Nunthorpe-born Kirsten O’Brien has never been far away from the airwaves, with her TV and radio work constantly busy. We caught up with Kirsten at the beautiful Grade I-listed Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough, close to where she grew up…
INTERVIEW BY DAVE ALLAN
PICTURES BY MARTIN WALKER
After initially working on ITV, she got her first big break as a presenter alongside puppet Otis the Aardvark on CBBC and later presented children’s art programme SMart, occasionally working with the legendary Tony Hart.
She’s also performed a one-woman show, Confessions of a Children’s TV Presenter, at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.
Although she’s taken more of a back seat since starting a family, she’s also appeared on Celebrity Mastermind, Pointless and The Weakest Link.
While balancing her work with looking after six-year-old son Fox and one-year-old twins, Kit and Indigo, she finds time as a voiceover artist on Sky One, while regularly presenting on BBC Radio Berkshire.
The restaurants I love to eat in are… well, I used to love to eat at Chadwicks on Yarm High Street but now when I’m home we go for brunch at Fletcher’s Farm in Little Ayton, which is really nice.
The meal I order most of all is… if it’s not a big Sunday roast, then I love Thai food.
My favourite tipple is… gin and tonic. I love gin and now it’s gone all fancy and there are so many choices.
The things I spend too much money on are… trashy magazines such as Closer, New! and Now! I pretend I need to know what’s going on in the world of celebrity but then get annoyed that I’m finding out what size Lauren from The Only Way is Essex is this month, and I end up thinking: “What am I doing?”
For a day out, I… love going out with my gang – the whole family heads out and it has got to involve ice cream.
One place on Teesside I’d like to visit is… mima. I think it’s a real boon that we have it but I don’t go enough. With a six-year-old and twins, it’s not the calm mooch I’d like! Also the Bongo! I’ve heard so much about it but I’ve never been.
In my downtime, I like nothing better than… sleeping. I’m one of those people who can sleep anywhere. But I need plenty of it when I’m not looking after Fox and the twins. If I get the opportunity, sleeping is the only thing I do.
My perfect night out involves… comedy or the West End, with a meal first.
My perfect night in involves… I’m very sad but Mark and I enjoying a gin and tonic whilst watching America’s Next Model while he gives me a neck massage, with hopefully no sounds via the baby monitor!
People in life
The biggest influence on my career were… probably all the people who told me why I couldn’t do it. It’s all those weird things you get told – one boss said my hair wasn’t right and someone once told me my voice was too high. Those kind of comments motivated me to prove them wrong.
The people who make me laugh are… my two friends, Rhod Gilbert and Sarah Millican. There’s a gang of us including Sarah and I who try and go for a cream tea every couple of months, and she’s always funny. Rhod makes me laugh because he’s always quite shouty at me. If you get a text from him you can imagine his Welsh voice!
The person who inspires me is… my chum Sarah Millican. She is amazing because while the rest of us talk about writing a book, she actually sits down and does it, and writes her autobiography. And, of course, it will then be a best seller for weeks and weeks. Sarah is a massive inspiration – and really supportive.
The people who make me angry… are definitely the sort of people who don’t have children but who park in mother and toddler parking bays. And there’s also those people who take liberties by parking in the bays and then you see their children are about 12 years old and you think ‘Nooooo! It’s not for you!’
A book I love is… Perfume. It’s always stuck with me, it’s about a man who can distinguish the vast range of scents around him but becomes a murderer.
A film I love is… Withnail and I and also Pretty in Pink. They both remind me of people and times. The night before I performed at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival for the first time, I watched Withnail and I and just sat and laughed. Pretty in Pink, with a soundtrack full of songs by New Order and others, reminds me of being a teenager.
A TV programme I love is… Modern Family. It’s something I can switch off to and I really like Gloria in it. I also love watching true murder programmes such as The Jinx with Mark.
A song I love is… Fools Gold by the Stone Roses. I just love that riff. They were on at Middlesbrough Town Hall the night before I sat my History A-level, so I had to choose whether I revised or went to see them. I chose to be swatty, revised while everyone else I knew went to the gig – and I regretted it for years.
A holiday destination I love is… New York. I used to go there all the time with a girlfriend. I knew all the streets like it was my home city. I don’t get the chance to go now I have responsibilities, but back then I used to go in November and do a bit of Christmas shopping.
My greatest achievement was… apart from my children, obviously, it would definitely be winning The Weakest Link. I beat Johnny Ball – and he’s really clever. I couldn’t quite believe how well every round went but I was still there for a head-to-head with Johnny. My winning question was about what was invented on a bridge in New Zealand. I had no idea but the only thing I could think of was bungee jumping – and I was right! I’m really happy with my performances in quiz shows. I won The Weakest Link and I came second behind Jesus – aka Robert Powell – on Test the Nation!
My biggest disappointment was… missing out on being the Doctor’s assistant on the Dr Who radio series. I met someone at a do who told me ‘Oh, we tried to get you to be the doctor’s assistant but we never heard back’. It was the first I’d heard of it, and I was gutted. Sheridan Smith was one of those who did it instead, so you end up wondering what might have opened up had that happened.
My business mantra is… the same as our family mantra – find a way. When I hear people say ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘You’re not allowed to do that’, I always say ‘Find a way’. I need to look up the Latin for it and have it as a family crest.
The alternative career I might have had was… well, I quite fancied advertising but probably a travel writer. I just love travelling, so going around the world for a job sounds amazing.
My favourite place on Teesside is… definitely Roseberry Topping. I went up there quite recently with my dad. You can just see for miles and there’s that twin thing of incredible countryside and sprawling industry.