Everyone thinks they know Kathryn Thomas. Having graced our television screens for over 15 years, she’s become not just a familiar face, but almost a friend. Now, as she prepares for a new venture, she talks to Melanie Morris about life, love and living well.
I think the moment I realised that I actually liked Kathryn Thomas was in the early noughties, when photographs appeared in the Daily Mail of her, before, during and after one of the many high profile “style” events. The beautifully groomed, stunningly turned out, slim, coiffed, perfect Kathryn was shown to dishevel as the night went on, ending in a sartorial train wreck outside Abrakebabra or somewhere similar. If it wasn’t the year she won the title of Ireland’s Most Stylish Woman, it could have been, and who’s to let fact stand in the way of a good (and quite likely) scenario. She was unapologetic and continued to live her life, just as she wanted.
At a time when most telly-presenting ladies were getting make-up artists written into their contracts, and borrowing frocks from the UK and beyond, Kathryn has always been consistently refreshing and down-to-earth. “I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy,” she reflects. “I kinda go around like that – with no make-up on. I’ve never felt perfect. I guess it comes from working on No Frontiers, where I did ten years wearing no make-up and hiking boots; I got used to it. And I come from a home where I’d never have seen my mum take two hours to get ready. I mean, I love what make-up and hair can do, but I won’t wear make-up to the supermarket, or the gym. I’ll go about my life like that, but for work, and meetings and going out at night, well then I’ll put my face on.”
The refreshing attitude to appearance stretches to body image too. “I feel pretty confident talking about my body at age 36. There are bits I like, and sure there are bits I don’t like. I’m small on top – my waist and boobs – but I have the ‘Thomas thighs’ and definitely have to work harder and deeper than others on the lunges and squats to keep things in proportion.”
“I love my nights out, and the craic, and big chunks of cheese, and wine, so I have to exercise, but I love feeling strong.” Kathryn’s interest in fitness stems from her school days. “I was definitely pudgy in junior school,” she remembers. “We weren’t fed junk at home, but we certainly ate big dinners. And I can remember hanging around outside the chippers as an early teen, desperate to get boys to notice me. But then I went to boarding school in Dublin, and by second or third year, I started to see the benefits of exercise. The weight started to fall off, and I began to feel a lot better about myself.”
Kathryn trains hard with Siobhan Byrne (in calling Siobhan a “celebrity trainer”, does that mean she’s the celebrity, or that she trains celebs? In this case, I think it can refer to both trainer and trainee). But now the poacher is about to turn gamekeeper. This month, Kathryn embarks on a whole new career path, as she launches a series of one-week residential bootcamps for those keen for a bit of a health epiphany.
Using the beautiful remote island of Inish Beg near Skibbereen in West Cork, Pure Results Bootcamp is a formula conceived by Kathryn following a few years’ close research. “I’ve been looking at what’s on offer abroad for a while. Then last May, I had put on a few ‘new romance’ pounds and found myself with a free week. I found a bootcamp in Cádiz, Spain and signed up. I didn’t know what to expect – fit camp or fat camp, gym bunnies or overweight women – but thought I’d give it a try. We did eight to ten hours’ training a day, of low and high intensity; 23 women and two men aged up to the mid-sixties. I lost ten pounds and a good number of inches, and since then, I’ve kept about half a stone off. It was a really good reboot, and it got me back into some good habits I’ve been keen to keep going, like being more aware of portion sizes, eating less at night, and eating better during the week. But what interested me most was how so many of the women turned the feelings of ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’; and that’s what I want to do with Pure Results.”
Kathryn has the whole system thought out for those booking on to her programme. “We have trainers, nutritionists, cooks … Everyone’s experience will start before they travel with a Skype session from the nutritionist to establish goals and what each client wants to achieve. Then there’ll be trainers to train, and trainers to spot, so everyone can work together, but to their max. My entire brainpower has gone into this. If you’re promising an experience and people are giving you their money and their body for a week, you have to deliver. I’ve been thinking of every detail – the classes, the evenings, comfort. I know that the underfloor heating must be on in the boathouse half an hour before people come for yoga, and that the candles must be lit. There has to be enough time for unwinding and using the heated pool … A barbecue on the last night … We’ve worked on a coloured bowl system at meal times, green for fitness, blue for fat loss; if someone wants to change during the week, they can see the nutritionist and do so …” Yep, every small detail has been worried through. “Then, when the client returns home, they’ll be given a plan
and have a further two weeks of monitoring, from the nutritionist and their trainer, to see how they’re incorporating everything into their ‘real world’, so it’s really a three-week experience, based on a 5:2 plan.”
It’s clever of Kathryn to be thinking of life beyond broadcasting, although it doesn’t seem likely that she’s about to hang up her microphone just yet. “I know there’s talk as to whether The Voice of Ireland will continue next year, but Operation Transformation has been commissioned, and I’m developing ideas with [agent] Noel Kelly,” she says. “I’d love to do more radio, although slots are so limited and coveted.”
There’s also the matter of Kathryn’s off-air life. As she tells me the story of how she met businessman and restaurateur Padraig McLoughlin, her face comes alive. “It was the night before I was going away to Canada for a week, and I was out with a friend who was also single and insistent that we head to The Shelbourne to scope out the men. I reckoned I needed some Dutch courage, so we stopped at O’Donoghue’s on the way. We slipped into a booth and there was a trad band on. Padraig was up at the bar, arms folded, listening [his restaurant Hugo’s is across the road]. Mary Kay approached him, and he sent me over a drink. Then, like an idiot, I went over, shook his hand and then turned my back to retreat to hide in my seat. I was too nervous. Anyhow, we never made it to The Shelbourne, and at the end of the evening, I gave him my number, and then didn’t hear anything from him! A week later, on my way back from the airport, I got a text saying, ‘I think you get back today’.” Cue a big smile. “We’ve been together since.”
The two seem cut from similar cloth. Both are hugely social, love big nights out, good food and wine; both are sporty and competitive. Padraig’s a serious runner, having had his own epiphany a few years back. “He’s lost five and a half stone,” Kathryn says. “I think it started when he was 41. He was a typical shift worker, running his bar in Tullamore. There were the late nights, the carveries, the chips. Anyhow, one morning he went out, bought a pair of runners, and hasn’t stopped since. I think he’s done 14 marathons in the past five years.”
And while I always think it’s awfully gauche to probe into people’s personal lives, and what they plan on doing with them, I can’t let the interview go without asking Kathryn a bit about her very public views on women, careers and families.
“I would love for the female form to physically catch up with feminism. I get frustrated when you hear very negative opinions of women who put off having families due to careers, or waiting for the right partner. The medical profession says not to, but that doesn’t tally with society’s voice that says, ‘Go to college, stay in college, get a master’s, become a doctor…’ Society rightly wants to push women forward, but then at, say, 31 you can’t, or mightn’t want to just stop. We need to look at the sociological model.”
Kathryn openly admits that a few years ago she’d considered and researched freezing her eggs. “I was just out of a seven-year relationship at 34. I was single. I wasn’t planning on being any of these things, so it made sense for me to see what my options were. I didn’t do it in the end, but I believe no one has the right to guide your decision. But I feel very strongly that women should be made aware of the AMH test, which will give you an idea as to your fertility, so each woman can make more of an informed choice in life. So, if you want to become a doctor, and you have a low egg count, it might be handy to have that bit of information in your armour. I did the test, and thankfully, I’m above average. Who knows what’s in my future, but having that knowledge is good.”
Which brings us right back to the beginning, and talking about the benefits of health, good eating, exercise and a life that’s not without its pleasures and treats. “Padraig and I would be pretty good during the week, but we have fun at weekends. We run together a lot. Or rather, he sets the pace. He runs and I chase him; which is fine, because to get me, he chased me.”
Follow Melanie Morris on Twitter @melaniemorris.
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