‘They say the two most stressful things in life are having a baby and moving house – I did the two within a week,” TV presenter Glenda Gilson says with a laugh.
It’s only three months down the road, and as she feeds and cuddles baby Bobby, she looks as if she’s been doing this motherhood thing for years, not to mind the fact that the house, which is in south Co Dublin, is already warm, elegant and welcoming, with most rooms fully furnished. And she looks amazing – possibly the best she’s ever looked.
Glenda and her husband, Rob MacNaughton, moved into the house on a Monday, and Bobby arrived the following week, two weeks earlier than expected. “I had only finished work the Friday before. I was very sick throughout the pregnancy, vomiting every day. I had that condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum, so I went into the Coombe on the Monday to see how things were going, and my waters broke in the car park,” she explains.
The fact that Glenda has been juggling different roles all her life probably stood to her at this stressful time. The TV-watching public know Glenda as one of Xpose’s top presenters, as well as more recently the presenter of Ireland’s Got Mor Talent – two TV gigs she combines with designing her jewellery collection, G by Glenda Gilson – but the bubbly brunette has been working all her life, juggling first primary school, then secondary, and later college, with a modelling career.
“I was a child model; I started modelling at three years of age,” she says, adding that her mother, Aileen, was friendly with model agent Geraldine Brand, who suggested to Aileen that Glenda would be an ideal child model. And she was right.
“I loved it,” Glenda says. “I did the Tivoli wool patterns for years and years. One of the first pictures for Tivoli won picture of the year. In it, I was with Alison Doody [the gorgeous model who went on to star in the James Bond movie, A View to a Kill]. I did loads of ads in those days – Bank of Ireland; McDonald’s; yoghurt; Kellogg’s. I did every ad you can think of that was on the TV. I was on bus stops and billboards with Nissan,” she reminisces, adding, “I did all the charity supermodel shows in the Point. I was 16 for the first one, 18 the next one.”
The supermodel shows were big events in the 1990s – a host of the world’s biggest model names, including Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, participated.
“I’ll never forget it – all the Irish models standing backstage, fixing ourselves. We were so nervous, and Yasmin Le Bon walked over, covering her top half with her hands,and she had this Lainey [Keogh] skirt on. She stood in front of the mirror and looked at herself, and asked us, ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ And we all went, ‘Ah here, if the supermodel Yasmin Le Bon thinks she looks big, we might as well all go home.’ Glenda adds: “I remember Naomi Campbell was wearing this amazing Versace dress, and she put her foot through it.”
After she left school, Glenda did a course in TV and radio broadcasting and print and media journalism in Ballyfermot for two years. She was so busy with modelling that she left college without qualifying, to concentrate on modelling, which gave her enormous profile.
She was soon offered a job on a 24/7 music-tv satellite station called Bubble Hits. “I had a show called Glenda’s Showbiz Goss. Then I got a call from TV3. At the time, I happened to be on Ireland AM regularly, modelling, and an executive called Andrew O’Hanlon called me. He offered me a presenting job for five months, covering [Xpose] presenter Sybil Mulcahy’s maternity leave. Here I am, still there. I think I’m going into my 11th year in Xpose.”
Xpose was the first of its type in Ireland combining fashion, beauty and showbiz, and in the last 10 years, Glenda has interviewed every major star in the celebrity firmament – Colin Firth, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, One Direction, Khloe Kardashian, Garth Brooks, Robbie Williams, James Corden, Britney Spears, Colin Farrell… the list is impressive, and she’s always held her own with them.
She also got to have another encounter with Naomi Campbell when she interviewed her for the Newbridge Silverware Jewellery campaign. “I really admire her,” she says.
Other favourites include Meryl Streep and David Beckham. “He was a gentleman. When I walked into the room, he was the first star to stand up and shake my hand. It sounds normal, but at these junkets, it’s like a conveyor belt. Some might only look at you when the cameras start rolling, others will say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ but he stood up to greet me, and he’s even better-looking in the flesh.”
She goes on to add Dustin Hoffman to her list of pets. “I was in the Ritz in Paris, there was a rugby match on and I was with my mother. Suddenly she said, ‘There’s Al Pacino’, and ran over to him before I could say anything, and I turned away with embarrassment. When she came back, she said, ‘I can’t believe you wouldn’t come over and talk to Al with me’. I said, ‘Al – you mean Dustin Hoffman, Mam’. She ran back over and apologised to him. He was so lovely, he didn’t care,” Glenda says with a laugh, adding, “About two years later, I was interviewing Dustin Hoffman on the red carpet and I apologised to him on behalf of my mother, and he said, ‘What’s your mom’s name?’ I said, ‘Aileen’, and he looked down the camera and said, ‘Hey Aileen, thanks for supporting me in Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather'” – namechecking Pacino’s movies.
“We aired it all on Xpose. My mom hid behind the sofa that night,” she laughs.
There are still some people she’d love to interview, though some on her wishlist have died. “One was George Michael and the other was Prince. The third on my list is Jack Nicholson, but I believe he doesn’t do interviews,” she says.
A man she got to interview before he became truly famous was one Donald Trump; she met him when he came to Ireland on Doonbeg business, and as it happened, she and Rob were engaged at the time and planned to marry in Doonbeg, so her upcoming nuptials were something of an ice-breaker with The Donald.
She and Rob married there in 2014. Rob, who’s from Kiltipper, is a keen sportsman – he lived in Germany for three years working with horses and doing three-day eventing. He also played rugby league for Ireland and is a keen sailor, but his day job now is that of machinery dealer.
“You might remember the sign for McCormick MacNaughton on the Naas road? Well, that’s Rob’s family,” says Glenda. “Diggers and cranes, they’ve been in the business for 90 years.”
According to Glenda, she and Rob knew each other for years before they got together. “Rob went to school in King’s Hospital and so did my brother Damien. They were in the same year,” she says. “My eye was always drawn to Rob when I was younger – there are five years between us. We liked the look of each other, and we had little relationships over the years. We dated on and off, and even after that, we were always great friends.”
Glenda enjoyed a great social life in the intervening years and was always featured in the social pages – she says that feels like another life now. “When you’re younger, you don’t think. I probably thought I was great. Now I’m nervous about appearing in newspapers and magazines. I’d see something I said and think, ‘I’m an idiot for saying that’ – but it’s part of my business, I’ve got to keep out there. When you’re younger, you’re living in the moment, but as you get older, you get wiser, I suppose.”
Throughout her 20s, she and Rob continued to move in the same circles, and finally started going out together again. “We hooked up again on my 29th birthday in the Angler’s Rest in Castleknock, and I’ve been with him ever since,” she says fondly, adding, “We got engaged in New York. We were walking around Central Park in the dark and suddenly he dropped to his knee and proposed.”
The arrival of baby Bobby has been the icing on the cake. “I’ve worked all my life and I thought being on maternity leave would unnerve me – now I just love being with him. I have my mother, who adores him, and she comes over a lot, which is great, and my best friend Hazel has also just had a baby, so I’m lucky that way, we’ve really helped each other along the way.”
It goes without saying that Rob is bowled over with baby Bobby and finds it hard to tear himself away. “I always knew Rob would be a great dad, there’s always lots of love with Rob, he’s not one to shy away from the hugs and kisses; he’s delighted with his son,” Glenda says.
Glenda’s maternity leave ends next month when she goes back to work on Xpose and Ireland’s Got Mor Talent, the sister show of Ireland’s Got Talent; she even did some filming on it just after Bobby was born. “I wanted to do it. If I was looking at telly and seeing someone else doing my show, it would be awful,” she insists.
She has also been doing a little work on her range of pretty jewellery in gold, silver and rose gold – G by Glenda Gilson – which she designs with Natasha Obernik of Fields, and sells in Seagreen and online. “It’s the kind of jewellery I like wearing myself, delicate pieces. I’m doing my third collection at the moment.”
However, she is really relishing this precious time with Bobby.
Nappies, wet wipes, winding – all are a far cry from the glamorous world of movie red carpets, but Glenda seems thrilled with simple domesticity.
“Honestly, I just love being with Bobby here at home. I’ve been covering maternity leave for 10 years on Xpose – Lorraine Keane, Aisling O’Loughlin, Karen Koster; I’ve covered for them all while they’ve had babies. It’s my time now,” she says with a laugh.
‘Ireland’s Got Mor Talent’ continues on Virgin Media One directly after ‘Ireland’s Got Talent’
‘Xpose’ is on Virgin Media Two on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8pm
Edited by Mary O’Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
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