First Encounters: Natasha Fennell and Joanna Gardiner
‘We’ve never had a falling-out’: Natasha Fennell and Joanna Gardiner. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Natasha Fennell worked at RTÉ, then as director of fundraising for Fianna Fáil, before training as a career and life coach. In 2005, she founded Stillwater Communications, a bilingual English and Irish language communications and training company, with her brother Cilian Fennell. Originally from Connemara, she lives in Ringsend, Dublin
I met Joanna through Helga Staunton, a mutual friend of our mothers. Joanna was the sophisticated city girl with lovely clothes; I was the Connemara girl who spoke Irish. When I was 18, I came to Dublin and stayed with Helga and her husband Hugh. I’d taken a year off between school and college to get work experience, then studied communications at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Joanna, who was studying in Trinity College Dublin, took me under her wing. We used to go to dinner parties at her friends’ houses, meet for coffee, loved the cinema – we didn’t do anything wild. Joanna was extremely kind to me.
I grew up on Maoínis island in Connemara, spent the first 11 years of my life there. They were great years, down at the beach all day long. We moved into Galway in 1979 when my father Desmond was teaching at the university. Joanna doesn’t speak Irish but didn’t dismiss it. It was important that she understood that it was important to me.
I left college, worked for a bit and was with Joanna the night she discovered she was pregnant with her first child. We were both 25 or 26. I was going travelling for three years. She was at home in Ireland, being all grown up and sensible. But we kept in touch the whole time.
Helga died while I was away. She was very young, 54. She had no daughters and had sort of adopted me. I loved her very much. We were profoundly lucky to have had her in our lives.
I went back to Australia, then to Thailand and taught English in Bangkok for nine months.
When I came home, Joanna asked me to be godmother to her second child, Tom, and that brought me back into the fold completely. Now Joanna and I go away to a special place in Portugal with two other friends every September for a “fix it” holiday. We talk about what we want to get out of the year that’s coming. What work or personal issues we might have. Listen. Offer solutions.
Joanna’s probably one of the most non-
judgemental people I’ve ever met as well as being kind, loyal and unbelievably generous. She has an inner strength and a great wry sense of humour. She’s an amazing friend. We’ve never had a fight, not even one bad word.
We know each other’s families very well. We adore our parents, but they’re at that stage where some of them aren’t that well – that can be challenging. So we support each other hugely. It’s a lifelong friendship.
Natasha Fennell will speak on the art of confidence for leaders at Going for Growth national forum in Barberstown Castle on September 24th. See goingforgrowth.com
Joanna Gardiner is the managing director of skincare pharmaceutical business Ovelle Pharmaceuticals, the Dundalk firm founded by her grandfather in 1934. A former chairwoman of Dundalk Institute of Technology, Gardiner lives in Annagassan in Co Louth, with her husband Fergus and children Sophie, Tom and Patrick