Elle Gordon catches up with TV presenter Nuala Carey to talk about her show with Derek Mooney, pushing herself out of the comfort zone and saying yes to life's opportunities.
Nuala Carey is exactly what you would expect when you meet her in person; warm, kind and delightfully easygoing. Nuala breezes in for her photoshoot in RTÉ and gets all the shots required in record time. It’s the kind of chilled-out professionalism that comes from years of working on TV. Nuala gets the job done.
Afterwards, she sits down to tell me about co-hosting RTÉ One’s new magazine-style show, The Summer Show and tells me why travelling around the Irish countryside is very familiar territory for her.
"Both my parents grew up on farms so my summer holidays were always spent in Mum or Dad’s home place in Mayo or Cork. Our holidays were always down the country…it was kind of unusual for us to go abroad. When I look back at photos of our summer holidays, it’s us on haystacks, or collecting the eggs from the chickens for our Granny. So while I grew up in Dublin, I have always felt an affinity with the Irish countryside… sure, I even support Mayo where my Mum is from!"
The Summer Show is a celebration of Ireland’s natural beauty, heritage and biodiversity, with Nuala and her co-host, Derek Mooney, embarking on a unique trip, shown over four episodes, in which they are joined by a host of celebrities, poets, historians and wildlife experts. The aim is to inspire viewer to take a trip off the beaten track to explore our beautiful island.
Nuala says this show format is a natural fit for her. "I always loved running or walking, I could never join a gym! People who know me well would know that I was a natural fit for this. This kind of show is very me. Being outdoors is what I like. I just feel you have more energy by the time you come back. And walking is free, let's not forget that. All you need to do is throw on a jacket and runners and the sky’s the limit."
Has she enjoyed being part of a new format for RTÉ? "I am delighted to be part of it. I would have known Derek before I ever worked on this anyway, but I wouldn’t have seen him in a while. When we met again, it was like we had never been apart. He has a very witty sense of humour so sometimes he just says something while we’re filming and I can’t stop laughing, so we have had great fun together on the show. I know I will miss the show when it is over. It’s a tight-knit team."
Filming on location around the country has allowed people who usually see her doing the weather forecasts or the Lotto to meet Nuala in person. "When people spot us filming, they try to get the weather forecast off me, or the Lotto numbers, and they want to talk to Derek about interesting wildlife so we really have something for everything," she laughs.
The pandemic and lockdowns sharpened our appreciation of the holiday option available here at home. Nuala agrees: "People have rediscovered Ireland. In a way, the pandemic woke us up to the beauty of Ireland. It was under our nose all along but maybe we just hadn’t realised it. So I really think there is a thirst for rediscovering Ireland right now. We did some of our filming at the Rock of Cashel, for example, and I would have driven past it so many times but I actually hadn’t been up to it. The programme has been an eye-opener for me so I think it will be for viewers too."
Nuala tells me she found herself pushed out of her comfort zone while making the show. She explains, "I got up close and personal with some bats in a graveyard in Limerick, which was a bit spooky! Viewers will see me up in a hot air balloon and I was sea-swimming in Mayo which I had never done before. So people will probably get a laugh when they see me in some of these situations. I actually really enjoyed it. I try most things, within reason… feel the fear and do it anyway!"
The excitement of this show is bittersweet when Nuala thinks how much her late father Maurice would have enjoyed watching it. He died in November 2018. She says, "When the show got the green light, one of the first things Mum said was, 'Oh your Dad is never going to see this and he would have loved it.’ This is true and it is very sad to think that, but in some ways, I think maybe he helped it all happen. The screen-test was in Cork, where is he is from and our last days of filming for the show were in Cork as well, so maybe there is something significant in that."
"In fact, one of the places I was sent to film was Mount Melleray Abbey in Waterford, a place that my Dad loved. It’s a monastic community in the Knockmealdown Mountains and it’s very picturesque. As it turns out, one of the priests that I met was actually in the same boarding school as my Dad in Waterford too."
"The producer would never have known that when he sent me, but I found myself thinking, ‘Well maybe there are coincidences that aren’t coincidences, maybe Dad is with me more than I think.’ I know my Dad, if he was here, he would be the first to say to me, ‘Have you enough petrol in the car, have you enough water in the car?’."
"He was that really traditional kind of Dad. But I do feel he is still involved in everything. When I found out the show was happening I said to Mom, ‘Oh we have to go out to the grave.’ I felt Dad had helped me get it and I wanted to thank him. I still like to touch base with him in that sense."
The experience of grief leaves its marks. "I wouldn’t say that time heals, but I would say that I think it softens the blow because you are used to that feeling now. But I think it’s very normal to have up and down days. That first Father’s Day that followed my Dad’s passing, I found that OK; whereas on Father’s Day this year, I had a wobble that morning. So I don’t think grief is ever linear. It will always be there, but that’s life, unfortunately."
"And of course, the family is never the same, there is always that one person missing. Yet, I find comfort in some places. My Dad used to help out in our local church and so we put a little plaque on the pew that he used to sit on. Sometimes if I am passing, I will pop in and just kind of rub the plaque. Little things like that can give you a bit of comfort."
Speaking about ambitions and the future, Nuala is admirably clear-sighted. "I am very much about taking opportunities but also just letting things unfold. This year, I didn’t say no to anything…I just let it all happen. I think you have to have gratitude for what you have. I have a job that I really like. There is a lot to be said for that. I hope people enjoy watching the show as much as we have enjoyed making it. For me, it has been the making of my summer; it has definitely been the best summer I have ever had."
Even when it comes to the inevitable mistakes of live TV and outside recording?
Nuala laughs, "I think I am good at keeping the show on the road and keeping a good poker face no matter what. Saying that, somebody said when I went up in the hot air balloon I didn’t quite have as good a poker face as usual. One thing I have learned as I get older is just to take things one day, and one week at a time, stay grounded and grateful for every moment, even the scary ones."