runner-up, and I was just praying please, please let it be me! [laughs]. But then I just couldn’t believe it [when she was announced as the winner], and I think I just stood there thinking, did I hear that wrong? I stood there for about ten seconds with my hands on my face. I don’t even know what I was thinking, it was just a blur. But it was so exciting, and everybody was screaming, but I was crying. It was so, so nice, such a lovely feeling.”

This year’s Miss Universe pageant will be held in Bangkok in December, where Grainne has actually been before on her travels. But what’s in store for her between now and then as the new Miss Universe Ireland? 


“Well I’ve met up with Brittany [Mason], the director of Miss Universe Ireland, and we briefly went through things like what do I want from Miss Universe Ireland. And there’s gonna be an awful lot of photo-shoots, modelling, travelling. But obviously I don’t want to give up my job as a nurse, because that’s who I am. It’s part of me. And I just don’t feel that if I was to give up nursing that it would be being true to myself. So I’m going to continue that. And because it’s a flexible job, I’ll be able to do less hours and focus on Miss Universe Ireland as well, and keep both of them as a priority. But I’m definitely going to work so hard for Thailand, I can’t wait. Like, I’m so, so, so excited! [laughs]”

Grainne works as a nurse in London, so how will she balance and integrate those responsibilities and duties with her new role? 


“Well I didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t have any kind of a set plan for what I was going to do when I won, ya know. I just didn’t expect this. So I think now I’m just going to have to go day-by-day, and prioritize what I’m going to do. I can do agency work as a nurse, so I can book my shifts when I’m available and that way I’m not letting anybody down if I can’t go to work. And if an opportunity with Miss Universe Ireland comes up, I’ll be aware that I’ve got that and so I won’t be able to work this week, or whatever. I don’t want to be letting anybody down by not showing up to work, as such. So it’s good that it’s so flexible. If it was any other job, it might not be. So I feel like I’ll be o.k. in that sense.” 

Grainne has already stated that she wants to use her time as Miss Universe Ireland as a platform to promote and raise awareness and education for female health. Aside from the obvious reasons, I asked Grainne why this is something so close to her heart…


“I suppose with me being a nurse and being a woman, it’s very noticeable in the country, in Ireland, that women’s health issues do take a back seat. Obviously with the recent scandal around the smear-testing, being one example. It always seems to be that women’s health is never on the forefront, there’s always some publicity around it where something’s gone wrong, or the way it took so long for the Repeal the 8th amendment to finally happen, ya know. I just feel that in this country there could be more done to highlight the problems in women’s health. And obviously then with me being a nurse, and being a woman, all of these factors are the reasons that I chose that platform. I really do feel that it’s one that’s needed. There’s so many women in Ireland that need encouragement and support in that sense. And with me being a professional, I feel that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not just saying things off a whim, or while uneducated in those areas. So there was loads of reasons, but I’m definitely glad I chose that platform, and hopefully now I’ll be able to do more charity work around it now that I’ve got this title.”  

From working as a nurse in England, has Grainne noticed differences in standards towards women’s health care between the two countries? 


That’s a good question. I suppose there is a bit of a difference. I suppose in Ireland, it [women’s health] does take more of a back seat. Whereas in England, it is a bit more to the forefront. It’s just that you’ll notice kind of little things that are different in your day-to-day job. We’re not very bad, obviously. Women’s health is very important in this country, but I just feel it could use a little bit more encouragement with everything.”

As we mentioned earlier, Grainne has already been to Bangkok before, and indeed, has done a fair bit of travelling – spending time in Boston, San Francisco, and Spain – and with plenty more air-miles sure to be clocked up during the year ahead. But she’ll have to be careful not to have a repeat of what happened to her last Christmas! We’ll let Grainne explain…


“[Laughs] Is this the passport situation? [laughs]. I was going home for Christmas, and I was so excited about getting home to see my family. I was packing all my things, and packing all my presents, and didn’t realise that I didn’t have my passport! And I also didn’t have any photo i.d. at the time, because my purse had actually been stolen a few months before. So I got to the airport, realised I had no passport, it was Christmas time, so there wasn’t any other available flights to get home. So I started to panic, and I started to cry, and I was ringing my family saying I wasn’t going to get home, and that this was the most awful thing in the world! [laughs]. But then one of the girls that was working at the airport took pity on me and she checked my bag on herself, and took me up to the flight herself, and made sure I got on o.k. and everything. So it was great in the end. She was really, really nice.” 

The Miss Universe Ireland pageant 2018 wasn’t Grainne’s first venture into contests of this kind. She was actually crowned Miss Donegal in 2016, and was also the first runner-up in Miss Earth Northern Ireland in 2017. So I wondered when did Grainne first think about taking part in competitions like these?


“Yeah, my very first one was when I was Miss Donegal for Miss Ireland World in 2016, and I just entered that last minute. It was something that I’d always been interested in. Everybody told me it would be great for me to do that, so I just kind of thought well, why don’t I just go for it? And actually, Miss Universe Ireland was the first contest that I ever entered, but it didn’t actually end up happening that year. So Miss Universe Ireland was always my first dream, and my biggest dream. But before Brittany Mason took it over it was quite disordered, and disorganised. So it didn’t end up happening that year and that was when I decided to enter for Miss Ireland World instead, as Miss Donegal. It was a great platform, it was brilliant, but it just wasn’t to be the year for me. And again, Miss Earth, when I entered that, I think it finished the way it did for a reason, and that was because this one this year is the one I was supposed to get, ya know.”

For people who won’t know much about her yet, how would Grainne describe herself? 


“How would I describe myself? I kind of like everything! [laughs]. I like all different types of music. If you were on my phone you’d be thinkin’ what is this girl into?! Because I have everything from rap, to country, to pop, to Irish folk music! With t.v., I don’t get to watch much, because I’m quite busy. But if I’m free I like to sit in and watch some Netflix. And I love to run as well, and to swim in the sea when I can. Those are some of the things I like to do. As for my personality, well I’d like to think I’m quite bubbly, I’m definitely hard-working, I’m ambitious, I’m determined. And I feel like those are all good traits for me to have for being Miss Universe Ireland, and going on to compete in Miss Universe. And I suppose I’m quite talkative, too [laughs].” 

If, through being Miss Universe Ireland, Grainne could have the chance to meet anyone in the world, who would she want that to be, and why?


“Who would it be, and why? Hmmm. I don’t know actually. Oh my God, there’s so many people. I’ll have to think longer about that one! I don’t know. I’ll come back to you on that one [laughs].” 

As we came to the end of our chat on what I imagine will be Grainne’s last free Sunday for quite a while, I asked her if she had any kind of personal motto or mantra that she did her best to live by? 


“I do. What I live my life by is this: Anything worth having doesn’t come easy. And I’ve said that since I was very young. I just feel that if you work hard for something, that it’s always going to be worth it in the end. Because anything that you’ve worked hard for, is going to be something that you’ve really wanted. So it’s going to be something that you’ll look back on and be proud that you achieved. That’s definitely my motto, and it’s definitely something that I’ve stood by.”

Not only will Grainne stand out when it comes to beauty, brains, charm, and style in Bangkok next December, I don’t think there’ll be a sounder contestant there either. Maybe Buncrana should set aside December 18th for one hell of a party.

ENDS

Kathryn Thomas

First Published February 2015

KATHRYN THOMAS TRANSFORMING TULLAMORE

Kathryn Thomas

During the course of her career so far Kathryn Thomas has established herself as one of the most high-profile and well known presenters in the country. She’s someone many of us will remember from her earliest days on ‘Rapid’, with then Dublin football star Jason ‘Jayo’ Sherlock. From there, we clocked up God knows how many miles around the world with her, taking in all kinds of weird, wonderful, mad and exotic locations during her tenure as presenter of travel show, ‘No Frontiers.’ These days, of course, Kathryn graces our screens as host of the hugely successful, and influential, lifestyle show ‘Operation Transformation.’ Kathryn was in Tullamore last Saturday to open Clinical Fitness Tullamore (Thomas McLoughlin) in the Tanyard, and I had the pleasure of spending some time in her company. And on Valentine’s Day, too!

I began by asking Kathryn what she reckoned were the advantages of coming somewhere like Thomas’ superb new facility, Clinical Fitness Tullamore, for someone thinking of either starting a fitness plan or joining a gym for the first time?

“Well I think everybody needs support and everybody needs a bit of a kick-start when they’re looking to try something like that. Because if you haven’t been following a fitness plan I think it’s really difficult to do it on your own. So to be able to come somewhere like this, and have the likes of Thomas, who’s professionally trained, walk you through all the equipment and all the stations, well that’s exactly what you need. And also, I think once you make a decision to join, the first thing is you’ve parted with your money so that in itself is motivation to go! But as well, if you’ve made an appointment on a one-to-one basis, that’s an incentive too because you’re not going to let anyone down. I always say that the most difficult thing for people is actually walking through the door of somewhere like this and getting over that first fear. But I think Thomas is great and for people to have his level of support behind them will be brilliant, I mean, his knowledge of fitness is huge. And he has a huge passion for it as well, and I think for anyone starting up a business like this, passion is everything. You put your heart and soul into it, because it’s a big step to open in times like these. So what you have to be is passionate, and you have to believe in yourself, and that’s exactly what he does. It’s a fantastic facility here and I know he’s going to do really well.” 

In both her role as presenter of ‘Operation Transformation’ and in her own personal life, I was sure that Kathryn had probably seen more gyms than some people in need of gyms have probably had hot dinners! So what would Kathryn say makes Clinical Fitness Tullamore that bit different to what else is out there?

“Well basically it’s all body-weight focused here. If you go into other gyms, most gyms, you’ll see thread-mills, you’ll see spinning bikes, you’ll see all this sort of stuff. But what Thomas is doing is focusing on strength and conditioning using your own body weight. And what I like about that is that everyone, whether you’re 10 stone or 20 stone, can use this facility and it’s going to suit YOU. And you’ll see your strength increase as you go, and you’ll be able to gauge it. If you were able to do 3 rungs of the monkey bars starting off and then collapsing, well over the weeks if you can get to 5 and then 10, well you can see and feel the progress that you’re making.” 

Again, taking into account Kathryn’s position as presenter of ‘Operation Transformation’ and her own passion for fitness, I wondered what she saw as being the biggest threats to Irish health at the moment?

“Well it all comes down to our diet, Anthony. I mean for the World Health Organisation to turn around and say to us that with the way we’re going, in 5 years time we’ll be the fattest country in Europe, I mean that’s just shocking! In the past we’d always talk about America and the obesity crisis there, but we’re in the throes of an obesity crisis here, now. So I think it comes down to education and to teaching our kids early. ‘Operation Transformation’ has been campaigning for 4 years to get calories put on menus and finally it was enacted and announced that it was going to be law by Minister Varadker last week. And that was a lot of the pressure that was put on by the show. Not solely, of course, but what we did definitely contributed in a big way, I think. We got literally hundreds of thousands of people to sign up their support for something like that. And it’s about getting kids moving as well, you know, encouraging compulsory P.E. in schools. And again, through ‘Operation Transformation’, we’ve been showing that kids simply aren’t getting enough exercise. Even 30 minutes a day would make a massive difference to kids. So we need to start early, we need to get real about it, and people need to realise that it is a problem that we do need to tackle.” 

So where does Kathryn think the line is between governmental responsibility and parental or personal responsibility in this regard?

“I think it’s both. And I think if it’s enacted into law, as it was last week, then the government are taking it seriously. So what that means in turn is that parents are more encouraged to look at their kids and take a harder line with their diet and with exercise, you know. Because this is about the health of the next generation, and for the first time what we’re looking at now is seeing diseases like cancer, and heart diseases, in teenagers. All related to obesity, which has never happened before in the history of the modern world! And again, this is something I didn’t know, but it’s only through my involvement in the show, reading the stats, listening to people like Professor Donal O’Shea, well it leaves you going, my god, we have a major problem here!” 

Having already mentioned Minister Varadker, I wondered if he were to step down tomorrow and the call came through for Kathryn to fill the breach, would she have maybe 3 things in mind that she would try and implement straight away, given all that she’s learned and been exposed to from her time on ‘Operation Transformation’?

“Certainly. I’d be making P.E. compulsory for every child of school going age. I personally would introduce a health initiative whereby kids would be weighed yearly. It might sound severe, bu I think it would be a good way to help kids keep their weigh in check, and for adults to help them that way, too. Because I think what we’re seeing now is people who are overweight, and we’re saying, ‘Ah sure they’re grand’, you know? But in fact, they are overweight, or even obese. I mean, we’ve taken 4 years just to get calories on menus. I’m going out with a restaurateur and I know some people in the business don’t agree with that, but what it’s actually doing is facilitating people to make healthy choices, so I would definitely be a supporter of that. And I think it will make a difference. But people have to be realistic as well. If you’re going out for dinner and you’re looking at a meal and it’s 800 calories, you’re still going to enjoy it, you’ll just know you’ll have to work harder in the gym or on the road the next day! Or else, eat a little bit less the next day. It’s just about education.” 

So as regards staying fit and healthy herself, what are Kathryn’s main motivators? What keeps her going?

“Well Anthony, I love my food! My biggest downfall is cheese and red wine! Not the healthiest of choices! And I love going out for dinner, hanging out with my friends. I have pizza on a Sunday, I have take-aways, I do all of that. So because of that, I’m actually prone to putting on weight. So I have to work really hard to maintain what I am. I work out twice a week with a personal trainer, and I have 2 dogs as well, who need to be walked every day, twice a day. So all of that kind of keeps me fit. I’d be quite healthy during the week, in terms of I’d eat a lot of fruit and veg. But at the weekend the pause button is pressed and all of that goes out the window! But I try and get back into on Monday.” 

And would Kathryn be the kind for setting yearly goals for fitness? Or because her job can kind of take her anywhere at any time, is it more consistency that she aims for?

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the way it is and the way I am, in that I try to stay consistent. I don’t really have a routine job that has you somewhere from 9 to 5 and all that. I can kind of be all over the place. So yeah, I would say that it;s consistency that I strive to achieve.”

Kathryn has already been to the fore in 2 hugely successful shows which have revolved around subjects about which she’s passionate; travel with ‘No Frontiers’, and health and fitness with ‘Operation Transformation’. I wondered if Kathryn’s role in either of those shows came about because of her passion for those subjects, or if it was the other way round, that those subjects became passions because of her involvement in the shows?

“Hmm, good question! Well, I was very lucky to get into travel. I used to work on a sports programme years ago , ‘Rapid’, with Jason Sherlock, I think I was only 19 or 20. So what happened there was that Jayo, who was the big sports star at the time, his role on the show was all the serious sporting interviews, and my role became sort of action/adventure girl! I did bungee-jumping, sky-diving, shark-diving…..anything that he was too scared to do, I’d end up getting to do it! And we did a lot of travel at that time, I mean that was even my first time ever in America with the show. So on the back of that show was where ‘No Frontiers’ came knocking, asking would I like to put a back-pack on and go travelling around the world for a year? And I thought to myself, well this sounds like an easy decision to make! So that was it. And obviously my love of travel grew because I worked for 10 years on the show after that. And I’d always try to maintain my fitness on the road too, you know. I always had an interest in fitness. The travel developed because of the show, but with ‘Operation Transformation’, I’d say it was the perfect show for me because I’d already developed a huge interest in health and fitness. And the producers of that show, they knew I was already genuinely interested in that. And of course, that I’d struggled with my own weight before, when I was in school I was overweight and I’d spoken openly about it. So I think they thought that I’d be a good fit for the show.” 

So, with 2 great passions of Kathryn’s life already in the can as far as tv shows go, I wondered if there’s a 3rd great passion that we might expect to see Kathryn grace our screens with sometime in the future?

“Oooh, well! Well I’m innately nosey! And I think through the little bit of radio I’ve been doing over the last few years, I’ve realised I’m actually a better listener that I thought! I always thought I was the ‘mouthpiece’, because that’s my profession, talking for a living. But actually I love the radio and I love listening to peoples’ stories, hearing all sorts of stuff about their lives. So, even though it sounds like a cliche, Anthony, I would love to do a talk-show or a chat-show a little further down the line. I don’t think that I’m ready for that couch just yet, but I’d like to think that it’s a plan for the future.” 

ENDS