This much I know: Mary Wilson, broadcaster

Hilary Fennell sits down this week with RTÉ Radio 1 ’Drivetime’ broadcaster, Mary Wilson, to chat about the wisdom she’s gained through her career.

I wanted to be a journalist from a very early age.

I grew up in Tipperary, on a farm, and we only had RTÉ 1 on the TV in the 1970s. When women like Nell McCafferty and Mary Kenny appeared on The Late Late Show, they made a big impression on me. I admired those mouthy women greatly and they inspired me.

I come from a traditional farming background and think my family were surprised by my decision to become a journalist. I went to a country boarding school and remember one of the nuns taking me for a walk through the vines in the glasshouses, trying to convince me that it was not a suitable profession for girls. But I had a healthy desire to pursue that career. And I can be very determined.

I was quiet and bookish. My late mother might have said I was shy, but I don’t think that’s true.

I left Tipperary to study journalism at The College of Commerce in Rathmines. I worked as a freelance print journalist briefly and also spent some time working in PR before joining RTE. Later on, I returned to college to study law at DIT.

I’m lucky because my voice has a low register. Even when I worked in print, I was often asked if I had ever considered working on radio.

The most important qualities for being a radio presenter are curiosity, energy and detachment. They are skills that you can develop. There is a fine line to be walked. You can be empathetic but you can’t cross over to being part of the story. I don’t like that type of journalism, where the journalist becomes upset by the story.

I’ve always had the ability to retain obscure facts.

Being on air was nerve-wracking at first, it was a bit like constantly having that feeling you get the first time you ask a question in class, or the first time you take part in a school debate, but I think it’s good to be a little nervous. The important thing is whether you control the nerves, or if they control you.

My favourite catchphrase is probably ‘Let’s get on with it’.

I try to compartmentalise my work and my private life as much as I can. I got divorced quite early on so I quickly became used to juggling and managing my time as I brought up a small child as a single parent, with the help of lots of other people of course. I felt my daughter Aoife was was entitled to my time. I have no great secret to reveal as to how we managed it but she has safely emerged as an adult.

I’m a deadline junkie.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from my father when my life was floundering for personal reasons. He simply said “you don’t have to do anything right now”. It meant so much to me to hear it at that time.

Professionally, the best advice I got was from the broadcaster Gerry Ryan when I started presenting 10 years ago. Going from being a reporter to being the main presenter of a live show, as I did, is like making a total 360 degree turn and all Gerry said was “just keep showing up”.

The trait I admire most in others is kindness. For a period of time when I was single I’d often look at couples who ‘worked’ and realised that kindness was the key. They were kind to each other.

My biggest fault is that I am impatient.

My idea of misery is a cocktail party.

My idea of bliss is travelling although at the moment my partner Hugh and I can’t manage to get away for more than a weekend or so at a time. And I love music and theatre and hillwalking.

If I could be someone else for a day, I’d be Leonard Cohen’s muse.

If I could change one thing in our society I’d tackle homelessness.

I don’t believe in fate so much as I believe in making one’s own luck.

I’m an optimist, definitely a glass half-full person. So far life has taught me that no matter how bad something is today, there is always the possibility that it will get better.

  • ‘Drivetime’ with Mary Wilson is on RTE Radio 1, weekdays from 4.30pm until 7pm.


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