Yvonne: I'm letting love rule
Yvonne Connolly, ex-wife of Ronan Keating, has found true love with her partner of four years, cameraman John Conroy. They won't be getting married, though, as she says they don't need to. She talks to Barry Egan
Her face appears to be lit up with the lingering memory of the precise moment when intimacy first escalated into something reciprocal and magic. It's not yet 8.30am, and Yvonne Connolly is recalling the precise moment when she knew John Conroy was 'The One'.
"One winter's night in Dublin, early in our relationship, the heating was broken," she says. "It was Baltic. I came out of the bathroom, freezing, and he was sprawled out on my side of the bed. He looked at me and told me he was warming it up for me."
"And ... I fell head over heels in love."
Happily, four years later, she and John are stronger than ever. On May 5 this year, he posted a picture of Yvonne on Twitter with these words underneath it: "Such a beautiful, classy, understated person, who always puts everyone else first. Proud to call her my partner X."
Yvonne says she cried when she read the tweet, but don't expect a trip up the aisle. It is not on Yvonne's to-do list. She has done that, and bought the T-shirt, and all of that.
Does she not believe in the sanctity of marriage?
"I'm not sure about the sanctity of marriage, but I believe in the sentiment of it, and I can see why two people want to commit to each other, especially if they plan on having children. John and I love the bones of each other, but neither of us feels the need to get married. If his feelings for me change, I don't want any vows, guilt, financial commitments - or anything else - to keep us together."
Appearing on Celebrity MasterChef Ireland on RTE in the summer of 2013, Yvonne believed the public would think that she looked ... maybe not old, but maybe not young any more. She caught sight of herself on one of the TV monitors and froze in fear.
"In day-to-day life, I'm image-confident. I feel fit and healthy. I feel more feminine than ever," she says. "I had embraced lines and wrinkles and everything else that comes with age. But when I went back to work and started doing TV and press, that was the first time it bothered me.
"I caught a glimpse of myself on a monitor and felt other people would not like what I saw, although I was ok with it."
Why did you feel other people would not like what they saw?
"Simply because of the pressure of being on television. It's perceived that everybody, women in particular, should look great."
Yvonne is here today in her new role as the brand ambassador for Seven Seas Perfect7.
"For me, looking and feeling my best always starts from the inside," she says. "It is about listening to my body and granting it what it needs - a balanced, healthy diet and active lifestyle, supported by Perfect7, a unique blend of oils, vitamins and minerals, which leaves me feeling energised and looking my true age.
"I actually love being older now - a little wiser, too. Less pressure. I always wanted to look like someone else when I was young. Hence the tattoos, ear piercings and constant hair dyeing," says the blonde bombshell. "I would get very bored with my image."
Yvonne talks about loss, alienation and pain with an honesty that is refreshing. Her mission statement is to feel the fear and do it anyway.
The most painful episode of her life, she says, was not the very public break-up of her marriage, but the death of her father. I ask Yvonne if pain ultimately empowered her.
"No, I think it made me more sensitive. Reflecting on the death of my father, on the grief and the pain, left me emotionally more sensitive and mindful of my relationships and how fragile life is. It taught me to cherish the people I love."
"It's important to feel all experiences, whether painful or joyful. I've learned how important it is to keep moving forward. I feel that the key to life is adaptation. Believing in yourself is so important. I sometimes struggle with this, but I am lucky enough to have wonderful people in my life who don't put up with it for minute."
Why do you sometimes struggle with it?
"Because I'm human. Like most people, I doubt myself sometimes."
How often does that doubt manifest itself?
"It rarely does. Sometimes, when I am committing to jobs, I worry. Then I remind myself of what Richard Branson said: 'If you're given an amazing opportunity, say yes, and figure out how to do it after.'"
"At times, when I feel overwhelmed and worry about my work-life balance, my friends and family are always there to mentally or physically support me. Or sometimes, quite rightly, they simply tell me to cop on. I've grown to appreciate family, friends and loved ones more than ever. I'm surrounded by people who motivate me and who I want to make proud, especially my children," she says referring to Jack, Missy and Ali, by her ex-husband, Ronan Keating.
"I love my relationship with them - although falling into the situation of becoming 'best friends' and not parent/child can sometimes be a hazard. My son is 17, and has a summer job, and so coming down hard on him can be difficult at times. My daughter Missy is 15, and has her Junior Cert year behind her. Not having to repeat 'go and study' one more time is a relief. My daughter Ali is 10. If I could stop time and keep her that age, I would."
Equally, if it had been within Yvonne's power to stop time, to stop cancer, and keep her dad forever at 63 years of age - the age he was when he died, on November 25, 2007 - she would have.
"They turned the machines off in intensive care in St Vincent's. He had Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer, on and off, for 18 months. At one stage he was terminal and was prepared for this," Yvonne says.
"He was later given the all-clear, much to our joy and his relief. Such a confusing time, yet it felt like a miracle and we celebrated."
Approximately a month later, however, a symptom reared its particularly ugly head. After further tests were carried out, Yvonne was informed that "not only was the cancer back", but there was nothing they could do. Michael had, possibly, only weeks to live.
"Looking my father in the eye in a hospital room on my own and telling him this was by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do. His month's mind fell on Christmas Day," she says.
How did you deal with his death?
"At the time, I dealt with it normally - whatever that is," she says. "Because I had to come to terms with it twice, and because I was there to say goodbye when they turned the machines off, I had time to 'accept' it. I can't imagine how hard a sudden death is on a family. Time helps with grief, but not with the feelings of not having that anchor and support ... the loss of strength, in a way."
Yvonne is honest enough to admit that she has lived a relatively charmed life. Her father's death, however, was to shape her painfully and profoundly.
"I was extremely close to my dad. He held me on a pedestal, and I had him up on a pedestal as well. We had a really cool relationship. I knew when he died that I would miss him like crazy, but I thought that would be the extent of it; that I would just miss him being around.
"I lost a lot of my confidence. I didn't realise how it would knock my confidence. Even if you are old, in your late 30s or 40s, you still feel a little bit bulletproof when your parents have your back. I lost a lot of confidence knowing that he was no longer in the background for me, no matter what happened in life. He was always the person to pick up the phone to me.
"Even if you are married, it is still a different kind of relationship: it is unconditional love. Even if you have a husband or wife who you are completely in love with, there is still something about a parent's love that, when it is not there, and is gone, it does affect you.
"I was prepared. I knew. But the process of going through it and watching him pass away peacefully was ... I think I probably didn't grieve because I was so prepared for it, because we were told. We got to say goodbye."
How long did it take you to pick up the pieces?
"Well, I kind of didn't. I was this kind of strong girl who knew her father was sick, knew he was going to pass away and loved him deeply, but he was gone. Although I missed him, life goes on. It puts family life on hold for a long time. I didn't really grieve as much as the rest of my family. It didn't hit me for a long time."
Have you grieved?
"I have. But, you know, it is nearly nine years now and I still miss him. I miss what he gave me."
What was that?
"Confidence. I have found that in other ways. But you never get that back."
At boarding school she went to Mass every morning and took her Catholic faith very seriously.
"I often read the Bible before bed, and staying on at Loreto Abbey to become a nun crossed my mind. I would never have lasted as a nun. I had too much living to do."
Asked does she go to Mass every Sunday now, Yvonne says: "I did when the kids were younger. I'm guilty of taking advantage of religion. As a parent, I think it is important when you are bringing up kids and instilling values and morals.
"I suppose it is used as a tool by schools, too. In some ways, it brings such positivity, yet it is responsible for so much that's going wrong in the world, too. Ultimately, it's people using religion as a reason to hate."
Yvonne says, without specifying why, that her faith "has weakened" over the years, but she adds that she hasn't lost it.
She adds: "My father did not have the same faith as me, and to get a rise out of me, often said 'you go into that box and that's it'."
Do you believe that when you go into your coffin that will be it?
"I'd like to think not. I try to convince myself there's more."
Yvonne Connolly is the brand ambassador for Seven Seas Perfect7. Seven Seas Perfect7 Woman contains zinc, which contributes to the maintenance of normal skin and nails, Biotin for healthy hair, and Vitamins B2, A and C for healthy skin. Perfect7 is available from leading pharmacies and supermarkets, £10 for a one-month supply. See seven-seas.com.