From BBC presenter to the face of Garnier, Angela Scanlon’s down to earth, quintessential Irishness is the key to her international success, writes Carolyn Moore
Though she’s in Ireland regularly for both work and pleasure, when I meet Angela Scanlon on a sunny September morning in Dublin, she is a woman on a mission.
Launching a new campaign for Panadol called ‘This is What We’re Made Of’, the London-based TV presenter is here to revel in her Irishness and celebrate the unique blend of characteristics, tics and clichés -- from endless cups of tea to immersion jokes — that inform the Irish psyche.
Not that anyone could ever accuse Angela Scanlon of downplaying her Irishness. From her accent and her hair to her irreverent humour and her filthy laugh, her quintessential Irishness has played no small part in her success, making her the perfect face for a campaign exploring what it means to be Irish in 2017.
In fact, as we chat about the study’s findings — including the fact that 62% of those surveyed believe Michael D Higgins personifies Irishness — I suggest that if you surveyed Irish women of a certain age, they might well give that accolade to Scanlon herself.
Stylish, smart, funny, fond of a cup of tea, and completely down to earth, at the very least she is ‘girl crush’ personified. As a budding stylist back in the boom, she resisted the fake tan and bottle blonde look that seduced so many of Ireland’s style set, and now, living in London she says she’s “more protective than ever” of her Irishness. And why wouldn’t she be, when her easy on-screen charm has her on an upward trajectory at the BBC, and her red hair and pale complexion have led to contracts with Garnier and L’Oreal?
Though it was her sense of style that initially catapulted her into the public eye — first in Ireland, where she was a fashion contributor on Xposé; then in the UK, where Vogue championed both her fashion and her freckles — it’s her fearlessness, sharp wit and natural charisma which have taken her to the next level.
As she tells me, the 30,000 Irish people surveyed for the study identified ‘having the craic’, ‘the gift of the gab’, and ‘resilience’ as the magic ingredients that make the Irish persona, I point out that, arguably, they’re also the characteristics that make her so watchable. In five years Scanlon has gone from TV stylist to documentary maker to BBC presenter; and as she continues to front the BBC’s flagship magazine programme, The One Show in Alex Jones’ absence, it seems she’s increasingly viewed as a safe pair of hands at the station.
“Doing The One Show is fantastic,” she tells me. “The live element has always appealed to me - it keeps me on my toes.
“Then the new series of Robot Wars kicks off in October, so I’ve been working on that with Dara Ó’Briain,” she says. “It’s quite an Irish line-up for the BBC.”
And running around a warehouse watching robots fight to the death is quite a departure for the girl who found fame dishing out fashion advice, but while Scanlon admits the opportunity came “a bit out of the blue”, she feels it plays into her “naturally curious nature.”
“At a certain point I realised fashion was not something I wanted to pursue, career-wise. People would ask me, ‘What should I wear?’ and increasingly my answer was, ‘Honestly, whatever you want!” she laughs. “There was so much more I wanted to talk to them about.
“I’m nosy,” she admits. “I enjoy taking a niche subject and opening it up to a wider audience. With Robot Wars, Dara has a science background, so that’s his world; he speaks that language. I’m there to make it more accessible.”
Whether it’s Robot Wars, a probing face-to-face with a fellow ginger, or a close encounter with Katie Hopkins, Scanlon says she’s always been “happy to be a stand-in for the audience and ask the questions that some people would be too embarrassed to ask”.
“In hindsight I sometimes think ‘maybe I shouldn’t have asked that’, but my attitude is always, ‘well if I’m wondering about this, somebody at home is probably wondering too’.”
Is this an area where she can play up her Irishness to maximum advantage, I ask? “Absolutely!” she says. “I think because our accent is soft and lyrical, Irish people can be quite direct and ask questions without seeming threatening or aggressive.
“We get away with murder, basically,” she adds with that conspiratorial chuckle. “We endear ourselves to people with our openness and friendliness. ‘Having the craic’ is a broad term for that, but I think it just translates as an ability to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously.”
As she lists off a few famous pals, it’s clear that’s a quality she looks for in her friends too. The thinking woman’s #squadgoals (if thinking women used that term), she counts the equally fierce, fabulous and funny Aisling Bea, Sharon Horgan and Amy Huberman as friends; and admits that when she first moved to London she found herself gravitating mostly towards other Irish people. “It wasn’t by design!” she says. “It was just that we already knew people over there. But I think it does come down to that shared sense of humour and shared experience; Irish quirks like needing a cup of tea when something goes wrong or smuggling crisps and sausages in and out of the country.”
As her career takes off, the London move is starting to feel more permanent.
“We moved house during the summer, and already I feel more settled than I have since I moved to London,” she reveals. “We stuck up a few pictures, got a nice couch, a beautiful oak table. We have a plant and a little balcony! Hackney was great but it was just concrete. I grew up in the country, so I was craving more space. I need to at least be able to see a tree.”
She’s also realising that, with her increasingly busy schedule, she needs a place to retreat to; somewhere she can “literally curl up in a ball on the couch and watch Netflix for a week solid”.
“It’s only in the last couple of years I’ve come to understand how important that downtime is, because when I’m ‘on’ it’s very intense,” she says. “With Robot Wars, it’s 16-hour days and there’s so much going on — it’s manic.”
She also tries to get home to Ireland “as much as possible”. “There’s been a lot of christenings of late,” she adds with a smile. “I’m onto that circuit now.
“But I love it. My husband’s from Mitchelstown, so we spend time in Cork; in Meath, where I’m from; and in Mayo, where I have family. We get around. I have a soft spot for Cork though. We were in Glandore this summer and it was magic.”
Though he’s a little camera shy (“I get in trouble for posting photos of him on Instagram,” she laughs. “Sometimes I block him so he can’t see them!”), Angela says husband Roy is “massively supportive”.
“He’ll watch and cheer from the sidelines, but he’s not there beside me on the red carpet – he gets itchy at the thought of it.”
Even for Angela, the seasoned pro, the red carpet is “never easy”. “I’m so envious of people who are confident up there,” she says.
“I know how I should stand for a decent photo, but when I get there…” She hunches over, makes a goofy face, and sticks up her thumbs. “You’ll see lots of pictures of me standing there like this,” she says with a grimace.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this would all be old hat to her by now, but she admits to still having pinch-yourself moments.
“Doing the Garnier ads with Davina and Holly!” she says without hesitation when I ask her to name one. “It was so weird because those ads are so familiar. Davina has done them for 14 years; I grew up watching her, so to be there beside her was one of those surreal, ‘Hmmm, I think they’ve made a mistake’ moments.
“I kept wondering, ‘When are they going to chuck me out?’” she says.
You can take the girl out of Ireland, but you’ll never take Ireland out of the girl.
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