Tara Mooney

First Published January 2022

THE POWER OF THE POSITIVE

Part 2

Back at the beginning of November we featured Part 1 of our chat with as inspirational a woman as you’re ever likely to cross paths with, the force of nature that is TARA MOONEY

Not only is the Edenderry native a fitness instructor, personal trainer, one of RINKA Ireland’s leading lights, and – in what spare time she might have left – a model and brand ambassador (FitPink Fitness and Complex Wear) she’s also making a name for herself on the Irish and international powerlifting scene. In fact, since we first spoke to Tara a few weeks back, it’s been revealed that she placed Top Twenty in the ABS Series of competitions for 2021…across no less than NINE countries. 

It’s a list of reasons exactly like that, and the fact that Tara seems to be fuelled by positivity as much as by a healthy and carefully designed and prepared diet, that make her such an impressive and inspirational figure. This, let us not forget, is a lady who thought nothing of the fact that she had recovered from a broken back to eventually begin her career in the fitness industry, a fact that only came to light as an aside at the very end of our chat! This is also the lady who travelled to Berlin to take on one of Germany’s biggest fitness stars and social media influencers after only a few weeks of proper preparation…and came within a few reps of coming home victorious. That battle has been viewed almost 1.5 MILLION times on YouTube.

As magnificent as all of that is – and it is – the most admirable trait in Tara’s make-up is undoubtedly her positivity. It’s just impossible to sit and chat with her without laughter permeating the conversation, and feeling your energy levels rise simply by being in her presence. Not just the mark of a good fitness instructor or personal trainer, if you ask me, but the mark of a good soul as well. Tara is the kind of person you’d go into battle with. And definitely not someone you’d want to go into battle against! 

To begin Part 2 of our chat, I asked Tara how much her training routine changes – if at all – when she has a competition coming up? 

“It’s pretty much the same. If I’m doing a competition, that means I’m doing weight-training four days a week. I’ll put more effort into my cardio as well because I’ll need to drop weight for the competition, and I’ll obviously put more effort into my food. Food is major. I prep all my food. I walk around with my Tupperware when I’m in work, when I go to my parents house, everywhere. It’s the norm with me! That’s my lifestyle. I still have a meal here or there as well, I have to live as well, but I do prep my food, plan it, bring it with me, all of that. Food is probably more important than training. If you want to lose weight, it’s more important than going into the gym. Definitely.” 

Tara is also the lead midland’s instructor for the company Rinka, and just like powerlifting, it’s something that she’s  passionate about…

“I LOVE it! I would have loved it when I was a kid. It’s for kids who don’t fall into GAA, that don’t make the swimming team, that can’t kick the ball straight. It’s for them. Because what is there for them? There’s nothing. So, they fall off being active, they don’t enjoy sports because it’s so competitive. It’s for these kids. I do it everywhere, Athlone, Moate, different venues, sometimes birthday parties as well, schools, pre-schools, everywhere, you name it. We go in and make exercise fun. They’re in a sweat leaving! They’ve had so much fun. It’s so much craic. We’d do jumping-jacks, but for the little ones we’d get them to be like a soldier, so they have to be really serious. Or a star, and they have to have a big smile. They’re doing jumping-jacks and they don’t even realise it. Or it could be squat-jumps where they’re Peppa Pig jumping into a puddle, simple stuff like that. It’s really, really good for kids who don’t fall into competitive sports. It’s all about praise as well. If you have a child that missed nine out of the ten kicks, we focus on that one that they got and tell them how amazing it was, and how great they are. And if they can’t do something, you praise them for trying and giving it a go. They’re leaving the class after being active, and they’re feeling good about themselves.

Tara continued, “I adore it. I have kids who have nearly grown up with me, they’ve been doing it for three or four years. I get so much out of this kind of work. It’s going to be so interesting to see them as adults because they have this foundation in being active. We do mindfulness with them as well, so we talk about how if they’re feeling angry, they can calm themselves down with breathing [exercises]. We talk about healthy eating, we talk about how much water they should drink. In the space of fifty minutes, so much is packed in there, and I absolutely adore it. You can tell by me talking about it that I do [laughs]. I have a helper with me, because obviously for toilet-breaks and stuff like that to keep an eye on everyone, because we could have fourteen, fifteen kids in a class. And yeah, we do classes all over Ireland. RINKA have been on TV, on ‘Nationwide’, they’re an Irish company actually, based in Donegal. I’m the instructor for the midlands area.” 

So how did Tara become involved with RINKA? 

“I saw it advertised, and I was like, ‘Kids Fitness Instructor? Oh my God, I’d love this!’ [Laughs]. I’m nuts, I’m so on the level of kids [laughs]. We had a training day with RINKA, and they were just like, you’re perfect for it! I’m one of the kids, like!”

Although Tara herself isn’t the kind of person to even think of herself as being a role-model in a bigger-picture sense, for anybody on the outside looking in at her life and her achievements, there’s just no doubt that a role-model is exactly what she is. Through her work with RINKA, as well as being a Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor, and most importantly of all, of course, being a mum, Tara is more than well aware of the importance and the power of a positive example. But does it ever cross her mind how much of a role-model, whether she likes it or not, that she actually is for so many people? 

“I don’t really. I would like to think that I’m more relatable to people. I wouldn’t like somebody to look at me and say, ‘Wow, well I could never do that.’ I want the opposite of that. I want somebody to think, ‘If she can do it, I can do it!’ That’s what I want. I want to be relatable in that way. And that’s what it is. I mean, I WAS somebody who was never able to do a push-up. Or a pull-up! I always wanted to be able to do a pull-up! I always wanted to be able to do that. So that’s how I’d like to be seen, as someone who went out and proved she could, ya know. I’d never want to put myself on a pedestal. I’d be so embarrassed if I thought that! And I think on my Instagram as well, I think you can see that I don’t really put myself out there and… ‘sell’…this image that I’m whatever, glamorous, or amazing, or anything like that. I want to be very relatable. Because I am. I’m a normal person. I always encourage people to ask me questions. I’ve been from A to…, well, I don’t think I’m at Z yet! [Laughs]. I think I have more still to achieve [laughs]. But I’ve been every step of the way. I mean, when I started, I couldn’t run, so I was walking. I know how hard it is to get there, and how it has to be step-by-step. So people can come and ask me anything. It’s the same with my PT clients. Goals are very achievable things once you have the knowledge, and once you’re accepting of the fact that it won’t be a perfect and straight road as well.” 

Does Tara remember the moment when she knew or decided that she wanted to get into fitness as a career?

“I was actually working on reception here [in the Bridge House Hotel, where she now works in the Leisure Club], and I was powerlifting at that time, into fitness, and I was always training down in the gym. Damien, the gym manager at the time, would always be coming over to me at reception and joking, ‘You’re wasted here, wasted here!’ [laughs]. I had no gym qualifications at the time, but everybody knew how into fitness I was, so eventually we were able to arrange for me to make that switch over. And when I went over there, that’s when I went and got my qualifications so that I could teach as well. That was it. And I’ve never left! I’m like the furniture down there [laughs].” 

Who are the heroes or inspirations in Tara’s life? 

“There’s loads! I look up to all the girls on the ABS Powerlifting team. It’s a club with 150 members. And my God, if you think I’m strong, you need to see these girls! They’re incredible, unbelievable. When you train with them, man, they keep you on top of your game. They’re crazy strong. They’re travelling all over the world. When you train with them, they’re inspiring. ABS stands for Advanced Barbell Systems. It’s the biggest powerlifting club in Ireland. The guy that owns it is the Irish coach, he’s my coach when I’m powerlifting. The strongest people in Ireland are in that club. One of the guys there is squatting 430 kilos, that’s a LOT! It’s crazy! We actually had him down in the gym here for an open day. He might sound intimidating, but he’s really good craic, so he was entertaining. And my kids, of course! Daniel and Georgia. I always want to inspire them, and make them believe as they get older that they can achieve anything. And anything they want to be, that they can do it. And my partner, Carlos, he’s incredible. He’s bodybuilding at the moment, he’s very inspiring in his own right as well. What he’s going through [in his training], I wouldn’t have the self-discipline for. He’s from Spain, and we actually met through powerlifting. He’s extremely focused, way more than me, WAY more than me [laughs]. It’s inspiring to live with somebody like that because they can keep you on track. I’m a very boring person, because it’s all fitness orientated. So to be with someone who has the same interests, that’s great.” 

I wondered if Tara had a life-motto, or any piece of advice that she was ever given that has always stayed with her? 

“You get judged for being a woman and weight-lifting. You definitely get judged. But there’s a saying I love that goes, ‘To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.’ So women, don’t be afraid of weights. There’s a big misconception that you’re going to get bulky. Or a lot of people who I would have for PTs, they’d look at my upper body and be like, ‘I don’t want my upper body to get too big’, and I’m like, don’t worry, it took me a LOT of work to get this big. You won’t get that big. So don’t be afraid of lifting weights. It’s not gonna make you look like a man [laughs]. If anything, it’s very flattering, it’s a flattering look. When you go into the gym, don’t be afraid of lifting weights in front of guys, thinking they’re going to be judging you or anything like that. They should be in their own heads, and if they’re not, it means they’re not working hard enough [laughs]. That’s all important to realise. Things are changing now, strong women are seen as feminine.”

Anyone who follows Tara on Instagram will notice that she rarely posts a gym selfie or video minus her headphones. So what does she listen to to fire-up her work-outs? 

“You don’t want to know the stuff I listen to! [Laughs]. It’s f*&ed up! [Laughs]. It’s pretty heavy stuff. Depends on my mood. There’s a band called Neffex that I really love. The last competition that I had, they asked me which song did I want on my video, and I picked their song ‘Fight Back.’ I love that song, it’s very inspirational. I was training for something recently and I listened to the audio-book of ‘Relentless‘, it’s about a coach called Tim Grover who worked with Michael Jordan, and he talks about different athletes and their mentality, and how to be relentless. Some of the things in it are a bit too much, because you can’t just give up on family life, you need a balance to things. But it’s very interesting in terms of the mentality that the likes of Michael Jordan had, and how zoned-in they were on being successful. They’d win a whole tournament, and straight away be like, I want the next one! ‘Relentless’, excellent book!”

So for somebody thinking about trying to get fit but they’re worried about it, nervous about it, or they just don’t know where to start, what would Tara advise them to do? 

“If you’re a complete beginner, definitely get a coach or an instructor. That’s what they’re there for. And they’ll definitely be 100% on your team. Because it is, it’s scary at the start. A lot of women say to me that they’re intimidated going into the weights-room in a gym, but I’m like, girl, they don’t know what they’re doing either! [Laughs]. But if you have somebody with you who shows you the ropes, so you can have the confidence to know you have the correct form and everything, that’s important. So to start off anyway, and that’s not saying that you’ll need one all the time. And take it step-by-step. A lot of people, when they’re dieting, they’ll start where they’re eating whatever they want, but then they go to 1,600 calories, and for me that’s insane. You want to be losing weight on as much food as possible. I would always say start high and work your way down slowly, because you will plateau. And if you start plateauing at 1,600 calories, where do you go from there? If you go to 1,400, it’s just not gonna happen, you’ll fall off track. Then you’ll just beat yourself up about it. Slow and steady wins the race.” 

Do different diets – vegan or vegetarian, for example – affect how people can train? 

“No, I don’t think so. Once they’re getting enough protein in other ways, I don’t think it would affect things, definitely not. But Keto, and things like that, I don’t really agree with cutting back on carbs, especially if you’re training. Not a good idea! The girl that I went up against in Berlin, she was a vegan. And she was strong! [Laughs].” 

And what about advice for someone who might be really struggling with their motivation, either to get back to training or to stay training? What words of wisdom would Tara offer in those circumstances? 

“I would say that 80% is better than 0%. A lot of people go in and go hell for leather, 100%. But if you have one day of sitting on your ass and not eating chicken and rice, that’s ok. But people have this mentality where it has to be all or nothing. There needs to be a bit of consistency. If you put 80% in, that’s so much better than nothing. 20% is nothing. It’s like an overweight person eating one healthy meal and expecting to lose weight. If you’re keeping on track and you have one bad meal, you’re not going to put on weight. Just be fair on yourself. It doesn’t have to be 100% [all the time]. Don’t rely on motivation. Be disciplined. Have your structure. It will be difficult in the beginning, but eventually you will completely rely on it, and you’ll actually enjoy that structure. 

~ You can find, follow, and contact Tara on Instagram at @tinypowermum

ENDS

Neil Delamere

First Published December 2021

LIFE’S A DANCE

“Yeah, we’re about a week or so in. It’s very enjoyable, I have to say. You’re being trained by a world champion. I mean, how often do you get a chance to be trained by someone who’s so talented at what they do? It’s great fun. You get into it, you really get into it. The thing about me is I have nothing to judge it off from the start. I haven’t done as much as a dance class along the way, of any kind! So there’s no frame of reference for how quickly I’ll pick something up or maybe how slowly I’ll pick something up! But it’s been great fun so far.” 

With his journey as part of next year’s DANCING WITH THE  STARS IRELAND class just getting underway, there seems to be little doubt that comedian NEIL DELAMERE is taking it all in his stride. With the hit show finally set to return to our TV screens in January, Delamere – amazingly – is one of TWO Offaly men who will be aiming to get their hands on that prized Glitterball, with rugby star Jordan Conroy also looking to impress on the dancefloor. And Neil – who brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th next – has already seen the signs of his new sequined self beginning to emerge, as he explained when we caught up for a chat about DWTSIrl, and more, last week…

“Some things are coming easier than others, but it’s incredible how quickly you get into it, in terms of you’re doing steps when you’re walking around the house…or, I said this on The Late Late Show…I’ll put on the indicator of my car, and as it goes tick, tick, tick, I’m goin’, ‘One, two, three, four, five,six, seven, eight…!’ So the patterns are getting into your brain!” 

I suspect that Neil has a competitive side to him. Will we see that in this competition?


“Haha, well I have a competitive side to me IF I have the ability to compete! If it becomes evident very quickly that there are some people who are amazing dancers and the rest of us are just making up the numbers, well then you’ll just kind of enjoy it on that basis. But ah yeah, listen, I’ll give it what I can, and after that let the chips fall where they may!” 

Somewhere else I didn’t expect to see Neil showing up in the coming weeks was on Ireland’s Fittest Family. But sure enough, he’s taking part in the show’s Celebrity Special at the end of December. Also taking part is someone else I’m lucky enough to know pretty well, Grainne Gallanagh, who was Miss Universe Ireland in 2018. I put it to Neil that this – no more so than Dancing With The Stars – was definitely a different kind of show for him…


“Well, it came about because of Covid, and because my normal schedule wasn’t what it normally is. I was asked to do it and I said I’d love to. You have a couple of months lead-in time, about six weeks lead-in or whatever – and then you have some degree of focus, ya know. You know you have to get this done or otherwise you won’t be fit enough to do the show. It was as much about me saying this will give me some sort of structure on my weeks, because as you know, because of Covid we were restricted in what we were allowed to do and what we weren’t allowed to do. Comics, without a deadline, we tend to not be massively creative! It’s not like writing a book or doing a TV show, so you need something where you have to have a show done by X day. So, I had a lot of time, and I also didn’t have the usual structure on the year that I’d always have, so I went yeah, absolutely, I’m gonna do it. I got a team together, and it was us against Grainne, Sinead Quinlan, and the Happy Pear as well. We did it for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland. I can’t tell you who won, but if you look at who’s in and judge the fitness of people on sight, you’ll probably be in the ball-park of who did! [Laughs].” 

In Dancing With The Stars and the Celebrity Special of Ireland’s Fittest Family, we’d already touched on two huge upcoming events in Neil’s life. But never a man to do things by halves, there’s something even bigger coming up in 2022. In fact, it’s Neil’s biggest solo show ever, and it’s happening at the SSE Arena in Belfast in March ??? 


“Biggest solo show I’ve ever done, yeah. I’ve done gigs to ten thousand people before, but on mixed bills. Can’t wait to do it. I was up having a look at the Arena the other day, the Belfast Giants Arena, and it looks spectacular. And again, that sprang from Covid, from wanting to give myself something to aim for in these weird times when we don’t know what’s going on, ya know. So ya kind of force yourself into, ‘Oh God, this is happening…write jokes, write jokes, write jokes!’ I can’t wait for it. I think it will change the way I do the show in some ways, because a big, big room might not have the usual messing and interplay that I would have with the front row if people can’t really see the front row! [Laughs]. I know from playing the really, really, big rooms that you have to do it in a different rhythm, you almost have to wait for the wave of laughter to come back. It’s a slightly different technique. And I’m very grateful that ‘The Blame Game’, which we’re doing at the moment, is allowed a small ‘live’ audience, and that kind of keeps the name out there in the north still.” 

Neil’s current tour is called Liminal (relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process) and from the meaning of the word, my guess was that it’s to do with the place the world finds itself in with Covid, amongst other things as well. I wondered if I was correct in that assumption, and if I was, where, in fact, does Neil think we – as a country and a planet – are with Covid at this stage? 


“I think overall Ireland has done very well. Our vaccine roll-out has been amazing, and I think our vaccine uptake has been amazing. Smaller countries in Europe tend to do better than their larger neighbours in terms of social cohesion. In terms of how many people passed away, our figures were much lower than say the UK. I don’t know how far we are into this. My worry would be that we may not be as far in as people think. And selfishly, I suppose, for people in the arts, we’re wondering what’s going to be left at the end of all this. My worry wouldn’t be for the people that are going ten or fifteen or twenty years, that they’ll be removed from the scene. My worry is for the younger people – either younger in age or in experience – doing their respective music, dancing, comedy, whatever it is. They may well have been washed out of the system by Covid. So we could lose all these important and exciting new voices. The rest of us will be fine. If we’ve built up enough touring, and enough TV shows, and enough radio, we can afford – almost – to take a hit. But my worry is that we would lose the next generation of people, ya know.” 

Neil mentioned how the way he performs his show in a bigger venue might have to change slightly, but I wondered if how he writes his material had to change over the last twenty months or so too. So much of what he does is observational, comes from being out in the world, around people and with people. Did the lockdowns, and Covid in general, change his creative process much? 


“That’s a very good point. I suppose it didn’t change the observation as much as much as it changed the anecdotal stuff. A lot of the time you’re telling stories and you’re animating the stories with observations and characterisations and stuff. But you are still telling stories about what had happened to you. If you haven’t done anything [laughs] – because most of us didn’t do anything for a fairly protracted period of time – what do ya talk about? ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ have given me ten minutes of material sort of thing. It’s not why I did them [laughs], that’s a beneficial extra from the two of them. But it’s such a strange world to be thrust into, that you can’t fail to get some stuff out of them. Also, I probably have a decent closer for the SSE Arena and for the Tullamore Court Hotel and everywhere else, because I know Des [Bishop] when he did it years ago, I think he used to bring his pro dancer and they’d dance at the end. So, ya know something…I wouldn’t rule it out! I haven’t talked to my pro dancer about it yet, but it seems like a cool way to end a really big show. It’s something I would definitely consider if I was any good anyway [laughs].” 

Looking at everything that’s happened since March of 2019 when Covid kicked in – and even going back a little bit before that to when Neil and I last spoke – there’s been so much absurdity. From almost everything to do with Boris Johnson in the UK, to Trump and January 6th in the States, to the whole anti-vax movement here, and more. From a comedian’s perspective, what’s been the most absurd moment of it all? 


Well January 6th was completely off the wall, I thought. I almost couldn’t believe that was happening. If a couple of things had gone a different way, maybe if Mike Pence had made some decisions in another way, it could have been much more serious. That, in terms of one day, was bizarre. The Dominic Cummings thing and how he was supported by a Prime Minister who has since completely removed his support. I mean, Cummings driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was so absurd! Boris Johnson is the gift that keeps on giving. All I’ll say is his testicles are as fertile as his imagination! As good as he is as a comedy source, I wouldn’t wish him as a Prime Minister on anybody. We criticise politicians in Ireland, but there’s a lot to be said about a steady, seasoned hand at the tiller, both in terms of Michael D. Higgins and some of the members of the government. I think we can be overly harsh on them in a very difficult – VERY difficult – scenario for them.” 

Going back to events on the horizon for Neil, he’s also filmed Pointless Celebrities


“I did! I love a quiz. Since we last spoke, I did Richard Osman’s ‘House of Games’, which is the big one, you do five episodes and you’re on for the entire week. I managed to nip a victory in that at the last minute. So you’re paired with somebody else in ‘Pointless Celebrities’, and all I’m saying is I DID ok! My partner, however…may be a different story [laughs]. So people can look out for that fairly soon as well [laughs].” 

Between getting himself ready for Ireland’s Fittest Family, and now for Dancing With The Stars, Neil – certainly from a fitness point of view – will definitely have been seeing some positive changes in himself over the last few months. Indeed, this whole period of humanity has changed many people, some in good ways, but some more – unfortunately – in bad ways. In a general sense, has Neil noticed any changes in himself and maybe how he sees life? 


“I’d be more inclined [now] to do something that’s a bit off the wall. Like, I have been approached about doing ‘Dancing With The Stars’ several times before, and either I couldn’t do it or I wasn’t ready to do it in some ways. This is the year where I kinda went, well listen, who knows what’s gonna happen next year in terms of what we’re allowed do ‘live’, but another part of me – that’s kind of the legacy of this last eighteen, twenty months – is just do something that scares the hell out of ya! Why not?! Life is too short. Particularly in the western world, we go through periods of thinking we can control things. If you get sick, you get antibiotics. If something goes wrong, well you can pay someone to fix it. If it’s something with your health, you can get an operation. We tend to think we can control things, but actually, every so often, God/ the universe/ whatever you believe in, throws a curve ball at us. And that’s what Covid has been. And there’s a freedom in relinquishing that control in some ways. Covid has made me more likely to take risks and do something brand new because who knows what the future holds really?” 

Neil has his huge show at the SSE Arena coming up next year, and he’s also had some gigs in gorgeous churches – of all places – in recent times. But, if he was to plan his perfect show, here’s what I wanted to know. Where would his venue be, what three guests would he invite along to chat to, and what musical act would he choose to close out the night? 


“Hmm. Let me see. I think in terms of places I’ve played before, I’d say Vicar Street. It’s a fantastic venue, and I’m playing there again soon. It has the roar of a thousand, eleven-hundred people, which is a great roar. But it’s physically intimate enough for everybody to feel connected to what’s going on on stage. So it would probably be Vicar Street as the venue. The three guests that I would like to interview, off the top of my head…David Attenborough would be one. I think he’s absolutely fascinating. There’s nearly a hundred years there of wisdom, and he’s such a brilliant communicator. I think he’d be first on the list. Second on the list, would be Mark Rylance who is an actor people would know from ‘Bridge Of Spies’, and from ‘Wolf Hall’, and ‘Dunkirk’. I’m actually going to see him very soon in the West End. He’s one of those magnetic presences on the screen, that you cannot take your eyes off. I’m hoping that he’d be able to replicate that if you were having a chat. I think he sees the world in an interesting way in his work. So I wonder would that be the same if you met him in person, ya know. I’ll come back to the third person, but a musical act to close the gig off entirely? I would reform Oasis! For one gig! Because first of all, nobody has ever got them to do that. And secondly, the music of when you were a teenager holds a special place in everybody’s heart. I think that would be…oh my good God! [Laughs]. What a night that would be! Just for one night only. And my third guest…let me see…I think I would pick somebody like Orla Guerin, the BBC war correspondent. I think she’s seen a huge amount of the world and what people do to each other, great heroism, great sacrifice, and great cruelty. So, assuming that the gig has been great fun, and assuming that at the end of it it’s going to be lifted in an amazingly unique way by the reformed Gallagher brothers [laughs], and assuming that David Attenborough is going to give us some wisdom, and Mark Rylance is going to give us some laughs and some wisdom, I think we can go fairly deep about humanity with Orla, knowing that that’s the light and the shade. I think that would be an unbelievably good night out!” 


Finally, and we didn’t know when we spoke that there would be another address to the nation only days later, I asked Neil to put himself at that lectern outside Government Buildings in Dublin. If either Micháel Martin had called on Neil to don the green jersey as it were, face the cameras and deliver a message to the people of Ireland ahead of 2022 getting here…what thoughts would he have shared with a weary nation? 


“I think we should be proud of ourselves and how well we’ve done so far. We do, as a small country, tend to compare ourselves to other countries, and broadly speaking, if you look at the figures, we have done very well. And we’ve done well because we’ve looked after each other. That’s what I would say. And let’s all continue to look after each other. The country is a much better place when we [all] consider other people. That old Irish phrase, ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’ (There’s no strength without unity) is the thing that comes to my head. That’s all I’d say. The country doesn’t need me to preach to them. That’s the thing about comedy gigs. People go to them to get away from life. They go to get away from their troubles for a while. And when we have been allowed to do things, you could see that people were going to escape the news-cycle. So let’s just stick together, and this too shall pass.” 


DANCING WITH THE STARS returns to our screens in January. Before then, on December 29th, you can catch Neil in the Celebrity Special of IRELAND’S FITTEST FAMILY. Neil brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th, with tickets ON-SALE NOW. For more details, check out www.neildelamere.com 

ENDS

TARA MOONEY

First Published November 2021

UNBREAKABLE

Part 1

It says a lot about how humble someone is when you can spend the best part of an hour talking to them about their life and career in fitness, and it’s only after you’ve finished that they just happen to mention in passing about that time when they broke their back once. It reveals more than just a genuine humility too. It hints at strength of mind that’s close to ironclad. Your body simply won’t bounce back from something like a broken back – and eventually lead you into the world of competitive powerlifting – unless your mind is totally under your control, and is a constantly stoked furnace fuelling your thoughts every day.

But that’s TARA MOONEY for you, humble, and pretty much unbreakable.

There are several different titles you can apply to the Edenderry native in trying to describe her.

Tara is a fitness instructor, a personal trainer, a fierce competitor and a proven warrior when it comes to powerlifting, and one of Rinka’s lead instructors in Ireland. But the truth is that none of those –either alone or combined – quite do her justice.

There’s more to her than just what she does. The secret to appreciating the presence of a spirit like hers in this world is to watch how such a spirit does things. Listen to how positive they always are when they talk. Be aware of how often they laugh. Take in how easily they can laugh at themselves, too. And pay attention to how passionate they become when they talk about the joy that helping others brings them.

If you ever have the chance to sit in conversation with Tara for even a little while, you’ll experience all of the above, and in abundance.

The same Tara who didn’t think that bouncing back from a broken back was any big deal, probably won’t think there’s anything too special about all those other things either. But that’s what some of the world’s best souls are always like. It’s because they’re humble that they’re unbreakable. And it’s because they’re unbreakable that they’re inspirational.

When I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tara for a chat about her life as a competitive powerlifter, and so much more, I began by asking her to explain the difference between powerlifting and weightlifting…

“They’re completely different. With weightlifting, you have your Olympic weightlifting – what you see there – but with powerlifting, you have three different lifts in the competition. You have your squat, your bench, and your deadlift. The whole idea is that the squat is power for your legs, the bench is your push-power, and your deadlift is your pull-power. It’s challenging and testing all of those areas. So to be good at it, you need to be good at all three. With weightlifting, it’s usually one lift that people do. It might be a clean-and-jerk, maybe a snatch or something like that. It’s just about getting the weight over their head or off the ground. But powerlifting is a strength test. In powerlifting you have to do all three. Now, you can do single-lifts, which is just push, which is bench. Or just deadlift, no squat. But generally, it’s all three lifts. You get three chances at each one and your highest one – the one you get the most weight in – is taken, and they’re all added for your total. You get to pick your first lift. So it can be complicated as well. Say if I go in with a 100 kilo squat, well if I don’t get that, I can’t go back down with my weight. Your second attempt has to be 100 kilos as well. If you go to a third attempt, and you don’t get it again, you’re out of the competition, and you don’t even get to the bench. Now, if you get your 100 kilos, you can go up by 2.5 kilos. So you can progress that way. But you need to be really careful about your first lift.” 

So there’s actually tactics involved really? 

“Absolutely, yeah. So you’ll be in a competition with a [weight] class, and I’ve done this before to win a competition. It was neck and neck with another girl. For your points at the end, the lower your body-weight and the more you lift, the more points you get. So we were neck and neck. I put in that I was doing a 150 kilo deadlift, so she went in with a number then to basically beat me. She went and she lifted that. But you can change again for your last deadlift. I did that, got the lift, and I won it. So I kinda tricked her [laughs]. So yeah, it is tactical, absolutely.” 

And is it tactical in the sense that you can also prepare tactics beforehand, as opposed to on the fly? 

“You prepare for it. Your opener, your first lift, you want it to be something you’ll get any day of the week. You go in there, you smash it, you’ve got it. The nerves will get at you, so you want it to be something that you know you’ll get. But, on the day you could go in, do your warm-up, and you just don’t feel it. So you could go down [on weight], you can change before the competition starts. I always say that my first lift will be something that I’ll hit comfortably any day of the week. My second lift is near enough my max. And the third lift, let’s go hell-for-leather! Let’s just f$&king go for it [laughs].” 

One of the most remarkable parts of Tara’s story is how, just nine months after beginning to train – while still working in an office, and being a single mum to her children Daniel and Georgia – she ended up being flown to Berlin to battle a famous German fitness model Cornelia Ritzke, a contest which has now been viewed almost 1.5 million times on YouTube. But before we spoke about Berlin itself, I asked Tara to take me back in time to nine months before that, when all of this began…

“I’d had kids, put on a bit of weight when I got pregnant, and like 90% of women I said I’m going to go to the gym and lose the baby weight. Now, I started from complete scratch, I mean I couldn’t do a single push-up. I was doing classes and getting programs from fitness instructors and I really enjoyed it. It was my hour away from the kids as well, so I used that as my me-time. I was doing a little bit of weights, on the treadmill running, didn’t really know what I was doing, it was very basic stuff. A guy that I was starting to see was into powerlifting, and he was down one end of the gym lifting crazy weights and shouting, all this mad stuff going on! [Laughs]. I was down with my little dumbbells doing my biceps curls! So they said to me to come up and do a bit of lifting, and I was actually so intimidated, but I said you know what, I’ll give it a go. The first lift I did was a deadlift, and I was hitting alright numbers, I think I started with 80 kilos, and I was about 50 kilos at the time, so that was a decent enough number for that weight, considering I’d never done anything before.”

“But I suppose”, continued Tara, “because I’d done horse-riding before, I did have a little bit of an athletic background before I had the kids, that probably stood to me. There was a bit of strength there. But in a matter of weeks, I was up over 100 kilos. Now, when I look back, my form was terrible, I don’t know how I didn’t break myself up [laughs]. But, I could lift that weight. So then there was a bench-press competition in Tullamore – and I’m somebody who just says yes to everything, I’m a yes girl [laughs] – and I said, I’ll do it! I’ve never bench-pressed before in my life, but I’ll practise and train for it. And I came third in that. For women, it was half your body weight, as many reps as possible. So for me, I think it was something like 30 kilos, and I did it for 30 reps, which was decent enough. I had only trained for three weeks! That was it, I was hooked! I was like, I absolutely love this! So I started training, signed myself up for my first powerlifting competition, went and did that. And again, when I look back [laughs], I’m like oh my God! I was terrible [laughs]. I mean, I lifted decent weights, but I looked terrible doing it. And I thought I knew what I was doing! But that was it. I loved it, and I just never looked back.” 

Was it the adrenaline that Tara became hooked on?

“It’s chasing the numbers. Everyone goes to the gym because you want to look good. But that’s something that’s just so broad to try and achieve, you’re never gonna hit it, you’re never gonna be happy. You can get lean, build this, tone down on that, but you’ll still pick yourself apart. So you come out of the gym, yeah, you’ve had an alright session, but you still haven’t hit your goal. With powerlifting, you’re chasing numbers. You’re preparing for competitions. So when you go in there [to the gym], it’s performance based. And you hit it. You go there, you do what’s got to be done, you hit your numbers, you tick things off the list, and you achieve something. You walk out of there and you feel like you’ve achieved something, rather than this unattainable goal of ‘looking right.’ It’s completely different. That’s why my mindset changed. I felt like I was training for performance, and that makes you feel good about yourself.” 

So, onto Berlin! How did that happen?

“Because I’m a yes girl! [Laughs]. The guy that I was seeing, we used to watch this show called ‘Strength Wars’ on YouTube. It used to come out every week. They’d have these crazy strong guys from different countries that would battle each other. It was like a tournament and the guys that won the most matches would fight each other in the final. Then they started advertising that they were going to do a female version, which had never been done before. The girl I ended up going against, I’d seen her on ‘Strength Wars’ before, because it’s a German show, and I was always looking at her and going, holy crap, she’s amazing and she looks so strong. I put her way up here [on a pedestal], unbelievable. So we said we’d put my name down for the craic [laughs]. They got back in touch asking me what could I deadlift, can you do pull-ups…I was like, yeah, I can do pull-ups…but I couldn’t! [Laughs]. I was like, ‘Yeah, of course I can!’ [Laughs]. I didn’t think I was going to get picked! Two or three weeks later, I got a message saying congratulations, you’ve been picked to go. So I thought, awesome, I’ll learn all these things that I said I could do [laughs].”

Tara continued, “So I asked them how long did I have [until the competition], and they said three weeks! And I was like, daaaamn! [laughs]. So I went to the gym, and I got a pull-up bar and I mean I practised pull-ups every…single…day! I made a rule with myself that everytime I passed through my bedroom door, I would do as many pull-ups as I could. So I’d start off with just one…and barely. Then the next day, I’d try and get more. And I did that consistently for three weeks.  Now ok, when I look back on that show, I did crappy pull-ups [laughs]. But, I did 35 after only three weeks training. They’d never done that show before, and they’ve never done it since. She was a fitness model, kind of a glamour model as well, a huge Instagram following in Germany, and I was the complete opposite. She was seeing the producer of the show, and I think she wanted an easy win, but I’ll tell ya, I gave her a run for her money! [Laughs]. She was on magazine covers and everything, and I was a mum from Tullamore, with two kids, and working in an office in a hotel! I knew I was going in as the underdog, but I’m the most determined person you’ll ever meet. I didn’t win, but I only lost by 3 reps for the whole thing. But I was happy because I’d only been doing it for a few months. And I dominated all the way up to the last pull-ups. I was kicking her ass [laughs]. Then it was burpees to pull-ups and I just couldn’t get my chin over the bar, I kept getting no-repped, I just couldn’t do it anymore. But everyone was so nice. And all the comments underneath the video were people saying they couldn’t believe how well I did because I was just a normal, average mum from Ireland!” 

She continued, “I was a sales and marketing executive at the time, and I used to train on my lunch-break. I had kids, I was single at that time, I was living on my own [with my kids]. The only time I could train was lunch. We had an hour break. I’d bring my gym stuff, get changed, go train in the gym at work, and then go back to work again after. I was determined! [Laughs].

Speaking of strength of mind and attitude, most people probably think of big, huge brutes of men when they think of powerlifting, mainly because so many still think of strength as only being muscle, and the kind that’s immediately visible to the eye. Now Tara – who is also a model on top of everything else – is most definitely not a big huge brute of a man. But her story, I think, perfectly illustrates the kind of strength that isn’t always apparent in someone, and that’s strength of mind, discipline. I asked her to talk to me about the importance of mindset and attitude in what she does…

“Yeah, listen, you need to put the work in, definitely. It’s hard to juggle everything and keep everything balanced, but it is [about] routine at the end of the day. You can never rely on motivation. It comes and goes. But if you’re disciplined and follow a structure…, like, nobody wants to go into work, but we all do. It’s the same with the gym. If you really want to get something – it doesn’t even have to be with the gym – you pop it into your day, it happens at this time, and that’s it. And your mind-set has to be about how bad do you want something.”

So how did Tara develop her mind-set, or was it just something she’s had all of her life?

“I’ve always been stubborn, I suppose [laughs]. But when I was younger, I wasn’t athletic or anything like that. I never made teams when I was younger, I was never very good at anything at all. But I was always determined, I just never knew how to focus it in on something. When I started powerlifting I was after going through the break-up with my kids’ dad, and I suppose powerlifting was like a focus for me, to take my mind off things, because obviously that’s a hard time. So I was able then to focus that determination on something that was going to bring good into my life. But it wasn’t just with powerlifting, because then I wanted to try something else, so then I did CrossFit. Then running. So I kind of learned how you can apply your mindset to different things in your life.

In sport, you have to have the right mind-set to achieve the kind of success that you want. But also in life, if you have the right mind-set…

Absolutely! You can learn to adapt to things. When we’re younger we want to have fun and stuff like that. When I was in my twenties, I didn’t really care about career or anything like that. But when you have kids, you need to focus in on things, not just really for yourself but to provide for your kids. So you need to learn how to adapt your focus. It wasn’t until I hit my thirties that all of this – everything fitness related – happened to me. I had done horse-riding, but that was it. My twenties were completely devoted to my kids. I had them when I was twenty-four, so I rarely left the house. I just worked part-time, I just raised my kids. I went for runs and stuff like that. But it wasn’t until my thirties, when I had that break-up, that I said you know what…I’m just going to live my life. I want to do things. So anything that I hadn’t done, I was just going to say yes to. So it’s never too late, it’s NEVER too late. Definitely not.”

To be in the shape that Tara is in, and to do all of the things she does, that obviously doesn’t just happen. So what’s a typical training day or training week like for her?

“It depends on how I’m working. I take time off sometimes because I always say that if you don’t do that, your body will make you do it. You’ll pick up an injury. So when I feel like I’m getting tired, I’ll take time off. I’m getting back into things now, so what I’d generally do is in the morning – if I wake up early enough [laughs] – I’ll go and do a walk or a little bit of cardio. I find it’s a good way to start your day off. I’ll drop the kids to school, then if I don’t have PT clients, or work with RINKA – because I work in kids fitness as well – then I’m into the gym to train myself. I like to get my training done as early as I can in the morning. If I’m working, I’ll get it done straight after. That’s when I’ll do my weight training. If I don’t have weight training, I’ll do my cardio that day. Then I’m back home looking after the kids, then maybe my RINKA classes. And then in the evening it’s family time. I don’t dedicate an awful lot of time to it [training], maybe an hour to two hours a day, max. That’s all you need. It’s about consistency, about just doing it five days a week, every week, instead of being in there three hours one or two days a week. You’re just not gonna get results from that.”

~ You can find, follow, and contact Tara on Instagram at @tinypowermum

ENDS

LAURA NOLAN

First Published November 2021

READY FOR ANYTHING

Underestimate LAURA NOLAN at your own peril. That’s pretty much the best way to sum up the woman who became one of the undoubted stars of this year’s hit TV show, ULTIMATE HELL WEEK. If, before this year’s series began, you only knew Laura from her role as one of the professional dancers on another one of RTE’s biggest attractions, Dancing With The Stars Ireland (DWTSIrl), and you thought things went no deeper than the glamour and the glitz, well…more fool you. But, like so many more, you know better now. 


We first had the pleasure of spending some time in Laura‘s company back in January of this year, and her energy, positivity and sense of fun made her one of our most favourite within about five minutes of first saying hello! But it wasn’t just those qualities already mentioned that made Laura stick in our mind. As you dig deeper into her story, and really get a sense of who she is as a person, away from the bright lights of television, what you find is someone who is – and has always been – fearless in the face of adversity, relentless in the pursuit of any goal she sets for herself, and inspirational in how she digs in and fights.

In short, if you found yourself in a tough place, Laura is the kind of person you’d want to have at your side and on your team. 


When I heard she was taking part in Ultimate Hell Week this year, I knew she was going to surprise a lot of people. But not anyone who knew her already. Those people knew she was made for something like Hell Week. And man, did she prove it in style.


Back in January, towards the end of our first chat with each other, Laura described herself like this…


“I’ve always had that inside me”, emphasised Laura, “that grit, the grind, the graft to succeed, to be the best. So yes, people see the glamour, and they see the glitz, but you have to understand that didn’t come without a lot of tears, a lot of sweat, a lot of blood, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of dedication. It’s like any sport, you have to prepare for it. If you want something enough, those are the things you’re prepared to do to be the best. And once you are the best, those sacrifices aren’t really sacrifices. They’re actually moments that make you, and make the journey that bit better.” 

This time around, I was catching up with Laura a few days after yet another fabulous moment on her journey, a 6th place finish in the World Professional Showdance Championship with her dance-partner – also of DWTSIrl fame – John Nolan. So before we even got around to talking about her Hell Week adventure, Laura filled me in on this one…


“I had finished competing. My last competition was in January 2019. I had made a decision then to do Dancing With The Stars (DWTS), and because that’s such a long process and you have to really commit time and effort to it, there was no time really to compete. So I’d made that decision. But speaking to John after lockdown and stuff, we were both thinking that we’d love to go and do the showdance. The showdance is a different type of competition to what I would have done in the past. You have a theme, you have three-and-a-half minutes, and certain rules that you need to adhere to when you’re doing your dance. I asked him would he be interested, because we dance together, we were practising to keep ourselves going and keep ourselves fit knowing there was a possibility that DWTS could come back. We made the decision six weeks ago to do it, and we had one of the choreographers from DWTS, Ian Banham, helping us, and Tommy Shaungnessy our coach, the four of us worked together and we created Marilyn, the show which we did over there. We travelled over on Friday just gone, and we competed on Saturday, and we made the final which was absolutely amazing. It was both of our first professional competitions, so to speak. It went amazing and we were delighted with it, and with the performance that we created.”

So, onto Hell Week! Now obviously it’s a completely different experience to be living through that process twenty-fours a day for a week to watching it back months later in forty-seven minute or so snap-shots. How different were those two feelings for Laura, I wondered? 


“When I was in there, it really became a reality, almost. You felt like you were living in it. It wasn’t just a couple of minutes and then the camera switched off. So it felt very intense. Everything was amplified because you’re kind of in shock at being put into a situation you’re not used to. When I watched it on TV, the one thought that I had from the start was that it doesn’t look as difficult at all from what it was! The helicopter and how high it was. Because it was so intense and there was no switch-off, it was so gruelling and such a difficult process. Way more intense than how it looked, and I know it looked intense, but multiply that by ten! Then you get what we were actually feeling in there. It was such a shock to the system. What I tried to do was not overthink about things, just kind of deal with it as it came to me. Through the whole thing, I remember when I was watching it back, I was thinking jeez there were parts of it I almost forgot happened, because I was just in such a daze through the whole thing! [Laughs]. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even comprehend what was actually happening [laughs].” 

When Laura was first asked to take part, was it an easy “yes” on her side straight away? Or was it more a case of, “Ok lads, let me just think this one over for a little bit!”


“For me, it was the easiest yes that I’ve ever said. Yeah. I read that email and the first thing that I thought to myself was, ‘Absolutely, I’m DEFINITELY doing this!’ I love pushing myself outside of my comfort-zone and I love trying new things. For me, it was just a perfect combination [of those]. I think everyone always has the idea in their heads to do something like an Iron Man or a trialton or something like that, and this was my type of challenge.” 

When we spoke to Laura’s fellow UltimateHell Week contestant Ryan Andrews a few weeks back, he pointed out that, because the start was delayed so often, this really affected his preparation for the show, especially as he’s the kind of person who needs to have a set date in mind to focus on. Did Laura find her own preparation affected by all the delays as well? 


“It did, to be honest. It’s quite an intense kind of training you need to do for it, and because it was pushed back so many times and we didn’t know when it would actually go ahead, you can’t keep up that level of intensity. It was only two weeks beforehand from when we actually did it, that we actually knew for sure. There wasn’t that much time to change up what we had been doing. Of course, we had an idea of some of the things that were going to come up, however, I feel like there was no real way to train for it. We were all quite physically fit, but with the added lack of sleep, lack of food, all on top of them shouting at you and constantly having you on the go…there was no real way to prepare for that! It’s a mental thing as well as physical.” 

I was glad Laura had mentioned the mental side of things, because that’s what I wanted to ask her about next. Because of what she does for a living – being a professional dancer – Laura is as naturally tough mentally as she is physically, because she has to be. But, even at that, on the mental side of things, was there any way she was able to prepare herself for what Hell Week would bring? 


“To be honest, I think that was more a personal thing, ya know. It’s how you’re able to deal with pressure. Everyone dealt with it slightly differently. I don’t think there was really any way to prepare for something like that. How are you supposed to know how you’ll react to someone shouting in your face twenty-four/seven? [Laughs]. You just don’t know. For me, how I dealt with it was I didn’t look at certain challenges. Before we went in, they sent us previous episodes and I watched one then said ya know what, for my mental health, I don’t want to know what’s going to come up. I would rather deal with it as I’m faced with it, because therefore, I won’t overthink it. So for me, it was just dealing with stuff and moving on. A lot of the time in there as well, they try to turn our team and our bond on each other. That was another mental thing. But what you really have to do is just try and move on and not overthink it, just leave it in the past. Whatever challenge happened, happened, then move forward. I think that’s where I dealt with things quite good because as a competitor decisions and competitions don’t always go the way you want. You have to try and just pick yourself up and move forward. You can’t dwell on that competition, otherwise you’ll be stuck there. You have to move on to the next one, and the next one. I think that’s where I excelled mentally, because I was used to having knock-backs and having to pick myself up, and push myself on.” 

From what we didn’t get a chance to see on TV, was there any particular moment of her own that Laura will always look back fondly on? 


“Yes! There’s one moment in particular. I don’t know if you remember the ‘king of the ring’, where we had to grapple and push each other out?”

Everybody remembers the ‘king of the ring’, Laura! 


“[Laughs] So the first one I was already going in with a sore nose, because I’d been punched in the nose, and you know how that brings tears to your eyes. I got pushed out, but someone fell on me – not on purpose, it was accidentally – and hit me on the head with their boot, and I went out cold for a few seconds. When I came back around, I started crying uncontrollably [laughs]. You saw on the show, that’s when Ray came over to me and said, ‘Show us the determination and what you said to us in your interview.’ I pulled myself together and I got this force inside me, I don’t know what it was, it was like I just wanted to kill everybody! [Laughs]. One of the moments which I was really hoping that they would show was when I saw Peter Stringer in a moment of vulnerability and I rugby-tackled him out of the ring. It was as if everything just stood still for me in that second. I was like, ‘Did anybody just see that? The dancer rugby-tackled Peter Stringer out of this ring!’ [Laughs]. It wasn’t shown and I was ragin’. That was one of my fondest moments. And there was actually another one too. The very first day was the only day that we had a shower. We didn’t have a shower for the whole time that we were there except for that first day. Every time that we had to leave the room, we had to have our helmet, our bars, and our boots on. The first day in particular we got so punished for not doing it, because we didn’t know our heads from our tails, we hadn’t got a clue what was going on, we had so much in our heads that we weren’t doing anything properly. So that first day anyway, when we were going for the showers, the showers were up a flight of spiral stairs and across a yard. We were in such a rush that Deric [     ] was beside me in his boxers, his helmet, his gun, his shoes. Coming the opposite way, was Steph [   ] in a towel, her helmet, her boots, and her gun. And I was just thinking, ‘Oh my God, what has happened to us?! What are we like?!’ [Laughs]. There were so many of those behind the scenes moments that weren’t shown, I’m sure I don’t even remember all of them that probably happened.” 

Although it might seem like a slightly weird question, I wondered if there was ever a moment during Laura’s time on the show when she thought to herself, ‘Ya know what…I’m actually loving this!‘? 


“I suppose the moment I really felt that was when I got over a really tough challenge. For example, when I was going across the rope. Even though I was in so much pain, I was so delighted that I actually did it because I knew what it really meant to me. And by pushing through that gruelling moment, I was like, yes, I’m delighted I did this, I’m so happy I did it. After the show, after I dropped out, all those emotions come back to you and you think, yeah, I’m so delighted I did it. Now, I suppose through it there were more moments where I was like, why am I doing this to myself?! [Laughs]. And they’re shouting at us. ‘Do you want to drop out?!’, and we’re screaming back at them, ‘NO!!!’ [Laughs]. I was thinking what’s wrong with me, why do I want to do this?! But at the same time, I’m so delighted I did.” 

On Laura’s last day, when DS Ray Goggins told her that she could hand him her number (as opposed to him taking it off her) because, in his words, “You’ve earned it”, and when he followed that up by telling her, “You’re so tough”, how much did those words mean coming from a man like Ray in a moment like that? 


Oh it meant everything. He didn’t only say that I was tough, he also said that I was going to be an inspiration to a lot of women and children, and that his daughters would look up to me, and look at me as a role-model. For me, that’s the reason why I did it. I knew going into the show that people were going to have a perception of me, she’s just a dancer who likes her glitz and her glam. And they probably didn’t think I’d last a day. But they don’t see the years of sacrifice and dedication and hardship I had to go through to become the champion that I am. And that’s really what I wanted to show and prove in there. I wanted any young girl – or anybody who has a dream – and somebody else is telling them that they can’t do it, to look at me and say, ‘Jesus, if she can do it, so can I.’ So for him to say those words to me that day just put everything into perspective, and really made it worthwhile why I did it.” 

Laura’s chosen charity for her time on Hell Week was Women’s Aid, an organisation I know she holds close to her heart…


“Yeah, it is a charity that’s very close to my heart. I had experienced – through my dancing career – a little bit of mental and physical abuse, so Women’s Aid was a charity that was very close to my heart. And I know that during lockdown, their cases re-upped, so I thought what perfect timing to do it for them. It’s something that I feel very strongly about. I want to inspire women, and I think this is a perfect charity to go hand-in-hand with that.” 

Either from what she learned about herself, or maybe from what she saw in others, what did Laura take away from Hell Week that will now be part of who she is from here on out? 


“One thing would definitely be how strong I am. Never to doubt myself, never to question myself. Afterwards, I felt that anything I put my mind to, I can do it. No ifs, buts, or maybe. I would have questioned my strength, as in my physical strength in comparison to others. I knew I was cardio-fit, and I was mentally strong, but I didn’t really realise how strong I actually was. Now, going forward, I feel like I should never, ever, ever doubt myself, that I can really throw myself into anything and give it a bash. When you look at others, it would be how amazing people are, and how supportive they are. Never question a friendship or how people can be to you, because really, when someone cares for you they really do give everything to give you a helping hand. I suppose now, instead of trying to cover things up within myself, I would definitely be way faster to ring somebody, talk to somebody and say look, ‘I’m struggling here, do you have any bit of advice?’ Because when you’re in there, the people around you really help you, and you create such a special bond. So now I feel like don’t be afraid to reach out and get somebody else’s advice and help, instead of always trying to deal with things by yourself. Because really, people are there for you, and they’re ready to give you a helping hand if needed.” 

And finally, we finished up with the same question I put to Ryan. What if, next year sometime, someone Laura knows comes to her and confesses that they’ve been asked to do Hell Week, and they’ve said yes. What advice would Laura pass that someone’s way? 


“Composure. Being able to stay strong and compose yourself. It’s very, very easy to start to panic, but you have to realise – and you have to keep saying this to yourself – they cannot kill me. This is a TV show. They can’t put me at that much risk. You have to keep that in mind. Yes, you end up hurt. Yes, you end up wrecked. Yes, someone ended up with a broken rib. But, those are all things that you can get through. You just keep that in mind. In the mental challenges, like where I thought the water was going to come up over my mouth, that’s one thing that I kept in my mind through it, is to really believe that you’re going to be ok, that there will be an end to it. Always always try to dwell on the positive instead of the negative. And as well, they were so obsessed with water that the best thing you can do beforehand is to just keep getting in and out of the sea [laughs].” 

~ You can follow Laura on Facebook and Instagram (search Laura Nolan). 

ENDS

Nadia Sayers

First Published May 2021

READY TO BE NOTICED

Imagine your life being at a stage where the surreal somehow seems to become the norm. On the one hand, of course, life has probably been a little bit surreal for all of us over the past year. But for Belfast native NADIA SAYERS, the level of surreal she’s been living through is certainly something she’ll never forget. In fact, while most of us will look back on 2020 and the first half of this year with a fairly mixed bag of emotions, it’s unlikely that Nadia will ever do anything but smile when she remembers that same period. 


On December 21st last year, Nadia, a psychologist-in-training who works with the Hope4Life charity, and who is the reigning Miss Universe Ulster, was crowned MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND 2020…via Zoom! Normally, that most magical of moments would have taken place in front of a sold-out audience in the spectacular surroundings of the Round Room in Dublin’s historic Mansion House, shared not only with family, but with friends, all of the other contestants, and the fantastic Miss Universe Ireland team. But, needs must, as the saying goes, so Nadia – sitting in front of her laptop, with just a few close family members in the next room – found out that she had become the fourth Queen of Brittany Mason‘s Moxie era at Miss Universe Ireland. Crowned without a crown, and without even meeting any of her fellow contestants. Pretty surreal, by any measure. 


Last week, Nadia finally made it to Miami where she’s representing Ireland at the Miss Universe finals, with the Grand Final set to take place on Sunday next, May 16th. And it’s fair to say that a few more surreal moments have already come Nadia’s way while she’s been in Florida! More about that soon. Regardless of whatever happens on the night, it’s already clear that Nadia has been doing us proud, and will continue to do so over the days and nights ahead by building further on the legacy already created by her predecessors; Cailín Tobin, Grainne Gallanagh, and Fionnghuala O’ Reilly (whose reign as Miss Universe Ireland ended up lasting for an incredible 508 days!). 


Having first spoken to Nadia back when she was only a few days into her reign as Miss Universe Ireland, we had the pleasure of catching up with the lady herself once again as her official Miss Universe finals adventure got underway at last. So, having finally made it to Miami, and with the Grand Final moving ever closer by the day, I began by asking Nadia to give readers an idea of what the day ahead held in store for her…


“Of course. So today is the day before check-in with Miss Universe, so thankfully I am still with my team today. And today is going to consist of preparing and packing all of my wardrobe, and finalising wardrobe for going into Miss Universe. Because we don’t have the full itinerary, we don’t know what we need, so we need to prepare for every eventuality; interview practise, photoshoot practise, catwalk practise. All of these things take time and effort to perfect. And to be able to get them right on first go, which is what needs to be done whenever you’re there at Miss Universe. So there’s going to be a lot of training, a lot of preparation, and then – hopefully! – a good early night’s sleep for tomorrow! [Laughs].” 

Nadia mentioned that she was still with her team as we spoke. So I wondered if, after she checked in the following day, that meant she would be on her own from then on? 


“Well initially when I check in with Miss Universe, I’ll do a Covid test and I’m in isolation for the first day and night, until my Covid test result comes back. Then, once that comes back, I’ll be able to go and do the daily activities with Miss Universe. My first day out of isolation will consist of doing orientation, doing fittings for outfits for the final show. So my team will only be able to contact me by my phone. They’re not allowed to be around me at the hotel, they won’t have access to contestants’ floors, nobody does. So we’re pretty much gonna be in our Covid safe groups with the other contestants, and the only people who can access us are Miss Universe staff.” 

Are those procedures all new this year because of concerns around Covid? 


“No, typically the contestants can’t see their directors or their teams anyway during that time period. The girls are very much let out on their own and they have to represent their team individually there. Obviously we can touch base on the phone and that, but not in person. However, the strictness of the initial isolation, the smaller groups, the lack of events – and even it’s a shorter time-period, [that is] because of Covid. Typically it would be two to three weeks, whereas this year it’s ten days long.” 

One of the biggest moments for Miss Universe Ireland every year is the reveal of the national costume. What little hints could Nadia give us about what could be expected this year? 


“So, preliminaries for the costume are next week. If everyone keeps an eye on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram page, they’ll be announced. And the preliminaries are also streamed online so everybody can watch the reveal online. With regards to my costume…! Oh! You’re gonna love it! [Laughs]. The team and I, we talked about a lot of ideas, a lot of different concepts, because we like to get creative and we like to look into the history of Ireland. The mythology, the legends, every area of culture. We like to delve into all of them and see what we can pull out to create an elaborate costume. Now this year, the costume is THE most elaborate costume that Miss Universe Ireland has ever brought! It is the most detailed piece, containing over…I think…seven-hundred individual pieces! It’s just going to be phenomenal. And this costume is actually a concept that my director – Brittany Mason – had an idea for before she even took over Miss Universe Ireland. So this is something that stood out to her from the start. And now, from talking with me and with the team, we all kind of had a similar idea. And that’s the amazing thing. With regards to that and the evening-gown, we’ve all been on the same page, even when individually making our decisions from different countries.” 

As of a week ago today at this stage, there has been the most amazing ‘get-to-know’ Nadia video on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram. It’s spectacular. I’d go as far as to say STOP reading this right now, and go and take a few minutes to check it out. I asked Nadia to fill me in on the filming…


“That was so much fun! Oh my goodness! I’ve been sitting on that for a while! [Laughs] I’ve had that for a while and I couldn’t say anything, and I’m so bad at keeping secrets! [Laughs]. I can’t believe I didn’t let it slip to anybody. Because we were in ‘lockdown’ for so long, there was no hair and make-up, no big teams, no nothing! It was done when restrictions lifted and six different people from two households could meet outside. So when that happened, we were able to dig in and find out if we could get permission to film, take a day and a half, and film for Miss Universe. I did my own hair and make-up. I sourced my own wardrobe and it was dropped at my door [laughs]. Everyone was working from a distance and in masks, oh my goodness. But it was so much fun, though, so much fun. We saw some of the most beautiful parts of the country. The team we worked with, the film crew, they’re a new team, we hadn’t worked with them before. I actually came across them on Instagram, and they’re so talented (full details of the film and production team areavailable on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram). They made the whole process a lot easier and smoother. When I first saw the video, I was just in awe [laughs]. It’s so cool. I like that it’s a bit different than the norm. It’s more me! [Laughs].” 

My next question was one that only Nadia could answer, because only Nadia has ever had this experience! Normally, as mentioned earlier, on the night a new Miss Universe Ireland is crowned, the winner actually IS crowned on the night, in public and in front of family and friends. This year, of course, that wasn’t possible, with Nadia finding out the coveted crown and sash were hers in a live online broadcast! But, when that moment finally came her way, when the crown was right there in the same room as her, right in front of her eyes…and eventually, at last…upon her head…what was that moment like? 


“Ohhhhhh my goodness! So, it arrived in the post! [Laughs]. And I wasn’t expecting it. This box came, and I had no idea what it was. At this point deliveries were coming every day anyway. I was kind of caught off guard. I opened the box, and dug through all of the packing, and saw it. And honestly, I sat back on the floor, and I cried a little bit [Laughs]. But it was because, I think, it was something that for so long I had looked up to and admired. In my younger years, when I followed Miss Universe Ireland, it was something I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I could ever achieve. So to have it there in front of me… And then finally, it was a couple of hours later because I wanted to get ready, I wanted to do my hair and make-up, I put it on. And I was thinking I don’t think I’m ever gonna take this off my head! [Laughs]. It was just so overwhelming.” 

I couldn’t believe that Nadia had the patience to wait and do her hair and make-up before trying it on!


“[Laughs] I was like, if I’m gonna do it, I wanna do it right! [Laughs]. But it was, it was so overwhelming, and amazing. It’s been sitting out in my dressing room on a shelf since, I look at it every day when I’m working [Laughs].” 

Because Nadia’s reign as Miss Universe Ireland is completely different to anyone who has ever preceded her, and probably to anyone who will one day follow her, I wondered how she is actually enjoying her experience of being…Miss Universe Ireland? 


“It’s definitely a different year! [Laughs]. But do you know what it is? I believe I was given this year for a reason. I know I can do it. I know I can make the best of it, and I am. I’m making the best of this year. I’m just trying to be creative and think of new ways of delivering the same messages we want to deliver every year, and with the same force and passion, But obviously, virtually. The biggest difference for me was obviously coming here. At home, we were in a little bubble. Because we were still in my house! I’d been Miss Universe Ireland in my house! [Laughs]. So although I was putting in the work, and making my own photoshoots, and doing interviews, and creating content for Miss Universe, it was all within my bubble. So whenever I left that bubble to travel to Florida, it was a bit of a culture shock at the beginning because I hadn’t really seen anybody since October.”

Nadia continued, “All of a sudden, I’m in an airport. Then on an airplane. Then I’m somewhere where it’s really warm and there’s loads of people around! Then to have people see me and address me as Miss Universe Ireland, people other than my family [laughs], and online, that was a little bit strange to begin with. But it’s hitting me more, solidifying a lot more now, from actually being here. But I love it. I know that it’s not a typical year, it doesn’t have all the same events and things like that. But, in a way it’s giving me more time to speak to people online, talk to younger kids, do Zooms with schools. Things like that that I’m passionate about, and that I really want to be able to give time to. Because the busyness of daily life was taken away for so long, I was able to focus on Miss Universe, and on being the best Miss Universe Ireland that I could be. And to prepare myself the best I could to get here. So I’m grateful for that. And I do think that it was all for a reason. I’m so excited just to be here, and to show Miss Universe what Ireland has! And then, moving forward, to continue to support the next queen, and really be a part of that sisterhood and help other girls that follow in these footsteps, and will surpass them, no doubt. I want to help those girls to be the best versions of themselves, and feel fully supported because they have the strongest team behind them.” 

I wondered if there’d been any particular moment since Nadia arrived into that Miss Universe bubble in Florida that felt just completely surreal? The kind of moment where you sometimes have to check yourself, and think, ‘Wait…how is THIS my life right now?!’ 


“Actually, yesterday! I did a photoshoot yesterday, and one the day before. Obviously it’s been so long since I’ve been able to be on-set anywhere. The shoots that I did at home were outside, or against walls! [Laughs]. So just being able to do one for a start. But I was in shock, because there’s this phenomenal photographer who I had admired because I’d seen his work with Grainne [Gallanagh] a few years ago. And I remember looking at Brittany and Grainne images and going, oh my goodness, they just look PHENOMENAL! LOOK at them! [Laughs]. Then, after my initial video came out, he contacted Brittany to see about shooting with me! That was cool. When I was on-set, I had my team around me – Brittany, JScot, Katie – the photographer was there, we were on a beach in Miami, I had these gorgeous dresses on…and at one stage I just stood there and I was like, this is my Wednesday! [Laughs]. Normally I’m sitting in my house in front of a laptop with my hair in a messy bun! [Laughs].” 

In Miami, Nadia is representing the Miss Universe Ireland organisation, she’s representing Ireland, and of course, she’s representing herself – Nadia Sayers – as well. I asked her to tell me what she wanted to show the world about each of those during her time at Miss Universe this year? 


“With regard to the Miss Universe Ireland organisation, I want to show the world – contestants here, but especially girls at home – how dedicated the team are. How much they give you, personal growth-wise. How much they support you in your personal development. I want to show them that Ireland, even though we’re a small country, compared to the others that are here – and we’re a small team as well – but although we’re small, we are ready! We’re ready, we’re feisty [laughs], and we are here! And we’re a lot stronger, I think, than people give us credit for. So I want to show them that Ireland is here to be noticed! And with regard to me…? I want to show them that you can be strong, and fiesty, and powerful, whilst being genuine and allowing that level of vulnerability through. To me, vulnerability is so important. To be able to be open with people, and build those connections, that doesn’t mean weakness. Being genuine and sweet isn’t a weakness. It adds to strength. I think that’s a misconception globally. So, I want to show them that we’re a strong country, we are here, we have so much to offer the world, and…it’s our time to get noticed!” 


~ The MISS UNIVERSE GRAND FINAL takes place this coming Sunday, May 16th, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, Florida. To stay up to date with the journey of MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND NADIA SAYERS, and for further information on how to view the Grand Final, you can follow Miss Universe Ireland on Facebook and Instagram. 

ENDS