Rachel: 'I first met Tim 13 years ago but we have only been together a year and it’s going great'
As a woman in the male-dominated world of sports presenting, Rachel Wyse tells Donal Lynch how she has overcome the critics and now life could not be better with her dream job and in a relationship with the man who shares her passion for horses
What is it about Rachel Wyse? Not since Craig Doyle has a sports anchor held quite this kind of cross-party fascination. She seems to live an aspirational dream of meeting the biggest sports stars in the world while enjoying the high life in London.
For someone so crisply professional, so carefully above the fray in her opinions, she has endured enormous scrutiny and comment. Her love life has been covered as though she were Taylor Swift. She hardly makes a move out of place through any of it; no comment, and a big smile. It just seems to blow like a storm around her - she has that perfect newsreader quality; sphinx-like and inscrutable. It has helped her endure - she has been at Sky Sports News for seven years now - and has established herself as one of the broadcaster's brightest stars which is no mean feat considering its roster of former sporting greats.
She fronts the channel's widely praised GAA coverage over the summer and has won warm reviews for her work.
"It's been an incredible journey, the last seven years," the 32-year-old presenter says. "I've been so lucky to do something I love - that's what I focus on. It's been such an amazing learning experience. People are entitled to their opinions. I have my opinion. I'll watch someone on TV and go 'I just don't like them really'. It's not personal, it's just an opinion. Or I might say: she's not necessarily the person I would have put in that role. Would I go online and vent that thought? Probably not."
Maybe she knows it's not her, it's us. Female sports anchors have turned out to be a curious barometer for sexism in the social media age. The overblown nature of the reactions to them - witness Rachel Riley recently resigning over the uproar at her innocuous comment that Tottenham's unsuccessful league effort was "a bottle job" - is underscored by the unspoken sense that to some people, their very presence as women, in an until-recently exclusively male field, is still controversial.
If they say literally anything which sounds like an opinion, it will be a subject of threats and debate about whether they were just hired for their looks.
Rachel Wyse has run the gauntlet of some of this, and handled it with serene dignity. Perhaps to the average person on this side of the Irish sea, she has a faintly aristocratic whiff - a horsey-set girl done good - but to be Irish in the British media world is to be curiously classless, an unthreatening advantage. This is, perhaps, also why her range of sports runs the spectrum from cricket to GAA. They don't pigeonhole her. She's equal parts Ladies' Day and Hill 16.
"It's important to be versatile in terms of what you can cover," she explains. "In the beginning, my boss was like 'what's your knowledge of cricket?' and I had to say 'honestly, not much'. But then again, I think most of the country was unaware Ireland even had a cricket team until they beat England in the World Cup. I got to know people who loved it and went to games and just sat on cricinfo.com all day. I think you can learn to love a sport. When you follow a person's career, you become a bit invested in it."
She is an image of someone from Ireland in London that gives comfort amid all the Brexit paranoia. She refers to the city as a home from home. Her brother and sister live there. She can't imagine moving "home, home" in the foreseeable future.
London is at the heart of everything that's going on for her. But that doesn't mean it hasn't been a strange and terrible few months there. She was on her way home from her boyfriend's house the day after the Grenfell Tower fire and saw the blaze on the skyline.
"I came back from Tim's house the morning after the fire. Where I live in Battersea is by the river and then you've got Chelsea, Fulham and over to Kensington, and you see the smoke rising right in front of you. I could see it there on the skyline. It was just horrific, it was the morning after so we understood by then what had happened. It doesn't look like enough has been done. Theresa May doesn't seem to have, what's the word, empathy."
The crises that engulf London sit in stark relief to her own life, which seems to be in a golden age. Aside from the career, she is more settled in her personal life. Tim is Tim Gredley - multimillionaire developer and showjumper. They've been together for a year now. They knew each other slightly years ago but it was only when they met up again in the middle of last year that they began a relationship.
"I met Tim 13 years ago at a horse show in Cavan. I was jumping and he had horses. But then nothing happened and all these years later, we met again. We weren't in each other's orbits at all through the intervening years. We just met up last year and it went from there. We've been together a year now. It's going great, I'm very happy."
In the spring, Rachel and Tim took a trip to Hong Kong together to watch his horse Big Orange take part in races at Sha Tin. They also dressed up for a date to the Racehorse Owners Association Awards in December. And the couple have shared pictures of them together in the past few weeks, with Rachel posting an Instagram snap of Gredley hugging her.
Aside from being sporty, Gredley has been called one of the most eligible bachelors in Britain and is one of the richest young men in the country - his fortune tops £198m. To say he is a catch might be understating it. Did any of her girlfriends tease her about how minted he was?
"No, that has never come up in conversation at all," she responds.
Is managing the distance a problem - she is travelling every week for the four months of the GAA championships? "If you want to make something work in life, there's always time to fit somebody in. It works for us. We just click and get on well. Of course, he's met my friends and we've lots of mutual friends. It's nice to have similar interests."
Growing up in Blackrock, Co Dublin, Rachel was mad about horses - her father was a judge in the Dublin Horse Show. She went to St Andrew's College and competed internationally at show jumping. She was a hard-working student who left school with what she describes as a "decent" Leaving Certificate, and went on to complete a degree in business studies.
But she still hankered for horses and only took a job at the local Dublin City Channel because she presumed it would leave her with plenty of time for equestrian matters.
It turned out to be a good apprenticeship. She did everything that went into making each broadcast, including "moving the autocue with my foot". While on a trip to Aintree, a friend of hers called to say that Sky Sports News was looking for a presenter and she should apply.
"So I fired off the email and lo and behold, they emailed me back and said when will you be in London. I lied and said I'd be there next week. I went and did the interview and a month later I was moving over. At that stage, I still had it in my mind to do something with horses. But I still thought I'd do this for a while to pay the bills."
She had no real inkling of the enormous reach of Sky Sports. "Then all of a sudden, my brother's friends were on to him going 'can your sister get us tickets to this and that' and it was sort of an insight into the huge audience it has.
"You read comments online and it's the one negative one about your accent or your presentation and it'll stick in your mind, but as the years go on, it has become easier to block that out. There are people in my life who I've learned from and who have given me constructive criticism. I've a degree in journalism and a diploma. Yes, I've been given opportunities but I've worked my way up as well."
She reportedly receives a huge amount of fan mail from Sky Sports' overwhelmingly male viewership, but she seems to take it all in the right spirit. "The fan stuff is all fun. You would get things like someone had sent a picture of his teddy bears with his address on it. It was sweet but I wasn't entirely sure of their age, so I didn't know how to take it. There are a few things that get sent in and you realise that what's written is a bit vile and you just quickly move on. On Valentine's Day, they send cards."
Given her trial by fire in the media back home, it's easy to see why she might be a bit guarded. She is unfailingly polite but it's clear she doesn't relish being interviewed, particularly if the conversation veers away from her career.
Many will remember her Late Late Show appearance where she and presenter Ryan Tubridy had the chemistry of frost meeting dry ice. Twitter exploded and The Daily Edge ran an article about the "10 most awkward moments" from it, including a meme-ified side-eye from Ryan.
She smiles glacially when I bring it up but expresses puzzlement that anyone saw tension onset. "I remember working in a PR company doing rehearsals and I acted as a guinea pig for him then, so I would have liked to have thought he was nice in return.
"I mean, I can only say it was a good experience. I thought it was probably friendly banter.
"He came up after the show and we had a drink in the green room, so there was no problem, but maybe others saw it differently."
She says she wants to start a family at some point, "but it's definitely not on the agenda at the moment, I'm more focused on getting through the next four months of travelling and doing a good job at work. There are only about eight or nine women working at Sky Sports News and I think all bar three of us are mothers. So, as far as I'm concerned, there would be no problem with working and being a mother."
Given that she is one of the very few Irish female television journalists to make it in the UK, there has been some speculation that sooner or later, there would be offers for her to come back to Ireland to work. She says that at the moment she can't imagine coming back, however.
"Would I move home in the foreseeable future - no! I live with my best friend. My parents were just over, we see a lot of each other. A lot of my good friends from Ireland left during the crash and there's a nice little group of us now. I am very lucky."
- Rachel Wyse presents live GAA on Sky Sports throughout the summer. Coverage on Sky continues next Saturday