Broadcasters can be irritatingly egotistical. Self-important and obsessed with their image, they can be delusional about their own 'celebrity', treat subordinates with contempt, throw hissy fits and refuse to peel the fake PR gloss from their identity when interviewed. Colette Fitzpatrick, the multi-tasking presenter of TV3's Midday, Midweek and news bulletins, is none of these things. She is very pleasant and down-to-earth, and there's the bonus of it not being an act. She is of that school of presenter who is hardworking and dismissive of any type of diva-esque behaviour.
TV3, Fitzpatrick's employer, is a station with a reputation for working its staff to their limits, on a very tight budget. It favours multi-tasking and multi-skilled employees, of which Fitzpatrick is a model. "I like being busy," she starts when we discuss the demands of her job. "I'm motivated when I'm busy. I'd hate to be sitting around. I like deadlines. I like working in a newsroom where things change every day."
Fitzpatrick moved around a lot as a child, thanks to her father, who was a garda. Her mother is from Cork city, her father from Leitrim, and the family eventually settled in Holy Cross, outside Thurles in Tipperary, where she attended the local Ursuline secondary school. She had a "very traditional rural upbringing". She has one younger sister who works in insurance, or as Fitzpatrick says, "has a real job".
Like many people in Irish television, Fitzpatrick worked her way up from the bottom. After completing a two-year cert in journalism at DIT (she returned to the college last year to get her degree) she secured a work placement at East Coast radio, moving from making coffee to doing vox pops, writings news reports, reading the news and eventually presenting its breakfast programme.
Her parents were sceptical of her career choice initially. "I remember when I told my dad 'I'm going to do journalism', he had this idea of these scruffy reporters who'd be in the back of district court cases when he was a guard." She did her time at those district court cases and Wicklow County Council meetings before moving to Today FM to become one of its three breakfast radio presenters. Within a year-and-a-half, Ian Dempsey had taken over, and Fitzpatrick moved into the newsroom, where she stayed for three years before moving to TV3 in March 2001, which means her 10-year anniversary at the station is coming up. "I think that means five days' extra holidays or something."
Her appetite for hard work is obvious. She complains about those younger than her who are unwilling to graft. "I see these kids coming in from DCU and they're highly intelligent, you know, 600 points, but they've done nothing. And they're coming straight in for a work placement in television and some of them are naive enough to think 'oh I'd like to be a television presenter'. I'm like, you don't know the first thing about how to put a news story together."
She currently presents Midday (an afternoon female-driven panel programme), Midweek (a current affairs programme on Wednesday night) and the 5.30pm news bulletin – essentially three jobs. But she'll have to slow down soon. At five months' pregnant with her first child, Fitzpatrick will take maternity leave for six months in November – "and I'm going to work right up until I'm legally allowed to do so with my pregnancy". Her temporary departure has prompted jokes that there will be an employment boom at the station, such is her level of output.
For the moment, she doesn't seem capable of slowing down. "I know I'll be at the end of my pregnancy and I may be tired and I may be sick, and I'm aware of all that, but I feel fine at the moment so I intend to keep working hard."
"Maybe it'll change when I come back after my maternity leave. I would rise to that challenge. I'd hate to be working somewhere where I'd be fighting with other people for stories, or to get the chance to do something. That's the beauty of commercial broadcasting. If you come in and have good story ideas and have a natural flair for interviewing people, and are creative, you can very quickly... the door is always open in Andrew's [Hanlon, the head of news at TV3] office. They don't want to know how many points you got in your Leaving Cert or what college course you did. All they want to know about are story ideas and ideas for programmes and whether you have a natural flair for getting information out of people.
"We are all busy – everyone is kept busy there, but look, that's the nature of commercial broadcasting. It's a commercial organisation, we have to reach certain targets to stay viable. X number of viewers have to be watching the station to make sure X amount of money comes in to make sure our jobs are secure. We had 27 redundancies the year before last, so that's a commercial reality at work. If you don't like it, don't work there, I suppose."
Can't argue with that, although one would imagine that such a stringent working environment would have some RTE employees quaking. She laughs off the rivalry between TV3 and RTE, saying it's purely to fill column inches, although admits some envy of its resources. She has a laugh with Anne Doyle whenever they're out together, and the broadcaster she most admires is another RTE legend, Gay Byrne. She has a photo of herself and Byrne on her mantlepiece at home. "Isn't that really sad?" she questions. "It is sad! I know it's sad, but anyway!"
Along with the day-to-day pressures of her job, there's also that thing of 'being on TV', being known, being photographed. Fitzpatrick is dismissive of the culture of pseudo-celebrity that engulfs broadcasting for the purpose of social pages and gossip columns. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't give a damn about how I looked on television, of course I do," she says, about her rather glossy image. "You'd want to have seen me when I first worked there – I just used a bit of bronzer and my hair was like Worzel Gummidge. But I learned that if you're not groomed it's very distracting for viewers."
As for courting publicity, nope, not for her either, "Oh yeah, VIP magazine and all the rest of it," she says, rolling her eyes. "It's all self-perpetuating and everyone wants a slice of the cake – the magazine people, the newspaper people, people looking for profile in television, people who aren't even on television. Does it bother me? Not really. There's a bean feast or cock fight on every night of the week in Dublin – if you don't want to go then you don't. It's not in any of our contracts to get out there and be seen. A lot of the girls, particularly with Xposé, they're all young and single, of course they're going to be going to events in town. I do less and less of that because I'm boring and pregnant."
With all that work, you'd imagine there's not much time for anything else. She likes reading (the last two books she read were The Help by Katheryn Stockett and The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry), going to the cinema (His and Hers was the last film she went to see), shopping and going for meals with her husband Neil and their friends. "I'm not one for spas or yoga, like when I'm relaxing I like to be doing things as opposed to sitting around thinking. I don't like too much quiet time and letting those thoughts swirl around in my head. I'm not into that."
What kind of thoughts? She pauses and thinks a little longer about the question for the first time during our conversation, "I suppose I'm a bit of a natural worrier, if I'm honest. If I'm not busy and have time to think about things, sometimes I think about bad things that could happen." What kind of bad things? She pauses again. "I suppose I worry about my family, and health and accidents. My prime concern at the moment is to have a healthy child. That's my obsession. That might be because working in a newsroom I'm listening to High Court case settlements every second week where something went wrong in a hospital somewhere and they've settled for X amount of million because their baby ended up being paraplegic or there was a loss of oxygen. I've done loads of interviews with parents who have very sick children or children who have died. And probably my age as well."
She is 36, her husband is 39. She says they're both "like eejits" about the pregnancy. "I think when we go in to see the consultant she must think she's dealing with a pair of children because we just keep sniggering. I think it's just not real to us until it happens. Obviously the baby was planned and all the rest of it, but I just don't think it will become a reality until it actually happens." She smiles. "We've cleared out the box room and saying things like 'would you put that in the baby's room', the two of us look at each other and go 'oh God!'"
And then we're done. Fitzpatrick has to go back to work, naturally. Before she leaves, she says she hopes the perception of her is that she's "pretty regular". She says her philosophy is to "work hard, play hard" and is already thinking about "how we can pawn the child off on a few people" so she can make it to Electric Picnic next year. I wouldn't have thought of Fitzpatrick as an Electric Picnic kinda gal. Maybe she's holding back a little more of herself than she lets on.