Third act: X Factor star Mary Byrne in new play

She's about to star in her first dramatic role. Mary Byrne tells Rowena Walsh how she's embracing her second life.

Third act: X Factor star Mary Byrne in new play

She's about to star in her first dramatic role. Mary Byrne tells Rowena Walsh how she's embracing her second life.

About to star in her first dramatic role, X-Factor star Mary Byrne tells Rowena Walsh how she’s embracing her second life and hoovering up success.

Mary Byrne can’t believe her luck. “I’ll be 60 soon (November 3) and I’m starting my acting career,” says the X Factor star. She is about to perform her first dramatic role in Dirty Dusting, a comedy about three hard-working cleaners facing redundancy, who decide to set up a phone sex service.

Mary was in London when she first got a call from the show’s producer. “I thought it would be a small part because they know I’m not an actress. Then I got the script and I nearly died.”

Although nervous, Mary decided to accept the offer. “At every age in your life, you have to take on challenges,” she says. “It’s the way you keep your mind fresh and your life interesting.”

The Ballyfermot-based former Tesco checkout worker says it was different when she was younger but, as she reached her late 40s, her perspective on life changed. “My daughter was reared and I was just going to work every day,” she says.

“I wanted something different in my life. It was getting drab. I decided that I had to face the world, be who I was and take on all the challenges that come to me because that’s the only way I’m going to have an interesting life.”

Her brother asked her to do a few gigs with him. The decision to say yes led her to her appearance on X Factor. She used to watch the show all the time and often thought that she’d die a thousand deaths if she had to sing in front of so many people. But performing with her brother and receiving standing ovations at those gigs had changed her outlook.

“Maybe it was the right time for me,” she says. “If I had been in my early 20s or 30s, I don’t think I’d have had that courage.”

Mary would never have dreamt that she could be an inspiration to others, yet men and women often congratulate her on how she has embraced her second life. “It’s an incredible feeling when you’ve proved to someone else that life doesn’t end at a certain age. You can go on and go on.”

She celebrated her 51st birthday during X Factor and, since then, Mary has made the most of the opportunities coming her way. She has recorded four albums, including one with Phil Coulter, and performed on stage in pantos. But appearing in Dirty Dusting is a new departure for her.

Mary left school when she was 12 years old and says that this is her first time to really study, as she has so many lines in the play. “It is hard to learn when you’re older, but it’s not impossible. It’s about applying yourself.”

Going through the menopause did affect her memory, however. “Coming home from a shop and putting the milk into the washing machine instead of the fridge is something, I think, that happens to a lot of women.”

The memory issues left her feeling confused and frightened. She dealt with it by reading, doing word puzzles and learning songs. She says that fish oils also helped her.

She has been open about her mental-health struggles in the past and says she is still affected by anxiety and depression.

She believes passionately in asking for help. “I’m not perfect now. I still have those moments, but they’re nothing compared with what they used to be. I pick up the phone, go for a walk, go for a swim, do something.”

Appearing on RTÉ’s Celebrity Operation Transformation was great for her physical and mental health. “I had been battling with my weight and my mental health for such a long time. I lost the first five pounds and I was like a two-year-old.”

She has lost six stone since she first sang for the X Factor’s Simon Cowell. Now weighing 15 stone, she’d like to lose another two stone to help her arthritis.

“I was carrying two women around for such a long time. Half of that woman is now gone.”

As part of a nine-venue tour, Dirty Dusting is at Ballymaloe Grainstore, Co Cork, on Sunday, November 10. Tickets are €25.

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