"I don't see myself as a Nigerian woman who landed a TV role in RTÉ, I see myself as a woman who went for a position she really wanted and was thankfully chosen as the right fit," says Zainab Boladale.
Boladale was just four years old when she left Lagos, Nigeria to begin a new life in Co Clare.
After the birth of her younger sister, her mother Sally made the decision to move her daughters to Ireland. Her father remained in Lagos and, even though she has not visited her homeland in 10 years, she says she still feels a great connection to her heritage.
Sitting in the RTÉ canteen days before she takes on her new role as a presenter and reporter on News2day, which is the daily children's news programme, she is smiling brightly as we talk about her bright future in media.
The 20-year-old has been busy in rehearsals for the past few weeks preparing for what she describes as a “dream role”.
"We moved to Ennis, Co Clare and settled there. I went to a very multi-cultural primary school, Scoil Chríost Rí in Ennis, where there were a lot of kids from different backgrounds like myself, so I really enjoyed it," she says.
Boladale’s mother, Sally, is one of her daughter’s biggest supporters, along with her sister Zarena (16) and brother Giyaath (10).
"I'm just about to graduate from DCU in a few weeks' time and my parents are just over the moon. My mom keeps sending me links to old shows of News2day for me to do my homework on. I think she's probably the happiest person in the world right now," she says.
We didn't grow up having satellite TV in our house
“My siblings see me as the nerdy older sister – I remember watching the show and other news shows as a child and thinking that I would one day love to be that presenter. We didn’t grow up having satellite TV in our house so we had the main RTÉ One and Two channels.”
Growing up, she considered everything from being a children’s author to being a model, but when it came to the crunch it was a life in media she wanted the most.
She will graduate from DCU with a degree in journalism in the coming weeks but says it’s been “quite the journey” leaving her native Nigeria at such a young age, and landing her dream job as an RTÉ news presenter.
“We all go through that stage, where I wanted to do something completely out there. It wasn’t until I reached secondary school that I got some clarity and realised that I wanted to be a journalist and work in the media.”
She is glad that RTÉ is representing a multi-cultural Ireland.
“I think personally, representation is important and I think, in general, media doesn’t have diverse representation, so I think it’s super important, especially for children to be like ‘oh my god, look at that person, they look like me and they are on TV’, so it’s an exciting time for me,” she says.
Boladale is the first Nigerian woman to work in the RTÉ newsroom and says she is looking forward to representing an ever-changing Irish identity on the national broadcaster.
“I think because I am so young, I undervalue the importance of my opinions sometimes. I do think it’s very important for organisations to have younger voices to show what people my age are thinking about, and I think it’s pretty cool to have that,” she adds.
“I believe that wherever I ended up working in media, I would still be the only young black woman working in an industry that is predominately white. What’s important to me is that when young children from any background see me on TV or meet me when I’m out reporting, they are inspired to aspire to their fullest potential regardless of what they look like or what their background is.
“If I had focused on what made me different from others instead of embracing it, I don’t think things would have fallen into place the way they have,” she says.
The 20-year-old's down-to-earth attitude and hard work is something that caught the attention of News2day producers Anne-Marie Smyth and Avril Hoare.
The women have been selecting the brightest young talent to present the children’s news show which has been running for almost 15 years now on RTÉ and is a widely respected part of the newsroom.
"A big part of working on a show like News2day is getting out into the classrooms in Ireland and meeting children from all over the country, every nationality and every ethnicity. It's actually a very diverse show, ironically, because that's where you see the 'new Ireland'," says Hoare.
"We are the only programme of the kind in the country so it's great to see the diversity in our presenters as well as our audience. Working on the programme keeps myself and Anne-Marie young and there is great respect for the show in the newsroom, and that's why sometimes reports end up going out on the Six-One and the nine o'clock news.
"It's important in the newsroom that we represent young voices and that we see young reporters. News2day represents Ireland as it is now, with kids from every nationality." she adds.
Boladale has been living in Dublin for the past three years since making the move up from Co Clare but says she still loves to get home to the countryside.
Zainab likes to write and present poetry in her spare time
“I love getting to go down home and get out of the city for a while. The last time I was in Lagos was 10 years ago – I’m going to be 21 in a few weeks so I’m definitely going to go back for a visit and see all my extended family and my father,” she says.
Among her many talents, she likes to write and present poetry in her spare time, and has a great appreciation Emily Dickinson.
The budding reporter says she has been made to feel at home in the RTÉ newsroom with her co-host on the show, Tommy Meskill, who baked her brownies on her first day.
“I have already been roped into the next bake sale here in RTÉ. I’m going to cook some of my favourite Nigerian dishes to bring a new flavour to the newsroom,” Boladale smiles.
- News2day is broadcast weekdays at 4.25pm on RTÉ Two