Returning as co-host of Dancing with the Stars, Jennifer Zamparelli tells Andrea Byrne she has perfected the key working parent skills of forward planning and delegation.

Jennifer Zamparelli texts the morning of our interview looking to meet a little earlier: Her son, Enzo is sick, and she needs to hotfoot it to the crèche to pick him up. "High temperature", she tells me when we meet. I empathise. "You're just juggling all the time aren’t ya?" she says, clearly worried about the youngest of her two children, who turns two this month. 

We meet on one of the last Fridays of 2019, a year that has been very successful for the Baldoyle native. Not only did she make her debut as host on Dancing With the Stars, one of the most-watched TV shows in the country, but she also moved from a three-person breakfast radio show to her very own show on RTÉ 2fm, which broadcasts each weekday morning from 9 to 12. 

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Six months in and she loves being in the driver’s seat. "There was a lot to take on in the beginning; I had to learn how to drive the desk, so basically for the first few months, my producers were just throwing me out of my comfort zone. It was very much trial and error, but we know where it is going now.

"It’s not there yet but I know from the feedback that I’m getting when I walk down the street, I know from the messages I get, the length of messages, that people are really engaging in the show, which I have never experienced before; because I come from breakfast, we ran for five years and it was really successful, but the level of engagement on a talk show like this and what people are willing to discuss is very surprising," she says, insisting that she had not envisaged the show being largely listener-driven.

"No, it happened very organically. On one of the first weeks, someone called the show and said 'put me on to Jen, I need to tell her this story’, and then it grew from there. That is, I think, my favourite part of doing the show, when you get that caller on the phone who tells you the most intimate details of their relationship, or their fertility. I’m glad people are finding it a safe space."

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Despite the pressures of parenthood and a busy working week, Jennifer is her usual accessible, forthright and witty self. Although, she says that having worked in broadcasting comedy for most of her career thus far, she loves that the new radio gig can show another side to her and that she no longer has to be funny all the time.

"’Cos it’s knackering!", she says with a sigh. Speaking of which, her schedule is about to get just that. The fourth series of Dancing with the Stars returned on Sunday, January 5, with Jen and Nicky Byrne at the helm once again. 

"Last year was so nerve-wracking. You’re going into a production that’s already established, where everybody knows one another. I’d never done live telly before, so I had a lot to prove in that series. This series, it’s not that I can relax a bit, but I think, the producers’ shoulders will relax a little knowing I won’t f*ck it up completely," she says with a laugh.

"It’s funny, though, you put all the effort in, going through scripts and then you come out on stage, and the first 300 tweets are about what you’re wearing. So as long as I have a nice gúna on, I’ll be grand," she smiles. 

"But honestly though, it’s a beast of a show. We have a great line-up, loads of new dancers, keeping it fresh every year. I’m dying to see Glenda, because she is so terrified of dancing. It’s tough for people who feel like that. Brian Dowling will be a hoot. I love standing at the top of those stairs, hearing that music, and in my ear the director going ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ – there is no buzz like it."

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As to the practicalities of hosting a three-hour daily radio show and presenting a lengthy live weekend show along with being Mammy to two small children? "Yes, I know," she says grimacing, "it’s four months of working seven days a week. I’ll try and take a day off somewhere in the midst of it because otherwise I wouldn’t see my kids. With Lau [he is an actor and stunt performer], we kind of work it out, so he’s brilliant, he will step up. But somebody always gets sick, so I am going to get the flu jab. I’ll be on the vitamins. Enzo even got the chicken pox jab last week," she smiles. "These are the things I have to think about now."

Then there is the all too prevalent feelings of guilt, particularly now that her daughter Florence, (4), is of an age when she vocalises how much she misses her mother and Lau, when they’re working. "Lau was away working in the States for six weeks there, and that really affected her, so we have to be careful with her, she’s sensitive, but what’s great with Dancing with the Stars is that it’s a very family-orientated show, off camera and on camera. Nicky brings his kids in. There are always kids around the place watching the rehearsals. Florence got into it last year. She calls it Dancing on the Stars…." 

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An interesting concept, we agree with a laugh. "Well, it happens I suppose", Jen winks. What are her hopes for 2020, professionally and personally? "I hope to get through it alive. I kind of feel in a weird way that it is already done. For the first half of the year, it is all Dancing, then I am 40 in April. Not doing a party, but Lau and I are doing a weekend away in Paris. Then I am doing a family holiday and I am going over to New York to see my family too. I am going to celebrate throughout the whole year. It is the first big birthday I am really looking forward to!"

Why is that? "Well, 30 was such a head f*ck for me. But now nearly 40, I’m in a really good place. My kids are healthy. Personally, professionally – and I hate this word – but I am just very content. It’s not freaking me out as much as I thought it would. And I am like ‘Bring it on’, and do you know what? There is always Botox!" she laughs reaching for her bag and putting on her coat.

You haven’t gone there already, I ask, given her youthful complexion? "No," she says, "but I WILL!".

Dancing with the Stars continues on RTÉ One this Sunday at 6:30pm.