Ahead of playing at the Harvest Festival in Enniskillen in August, Una Healy tells Christine Carrigan about how her children inspire her songs, her battle with postnatal depression and balancing her busy career with being a mum to two young kids.
As one-fifth of girlband The Saturdays, Una Healy is used to the jet-set lifestyle. Now, though, the 35-year-old is breaking out on her own on what has been a very successful solo career to date.
The Irish singer-songwriter will play two dates at the Harvest Festival in Enniskillen and Westport, on August 26 and August 27.
The event is gearing up to be the hot ticket of the summer here, with each festival staging two days of live entertainment, featuring 40 international and Irish acts across four different music stages.
Big-hitting stars such as Nathan Carter and Miranda Lambert will top the bill.
Una will be entertaining music fans at both gigs, such is her work ethic. It’s not surprising, then, that when I catch her for our down-the-line interview, she has just minutes before she catches a flight.
Juggling a budding solo career, where she is chief songwriter and performer, while being a mum to five-year-old Aoife and two-year-old Tadhg, she is in good spirits as she chats before being whisked off to the airport on important music business. “It’s all go, but what can you do?” she asks,
The Irish beauty, born in Thurles, County Tipperary, married English rugby player, Ben Foden on June 30, 2012. Talking about how she manages to balance being a mother and her music, Una describes Ben, who plays fullback for Northampton, as “a hands-on dad”.
She adds, laughing at the hectic pace of her life: “The kids are aware of how much I love music, and music is always around the house. Aoife knows all the words to my songs — I actually wrote Staring at the Moon for her, so now she thinks that all of my songs are about her.”
But while she seems to have it all, Una has had her struggles, revealing this week that she suffered from postnatal depression (PND) following her son’s birth, deciding to speak out about the condition in a bid to help other mums who may be trying to cope post-baby.
Despite her demanding lifestyle — having just returned to the limelight recently with a gigging schedule while The Saturdays are on hiatus, as well as coaching on The Voice of Ireland — Una is not ashamed to talk about how she felt after Tadhg was born.
She explained that PND was a new experience for her, not having had to cope with the condition after her first pregnancy.
Having grown up with music herself, Una’s love for singing and songwriting comes from her mother and uncle, the Irish country singer Declan Nerney.
At the age of 13, Una started practising on her mother’s old guitar. After her mum had shown her a few starting chords, Una went on to teach herself and began to dabble in songwriting.
“It is something that I know that I have always wanted to do,” she says.
Answering whether or not she would encourage Aoife and Tadhg into a music career, the down-to-earth singer replies: “I would never force them into music or anything like that — I am not one of those mums — but
if they are interested in it, then of course I will support them.”
Although Una has always had a passion for music, she was very nearly famous for an entirely different reason. Like her husband and cousin, Irish track and field athlete Paul Hession who specialises in sprinting, Una was on course for a sporting career.
At the age of nine, she was an All-Ireland champion swimmer. “I spent my childhood in the swimming pool, but it just wasn’t for me,” she says. “I would have to get up at 4am to train before school, at a club which was miles away. Then training after school and not getting home until late and trying to do homework... for a 12-year-old, it wasn’t worth it.”
In good humour Una reveals her other “failed” attempts at different career paths. “I was a lifeguard at 17 and I actually tried uni twice, at two very different things,” she says.
“First I tried primary teaching, which lasted for about three months, and then I went back and studied nursing. I did that for about a year and a half, then decided that it wasn’t for me.”
It was after her second attempt at university that Una decided to take her music seriously.
After playing local pubs and gigs, she got her first big performance in 2006 when she represented Ireland at Eurovision as a backing singer for Brian Kennedy.
Whilst she was slowly finding success in her native Ireland as an indie solo artist, Una felt she had no firm direction in her career.
So, in 2007, she moved to London, where she landed an audition for The Saturdays, nabbing her place as one-fifth of the pop group sensation.
Together, the girls achieved 13 top 10 hits and four top 10 albums.
Following the band’s hiatus, (a term for taking a break commonly used in the music industry) in 2014, Una decided to pursue a solo path that would see her to return to her roots.
Roll on three years and on February 10 this year, Una released her first solo album, The Waiting Game, after signing with Decca records, also known as Universal in Ireland, in the summer of last year. Summing up her style, Una describes her new album as “an acoustic vibe with country influences”.
Discussing the differences between performing with the girls and playing solo, she says: “I am more familiar with being on my own, as it is what I used to do before I auditioned for the Saturdays. I have the band, crew and my guitar, so I am never too lonely.” The Waiting Game, which features 12 singles, has been well received nationally, reaching number 12 in the Irish Album Chart and number 28 in the UK Album chart.
Una has released three tracks from her new album, including the title track, The Waiting Game, Battlelines, and Stay My Love, the latter on which Sam Palladio features.
The duet with the handsome, UK-born singer, who also plays Gunnar Scott in the hit TV series Nashville, is the only collaboration track on the album and already has 330,000 views on YouTube. With all of this success in a span of four months, her solo career looks promising.
Una reveals that although she wants to focus on her own music right now: “The girls and I are lucky that we are such good friends. We have met up recently but for Mollie’s birthday, not musically.” As for any plans for The Saturdays reunion to happen soon, Una teases: “I hope to in a few years.”
And when it comes to her tour, what does she do to get into the right mindset for a show? “I don’t really get nervous anymore,” she says. “It is more of a positive feeling of energy that I experience. I used to high-five the girls. I suppose I could just high-five myself. Apart from that, it is really important to me that I get my head into a good place before I go on.”