Ciara Doherty stepped in as ‘Ireland AM’ co-anchor last autumn just days after her return from honeymoon — and she’s never been happier, she tells Esther McCarthy.
Ciara Doherty has a teenage trauma that she and her family joke about now, but greatly bothered her at the time. As a youngster in her native Letterkenny, she was passionate about musical theatre and dreamed of playing Sandy in a production of Grease — an ambition that was to end in disappointment.
“I absolutely adored musical theatre as a child and a teenager,” she tells me. “They decided to do Grease and I went for Sandy, thinking I was a shoo-in given the fact I had blonde hair. I thought that was enough,” she laughs.
“I got down to the last two but they gave it to the other girl. I’m not going to lie to you — it has been a sore point.
“I still have this memory of my brother, when I came home. I couldn’t speak. I was bereft. I went upstairs to the bathroom, and my older brother Conor, shouted up, ‘Why-y-y-y’,” she says of her sibling’s rendition of the song ‘Sandy’.
“On Saturday, I am fulfilling a lifetime ambition. I’m putting that to bed.”
Doherty’s talking about her long-awaited debut as Sandy in tonight’s Battle of the Stars, which has become a major fundraiser — and a fun annual shindig — for Breast Cancer Ireland.
Celebrities get to embrace their inner dance diva and Doherty has been busy rehearsing in the weeks leading up to the event. While she’s jokingly looking forward to burying those teenage demons once and for all, there is of course a much more important reason to be involved.
“It’s Breast Cancer Ireland and the work that they do which made me get involved. Wouldn’t it be the most amazing achievement of mankind if we managed to find a cure for cancer? The only way we’re going to do that is by research and the only way they can research is by raising money. One in nine women are going to get breast cancer at some stage in their lifetime. More and more people are thankfully living with it. It shows if you put money into research, into finding the right treatments and drugs, you can make a huge difference.
“Four survivors will be dancing with me — they are The Pink Ladies.”
As the day nears, Doherty admits she’s feeling a little apprehensive at the prospect. “When you get asked to do something like this you just think about the fun of it, and the cause. You don’t think about the end point. You don’t think you’re going to have to stand in a room in front of 500 people and pretend you’re a professional dancer when really you haven’t a clue what you’re doing.”
It’s been quite a year for the Donegal woman, who now co-hosts TV3’s Ireland AM following the departure of Sinead Desmond. She took over the role within days of returning from a lengthy honeymoon last autumn with TV producer husband Richard Stearn. It’s fascinating to learn that Doherty’s sister identified him as husband material before the couple ever even met.
“My sister, Laura, was working there at the time. She joined TV3 and also met her husband there. She worked as a researcher on a programme with Richard. She recommended him. I was at home at Christmas and my mother said, ‘Anyone nice? Anyone catch your eye?’ and I said, ‘No, absolutely not. Not interested, I’m going back to study. I don’t want any distractions’, and my sister blurted out, ‘Well, I’ve seen a distraction. And I’m not talking about a boyfriend, I’m talking about a husband’.
“She just thought, ‘You two are really well suited. He loves arts, he loves the outdoors, he loves hiking. And he’s just a lovely guy’. She was right! Then he happened to get a seat beside me in the office and we got to know each other.”
Having worked since she finished college and putting off the travelling she had dreamed of, Ciara and Richard decided to go on an epic 10-week road trip across the US after getting married last year, themed around their mutual love of music.
“It (the travel) just kept running away from us. Suddenly I thought, ‘You know what? We’re going to wake up one day and it’ll be too late to travel. There’ll be too many commitments, a house, children, all of those things. So let’s get out now. It’ll all be waiting for us when we get back’.
“I have wanted to go travelling for a long time, because I’d never taken much of a break. Just worked full time. I really wanted to go travelling so we decided to do a music tour of America. We travelled from Chicago down to New Orleans, Mississippi, Louisiana, Nashville. He loves blues, I love country, and we both love bluegrass.
“Everywhere we went, every crossroads, every small town, we asked, ‘Are there any gigs on?’ and it was just an incredible way to make friends, to meet people and just to find common ground. It was the best trip of my life. Then we went to South America for a month, which was another great dream of mine.”
Doherty also took a digital detox during this time, and only learned the weekend they were travelling home that she was moving from reporter on Ireland AM to co-anchor.
“I was in Argentina on my honeymoon. I was in Buenos Aires, having a great old time for myself. It was Saturday evening and I literally, for the first time in ten weeks thought, ‘I wonder what’s going on in Ireland?’ I texted my series producer and he said, ‘You’re on air from Tuesday’.”
Doherty originally studied law on leaving school at 17, and had considered a media career but was unsure if it was for her.
“I was just quite young, I was living in Donegal, I didn’t know anything about the media. I think I just didn’t really know how to go about it. I was a bit of a school nerd and a big studier. I was always going to try and go for a degree to match my points. I thought law as a back-up. And I kind of saw some of the skills as being transferable too. You’re doing a lot of research. You’re forming questions. You’re trying to get answers out of people. You’re performing in a courtroom. You have to have a certain personality, a certain confidence.”
Doherty moved to the UK to pursue a media career following her law degree, but in recent years returned to law, building on her studies to qualify as a barrister. “It was just one of those things that had always niggled me and I never felt like I’d fully finished it. I enjoy research and exams, papers and learning. I wouldn’t rule out going back to study again, I was only talking to my husband about it at the weekend.”
Doherty spent years in the UK, working as a researcher on ITV shows like I’m a Celebrity. “One of my first jobs was being sent to Fiji for Celebrity Love Island, at 23 years of age. I thought media is brilliant!” she says, laughing.
“I did a lot of grafting in my twenties. I think because I’d left law behind, and left what was a potentially lucrative career behind, I worked twice as hard, because I had to make the media thing work.”
It was a similar attitude which prompted her to complete her law qualifications on returning to Ireland, even as her career was taking off after working in Newstalk and then TV3.
Doherty wanted to keep options open. “Particularly now that I’ve moved into a more ‘on-air’ role. I don’t know if that’s going to last for life, and maybe I won’t want to do it for life either. I want to have something to fall back on — I don’t ever want to be in a position where I’m scrambling to stay on air.
“I absolutely love what I do. I’d love to stay on air. But it’s not the be all and end all for me. If I had to go back and practice I would thoroughly enjoy it. Sometimes you feel a little more confidence and a little more powerful in this industry, knowing you can walk away from it.”
- Ciara’s dresses are from Phoenix V, 39 Stephen St Lower, Dublin 2, makeup by Sara Golding of Make Up For Ever, Clarendon St, and hair was by Nicole McCormack of House of Colour, Lucan
- Ciara will take part in Breast Cancer Ireland’s gala fundraiser Battle of the Stars proudly supported by Joe Duffy Group this evening in the Clayton Hotel, Burlington Rd, in front of a crowd of 500 people to raise funds to support pioneering research and awareness programmes around Ireland.