Victoria Mary Clarke Journalism
Some of my newspaper articles.
Ally and Turtle Bunbury from the Sunday Independent
I’m traumatised thinking about home interiors and how mine might be inferior. This was possibly triggered by RTE’s Home of the Year contest. As often happens when I hear mention of a contest, I found myself wondering if I might be in with a chance. But I suspect I would have a better chance of winning an Iron Man contest. And naturally I had to ask myself if I am missing out on something.
All over the world, people are obsessed with what their houses look like and with what other people’s houses look like, and how their interiors measure up to everyone else’s. If you Google ‘Chinese home interior competitions’ the images are bounteous and breathtaking, and you get similarly lavish results whether you search India, Japan or the US of A.
It seems to be perfectly normal to think a lot about your carpets and curtains, and to do so with a view to continually improving them.
My partner and I have never actually owned a house of our own. When the sensible people were getting proper jobs and mortgages, we were concentrating on other, much less practical things, while always renting. So we have never bought carpets or curtains, much less kitchens. We have never ‘remodelled’. I couldn’t tell you the difference between magnolia and cream and the sofas tend to have been thrown out by other people. The flat we live in is so small that when Bono came to tea he had to sit on the bed. He didn’t seem bothered, but what this means is that we are not normal, and perhaps we should be worried.
Clearly it is a human need to have a shelter, a place to call home, just as much as it is a human need to have food and clothing and wifi. But just because you have what you need for survival does not mean you don’t want a better version, a bigger house, a faster car, a newer phone. We are programmed to want more than we need, and that is what feeds the global economy. I am not a minimalist, I am constantly buying new clothes and shoes and accessories and messing around with makeup and I love to try out different kinds of foods and drinks, and supplements. But for some reason I have never thought about wet rooms or work tops and once the place looks pleasant and has a fireplace, I am perfectly happy to never change anything.
Of course we have friends with very flash houses, many of them have lots of different houses full of unbelievably glamorous things, and one of them even has an elevator. I would be lying if I told you that I don’t turn emerald with envy, and that I don’t fantasise about swapping places with these people. But more because it would mean never having to think about such things than because I would want people to see my houses and be impressed by them.
And clearly if I was that bothered, I would make more of an effort to have lots of houses.
When the A-listers visit us, it is tempting to wonder if they are unimpressed with the surroundings, and if they are possibly too polite to mention it. But from my experience of hanging out with people, it is actually the warmth and entertainment of their conversation rather than their carpets that makes you have a good time with them, and want to go back, so hopefully they feel the same about our place.
Last Thursday, I launched a book called The Inheritance by a friend of mine called Ally Bunbury who lives in a Home of the Year-worthy Georgian rectory. Her book is about a woman who falls in love with a man who is more in love with his stately home than he is with her, and so he has to dump her for a Hollywood movie star, so that he can save his house which has been in his family for generations.
The book is a romantic novel, but it is not unrealistic. We have many friends who live in stately homes.
These were originally built to demonstrate the family’s prosperity and status to the world, and they can be spectacular to look at. I used to think that I would die happy if I lived in a Georgian mansion.
But the reality is that for the older families, their ancestors spent all the money and the current inhabitants spend their every waking moments trying to figure out ways to pay for the crumbling walls and leaky roof, and they can never afford heating. So they are generally freezing and when I visit them I sleep with all my clothes on and come home with a chest infection. I understand that the houses are lovely but I often wonder if they would be happier in a nice bungalow with central heating.
The other night I met a woman called Audrey O Neill who spent 20 years as an interior designer and who is now a life and confidence coach.
”You know something?” she said to me, when I mentioned my concerns about interiors. ”My clients who redecorated the most, and spent the most money on their homes tended to be the ones who felt the most insecure.
“They kept changing the furniture in the hope that they would feel better, but it never worked. Because no matter what you do to your house, it is still you who is living in it.”
I know that some people will get indignant, and say that interior decoration is not about insecurity, or showing off, it is about creative self-expression and flair and imagination, and they could be right.
I might be completely different if I had a home of my own. I might suddenly start commissioning chandeliers. But I suspect I would always have more important things to prioritise.
© Victoria Mary Clarke 2017
Pint Baby from the Sunday Independent
Last week RTE journalist Cian McCormack discovered some footage of a baby drinking a pint of Guinness, and when he shared the clip on social media people all over the place started sharing it and it got its own hashtag #pintbaby, and when you have your own hashtag that means instant fame.
Cian’s baby had been featured as part of an RTE Nationwide programme about the lack of single women in rural Ireland. In the clip, the camera trains in on the baby who is guzzling a pint of Guinness, while the interviewee is offscreen talking about something totally unrelated. Naturally, the baby was tracked down and he is now a grown man called Stephen Barron.
The thing that grabbed my attention was that the public reaction was not what you might expect in this day and age. You might think that the nation and the world-wide web would be horrified by this apparent glorification of a baby drinking alcohol in a pub, with his mother clearly not trying to stop him.
If this were England and the baby was drinking a pint there would be uproar. And one can only imagine how Americans would react, given that you have to be 21 to buy alcohol over there – even if you are already legally married and in possession of a gun. In Ireland, the reaction was one of amusement. Stephen summed it up by saying: “You can’t really get any more Irish. It’s a baby drinking a pint of Guinness.” On social media, people tended to agree. Caroline, the mother of Stephen, said that the general attitude was, “Ah sure, we were all reared like that”, and that there was no harm done, as Stephen has turned out perfectly fine.
In business and marketing, there is always a great deal of talk about ‘brand identity’ and the story of your brand and the impact that has on how people see you.
But 20 years ago, people in Ireland did not tweet or Instagram everything they ate and drank. In those days, we didn’t think about curating and protecting and generally shaping the way that we are perceived. We (and I speak for myself here) could get away with outrageous behaviour with nobody noticing beyond our immediate circle. But these days anything and everything that we do or eat or wear or say can be filmed and tweeted. And all of that stuff either adds to or detracts from our ‘personal brand’.
When Stephen the ‘pint baby’ said you couldn’t get more Irish than a baby drinking Guinness, he wasn’t talking about the way we were seen 20 years ago, he was talking about ‘brand Ireland’ now. But the thing is, your brand isn’t just one thing about you, it is everything that is known about you.
When Bill Clinton became the second US president to be impeached, he also received the highest job approval ratings of his administration, and oddly enough he left office with the highest ratings of any president since Harry Truman. But Bill’s brand was composed of many things, not just Monica Lewinsky. And brand Ireland also has many layers. But many of us who are Irish have become befuddled as to what exactly they are and what they say about us.
More than 70 million people around the world claim Irish ancestry, which in itself suggests that our brand is one that people like to be associated with.
There is a fascinating exhibition at Epic Ireland (in the CHQ building in Dublin) which tells the stories of Irish people who went abroad – from the Sixth Century monks who set off in currachs to the modern-day millionaires who hop around the globe on private jets.
As you walk through the 20 different galleries, you are introduced to a bewildering array of global Irish influencers. Each of them suggests something about us as a people.
The ‘Open Island’ is about our love of the Irish landscape and the way that has shaped us, and the next one shows the harrowing stories of our ancestors who were forced to leave because of starvation, oppression and hardship. All of this suggesting that we are romantic, sensitive and hard done by – but also resourceful, courageous and resilient.
The ‘Belief’ section shows the influence of Irish missionaries, who spread religion all over the world, suggesting perhaps faith and piety. In the ‘Conflict’ area we hear about the Irish rebels, the warriors, the soldiers and revolutionaries, which could give us an added dimension of viciousness, bravery, ruthlessness, physical strength, determination and endurance to add to our mix.
We have had enormous political influence, with 22 American presidents claiming to be of Irish descent, which could mean that we are cunning and devious or it could mean that we mean well.
We have the great writers, painters, musicians, poets, actors, dancers and film-makers, so we are creative and imaginative and clever.
We have the inventors, the Irish invented the steamboat, the submarine, the electric tattoo machine, the stethoscope and even helped split the atom. So we are ingenious.
The only things that are absent from the exhibition are Guinness and drinking. There is an Irish pub, but it has no booze. So our global brand has many other dazzling facets, especially when you consider how tiny we are compared to the big boys in the market. And perhaps #pintbaby adds a hugely important element, that we are admired for, the world over. We have a sense of humour about ourselves.
Gardening from the Sunday Independent
I’ve given up on the dream of being self-sufficient, but I love the great outdoors. I’m doing ‘stuff’ in the garden. It is still February, which doesn’t really qualify as spring, and it is not at all warm, but that is the kind of hardy, outdoorsy type that I am.
I’m doing ‘stuff’ in the garden. It is still February, which doesn’t really qualify as spring, and it is not at all warm, but that is the kind of hardy, outdoorsy type that I am.
Or at least that is what I like people to think. I am actually just hanging around, pulling up the odd beetroot which was left here since last year, and admiring the scenery.
It is amazing how impressed people are when you tell them you’ve been gardening, almost as impressed as if you showed up on a bicycle with a pint of kale juice, on your way home from a yoga weekend. “Oh aren’t you great,” they say. “So healthy.”
As if health is a virtue. And then they sigh and tell you that they would be useless at gardening, that they have absolutely no green fingers and that they wish more than anything that they could be like you.
When you make a gardening programme, the admiration becomes reverential, almost uncomfortably so, if you are not able for it. People stop you in the street to ask you when is the best time to plant spinach or how to stop tomatoes being eaten by slugs. You become an authority.
I made a gardening programme for RTE eight years ago which clearly demonstrated that I have absolutely no clue about gardening, but that makes not the slightest bit of difference, people still ask my advice about their potatoes.
It is a difficult thing to admit, but at the time that the show was commissioned, I had great plans for gardening.
It was a Road to Damascus moment when I was struck with the inspiration to go forth and dig the soil for the first time, after seeing Michelle Obama planting her organic vegetables at the White House.
I really did think that I would become a proper gardener and grow all my own vegetables and become self-sufficient. I had recurring visions of myself strolling nonchalantly through rows of chard and beetroot, in a straw hat and dungarees, giving advice to Monty Don who was trailing along behind me.
That vision expanded to include hens and goats and home-made cheese and a greenhouse and a cottage and a TV series and books and global endorsement deals for wellies.
It was a seriously humbling experience to accept the total collapse of the dream. But you learn by trial and error in this life. I discovered that I am too lazy and too fond of comfort to be out here in all weathers, freezing and getting wet and muddy, and breaking my nails digging and weeding and murdering slugs.
I left all the really hard work to Marina Guinness, who owns my garden and who is not afraid of these things.
Even when the plants did grow, fresh problems presented themselves. For instance, you may think that in theory courgettes are a nice idea, but if you plant 50 of them and they all survive, you will very soon run out of courgette recipes and wish you had never heard of courgettes. I had so many tomatoes one summer that I almost made ketchup, but gave up because I don’t even like ketchup. And people may tell you that potatoes will last all winter if you store them in a cool dark place, but in my experience all they do is rot and smell bad and attract rats.
Occasionally, I have had the opposite problem. Some of my vegetables did not thrive at all. My aubergine produced only three fruits, and because they were so rare, I could never bring myself to eat them, which rather defeated the purpose of planting them.
Initially, I assumed that I would save a fortune by growing all my own food, but in reality, I spent three times as much on the compost, the pots, the equipment (including a mini greenhouse) and on travelling to and from my allotment. And that is without considering the hours and hours of watering and watching out for birds and insects and things.
Eight years later, I am still completely disorganised in the garden. Most of the stuff I grew last year is still in the ground because I couldn’t be bothered to dig it up.
I can’t tell which of it is weeds and which of it is vegetables. I have no idea what I am going to plant, in what quantity and in what order. And I also know that I will not do the requisite watering and weeding and general maintenance.
But none of this, not the complete ineptitude, the financial ridiculousness, the hostile weather, none of it matters. None of it dims my enthusiasm nor does it affect my enjoyment. Because gardening is like fishing. You don’t have to catch a fish to enjoy the tranquillity of spending a day alone at a river or a lake. If you did catch a fish, you would have to figure out what to do with it.
Likewise, you don’t have to produce a single turnip to relish being alone in your garden. You still get the warm, earthy smell of the soil, the soothing sound of the birds singing, and the sheer, unadulterated beauty of the trees and the sky.
You still get to be away from desks and phones and computers and social media and bad news and grumpy people and traffic and all the awfulness of modern life. And you get to remember just how miraculous this planet really is.
You get to marvel at the way you can plant a seed in the ground and within a few weeks you see a tiny plant begin to grow and eventually turn into a big plant and flower and produce food. And even if the plant is a courgette and you hate courgettes, it is still miraculous and life-affirming.
And somehow, I don’t know how, it makes everything else in your life seem wonderful.
Passion and patience make the sweetest gift.
Here’s the perfect way to express your love on Valentine’s Day, but you need to concentrate, says Victoria Mary Clarke.
On a ridiculously freezing February afternoon, in a shiny stainless steel kitchen somewhere in Glasnevin, a lady in a white lab coat is handing me a blue hairnet. Read More
My crazy nights in La La Land – Living in Los Angeles is no romantic comedy.
With death threats, gang warfare and blood on the streets, living in LA is no romantic comedy, writes Victoria Mary Clarke.
I love movies. All kinds of movies, even the totally rubbish rom-coms and chick flicks. I devour all of them with a religious fervour and if at all possible I see them in the cinema, where they were meant to be seen, because of all the ways to escape from reality and immerse oneself in fantasy, the cinema is the best.
Victoria Mary Clarke on Today with Maura and Daithi, 23rd January
It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to – but at 51 I don’t want to.
I’ve avoided celebrating my birthday for years but I’m finally able to embrace it all this year. I’m having a birthday party. People have asked: “Is it a significant one?” Well, it is to me. They all are. I just turned 51.
I’m going flat out to get the figure I’m craving.
I’ve tried all the diets and I’m addicted to exercise – so why is it that I still can’t lose those extra few pounds? There is a picture of a woman’s stomach on my wall. To be precise, it is of her abdominal region – and it is a thing of such breathtaking beauty that, as I pass it by on my way to the kitchen, I often pause to marvel at it.
Every call, every card, every little bit of love is always deeply appreciated.
Yes, rage against the dying of the light – but then we’ve got to reach out to console those left behind. Death is devastating. The other day, Shane and I went to the funeral of Frank Murray, who used to be the Pogues’ manager. Frank’s daughter Shannon gave the most brutally effective eulogy that I have yet heard.
No matter who we are, we all have a battle against our own mind.
It happens every time a famous singer self-destructs: I feel shock, a sense of loss, relief, then guilt. When the news came through about this being George Michael’s last Christmas, my first thought was “Why? Why George?”And this was immediately followed by a sense of relief because my partner, Shane MacGowan, has been famously self-destructive for as long as he has been a singer. So every time another famous singer dies of drug or alcohol-related causes, there is the usual shock and sense of loss – especially if we knew the person, and George was a very lovely person. But there is also this very mixed up and almost guilty feeling that we have survived, and someone else has not.
Silly old games put the fun into the festivities.
Festive traditions are great but they can also take their toll. Whatever happens, Christmas is also a time for having a laugh, writes Victoria Mary Clarke. I like the traditional Christmas as much as anyone. But there always seems to be so much work involved in it. The cooking rituals in particular seem to be designed so that they must be executed with military precision or else it will all go horribly wrong and the people who are doing the cooking will feel like they failed Masterchef.
Tell me what you want, as long as it’s in budget.
Making sure that everybody is kept happy and satisfied at Christmas time can be harder than it looks. In a supreme effort to do Christmas ‘properly’ this year and thinking that one day I will get it right, I have been asking my friends and family to write me lists of exactly what they want, like wedding lists.
Old farming images reap escape from modern life.
The mythical idea of farming from days gone by takes us back to more serene times – a time before driverless tractors, says Victoria Mary Clarke. The other day I got given an ‘Irish Farmer’ calendar for 2017. It is full of hot, young, semi-naked farmers cavorting in hay barns, and striking flirtatious poses with cows and sheep and pigs and bits of rope and a certain amount of mud.
A Fairytale ending to our big homeless crisis.
There are thousands of homeless people in Ireland, but could we do more to help them, asks Victoria Mary Clarke. This morning I woke up in a warm bed. I was able to have a hot shower, choose from a wardrobe full of clothes, and make my own breakfast in my own kitchen.
What secrets can my car tell you about me?
Gleaming $8m Maybach, or €1k patched up old banger – it’s just a matter of priorities, writes Victoria Mary Clarke. My friends and family have been on at me to buy a new car. They think my car is embarrassing, and some of them would rather walk than be driven in it, which shocks me.
Walking barefoot has put a real spring back in my step.
‘Grounding’ is a scientifically researched practice with a number of remarkable health advantages, such as improving sleep. I am not a person who likes the cold. Far from it. People laugh openly when I put on ski pants in November just to walk to the shops and if it rains I always have plastic trousers. So the idea of barefoot walking did not immediately appeal to me, especially when it is freezing outside. But as with anything in life, when the benefits outweigh the pain, you will do pretty much anything.
Warm, funny and brave, Nujeen reached out and touched my heart.
David and Goliath story has opened my eyes to the refugee crisis, and I want to help. I am having a holiday on the island of La Gomera, near Tenerife. On the beach in front of our hotel there is a large orange deflated dinghy lying abandoned. Nobody goes near it, nobody touches it.
This is the longest that Shane has been sober since we met – and he is happy.
Victoria Mary Clarke on life with the newly sober Pogues singer Shane MacGowan.
I almost burned the house down just now. The whole place was full of smoke and I couldn’t figure out how to get the fire alarm to stop. I need a drink. But I can’t have one.
Halloween is truly scary if a child has a nut allergy
Never mind the spooky costumes. Accepting treats from strangers is a real fright for some children. It is almost Halloween, traditionally the season of scary costumes, of apple bobbing and cracking nuts by the fire, and, if you are young, it is the season of trick or treating, which means roaming the streets in the dark en masse, collecting sweets from strangers and stuffing your face with them, often without your parents seeing exactly what you are eating. Read More
That Woman’s Got Me Drinking video by Shane McGowan, featuring Victoria Mary Clarke and Johnny Depp
It’s all fun and games till you need implants!
Victoria Mary Clarke used to think bad teeth were a sign of rebelliousness and free spirit. But 40 years of chewing toffees and five extractions later, she’s starting to reconsider what turns her on.
Kim, me, Johnny Depp and a killer’s Magnum
Kim shouldn’t live her life in fear after her robbery ordeal, says Victoria Mary Clarke, who was mugged five times herself.
On Monday, Kim Kardashian was mugged in Paris. There has been an alarming lack of sympathy for Kim, based on the fact that she ‘flaunted’ her diamonds on social media, and tempted the burglars.
The many benefits of being well-connected.
Patrick Holford’s latest book about human connection has inspired Victoria Mary Clarke to go barefoot in the garden. It is a blustery day, and you can feel the summer is over. I am about to put one reluctant foot on the wet grass in the back garden. All reasoning tells me this is a bad idea, this is how you catch pneumonia. But because Patrick Holford says we should do this, and he has spent 40 years researching this stuff, I am determined.
How to get the attention you want from the press
It helps if you are keen, and famous but mostly if you have a story of value to share.
I have been asked to give a talk about how to get the attention of the media. Like a foodie who gets asked “What would you cook on Masterchef?” an avalanche of ideas comes tumbling out. Many of my colleagues in the media are horrified at the thought of actually being featured in the media, but luckily for my audience, that has never been my problem.
Watch Victoria & Sarah’s appearance on RTÉ Today here:
Grace Jones reminds me age is just a number
OAPs like Grace Jones and Jane Fonda empower women to be fearless, writes Victoria Mary Clarke.
Grace Jones is crawling around the stage of the Olympia in a Jasper Conran corset, and a gold headdress. She turns to wiggle her tail at us and arches her spine like a panther, throwing shapes that revel in her physicality, in her sleek, toned, muscular body. Read More
Talking on the Dave Fanning Show, April 2016
Victoria writing in the Independent about the journey from people-pleaser to assertiveness:
“So what do you want from coaching?” she asked me. Her question flummoxed me. “What do I want? I don’t know,” I said. After she had asked a lot of questions, it transpired that what I immediately wanted was success in my career, to give me a boost in confidence and a raison d’etre. Within two weeks, I had an article in the London Evening Standard, flagged with a photo on the cover.
Speaking at the amazing Women Inspire Network
Victoria and Shane on the Late Late Show!!
Talking about my life and family in The Guardian.
Shane MacGowan, the hellraising lead singer of the Pogues, isn’t everybody’s idea of stability and security. But that’s what he gave his partner Victoria Mary Clarke, who was abandoned by her father as a baby. Then, one day, she met her real dad … http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/17/shane-mcgowan-victoria-mary-clarke
Sky News talk to Victoria about Shane MacGowan’s new documentary “A Wreck Reborn”
A little connector.tv intro to our Speaking Suppers
RTE Celebs Gone Wild: will she jump or won’t she!?
Chatting with the infamous Podge and Rodge