Kay Doyle meets with RTE’s ‘queen of broadcasting’ Miriam O’Callaghan, who looks back on her early life, her outstanding broadcasting career and also hears about her hopes for 2020
With an explosion of fireworks and the popping of countless bottles of champagne, the curtain has been raised on 2020 and as we enter not just a new year, but a new decade, RTÉ’s ‘queen of broadcasting’ Miriam O’Callaghan is looking forward to what the year has to bring with her trademark infectious enthusiasm.
“I’m not one for making New Year resolutions as I believe that people make them to break them,” says Miriam as she chats to Ireland’s Own over the festive season, “but every year on the morning of January 1st I thank God and Our Lady for everything that is good in my life, and hope that me and my family stay healthy for the coming year, and that I continue to try to work hard and be kind to people.
“I often get asked to speak to schoolchildren and I tell them that there is no silver bullet or key to success. But if you continue to work hard and be kind to people, things will eventually fall into place for you. I am a firm believer in that.”
Miriam grew up in the Foxrock area of south County Dublin, the second child in a family of five, and the daughter of a Kerry man and Laois lady. Her late father, Jerry, came from near Castleisland in ‘The Kingdom’ and, while Miriam says he was a very intelligent man, there wasn’t enough money to spare for him to go to university. Instead he became a civil servant, and worked for many years in the Department of Energy. Miriam’s mother – also Miriam – is alive and well, however, and still living in the family home in Foxrock.
“My mother was the daughter of a garda sergeant. She was a school teacher and was principal of St Brigid’s Girls’ National School in Cabinteely for years. She reminds me that I was very quiet and studious as a student, in fact I was ‘always a swot’!
“We grew up in a three-bed semi-detached house, where my mother still lives today, and I went to the local national school. I attended the Sisters of Charity in Milltown, and went on to study law in UCD.
“I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I was in school. I remember being on holidays in a rented house in Dingle and the conversation turned to what I was going to do with my life. Various careers were being thrown around including becoming a doctor, which I couldn’t have done as I don’t like blood. Being a vet was proposed, but that wouldn’t have been good for me either. Eventually law came up, and I opted for that!
Having qualified with a law degree from UCD, Miriam then qualified as a solicitor in Blackhall Place in Dublin, and it was while she was working there that a television crew from the BBC arrived to make a programme about ‘law’.
They were looking for a young solicitor to interview, and Miriam’s name was put forward. Shortly after filming, the producer got in touch and told her that she looked good on TV, and she should consider it as a career move. Though it started the wheels turning in her brain about a life on the small screen, it wasn’t Miriam’s first time going in front of a television camera!
“I was doing some shopping with my dad in Quinnsworth in Stillorgan, which is now Tesco, and there was a film crew there making an advert for Avonmore,” she recalls. “There were a few models around, but they spotted me buying some Avonmore milk and came over and asked me to explain why I was buying their milk. I was only sixteen at the time, and I just said my piece off the top of my head and they rolled with it. And that was my first TV ad!”
The BBC producer’s compliment wasn’t lost on Miriam, and she soon made the move to London. Replying to an advertisement which she saw in The Guardian newspaper looking for a ‘researcher for television’, the successful candidate was delighted to land a plum role researching on This Is Your Life with Irish broadcasting legend, Eamonn Andrews.
“I loved working on This Is Your Life, and I learned so much from working with Eamonn Andrews,” reveals Miriam. “There is a statue of him in RTÉ to this day and every time I am leaving the building after an edition of Prime Time I always say ‘goodnight Eamonn’ when I pass. I stood there so many times with Gay Byrne, who was a huge fan of Eamonn’s, just reminiscing about how good he was.”