Delving into the business interests of Ireland’s must famous faces

NEVER let it be said that Kathryn Thomas isn’t a stranger to hard work.

Delving into the business interests of Ireland’s must famous faces

Despite being a regular fixture on Irish television screens, she has somehow found the time to open a new business, too.

Inspired by her time at residential bootcamps in Europe and the US, the Carlow-born star recently welcomed participants to her own Pure Results fitness experience.

Her effortless screen presence has belied the fact that there has been plenty of hard work behind the scenes. Thomas has spent the last year sourcing staff and a location for her new venture, as well as boning up on the intricacies of starting a business.

Pure Results is a new three-week diet and training experience, designed by a battery of life-coaches, trainers, nutritionists and Kathryn herself. The programme includes a week of bootcamp-style workouts on the west Cork island of Inish Beg. Each participant’s timetable is tailored to suit their age, fitness levels and goals, but is designed to push people to their limits.

“It’s something I’m passionate about, so when TV land goes quiet in the summer I thought I might put [the downtime] to good use,” she explained recently. “Am I changing careers? No. TV is my first priority, 100%. It’s just that instead of going shark diving or travelling, I thought I’d try to be part of something to make people feel better. I’m definitely the kind of person who likes the idea of challenging yourself to do different things.”

To the untrained eye, a job in TV looks like quite the charmed life. Alas, a national profile doesn’t necessarily always spell job security. Many of RTÉ’s biggest and brightest are freelancers, and in today’s increasingly tough marketplace, freelancing is more of a precarious existence than ever. Many of them therefore endeavour to bulk out their CVs.

Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin famously juggled her RTÉ appearances with the completion of a PhD from Trinity College Dublin and teaching mathematics in UCD. The Mayo native gave up her presenting job on Getaway, the RTÉ travel show in 2011 in a bid to focus more on her education. For three years, Aoibhinn also worked in St Mark’s Community School in Tallaght teaching mathematics and science. Recently, she returned to our screens as a presenter of The Science Squad. Her former partner Ryan Tubridy is no slouch, either: after penning a 302-page historical book on JFK, he is also juggling his broadcasting duties with the writing of another one.

The list of other RTÉ stars that made the leap from TV into another field runs long and wide. Where In The World presenter Teresa Lowe became a barrister who has specialised in immigration and asylum law. TV presenter Sheana Keane has retrained as a psychologist, specialising in mindfulness and meditation. Beatbox’s Barry Lang trained as a pilot while former Live At Three star Thelma Mansfield is now a successful artist. Liz Bonnin is graduate of the Royal Veterinary College and Zoological Society of London, and her fellow Head 2 Toe alumnus Jennifer Keegan trained as a yoga instructor. And, save for a brief stint on Failte Towers in 2008, Bibi Baskin has spent the last decade running a heritage guest house called the Raheem Residency, in Kerala, India.

The flexibility of television work certainly facilitates opportunities to try on other careers for size. In 2009, Laura Woods was presiding over events on RTÉ’s Big Money Show, before a vicious raft of cuts put paid to that. She decamped to RTÉ radio, but became acutely aware that her career could do with some scaffolding. With that, she undertook training in cognitive behavioural therapy at Trinity College Dublin, and began working part-time in St Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin.

“I had a bit more time on my hands in 2009… I was doing radio from 5-7pm but I wanted to fill my days doing something,” Woods recalls. “I found psychotherapy really interesting. In the last few years I’ve found my interests widening.

“I do see myself continuing to work in some capacity (in TV) but in this game if you disappear off the face of the earth, it’s assumed you’re pretty much dead and gone.

“I enjoyed being in front of the camera, researching and producing segments, but there’s so little TV work around. I don’t think I’ll ever be putting my eggs in one basket like that again.”

Mindful of the fact that she wanted to juggle work with being a mum-of-two — Ben (four) and Alex (two) — Woods also set up Corporate Profiles with fellow presenter Brian Ormond two years ago. The company delivers video packages to business of every kind for use on their websites or social networking pages, and is doing a roaring trade.

“Having kids played a massive role [in the decision to set up the company],” explains Woods. “As a presenter, when someone picks up the phone and asks you to work, you can drop everything and go. But I have little people that rely on me now and want to know what days they have with Mommy. I wanted to marry my love for TV and my need to work with a balanced home life.”

Woods and Ormond use their downtime in TV-land — often October to December — to work on Corporate Profiles. Where Woods works on contracts, storyboards, admin and client liaison, Ormond is more hands on with the actual video shoots.

“Having a company that you can call your own is a huge achievement,” she says. “In TV you are reliant on other people deciding when and where you should work, and it can be very insecure financially and in terms of self.”

Her business partner Brian Ormond, also a father of two — Chloe (14) and Ollie (two) — is in agreement: “Presenting isn’t a seven-day-a-week job and is never going to be. But it’s not like a Plan B or anything… it’s just something extra that is there. The work comes in spurts so it makes sense to be self-employed.

“It’s not just in Ireland that this happens,” he adds. “Every single presenter in the UK has something else going on.”

He’s not wrong: in fact, two of the biggest names in British TV presenting are also double-jobbing. Davina McCall has made a lucrative empire out of her fitness DVD and equipment line, while Dermot O’Leary juggles a hectic presenting career with the running of a posh fish & chip shop in Brighton called Fishy Fishy.

Of course, it could be theorised, too, that most of those who ended up in showbiz in the first place are ambitious, tenacious and goal-oriented to begin with. It stands to reason that many of them would seek out other pursuits and want to self-improve on an ongoing basis.

In many instances, the desire to double-job is borne out of a personal impetus, rather than a financial one. Several Irish sports stars, for instance, can’t move for hefty endorsement and appearance fees. Yet it hasn’t stopped many of them keeping an eye trained on off-pitch pursuits.

In 2013, Conor Murray — along with Peter O’Mahony, Dave Kearney and Ian Madigan — was appointed a Style Ambassador for Life Style Sports. It’s a slight echo of the extra-curricular activities of his Ireland teammate Tommy Bowe. The Ulster player founded a footwear line called Lloyd&Pryce, as well as a utilitarian clothing line, the appropriately named 15 Kings.

If sport careers have a short shelf life, the same could be said for modelling careers. Predictably, a number of models are also juggling life in front of the camera with extra pursuits.

Lifestyle blogging is a popular career trajectory, with Roz Purcell, Rosanna Davison and Pippa O’Connor all moving towards the blogosphere.

Married to Ormond, O’Connor has made a particularly successful leap into blogging, commanding 20,000 hits a day on her site. “I didn’t want to be modelling forever but I did want to be a businesswoman,” she explains.

“As a model, you’re told to work here and there but I want to be my own woman and do what I want to do.”

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