Why is Baz Ashmawy trying to kill his mammy?
Ashmawy had entered a lull in his career when he had the idea of taking Nancy (71), his long-suffering mother, skydiving, warplane flying and sitting on crocodiles for Sky TV
Stop or my mammy will shoot: Baz Ashmawy and his mother, Nancy (71)
Four years doesn’t sound like a significant stretch, and yet, through the topsy-turvy kaleidoscope of showbiz, it can amount to several lifetimes. Sure enough, TV presenter Baz Ashmawy has had quite an eventful time since 2010: there’s been the birth of his two daughters, a drink-driving charge, a brief suspension from RTÉ, a double-lung operation, and the cancellation of a radio show. The way the media tells it, Ashmawy’s career has lay fallow of late, but there has been plenty of elbow grease employed behind the scenes.
“I was walking my daughter to school one day, and one of the papers wrote about it and called me a stay-at-home dad,” he says, still seemingly irked. “I wouldn’t mind, but I was slaving away on production ideas, pitching away to broadcasters, wanting to get something going.”
After a few frustrating nearly-rans, he finally appears to have hit gold with his new TV project. The winning formula was closer to home than he thought. The pithily titled 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy stars Ashmawy and his own mother, Nancy (71) as they travel the world and undertake an eye-popping array of daredevil feats together. There is skydiving, warplane flying, sitting on crocodiles, zip-lining and a ladyboy show in Bangkok thrown in for good measure. The Sky TV production, which airs this month in the UK and Ireland, is in the same guerrilla-style vein as previous Ashmawy projects How Low Can You Go? and Baz’s Culture Clash. Already, there is industry chatter that 50 Ways hits the same notes as another cultish Sky offering, An Idiot Abroad.
Ashmawy happened upon the idea to put his own mum centre-stage by chance, after Nancy expressed an interest in skydiving (she had heard a radio item about skydiving nuns). Yet at the heart of the swashbuckling spectacle of 50 Ways lies something much more human and personal: the complex, sometimes imperfect relationship between mother and son. Whatever about watching a pensioner skydive, Nancy’s candid and unfiltered reactions are proving to be the project’s lifeblood.
“People keep saying, ‘You won’t be the star of this’, and I’m not disputing that,” says Ashmawy. “Essentially she’s a very Irish mammy. I remember when things would get heated in the production meetings, and Mum would come in and be like, ‘You mind your language’.”
Nancy in Gadafy’s Libya
But in many ways, Nancy is far from your common-or-garden Irish mammy. Nancy, who is originally from Avoca, trained as a nurse and midwife before moving to Libya in the early 1970s for work. Amid Gadafy’s regime and revolution, she met Ashmawy’s father, an Egyptian accountant. In 1975, Baz – born Ahmed Bacyl Ashmawy – was born in Tripoli. The three lived in Cairo before moving to Dublin in 1981.
Ashmawy’s parents separated not long after, and Ashmawy’s father moved back to Egypt (he died in 2001). Ashmawy has often described his mother in interviews as an indefatigable single parent. It can’t have been easy to be a divorced mother of one in Ireland in the early 1980s.
“People were quite prejudiced and could be quite racist,” says Nancy. “There’d be the odd remark – ‘married to a foreigner’, things like that – but it wasn’t all that bad. Things didn’t work out between Baz’s dad and myself, but that happens. I was lucky that I had very good friends and had great support.”
Guts and guile
Raising the “tearaway” Baz, she laughs, took more guts and guile than straddling alligators and swimming in shark cages on camera. Theirs is a preternaturally close relationship: as Nancy steps in to this brave new world of TV, Ashmawy clearly has a protective hand to her back.
“I’ve told her everything I’ve done in my life – the good, bad and ugly,” says Ashmawy. “I’ve never had to pretend about doing this or that. She knows it all.”
In a way, it’s easy to see just why Nancy has piqued the interest of Sky TV executives. She’s an unflappable firebrand, yet, true to Irish mammy type, she will blanch when her son buys an expensive designer shirt. Ask how she feels about the prospect of fame – she recently acquired Noel Kelly as an agent – and she is unperturbed at the prospect. “I’ll take it as it comes,” she shrugs. “I don’t think like that.”
The Baz factor
Whether by accident or design, her son has also recalibrated his thoughts on celebrity and is happy to don a producer’s hat, as he did with 50 Ways.
A few years ago, Ashmawy’s career and profile were seemingly on cruise control. He was a palate cleanser in Montrose, irreverent and unpolished, and TV bosses had him earmarked for great things. There were a few curious wrong turns – among them Fáilte Towers and Celebrity Bainisteoir – until it seemingly came to a point where RTÉ bigwigs simply couldn’t find a good fit for him. Ashmawy migrated to the wildlands of weekend radio, co-hosting a weekend show with Lucy Kennedy, before it became the victim of RTÉ cuts in July 2012.
Ashmawy is in reflective mood about his relationship with RTÉ: “It’s not that RTÉ weren’t good to me, but they had no money to make the shows I wanted to make,” he says. “It’s nobody’s fault – just the way things worked out. You learn eventually that you should only do the projects you want to do. In some cases I should have stuck to my guns, but I wanted to work. But if you think you’ll be flavour of the month the whole time in there, well, you’re mad.”
Being a freelancer in a trying economy is not without his anxieties, but in the midst of it all Ashmawy settled down with his partner, Tanja Evans, and became a father. The couple have two daughters, Hanna (4) and Mahy (1½). Evans’s four children from a previous relationship – Charlotte (17), Harry (16), Jake (12) and Amelia (10) – make eight and a rather boisterous household in Rathmines.
“I love it. I wouldn’t change one thing about it,” says Ashmawy. “I get the same giddy, happy feeling when I go out with the whole family that I used to get when I’d walk into a club with some mates. I’m so proud of them all, and we’re a tight little unit. Of course, now I have 10-year-olds pitching me TV shows that they want to be in.”
Only seven years ago however, Ashmawy was a carefree singleton, enjoying the myriad trappings of celebrity. “I really enjoyed that period of my life when I was single. I had a lot of fun, just tearing it up without a care in the world. But I saw something I liked in my missus. It was just . . .effortless.”
Still, he recalls how, after they initially met in a Dublin bar, Evans was largely indifferent towards him. “She was rude about my tattoos, I think,” he recalls. “[Fame] didn’t impress her. But she was strong, an amazing mum, and the opposite of me in many ways. We’re a really good balance.”
Domestic bliss, and the annus horribilis that was 2011, haven’t done much to blunt Ashmawy’s career ambitions. Yet, while he will continue to develop TV show ideas with a co-producer, his days of chasing the fickle mistress of celebrity seem to be behind him.
“I don’t give two s**ts about being famous any more,” he says firmly. And then, almost reflexively, Nancy gives him a nudge: “You mind your language.”
50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy is on Sky One, August 25, at 9pm