The stalwart TV presenter on the part luck has played in her career, parenting, and how women could learn a thing or two from men about success
‘I’m a very black or white person, there’s no grey,” Maura Derrane tells me. “If I make a decision, that’s the decision, and I don’t want to think about it anymore. I just want to move on.”
We’re talking about her move to Dublin from Dungarvan, Co Waterford, two years ago in the middle of lockdown. But the more we chat, the more it seems clear that it’s an attitude that applies right across the TV presenter’s life.
“Really,” she explains, “I’m very much either city or the middle of nowhere – all or nothing.” Presumably, she knows of what she speaks – Maura grew up on Inis Mór, largest of the Aran Islands; a place that certainly qualifies, beautifully, as “middle of nowhere”.
“John’s job was what kept me in Dungarvan,” she continues.
John is John Deasy, Maura’s husband, Fine Gael TD for Waterford from 2002 to 2020. He is currently head of government affairs for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the largest Irish Catholic organisation in the United States.
“I lived in Dublin for many years. I only moved to Dungarvan when I married John and he was a TD. And then RTÉ moved the show [Today] down to Cork, so it worked well in that Dungarvan is only an hour and a bit from Cork. But I felt more at home in Dublin. Once John made the decision that he wanted to do other things than politics forever, I knew the next step was that we’re going to move back to Dublin.”
The couple, who have an eight-year-old son, Cal, already had a house in Dublin, so “it wasn’t really a move. The house was there, we just had to move everything up. If I’d had to look for a house in Dublin right now, I probably wouldn’t have moved. It’s just impossible”.
Has she always been so black or white?
“Yes.” She laughs, then puts on a mechanical voice: “Robot, Robot.
“But I do feel that I’ve made myself more like that. This job, it’s a volatile world that I live in. I don’t believe you survive in TV and media, as a freelance person, if you ponder too much on, ‘Oh God, what if I don’t get this show?’ ‘What if I don’t get that gig?’ You would just go mad. So I have made myself like this over the years.
“I probably have worked on it without even thinking about it. Without having counselling to become this person, I became it naturally, because I had to. It’s kind of a survival mechanism. I genuinely don’t worry about next season when it comes to work, because if it ends, it ends, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
I had wondered about the secret to her longevity. Maura has been on our TV screens, at the helm of high-profile shows, for more than 25 years, during which time many other presenters – especially women – have come and gone.
She has been a news reporter for TG4 and TV3 News, presenter on Ireland AM, The Afternoon Show, Four Live and, since 2012, together with Dáithí Ó Sé on RTÉ’s Today Show.
“I’ve been on TV consistently since I was 27,” she confirms. “So I’ve had a very long career without any glitch – touch wood. Part of that is the ability to not worry.
“But there is an awful lot of luck. There have been so many times that I’ve been lucky. I haven’t planned, like a Machiavellian character, to get places. It has just happened to fall into my lap, almost like [Rhonda Byrne’s] The Secret. I really believe that. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve fallen into positions that have worked for me, and the audience liked me.
“That can all change,” she laughs. “It’s all about your ratings. And certainly for a woman it’s harder than for a man, without a shadow of doubt.”
Why is that?
“It’s a visual medium. People are watching, and they’re judging, and they’re more likely to be looking at me like that than at Dáithí like that. They’re looking at what I’m wearing, my make-up, have I put on weight. It’s all about what you look like.”
How does she cope with that absurd added pressure?
“You’ve got to position yourself in shows that aren’t really about looks. You have to box clever a bit. But,” she adds, “you can’t worry about somebody coming up behind you, 20 years younger. That’s just ridiculous. You can’t be paranoid about other young ones. I don’t have what they have – years younger – but they don’t have what I have – years of experience, years of knowledge.”
So she really doesn’t get into the whole awful comparison thing that society encourages women to engage with?
“I don’t, because it would be so bad for me. I think it would blow my confidence, I think I would stop valuing myself. I just don’t want to do that. Why would you get involved in that? I think I look fine, thanks very much,” she says.
It’s an understatement. But a sane one. “I’m grand. I’m just a normal-looking person. I take care of myself – I care about what I’m wearing, I love my make-up, I make sure my hair is right – because that is my armour for my job. I need to look good. But you put it on, then forget about it.”
She continues: “I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed. Younger women are less confident than someone like me. They’re unsure. I haven’t grown up in their world. I’m a child of the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, we’d go out, we didn’t even think about what we looked like. Now, they live on social media – have to be perfect at all times.
“But when you’re younger, you should be imperfect, because you’re not fully formed. When I think about it, I certainly wasn’t fully formed when I was 30. I wasn’t fully formed until I was 40. I was in my late 30s before I grew up at all.”
Unlike many women in media, Maura isn’t cagey about her age. “The real thing is that we’re healthy and we’re alive and we’re here,” she rightly says. But neither is she hung up on it. She’s 51 – but really, so what?
“To be honest,” she says, “I don’t even like discussing the age thing. I love to take people for who they are, and not even know their age. An ageless person is who you want to be. I refuse to be any age – I don’t want to be any age, ever – this is just me, that’s who I am.”
It’s an attitude she extends to gender.
“People should just be taken for who they are and what they can do, not because they’re a woman, or a man. I just wish we could try and park all that nonsense and just take people for who they are. It’s about ability – ability to do your work – or that’s what it should be.”
Perhaps the other secret to her impressive career is her passion for it.
“I love what I do,” she says. “Television is really my love. And I know that, because I did leave it once before. When I got married to John, I left Ireland AM and moved down to Dungarvan, and it was a few years before I got another full-time gig on TV, The Afternoon Show. I had a two-year hiatus before I got back into live TV, which is my love.”
Really, I ask? Because live TV has always struck me as the most horribly high-pressure of gigs. No leeway. No second chances. No cushion.
“Oh, yes. There’s nothing like it. You’re in the moment. It’s just you, in the moment. I feel you get to the real person in live TV. There are f**k-ups, that’s natural. In real-life scenarios, there are f**k-ups. I like to look at live transmission as almost a mirror image of real life – inevitably things go wrong. A link might go down and there will be a few minutes of dead air. You have to be able to switch on then, not let that audience know, and make up something to talk about.”
And she actually likes that?
“Yeah. I do. I love it. My training helps. For years I was a news hack. That’s really what I am. I worked at TG4 as a reporter, then I moved on to TV3 as a general reporter and then I specialised in crime. A lot of what I would have had to do was run out of court with a judgment in my hand, and decipher that judgment in two or three minutes. So you’re speed reading. You have to extract all the important things, get them into your brain, in those minutes.”
Even so, around the same time as the move back to Dublin, she also chose to step back to a three-day week on Today. Why?
“If the show was not in Cork, there’s no way I would have stepped back,” she says candidly. “It’s an afternoon show, I would be on air at 3.30pm. If I could be home every evening by 6.30pm, for me there’s no way I would have stepped back.
“But when my back was against the wall, I had no choice but to prioritise family. There’s no way I was going to leave my son for five days a week. So in that way it was a no-brainer. It was just ‘this is what I have to do’, rather than ‘this is what I want to do’. There wasn’t much soul-searching,” she finishes with a laugh.
Would she consider herself a hands-on parent?
“I’m very hands-on. About everything. I know everything about Cal’s day, I know all the Minecraft characters, everything about everything he’s into. Maybe if you only have one child, you become a playmate,” she muses.
“My husband is not going to be that person – he’s just not – so I am that person. I’m immersed in Cal’s world more than John is, in the sense of games. I’m childish like that really.”
Outside of work and parenting, what does she like to do?
“If I’m really honest, I don’t do a lot for myself these days, and I know I should. I’m getting slightly annoyed with myself. I need to give myself a kick up the ass. I joined a gym in January and so I’ve been going a bit, but not as much as I should. I hate going, but I love it when I’m in there. When I’m at home, I’m with Cal the whole time. I’m really busy with him. I feel kids are a really important job. He’s young yet.
“I think women, when you have kids, you kind of lose yourself. You have to work a bit harder at it. Men – I don’t want to say don’t care – but they can easily walk out that door and go to the pub and pick up where they left off. Men just do what they do, exactly the same.
“Women, the nurturing thing kicks in and you become almost over-caring towards your child. You forget about yourself, you lose yourself, and I’m guilty of losing myself. I have lost a bit of myself. Only for my work, I think I’d go crazy. I’m very complete in my work, but I’ve lost myself a little bit along the way there…
“I sometimes look to men and think we could take a leaf out of their book. I work with men and I see how they operate. I think if women want to be really successful, you need to think a little bit more like men. A bit of a masculine brain is the way forward. I really believe that.”
What exactly does she mean by a masculine brain?
“The ability to just do one thing, and then move to the next thing. We [women] are sweating – running around, doing the washing, doing everything, running around like crazy people, and then all saying, ‘Oh, I’m doing great!’”
So, if she could switch off and do something just for herself, what would it be?
“I’d book a flight and walk round Paris for a day on my own, stay in a little place, just me. A glass of wine, coffee, dinner; going into vintage shops, look around, not even buy things. One day and one night. That’s all I want.”
It doesn’t seem too much to ask.
Maura has just finished her 10th season on the ‘Today Show’. Catch up on the RTÉ Player