As she returns to Cork with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Jenny Greene talks candidly about settling back in the presenter’s seat on 2FM after her controversial departure earlier this year.
Jenny Greene was 17, halfway through fifth year and presenting a weekend breakfast show on Dublin’s FM104. Her parents decided it was time for a chat.
“I came home from school one day, they said they’d been talking about it, why don’t I just leave school, I might get more work in there [FM104] if I was available.
"They rang the school the next day and I never went back,” she tells me in a bright and airy photographer’s studio on South Great George’s Street in Dublin.
I doubt every parent in Shankill, south county Dublin tells their child to ditch school and become a DJ.
But then Jenny Greene wasn’t every child.
Completely unacademic according to herself, playing music on her own decks from the age of 12, she broke into radio at the age of 15 after she rang pirate station Pulse FM and DJ Mark McCabe asked her to drop in and take a look around.
Twenty-two years later she’s just started her own show on 2FM, weekdays at 3pm. It’s a triumph for hard work and talent.
It took ages to get where I am. People make assumptions when you are in radio, but you’d probably make more money working in a shop. You just have to keep at it.
How does she feel about the new show?
“It will be fun, we’ll play music there will be guests, but it will be nothing political or Brexit or anything like that. It’s a lovely time-slot, but I’ll be honest I’m shitting it a bit as well, I haven’t been on the radio for three months. I hope I don’t come back and they say, ‘she’s not that great’”.
That’s unlikely. The reason she’s back on 2FM is because lots of people out there think she’s great.
Earlier this year, she had a meeting with her bosses in 2FM, including station head Dan Healy, to discuss future plans after her co-host on the morning show, Nicky Byrne, left to go on tour with Westlife.
“We knew for months that Nicky was going. They said they didn’t know where they were putting me yet, but it will be in the daytime schedule. I said that’s fine.”
The follow-up meeting wasn’t so fine. “Then, I met my two bosses after the show one day, to find out what time I’ll be on. They said, it will be Sunday nights, 8 to 10pm. I wasn’t expecting that.
“I could see they were stressed telling me and they probably thought it was going to kick off, but I was in shock.”
Is she the kick-off type?
“No. I will if I have to, but not in that situation.
I was stunned and they were genuinely upset, and they said we just don’t have anywhere [in the daytime schedule] to put you right now.
As an added complication, tickets were already on sale for the latest series of gigs that Jenny does with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.
“I had to do them no matter what happened, but it would have been awkward. I asked what are we going to do about the gigs? They said, they hadn’t thought about that — they never thought I’d leave.”
A week later Jenny officially announced that she was moving on from 2FM with a heavy heart, insisting it was practicality rather than pride that made up her mind.
“The timings were terrible. I’d be working all weekend [presenting and DJing live], I’d have no life if I took that weekday slot.
"I’d be sitting in the house all day on my own and going into work when everyone is gone home. I’d get home and my wife would be gone to bed.” Were there tears?
“Ah Jesus ya! Not in front of them [2FM bosses], but I’d be at home feeling relieved and then I’d be siting there having a panic going, Oh god, what have I done, and then there would be tears for a while and then it would be fine again.”
How did her wife, Kelly Keogh react?
“She 100% supported me, said it was the right thing to do, but she had moments going what are we going to do, and I said it will be fine, something will come up.
I just didn’t imagine it would be going back to 2FM, I didn’t think that was possible.
It turns out it was. Jenny announced her move from 2FM on social media on March 12, in a gracious post that ended with a quote from Terry Wogan about the dangers of hanging on too long.
She still had the orchestra gigs to do, along with a packed schedule of DJ gigs all the way to New Year’s Eve. And given her pedigree on Irish radio, it probably wouldn’t be that long before something came up.
What actually came up was the response to her social media post.
“I put the statement up that morning, had a shower, when I got out my phone was on fire. I didn’t imagine that would happen. I thought there would be a few people saying that’s a shame or good luck, but it sort of took off.”
Her posts attracted 1500 comments on Instagram, 525 in Twitter.
It was a lot more than ‘that’s a shame’ or ‘good luck’ – there were plenty of people saying they would listen to her wherever she cropped up again.
This presumably had an effect in the corner offices in RTÉ and Jenny is back in the 2FM schedule every afternoon, along with her popular Saturday evening show, Electric Disco, that runs from 6 to 8pm.
I point out that other DJs were affected by her coming back into the schedule — how did she feel about that?
“The thing is no one was let go. And I did ask the bosses about that.”
Would she have said no if it meant someone else losing their job.
"Yeah. It had already happened to me and I’m not doing it to somebody else. I’d rather go somewhere else and not feel shit about it. At least that didn’t happen. He just moved a few things, changed a few time blocks, but no one was let go.”
I think I know why so many of Jenny’s fans kicked up a fuss — her big dirty laugh.
It was actually mentioned in one of the first reactions to her departure announcement on Twitter. Jenny Greene’s big dirty laugh is a surprise the first time you hear it, given that she’s pleasantly understated compared to some of the giddy banter merchants you hear too often on Irish radio.
Her laugh suggests a naughty side she can’t put on full display on the national broadcaster and I think the listeners totally get it.
For example, we were chatting about a track ‘Ball and Chain’ which she says would empty the dance floors anywhere else in Ireland, but is an enduring club classic in Cork.
I suggest this might be because the nightclub drugs were different in Cork. She replied, “That’s your words not mine”, followed by her big dirty laugh. It’s just one of the things people love about her.
That and the fact she’s real. Jenny Greene isn’t just a button pusher who has managed to keep up to date with the lingo that surrounds dance music.
She was so young when she started playing warm-up DJ gigs at the Palace on Dublin’s Camden Street, they had to make up a special staff-card to allow her get in the door.
She was a regular on the dance floor in Dublin hot spots like the Temple Theatre, the Pod and Redbox. Her Electric Disco show continues to introduce new and old tunes to a fresh generation of fans on 2FM. Along with all that, she DJs around the country on a regular basis; she has put in her time and it shows.
I ask if she gets recognised much when she’s out. “People recognise me in Cork more than they do here, I started in the Savoy so many years ago.” It turns out she spends a lot of time in Cork, her sister lives in Kinsale and her parents retired early to move down to Leeside.
Jenny fits her private life around a busy work schedule . She married Kelly Keogh in 2016, four years after they started seeing each other, having originally met in Irish college when they were teenagers. (She once said she delayed coming out for a while because she didn’t want to be known as ‘the gay DJ’.)
So, what’s an ideal night out for them now?
I don’t get one out in Dublin anymore. They’re usually wrapped into a gig, maybe dinner before that.
A night in?
“At home, spaghetti bolognese and a bottle of red wine. We barbecue a lot too, we’d have music in the kitchen and out in the garden, we’re both mad into music so it nearly becomes a thing, ‘I found this today, have a listen’, that could go on all evening. We’ve also been binge watching Killing Eve recently and watched the movie, Green Book, that was brilliant.”
Given her radio commitments and DJ bookings, does she find it hard to get time off?
“I have Sundays off,” she says with a cheeky grin.
“And I’ve two weeks booked off in September.”
Is your wife insisting on that?
“No, I’m insisting on it! Sometimes you tell people you’re going someplace on holidays, they say, ‘Oh it’s not buzzy there’ — the last thing I want to do is go to a night club on holidays!
"We always go to Lagos in Portugal, this lovely place down by the beach it’s lovely and relaxing. A nightclub feels like a busman’s holiday.”
Her other big commitment this year is the latest series of gigs with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, including one in the Marquee in Cork on June 28.
It’s only when she’s telling me how the Orchestra gigs came about that I realise how awkward it must have been during her meetings in March with 2FM boss, Dan Healy.
She mentions Healy regularly and she clearly likes him. He was the one who paired her with Nicky Byrne. And he was the one who came to her three years ago with an idea.
I came off air, Dan called me in and said he had something a bit mad to run by me. I thought well knowing Dan, it’s off the wall, which it was. Pete Tong’s BBC Proms had been on and it was amazing, so Dan said he’d like to try something like that [a DJ playing dance music backed by an orchestra] at Electric Picnic in six weeks time.
"I said, ‘how are we going to pull that together in a few weeks, I’ve never met the orchestra, we need to pick a set list and have it arranged’.
"We had one rehearsal and said let’s see what happens. No one had paid in to see us, we weren’t on the set list, so if it’s shite, no one is going to give out.
“A couple of people randomly popped into the tent during the soundcheck in the afternoon. All day Dan Healy was going ‘will people turn up?’ I told him stop going on about it, people will either turn up or they won’t, there is no more we can do. We can’t drag people kicking or screaming into the tent.
“About half an hour before we went on, the tent was full, and it was full outside.
"They reckon around 11,000 people turned up. I remember before going on stage, saying Jesus whatever this is, we’ll enjoy it for the next hour and it will never happen again. Or so I thought.
“I went away on honeymoon on the Monday, I was in Mauritius when Dan rang me and said we’re booked in the 3Arena in Dublin with the show. Three years later we’re still going.”
I tell her I watched a clip of one of the gigs and it’s noticeable that she barely moves.
“I’m not someone who jumps around on stage. I’m not that type. There are 48 people on that stage, and Gemma [Sugrue] singing, she’s amazing, for me that’s the main focus.
“I’m actually quite introverted. My ideal gig would be to DJ behind a screen. I love playing music, I hate having to react or look a certain way.
"People think I’m not enjoying myself, I am enjoying myself, I’m just not into throwing myself around or throwing cakes off the stage at people. That’s just not me.”
As I’m packing up to leave I ask her if she has any idea why 11,000 people turned up in Electric Picnic for that first gig.
“I think we were just lucky — there wasn’t much else on during that time slot”, she replies with one final dirty laugh.
It’s no wonder so many people like Jenny Greene.