Baz Ashmawy wants us to raid our wardrobes for an important charity and help the environment in the process, says Sharon Ní Chonchúir
Family means everything to TV personality Baz Ashmawy. The 44-year-old father of six took on his new role as ambassador for the TK Maxx Give Up Clothes for Good campaign partly because of his experience as a dad.
“The campaign raises funds for Enable Ireland, an organisation for young people with disabilities and their families,” says the star of. “Sometimes, when there’s a disability in the family, it’s hard for parents and siblings and people don’t realise that. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad that I really like how Enable Ireland looks after the whole family.”
He also likes the campaign’s eco credentials. “All you have to do is take the stuff you don’t wear anymore out of the wardrobe and bring it to your nearest TK Maxx store,” he says. “It’s easy and it helps thousands of kids. It’s also good for the environment, which is an extra selling point for me.”
The Ashmawy family talk about the environment a lot. “My kids are embracing change and they educate me.” And he’s taken steps to reduce his carbon footprint, saying the family now shares the one car. “I’m lucky in that I can walk to work as it’s not too far away. Walking is healthier too.”
Ashmawy has made his family life the focus of a new stand-up comedy show, Family Matters, which is currently touring the country.
He was inspired to write the show after presenting Wingman on RTÉ last year. “That series was about people not letting fear stop them from doing something they wanted to do, and it must have rubbed off on me,” he says.
“I’ve always wanted to write my own show and perform it so that’s what I’m doing.”
Family Matters begins with Ashmawy arriving in Ireland from Cairo as a six-year-old. “It brings the audience up to the point where I have a missus, a dog, and six kids,” he says.
“Ireland and Egypt didn’t have a lot in common, so this show is about me finding my place here.”
Ashmawy’s father Mohammed was Egyptian and his mother Nancy is Irish. He was born in Libya. They moved to Dublin when Ashmawy was six year old and Mohammed left two years later.
His parents have influenced Ashmawy’s way with his own children. “I think some people are made to be parents and others aren’t,” he says. “I became close to my dad later, but he wasn’t the greatest father, so I think I take what he did and then do the opposite.”
His mother is a different story. “I basically plagiarise her,” says Ashmawy.
He admits parenting six is a challenge. “The kids range in age from six to 23. That’s a lot of different people in one house. One’s a nerd. One doesn’t want to go to school. One’s artistic. The other’s athletic. I try to see them all as individuals and not box them off. I want to let them become who they are to be best of their abilities.”
Finding time to spend with them individually is a struggle. “There aren’t enough hours in the day. The work/life balance is a killer. You work hard to provide for your family but then you don’t see them. That’s a conundrum I get stuck in sometimes.”
Ashmawy’s six children include four step-children from Tanja’s previous relationship and two of his own. He has never had any issues with blending the two families. “They were young when Tanja and I got together, which was lucky,” he says. “The oldest was 11 and the youngest was four and we had time to get to know each other. Then, when we had the two others, I never made a difference between us all. We’re all family and they know that.”
Having grown up as an only child in a single-parent family, he loves being part of a big one. “It’s the polar opposite of what I had growing up and my favourite thing is when we all go someplace together,” he says. “I look at them all and think how proud I am of who they are. I’m so lucky that they’re my family.”
Ashmawy learns a lot from them. “I have one daughter with epilepsy and she’s so determined and resilient. She never complains, and her condition doesn’t stop her. From her, I learn not to be negative because it doesn’t achieve anything.”
His own health has been a cause of concern in the past. In 2011, his lungs collapsed on a flight from Dublin to London and he had to undergo double lung surgery. He was subsequently diagnosed with hereditary lung disease.
“That made me see the world through a slightly different lens,” he says. “A lot of people rely on me and I need to look after myself so that I can look after them.”
Significant lifestyle changes were made: He gave up alcohol, exercises more, and practises mindfulness.
He brings it back to his mother. “Her mantra, whenever there’s a problem, is, ‘let’s have a cup of tea’. You feel like shouting, ‘How is that going to help?’ But do you know what? It does. Stopping, being in the moment, and communicating helps.”
Ashmawy recognises his life is good. “I try to live in the present and not focus too much on the past or the future. Things happen and lives change in the flick of the fingers. So, if you’re in the park with the kids, be there. Enjoy those moments because they’ll go. Enjoy now.”