They’ve called time on 50 Ways To Kill Your Mammy, but while Baz Ashmawy has other TV projects in the pipeline, he’s determined to work with his mother Nancy again – it’s just not the same without her, he tells
Baz Ashmawy’s mammy is up for a lot of crazy antics, but she draws the line at bungee jumping. Over three wild years of adventures with her son in 50 Ways To Kill Your Mammy, she flew jets, swam with sharks, and got far too close to a crocodile for comfort. But it was the sight of a bungee line that made Nancy Ashmawy utter her famous catchphrase “no, no, no, no” — and this time actually mean it.
“I’ll stick to that to this day. It was the bungee jump. No way!” she said. “I said if you gave me a million I wouldn’t do it. It’s because of your eyes, it’s quite dangerous.”
Just before I did it she was telling me about detached retinas and I was like, ‘I don’t want to hear!’” laughs her son.
Nancy, reveals Baz, also refused to give him a tattoo — but the now-75-year-old Dubliner was up for pretty much everything else her mischievous son put her way, to the delight of TV viewers.
Broadcaster Baz came up with the idea for the show after Nancy told him she’d heard about a nun who did her first skydive — and that she fancied having a go herself.
“I think my mum approached me, she’d heard about someone who did a skydive, a nun,” he said. “Mum said she’d love to do it and I kind of laughed her off and said, ‘You know you’re too old to do that,’ and then I went home and I felt bad when I got home.
“I said to (his wife) Tanja, ‘I think I’ve upset mum today by
telling her she was too old to do something.’ I’d done ten sky dives, I’d been doing adventure travel for years and then I kind of thought, ‘Well, if she did want to do it, why wouldn’t she do with me? Would I not be the best person for her to do it with?’ Then I thought, ‘Well Jesus if we’re going to do something like that we should make a show.’”
On researching, Baz found that many people his mum’s age and older had embraced their first sky dive. “I remember showing mum this one YouTube clip of this very elderly gentleman who had to be assisted to throw his legs out the side of the plane and then they flung him out!
“Mum laughed for about a half an hour and she said if that man can do it… I think it’s still one of the highlights. I always say the fear of doing something is always much worse, the anticipation of it is worse than the doing. Whether that’s jumping out of a plane or starting a new career or leaving a bad relationship or any of those things. Overcoming fear is all it’s about. Mum had a catchphrase of: ‘no no no no’ that she would always say before everything and then she would go off and do it. Nancy has that mental strength, she’s a very strong person.
She’s strong, she’s healthy, she’s able, and that’s because she’s taken care of herself. And her mind as well. All those things, they’re all equally as important, your mental health, and your fitness. They’re really staples of you being happy.
When we meet the great affection they have for each other is obvious, and the playful banter is just as apparent in real life as onscreen. Nancy feels that working with Baz on the show was a terrific opportunity.
“I was a novice. It was a completely different feat for me, but I enjoyed it. We enjoyed travelling together. When you think about it, I’ve been to 18 countries. Where would someone who’s retired even be able to visit 18 countries? It was great, it was a great experience.”
Still, mammy and son didn’t always see eye to eye during the busy demands of a filming schedule. “We have our differences as well, we’re a mother and son. We have our bad days and good days. There were many days on a shoot when Nancy was like, ‘Put him in a different car!’” laughs Baz.
Nancy lived a fascinating life long before she jumped out of a plane. Over a nursing career spanning five decades, she worked for ten years in Libya, where she met Baz’s late father, an Egyptian man, Mohammed. After they separated, she returned home to Dublin with her eight-year-old boy.
“I enjoyed it, I must say,” she says of her time in the north African country. “I was there a little bit during the revolution but then things became very difficult with Gaddafi’s regime and all that.
I was happy my mother was still alive and was happy to be back so we adjusted very quickly. I trained in London and I worked in Libya. When I came home that time it was kind of difficult if you were married to get work. But I did a lot of agency work and then I did care of the elderly, which was in Bloomfield. I loved it and I hope I gave my best. I never went in to work a day that I didn’t want to go to work. Nursing is a great profession and you make great friends.
"I still have my friends from my nursing days, we still go out and we meet up.”
Her son is clearly proud of his mother’s career and the many people she helped and supported. “You have to be built a certain way to do that kind of job and my mum is just very, very caring and very kind and very thoughtful, especially with the elderly. It’s very important that they’re not a generation you forget about or you leave behind ’cause they’re really everything, you know. I learnt a lot of that from my mum and seeing how she interacts with people.”
Little wonder that Nancy’s backing an initiative called Dishes for Density — she’s passionate about preventative care for osteoporosis. Funded by Amgen and backed by the Irish Osteoporosis Society, the campaign aims to encourage the public maintain good bone health through diet. “Thank God I don’t have it but I have friends that have it. I’m just passionate about it and prevention is better than cure. I have friends who have osteoporosis and I know sometimes the pain they feel.
I’ve always loved milk, always loved cheese. I’m a child of the 1940s and you had your dinner. You had a glass of milk, your cheese and eggs, you had your fish on a Friday. Broccoli, potatoes, a normal diet. And now we realise they’re the things we should have been eating all along. In those days there wasn’t much choice really, which was a good thing.
Baz jokes that he now finds himself encouraging his kids to eat healthily just as his mum did with him as a child. “I have my own kids now and I find myself repeating what my mum said. Mum was a nurse and dealt with the elderly a lot and I’ve known from hanging out of the hospital with mum, that brittle bones, that’s a real thing, and something you don’t think about it when you’re younger.
“When you get to Mum’s age it’s about those years previous and how you’ve looked after yourself and what you’ve eaten and making sure you get the right vitamin D and your diet.”
Following the success of his gambling documentary, All Bets Are Off, earlier this year, Baz is now working on another project for RTÉ. Wing Man will see him helping people fulfil long-held dreams. Nancy, meanwhile, is looking forward to some downtime in the Canary Islands, before returning home in time for her granddaughter’s birthday.
Baz hopes he will work with her again. “From a personal point of view, getting to spend three years travelling around with your mam... it’s a hard thing to replace afterwards. I go off and make other documentaries and they’re great, but I always kind of miss it. That’s why doing the Christmas special last year, trying to track down the Pope, was great fun. I’m sure we’ll definitely do something again, I just haven’t quite worked out what that is yet. I’ll have to make sure the boss is happy — and it’s not bungee jumping, that’s for sure.”