Angela Scanlon on life in London: ‘I am Irish through and through’

The presenter on Irishness, the excitement of live TV and the upside of lockdown

When she moved to London six years ago, Angela Scanlon was determined to break into primetime television. Already a successful stylist, journalist and presenter in Ireland, the Ratoath, Co Meath woman couldn't have predicted that she would soon be filling some of the BBC's most sought after presenting slots, including The One Show, the popular Your Home Made Perfect, and her latest show, Your Garden Made Perfect, which launches later this month.

Scanlon first made her name on Irish television, appearing on fashion shows such as Off the Rails and Xposé, travel programme Getaways, and fronting her own documentary series Angela Scanlon: Full Frontal in 2014. She later went on to work on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and the cult BBC show Robot Wars with fellow Irish presenter Dara Ó Briain.

Although, the pandemic has grounded her in the London home she shares with her husband, Irish businessman Roy Horgan and their two-year-old daughter, Ruby Ellen, the 37-year-old says her heart is still very much in Ireland.

“I am Irish through and through and feel very protective of that part of my identity – whether it’s my accent or whatever it is,” she says.

Scanlon was due return to Dublin last summer to start filming Angela Scanlon's Ask Me Anything, a new chat show for RTÉ, but it was shelved due to lockdown and travel restrictions. The impact was personal as well as professional. "My husband and I had a lot going on in both our families during lockdown, and we weren't able to be there. It's funny but I think that that kind of distance and inability to hop on a plane, meant that we really had to be home together, and create our home in London. It truthfully was the first time we had really did that."

We did the whole isolation thing, and it was so lovely seeing family and just spending good quality time after the longest period we've ever been away

It was, she says, “a massive upside to lockdown”.

“I think we always felt we had a leg in each camp, and I didn’t realise how unsettling it was, keeping my options open. It’s quite unsettling to always feel like you’re torn between two places all the time.”

Nonetheless, homesickness took its toll, and she and her family made a nine-hour car and boat journey back to Ireland, so they could spend the festive season with their loved ones.

“Before that I hadn’t been home for months and months – before March I’d say, and that’s so unusual because I go over and back quite a lot. We went back for Christmas and spent a month there. We did the whole isolation thing, and it was so lovely seeing family and just spending good quality time after the longest period we’ve ever been away.

“Then when we came back to London afterwards, and I opened the front door I just thought, oh my God, in the sense that ‘we’re home’, and I never really had that coming back from Ireland. I mean I was bawling obviously before leaving Ireland,” she laughs.

Luckily, Scanlon says her time spent hosting home renovation show Your Home Made Perfect armed her with lots of ideas for making her north London pad her own during lockdown. The show offers people the chance to have two architects offer very different design ideas for how to improve their home, using virtual reality software to show what it will look like. Guests choose their favourite design and the work is carried out on their home.

“When we’re running out of the house in the morning, and back in the evening – you kind of don’t really understand how light works in your house. Recently I’ve been finding these little pockets of light and the positive effect that light has on your mood, on your day and on the quality of space, and I feel a lot of people will be able to relate to this – especially in lockdown.

“So I think changing and positioning things where you’re making the most of those little pockets is really important.”

“The other thing is properly thinking about what you like to do in your house which sounds fairly basic, but I think a lot of people just say, ‘kitchen island – and then we’ll put the table over there, and that in the living room’, or ‘let’s have an open plan.’ Open plan is fab, but if you’ve got a wild group full of kids, then an open plan is a bloody nightmare if you’ve not got anywhere to go for a little bit of quiet time.

“So it’s really thinking about what you like to do, and how you live life. If you like yoga, then why not use your spare room as a little yoga studio? I mean I have a yoga mat, but I have not turned any of the rooms into a yoga studio. I’m a little bit faddy on the yoga,” she laughs.

“I’m currently renting but I think it’s more [about adopting] the ethos of ‘this is my house’. Most people are waiting on some sort of permission from someone. They’ll get a designer or an architect or a builder, and they are told, ‘you can’t do this’, or ‘that won’t work’. I think what My Home Made Perfect has allowed people to do, is it’s given them the confidence to remember that it’s their house - they live in it and they’re the ones spending time in it and paying for it, so whatever they want to do – they’re allowed to do. Hopefully now they’re a bit more equipped with the language and the understanding to be able to communicate with what they exactly want.”

Right now London is where work is. I'd love a house in Ireland, and whether we do or not – who knows is the honest answer

The success of the home renovation show, along with a successful podcast and radio show, plus the upcoming BBC programme Your Garden Made Perfect – which will see two designers suggesting different ways to improve people’s gardens and outdoor spaces – means Scanlon is kept busy in the UK for now, but she’s not writing off a return to Ireland.

“Right now London is where work is. I’d love a house in Ireland, and whether we do or not – who knows is the honest answer. I still went over and back between both [countries] when times were relatively normal. Although, I haven’t a clue what I’m doing next week, never mind next year. My show – Angela Scanlon’s Ask Me Anything on RTÉ – was supposed to happen last year, and it didn’t because of Covid, but we’re in talks about figuring out when that comes back,” she says.

“Before Covid – and when I was doing the chat show, I was home literally every week for a couple of days every time, and that was probably the most regular and frequent I’d been home in a long time. Prior to that we were home for christenings and Holy Communions every couple of months at the very least, because we are still very connected to home. I know a lot of my friends head home at Easter or at Christmas, but we were always in and out every few weeks.”

Her daughter Ruby will turn three at the end of February, and Scanlon says she isn’t opposed to having more children . “Would I like to give her a sibling? Sure. I think family is important to everybody and being separated from family in Covid and lockdown has made that even more apparent. We become more aware of the seemingly small things that are really what life is all about.”

Scanlon stresses that striking a good work-life balance is key to a happy home.

“I might get periods where I’ll be away for a few days, and then I’ll take a few days which are uninterrupted family time. It’s all about balance, and I do think compassion is something that’s required for each other . . . but for ourselves too, and a working mother, or a working parent is quite hard on themselves.

“So the attempt to balance and juggle it all is pretty real I suppose. I feel in a really privileged position with one daughter, a husband who is really hands-on and the means to get help,” she says. Scanlon is also aware of just how fortunate she is to have avoided home-schooling, and of the flexibility her work enables her with.

“Ruby’s not at the age where she needs home-schooling, but I have friends who are currently losing their minds, and I don’t take that lightly. They’re at home with multiple children who are of different ages and two full-time jobs where employers can’t afford to relax their expectations of their employees. I think we all have to be very mindful of how we double-down on ourselves.

“My little girl is in nursery two days a week and absolutely loves it, and then we have somebody who looks after her if Roy and I are both working on the same day.”

There are a number of Irish women excelling in television in London at the moment, and Scanlon also notes that the professional support they offer each other is really important.

"There's actress Aisling Bea, comedian Roisin Conaty and Lisa McGee who wrote Derry Girls. There's a whole slew of brilliant Irish woman – and DJ Annie Mac is another one. We definitely all keep in touch. There's also musician Imelda May – she's not necessarily telly, but in that world, and we're really supportive of each other.

"Aisling has been on my Thanks A Million podcast . . . as has Bridgerton star, Nicola Coughlan, and we'll always support each other where we can. There's always that sense of connection when you're away from home. Even for me – I'm in London six years, whilst some of those women have been in the UK for longer than they've been in Ireland, so they maybe see London as home more than Ireland is. We all work with the Irish centre where there is a lot of passion, and we like to support those kinds of things," she says.

That's a massive draw of live TV that you could literally drop a bomb and say something that would end it all

Despite her extensive broadcasting experience, Scanlon confesses that she still finds herself gripped with nerves before she goes on air.

“I still get nervous and I try to have little rituals now which I rubbished before – I was like if I’m supposed to do this, it’s not supposed to be hard. Properly breathing is a big part of it for me now, and it sounds ridiculous! Or even just taking two minutes on my own where people aren’t faffing around, and we’re not being asked questions.

“Before, I’d not really prepare and just throw myself into it, kind of wild and recklessness . . . which I love by the way. That’s a massive draw of live TV that you could literally drop a bomb and say something that would end it all and that feels to me quite exciting – not that I would, but I like that sense of danger.

“Now I’m able to manage my nerves better and to channel that kind of nervous energy in the right direction and I love it, and I love the team effort; the fact that when the red light goes on – there’s literally nowhere to hide. That’s the thing that drew me to TV in the first place and I love that, and I still get jitters and excitement and when that stops – I’ll stop.”

Angela Scanlon is the ambassador of Olay’s new Collagen Peptide24 collection in the UK and Ireland

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