Jennifer Zamparelli is one of the most popular TV and radio presenters in the country.
The RTÉ star is Goss.ie’s latest Spotlight On cover star and in this exclusive interview, she opens up about her “traumatic” first TV appearance that made her “reluctant” to pursue a career in showbiz.
The Dubliner also speaks about the highs and lows of the job, the future of Dancing with the Stars, and her hopes to get back into acting.
Jennifer is best known for shows such as Republic of Telly, Bridget & Eamon, and Dancing with the Stars.
But before she made a name for herself as a TV star in Ireland, the then 27-year-old appeared on The Apprentice UK back in 2008.
At the time, Jennifer was a marketing consultant, and she described herself as “the best saleswoman in Europe”.
She was fired from the show after 7 weeks and afterwards, Jen was thrust into the spotlight. But fame wasn’t what she expected it to be…
The now 43-year-old describes her first TV experience as “traumatising”, and admits she was in no way prepared for the attention she got from the media and public after the show.
Jennifer then returned to Ireland to launch her own business, and she had no intention of continuing with a career in television.
But when an opportunity to appear on an Irish reality TV show presented itself to Jen, she “reluctantly” accepted it, and so began her 15-year career.
Not only is Jen kept busy with her TV and radio shows, but she also has her hands full at home. The RTÉ 2FM presenter is mum to two gorgeous children, who she shares with her husband Lauterio.
In this exclusive interview, Jen reveals her and Lau are planning on growing their family by opening their home to foster children.
She also opens up about her new parenting podcast with Lottie Ryan, her plans to write a book, and reveals why she’s happier than ever in her 40s.
Check out the full exclusive interview below:
Firstly, congratulations on your new podcast with Lottie Ryan. How would you describe the podcast to those who haven’t tuned in yet?
“The podcast is something that we wish was around when we were trying to navigate the world of parenting. It’s kind of a warts and all parenting podcast, but it’s about relationships as well. We talk about how our relationships changed with our families, friends, loved ones, partners since becoming a parent. We really don’t hold back. We want it to just completely honest.
“We found that, weirdly, there can be a lot of shame when you’re admitting your failures as a parent and there’s a lot of unwarranted advice, so we wanted to create a community and a platform where it’s just honest. There’s no judgement, and it’s just a very supportive platform to talk about parenting. We’ve never been as honest, I don’t think, and it’s been quite freeing and liberating doing a podcast. We’re not too familiar with the podcast world, we both have radio backgrounds, so it’s been very liberating to be able to speak so freely.
“We’ve really enjoyed it. There’s been a lot of laughs, some tears, and I’ve learned a lot about my pal Lottie that we didn’t get a chance to talk about before, or maybe she felt too afraid things with me about her own parenting journey. So it’s been very enlightening and therapeutic.”
Jennifer and her husband Lauterio met sixteen years ago, and they are parents to two beautiful children – Florence and Enzo.
I note that raising a family and working full-time as a TV and radio presenter must be challenging at times, and ask Jen how she gets the balance right.
I also ask her about her decision to stop sharing photos of her children online…
How do you balance such a busy professional life with your life as a mum?
“I’ve gotten a lot better at asking people for help. I’m always telling Lottie she needs to be good at that too, because she’s not very good at asking for help. When you’re a working mom, you’re pulled in all kinds of directions. So I’ve become a lot better at reaching out to people and thinking, ‘You know what? I can’t do it all myself and I am going to have to ask for help.’ And there’s no shame in that. We put that pressure on ourselves, but it’s actually impossible to try and do everything ourselves.
“There’s no shame in asking for help…”
“So I’ve definitely gotten better at asking for help, and also at saying ‘no’ to things. And just being very, very precious with my time. And giving my time as well, because time is the most valuable thing you can give to someone. So I’m very precious about my time, and balance in my life.
“It takes a long time to master because I was always a bit of a people pleaser, so I’d say yes to everything and feel like I had to go to everything and do everything, but that doesn’t make for a very balanced, happy life. We’re all too hard on ourselves, we think we can do it all, and we can’t. So it is ok to say no to things, and I’m at a point in my life where I don’t feel I have to be in all places all the time. That’s been a bit of a learning curb for me.”
Two years ago, you decided to stop sharing photos of your children online because of weird messages you were receiving. Have you changed your mind on that?
“No, not really. I very rarely put up a post of them and when I do, I tend to hide their faces. I’m very reluctant to share too much because I just don’t think it’s fair on them, and it doesn’t really benefit anybody I don’t think. This is one thing me and Lottie always disagree on because she loves sharing photos of her baby and his gorgeous hair and all the gorgeous things that he does, and I totally get that. But if I ever find myself about to post a picture of the kids, I just post it into the family group chat instead.
“I’m just too fearful of it. I just have this fear of sharing far too much. I’m not really one of those people, I don’t share what I’m having for breakfast, lunch and dinner online. I’m not an oversharer. I suppose that’s why this podcast is so therapeutic and interesting to do because I think I’ve been the most honest on this. I still do feel that I want to share pictures of the kids because they’re so cute and funny, but I will stop myself from doing it.”
You also tend to keep your marriage out of the limelight. Was that also a conscious decision for you?
“I can’t get him into a bloody picture! He wouldn’t be mad about social media, or sharing photos of us online. And you have to respect other people as well, and what they want.”
You and Lau have known each other for over 16 years, and been married since 2014. What do you think is the secret to a happy marriage?
“We both have very independent lives, which is lovely. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but we really enjoy each other’s company. We have our own friends, and we have our friends together. We like to do things together, and we like to do things separately as well. I also think laughter is key. Lau still makes me laugh to this day. He has a ridiculously immature sense of humour, and he still makes me laugh.
“Lau still makes me laugh to this day…”
“You have to make an effort too. When we haven’t spent quality time together in a while, we go out of our way to hire a babysitter and make an effort to go out and do something, just the two of us. That’s so important to do.
“Before Covid, I wouldn’t have been one of those people who celebrate every single milestone or anniversary. But after everything we went through with Covid, I make sure to make an occasion out of everything and celebrate those moments. Birthdays are now really big in my house, and Halloween is huge, and Christmas, little things like that. And I wouldn’t have been like that before.”
Lau is a stuntman, which can be a very dangerous job. Do you worry about him when he goes to work?
“Not anymore, because I think what makes him a good stuntman is that he’s super careful. They have to do a lot of risk assessment and it’s all about airing on the side of caution. It’s an exciting job, and it takes him all around the world. I spent four months in Italy last year because he was working there. He’s been in Malta and the States, he’s been all over the place! I’m excited for him, it’s taken him a long time to get to where he is.
“We both feel very fortunate to have jobs that we absolutely love. We love doing what we do, and that is a real privilege because I have worked in jobs that I hated. It’s so great to see him so happy and he’s so perfect for what he does. He’s always upskilling and doing new things, and he gets to travel. It is hard on the family when he has to go away, but we just try to make it work and take it one job at a time.
“When we started dating, I was living in Ireland and he was living in the UK, and that was tricky. I was like, ‘Is this going to last?’ We did the long-distance thing for so long, and that actually really strengthened our relationship. It kind of made us. So we were always quite comfortable with, not the distance, but letting each other focus on our jobs. He’s at home for the next couple of weeks so we’re making sure we do everything together, and then he’s going to go off for a few weeks to work and I’ll do my thing. At the moment, the balance is right and I don’t worry about it anymore.”
After the birth of her second child, Florence, Jennifer had a tubal ligation procedure to permanently prevent any future pregnancies.
At the time, she explained that she underwent the procedure because Lau didn’t want any more children, and because they were both so busy with their jobs.
However, the 43-year-old later revealed getting her “tubes tied” was one of her “biggest regrets”.
I ask Jen did she ever look into surrogacy or adoption, and she reveals that her and Lau are planning on opening their home to foster children…
You’ve said in the past that getting your tubes tied after the birth of your second child was one of your biggest regrets. Did you ever look into other options to grow your family, such as surrogacy or adoption?
“I actually opened up the conversation to Lau about fostering. We would love to open our home to foster kids down the line. We’re both a bit busy at the moment, and we really want to be in the right place, but that is a conversation that we’ve started having. That was instigated from talking to the amazing families who foster in Ireland. There’s always a shortage of people can do it, and I think it’s such a lovely thing to be able to do.
“We would love to open our home to foster kids down the line…”
“I’ve kind’ve given up on the idea of having another child myself now, maybe because I’m 43. But maybe fostering will be for us down the line. It’s something I would love to do, and I’ve thought about it quite a bit. So we’ll see.”
Let’s take it back to the beginning of your career. You first shot to fame after appearing on The Apprentice, which you’ve described as a “dreadful” and “traumatizing” experience. Tell us about that.
“Back then, it was like the wild, wild west of reality TV shows. When you signed up for these shows, you really did not know what to expect. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors, and we were pushed to our limits with the lack of sleep and very little food. I was a bit shell-shocked because I was a businessperson when I went into it, and I thought the focus would be on business but it wasn’t. It was about the drama, they wanted to make good telly. I understand that now, I get all that now.
“I was just kind of shocked at how the whole production side of it was managed, having cameras shoved in your face at five in the morning when you’re just opening your eyes. There was no boundaries, there was no rules. Telly has changed so much in the last couple of years, and a lot has had to happen to make it a safer place for people. We still have a long way to go.
“You look at Love Island – we’ve lost too many lives from contestants and presenters who were on that show, and the incessant abuse that they get online… They have a lot to contend with as well. However, productions I think have a bit more cop on with regards to looking after these people. So in that respect, it’s gotten a little better, but we still have a long way to go.”
I’m sorry to hear your experience on the show wasn’t a good one. You did turn a negative into a positive situation though, as you launched your television and radio career after your Apprentice stint…
“Yeah, kind of reluctantly! I didn’t actually go onto the show thinking it would launch my TV career. I actually came back to Ireland and set up a makeover and photographic studio and ran that for five years. And then I just fell into telly over here. It snowballed and escalated, and I ended up finding something that I really love and enjoy. It was a weird turn of events, it kind’ve went 360 instead of me taking a complete U-turn.
“I think the Irish people found it quite difficult to get their heads around, because we like to put people into a box, like ‘Oh you did The Apprentice, surely you can’t be on a comedy show like Republic of Telly!’ But I’ve had such a varied career and I’ve love it. I was on the Bord Gais Energy Theatre stage with Jason Donovan and Priscilla. I’ve done a comedy show working with some of the best comedians. I’ve written and produced Bridget and Eamon.
“I’m pretty proud of most things that I’ve done…”
“I’ve had so many great opportunities that have been really tough, and tough going mentally and emotionally, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve loved every second of what I’ve done. I’m pretty proud of most things that I’ve done. Except for that one dating show I did [One Night Stand]! That was pants, so apart from that dating show I can stand over everything. I’ve had those tapes burned!”
Your first big TV appearance after The Apprentice was on RTÉ’s reality show Failte Towers. Were you hesitant to go on the show, after your negative experience on The Apprentice?
“I was very reluctant. My business was in it’s infancy, it was quite new. But the production company were lovely and the show was based more on business – we had to run this hotel. It was only a short period of time, a couple of weeks over the summer, so I just went for it and I don’t regret it.
“I met some lovely people on the show – Brian Dowling, Michelle Heaton, Don Baker, some lovely people. And I was like, ‘Ah, not all production companies are cut throat.’ And from there I met the head of entertainment for RTÉ at the time, and they were looking for someone to go on a comedy show. I did a casting tape for that, and that’s how Republic of Telly came about.
“I was actually doing all those voxboxes for Republic of Telly while running my business. I remember running out of the studio on my lunch and doing these voxboxes. We ended up doing 13 seasons of Republic of Telly, and then it just came to a point where I couldn’t do everything and I had to choose. I was offered the radio show, and that was a full-time gig. My lease was coming to an end after 5 years on South William Street, so I gave up the lease and I went full throttle into the entertainment world.”
You recently revealed that you were almost fired from the Republic of Telly – tell us about that.
“Yeah, there was a few hairy moment! A few times where maybe I overstepped the mark, or a new presenter came on board and they wanted to trial someone else. And that was fine, because that’s just the entertainment world. There’s always someone in the wings who wants your job, and that’s just the way it is. I remember Bernard O’Shea saying to me when I got into radio, ‘The best advice I can give you is never go on holidays because someone could take your job!”
Jennifer has been hosting RTÉ’s Dancing with the Stars since 2019.
She originally hosted the show alongside Westlife’s Nicky Byrne but last year, he announced he was stepping away from the gig.
Doireann Garrihy joined Jen at the helm for the 2023 series, which saw 2FM star Carl Mullan take home the trophy.
It had previously been reported that the show would not be returning in 2024 but after a hugely successful season, rumours are rife that it has been renewed.
Dancing with the Stars is one of the biggest shows in the country, and you’ve been hosting it since 2019. There were some talks after Nicky Byrne left the show that you were going to follow suit. Is there any truth to that?
“I don’t know where that came from! I’ve no idea. I definitely didn’t come from me because I love the show too much. I absolutely love the show. I love working on it, I love everything about it and hopefully, we’ll get to come back and give it another go.”
There’s been reports that it will be back in 2024, after a very successful season this year. Doireann Garrihy joined you at the helm this season, what was it like working with her?
“It was great. From the minute we did our screen test, it just worked. She is a powerhouse. She’s so great to work with, very professional. It’s not an easy role to take on, and they were big shoes to fill. And she just took it in her stride. I loved watching her because I thought she handled the whole thing so well. She’s so natural, so funny, and just perfect for it. But if it doesn’t go again, I’m going to blame her!”
Maybe next year it could be yourself, Doireann AND Nicky…
“I don’t think there’s room for three of us. I don’t know if that would work, but the more the merrier, I don’t care! It would mean I’d get to do less work and spend more time getting my hair and makeup done. Whatever works! But it would be nice to give Doireann another go, she deserves it.”
Being such a public figure can have its downsides, and you even quit Twitter a few years ago because of online trolling. How do you deal with negative comments and messages?
“I try just not to think about it for too long. I don’t get a lot to be honest, but maybe that’s because I came off Twitter. I suppose if I find myself looking at that stuff, I just stop myself because it doesn’t do me any good. But that’s just part of the job, and I think the only thing that makes that better is time.
“It’s very hard in the beginning, but after 15 years in the business it does get a little easier and you do learn to take everything with a pinch of salt. The good reviews, the bad reviews, the hits, the misses, all of it. The highs are very high, the lows are very low, but you learn to deal with them. The most important thing is your health, your family, and really that’s all that matters.”
From what I see, the majority of comments coming your way now are positive. People love you on the TV and the radio…
“That’s taken a while. Look, I don’t even mind. I have my opinions on people too, I don’t love everybody. I don’t love every single actor or singer out there. We all have opinions on people, and that’s fine. It’s the nasty comments that are just for the sake of being nasty, that’s what’s hard. But it is, unfortunately, just part of the gig.
“The radio was a slow burner. We got slated when we started. I still remember the first review, we got slated. It just takes a while with radio for people to know you’re there, to listen… It’s a real slow burner, and I wasn’t used to that coming from telly. But we’re in a really good place now. We’re up in our last books, I love my team, there’s great craic, and we’re discussing things that I really want to discuss. It’s getting better every day.”
The Late Late Show is a hot topic right now, as Patrick Kielty has just been announced as Ryan Tubridy’s replacement after months of speculation.
Before the big announcement, a host of presenters were linked to the role – including Claire Byrne, Tommy Tiernan, Sarah McInerney and Jennifer.
While she was hotly tipped for the gig, Jennifer has confirmed she never even auditioned for it.
Were you ever in talks with RTÉ about The Late Late Show?
“No, not at all. I really want to keep doing Dancing with the Stars. Hopefully it comes back, as that’s the show I’m focused on.”
As we come to the end of our interview, I thank Jen for taking the time to chat to me when she is so busy.
Before we wrap up, I ask her what’s left on her bucket list, having already achieved so much in her professional and personal life.
She teases some exciting new projects, and reveals why she feels like her life is just beginning…
Do you have any other exciting TV shows in the works?
“Yes, there’s something in the pipeline at the moment. You probably know what I’m going to say on that: I can’t really talk about it. It’s a real change in direction for me, so hopefully that’ll come through.
“I’m obviously focusing on the podcast right now. I can’t believe the response to that, it’s crazy. We’ve had so much love and support which makes me feel really good because we’ve been talking about doing it for so long. And then we’ll see, you never know what’s going to happen with me and Lottie. We’ve a lot of plans, so time will tell…”
You’ve achieved so much in both your personal and professional life. What’s left on your bucket list?
“I’d like to do some more acting I think. It’s something that I did a lot of before with Bridget and Eamon, and I miss it. So it would be amazing if I had an opportunity to get back into acting. I would also like to do some more travelling. I also think there’s a book in me. So there’s lots to come I think.
“My life is so much more balanced now in my 40s, and that’s great to feel…”
“I loved Joanne McNally’s 40th birthday post earlier this month, because there’s such a negative connotation about women turning 40, and people turning 40 in general.
“But she said that she feels like this is the beginning, and it was just so lovely to hear because after my initial freak-out, I felt the same. My life is so much more balanced now in my 40s, and that’s great to feel.”