First encounters

 

In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE

SOFIE LARSSON

grew up in Gothenburg, on the west coast of Sweden and studied business and event management in Australia for a year after leaving school. She met Donal at a party in Howth, where she was visiting a friend, and moved to Ireland permanently in 2007. She now works with Donal full-time, helping to manage his different ventures. She and Donal, both 25, live and work in a whitewashed cottage in a terrace on Howth’s main street.

‘I WAS VISITING Hannah, a schoolfriend whose mother is from Howth, and went to a party: Donal walked up the stairs and for some reason I didn’t understand, he was interested in Sweden. I had never met anyone outside Sweden who spoke any Swedish. I later discovered that one of the members of a boyband he’d been in, Streetwize, was Swedish and Donal had been over and back quite a bit, visiting him.

“I had been in Australia in 2006, studying business and event management. Ireland wasn’t a country I’d been interested in – it wasn’t sunny, warm, it had no beaches. But my friend Hannah had been talking about it, so I decided to visit.

“I knew I had a job coming up so I went home, even though Donal and I had just met. I had a job that I didn’t love, doing home care. I came back for two weekends; it kept the relationship alive.

“Then I got the restaurant job. When Donal decided to come to Sweden for three months he got a job too. And then he had to go back to Ireland. So I packed my bag, told my mom ‘I’m moving to Ireland’. I had no plan, I thought I’d be back the next week. But my parents never complain, they like having somewhere to come on holiday.

“We moved into an apartment and I got a job in Ranelagh, doing surveys for banks in colleges and universities all over Ireland. I think I’ve been more places in Ireland than Donal now.

“When he started his food blog, I’d come home to find he had cooked something and left things in a mess – he’d use every utensil in the kitchen. I’d go to clean up and he’d shout ‘stop!’; I’d have to wait til he’d taken photographs of the food.

“I was still working, with an office group, when Donal entered Eurosongand later got involved with Industry. I knew he always wanted to be involved in entertainment and like Industry’s manager, he’s someone who’ll follow through with an idea, take a chance. I lack that and find it very impressive. Most people would just settle for a job. But it would be hard if both of us were like Donal.

“I was happy moving to Howth. I wanted to be close to Donal’s family. I’m a homebird, I love Erica [Donal’s aunt, a food stylist] coming down. His granny and grandad and parents and little brother are all near too. They’ve been very warm and welcoming.

“I work with Donal now, I call myself his manager, he calls me his assistant! Are we a business team as well as boyfriend and girlfriend? So much of this has happened in just the past eight months . . . but yes.”

DONAL SKEHAN

began a food blog – Good Mood Food blog – in 2007. Since then he as written two cook books, Good Mood Foodand Kitchen Hero, with a third due out this May. His hit RTÉ TV series, Kitchen Hero, has been bought by TV stations in France and Brazil, and his cook books have been sold in Germany and Sweden. Donal was, briefly, a pop star in bands Streetwize and Industry. He met his Swedish girlfriend, Sofie Larsson, in Howth.

‘AFTER LEAVING school [Sutton Park] I went to Dublin Business School to do media studies. This was in 2005, I was 18 and lasted about six months. I saw an ad for an audition for an international boy band, called Streetwize, yes, with a “z”. We toured for a bit; the end came when we auditioned in the US in front of the guy who’d started Backstreet Boys. He picked one of us, sent the rest of us back home.

“So I came back and worked for the summer as the head – and yes, Sofie, only – waiter in Beshoff’s oyster bar. That’s when I met Sofie at a party: she was visiting a schoolfriend whose mother grew up in Howth.

“Sofie went back to Gothenburg and we kept going back and forth to visit each other. I’d done a six-week TV production and presentation course and landed a job with Bubble Hits [a digital TV music station that later went out of business], starting in January. I had three months to wait so I went to Gothenburg.

“I ended up working as a chef in the kitchen of the restaurant Sofie was working in. One of the exciting things for me was seeing all the different kinds of food. My parents are food producers and my grandmother on my mother’s side was a real cook.

“Sofie and I came back to Ireland in 2007 and moved into an apartment. I was working in Bubble Hits, but my interest in food never left me and I started my Good Mood Food blog. In 2008, I got an email from Mercier asking me to write a cook book. But I’d also entered Eurosong that year. I didn’t win – Dustin did! – but I got a role as Peter Pan in the Tivoli theatre panto in 2008 out of it. And by then I’d finished writing and photographing Good Mood Food, which came out in 2009.

“One of the girls in the panto was interested in starting a band. That’s how our pop group Industry started, in 2009. We had two Irish number ones, supported JLS and the Pussycat Dolls and played in the O2 in front of 16,000 people. But then that band broke up.

“Sofie was very supportive. For me, it’s important to have someone to do it for. Sofie has been adopted by my family, she really wanted to be near them. We spend a lot of time in Sweden as well – on bad days, Sofie gets in a rage at Irish weather and we spent all last summer there as well as Christmas. I love Sweden – the music, culture, design, shopping. Our goal would be to create a career that can travel; we’d love to go to America. Now I need someone to manage things: Sofie negotiates prices, does the accounts – she doesn’t give herself the credit she deserves.”