THURLES is synonymous with hurling finals, not Top 40 hit songs. Yet, as the birthplace of Una Healy, north Tipperary now has pop credentials.
A bona fide pop princess, Healy is a bigger celebrity than fellow Thurlers Tony Ryan and Pat Shortt. Bigger than Mary Hanafin. She is the only Irish member of The Saturdays, the biggest girl band in the UK, and one half of a beautiful celebrity couple, alongside her fiance England rugby player Ben Foden. Una and Foden have been tabloid catnip since they hooked up in 2008, and the coverage intensified at the end of last year when she announced her pregnancy and he proposed with a Cartier ring. Four months on and the couple have welcomed a baby daughter, Aoife Belle, born last month, and weathered their first storm in the red-tops.
With the date for the wedding set, and an exclusive deal signed with Hello magazine (worth six figures, reportedly), Foden and Healy were embarrassed last week when a video surfaced of Foden in pants-less high-jinks with topless dancers at a strip club in Barcelona during his stag. Healy was said to be furious, but when we speak a few days later, she’s not letting on: “I just love Ben for how he is, here, at home with me, and we don’t care what anyone says, really, we know how we feel about one another and we’re really happy,” she says. Is she looking forward to being a married woman? “Yes, I am, it will complete our family now that the baby is here. Getting married will be the icing on the cake.”
Healy is polite, but not to be trifled with. Her PR woman has warned that questions about the wedding are off-limits but I can’t resist asking if band-mate Molly might turn up on the big day with a red-haired royal on her arm? Nobody is confirming rumours that Molly and Prince Harry are dating, but nobody is denying them either. If they were going out, would Healy approve? “If it was true,” she says, “I’d approve. Once they’re happy, I’m happy, no matter who they are. I want the best for Molly, I want her to find a lovely boyfriend who will look after her, because she’s such a lovely girl. So once she’s treated right, that’s the most important thing, whoever he is.”
So, no confirmation. Healy is happy to confirm we’ll soon be seeing her back home in Thurles. The Saturdays are performing for the first time in her home town on Jun 3 and she is proud. “I never thought I’d see the day when I could bring the Saturdays to Thurles. I’m very excited, and so are the girls. They know how excited I get about performing in Ireland, so it’s great for them too,” she says. “I’m going to show them around the town a bit when we get there, I’ll show them all the things I’m used to. It’s such an occasion, getting to bring them back to my home town, so I can show them where I grew up, and they can see all that. And I’m going to bring them back to my home as well, my actual family home, and show them my life there, what it was like before I went into the band.”
Life with the band is playing Wembley Stadium, hanging out with Zara Philips, and getting papped by The Daily Mail. What was life before it like? “I was lucky that I had a very normal childhood. I got to live a completely normal life, I got to get my primary and secondary education at Presentation in Thurles, and I got to have friends, and go to nightclubs, and that’s where I first played music. It was a great experience for me, joining a band in Thurles when I was just 17, we were a local band, and we got to gig a couple of times a week in venues around Tipperary, and that was a huge experience for me. From there, I really got the bug for it. And I was so encouraged in school as well, I did music for Junior and Leaving Cert, composing and studying and performing practicals, and getting an ‘A’ in both the Junior Cert and the Leaving really gave me that sense of myself, I knew this was what I should do, and I went for it then after that.”
A trip to London, and an audition for The Saturdays, and the rest is Una Healy history. But what about the stuff that comes with fame and fortune? Foden’s stag-party contretemps excepted, so much of the press for her and The Saturdays has been so breathlessly positive it’s easy to forget that Healy is a young woman, a new mother and a fiancee navigating her milestones in the spotlight. Isn’t the scrutiny hard? She says: “I know that because I’m in a pop band, people do want to know about your private life, and it can be intrusive, if they want to park at the end of your road for example, to get pictures of you. But, at the same time, that’s what you expect when you are in a pop band, that’s just what goes with it. It happens and you have to just get on with it, and not think about it too much.” She and the other girls had time to adjust. “It happened gradually for the Saturdays, because we didn’t come from a reality show, and we weren’t household names overnight, it happened slowly, we got together five years ago this summer, so it’s all been very very gradual for us. That increased attention, the increased interest that comes with success, that hasn’t happened overnight. It’s not a shock to our systems, but it’s something I’ve gotten used to.”