THERE have been many dark moments over the last couple of years when Una Healy has really had to dig deep, but one is particularly stark in her memory. 

It came shortly after her marriage had fallen apart and Una was at an airport, about to board her first flight as a single mum with her then six-year-old daughter Aoife.

As she looked around the terminal, all she could see were two-parent family units excitedly going off on holiday together, and reality suddenly hit hard.

“It was literally after it had all happened and I was surrounded by these happy families getting on the plane. Everyone was so… happy, and I was so irritated by it. 

“I just felt: ‘Grr!’ Here I was on my own, just Mammy, but I had to tell myself: ‘Come on, you can do this!’”

And she did. Indeed, throughout the last two turbulent years, Una, 38, has carried on “doing this”, finding strength she never knew she had.

She’s been utterly warrior-like, although she characteristically plays it down, pointing out that with Aoife and son Tadhg, now eight and five, depending on her, she had no choice.

“Looking back, I’m surprised at myself, but at the time I just did it because I had to. When you’re in hell, you can’t go round it, you have to go through it. It’s the only way. 

“For the sake of the kids I had to stay strong. Obviously they’ve seen me upset, and there have been moments where I’ve just started crying, but both of them would come up and give me a hug or write little notes saying ‘I love you’ and I knew I had to pull myself out of it. 

“Everything is for them. They are the most important thing in my life and I have to guide them now.”

Una’s world collapsed in the summer of 2018 when her six-year marriage to rugby star Ben Foden ended following allegations (which he later publicly confessed were true) of his infidelity.

She was still piecing her life back together when, just months after their divorce was finalised last year, Ben blindsided her again by announcing he’d married New Yorker Jackie Belanoff Smith, a woman he had been dating for  a whole fortnight. 

He now lives in America with his new wife and their four-month-old baby girl, and Una admits the whole situation has been challenging.

“Divorce is a tough old thing to go through,” she says. “You don’t walk down the aisle expecting this to happen. You hope it’s going to be forever and you don’t marry with any other intention. 

“And when it doesn’t work out, it’s devastating. Totally devastating. 

“So that was hard enough, but last summer when he got married again, that was a big shock to me. I was like: ‘Woah, what is this?’

“It was something else I had to get my head around. But life goes on, doesn’t it?” 

She stops and smiles, wryly.

“It just moves faster for some than others, obviously!”

She jokes now, but it’s clearly been an acutely painful experience and one Una battled in private to pick herself up from.

This is as openly as she has ever spoken about it and she does so with admirable dignity, grace and wisdom.

She talks candidly about how the last two years have affected her personally, while being careful never to criticise Ben, and stressing the importance of his relationship with the children.

But she’s honest about the difficulties his move to the States has caused, especially given the last six months – single-handedly keeping the show on the road through a pandemic and lockdown, juggling home-schooling, a career and running a household has been no picnic.

When restrictions eased and Aoife and Tadhg flew to America to spend a few weeks with Ben and Jackie and their new half-sister in July, it was the first time they’d seen their dad since Christmas.

“Him living in America makes it difficult because it means we can’t really co-parent. So I’m the primary carer for the kids and they’re with me all the time. But any time he can get to have them for a period of time, it’s good,” she says.

“They’ve only been out there once and I guess they found it exciting. I try to keep as positive as I can about the situation and point out that they’re lucky to get to go to America and have fun, while I have a couple of weeks off myself – to maybe go on a holiday, too. So I try and see the positives of it.”

Aoife and Tadhg have been remarkably resilient about everything, and Una says she’s glad they have each other – the two of them are the best of friends.

Having them means she could never regret her relationship with Ben.

“Marriage is just a day you sign a paper. A relationship is so much more, and some relationships aren’t meant to be forever.

“The relationship was meant to be – I wouldn’t have my two gorgeous children if it wasn’t for it – so I could never look back and regret it. I just know now it wasn’t meant to be forever. 

“I don’t actually think Tadhg has any memory of us all being together as a family. It’s normal for him. And for Aoife too now.

“If they looked around them and all they saw were happy families, then that might be different for them with their mummy and daddy not being together, but they don’t feel like the odd ones out. And there is so much love around them – they couldn’t be more loved.”

There have been a lot of issues to work through, but her relationship with Ben, 35, although not exactly at bosom-buddy levels, is at least civil these days.

“It was quite tough for a while, but that’s out of the way and we’re in a better place. We’re actually getting on quite well now for the sake of the children. We only talk about the children, though. We don’t call each other for chats and we’re not going to go off on holiday with each other like some people do! 

“We’re not pals or friends who hang out, but there are no arguments now. I know it’s healthy for the children to have their dad in their life.”

She adds: “I’ve allowed myself time to enjoy being free of something that wasn’t right and to feel lucky about that. You need to appreciate that rather than dwelling on the sadness of it not working out, it feels good being relieved of and free from what wasn’t right for you.

“The worst of it was towards the end, but we did have some really great times and I can look back and see that now.” 

Sessions with a life coach proved a key part of Una’s recovery from what she has described as “rock bottom”. She says letting go of any anger was crucial to moving forwards.

“Anger is an emotion you can’t help  at the beginning, but it’s not a good one to hold on to. It means you’re carrying forward a negative energy and no one wants to be around someone like that.

“It’s a trauma. And going and speaking to someone about a traumatic experience is nothing to be ashamed of. I think that’s a lot of it – just getting it out because there’s only so much you can tell your friends.

“Sitting down with someone who doesn’t know you or anything about you is something I found hugely positive. 

“She told me I needed to let go of the worry and the fear that something bad might happen again. I was having [feelings of] almost doom about the future. But I’ve gone past that now and she was a huge help to me.

“Meeting my friends and talking about anything other than sad things also really helped. I mean, obviously we’d have a bit of a bitch about it, as women do, but I’ve loved the camaraderie and we’ve had fun. I’ve had great support.”

It’s taken time for her to heal enough to feel ready to meet someone else. Una thinks now that her relationship with Irish hurler David Breen, 34, which came to an end earlier this year, probably started too quickly.

“Yeah, that didn’t work out and maybe it was something that happened too soon after my marriage. We were on and off for a while and I’m not saying I’m the fountain of knowledge, but I’d say to anyone that if you break up with someone, stopping and starting again is just confusing.

“There was a bit of that going on until I was just like: ‘This is not right’. I’ve not got anything bad to say about him – he was just another ‘not forever’ guy.

“I’m in a much better place now to meet someone and there are plenty more fish in the sea. But there are lots of toads and frogs and snakes too, and I’ve been throwing them all back in! Like when you go fishing and you’re like: ‘Nah, next!’” 

Has her radar for rooting out the wrong’uns been heightened?

“Oh, yeah! In my younger years, if I met someone and kind of liked them, I’d start going out with them and end up with someone I only kind of liked for a couple of months, maybe even a year.

“I would never do that now. You get into your 30s and you don’t tend to bother with the second date because it’s a waste of time!

“Now I’ve been through all that, and if it’s one date and it doesn’t feel quite right, I don’t bother seeing them again. As you get older you know, don’t you? So I’ve not had that second date with anyone. I’m on my own and I’m happy with that.

“I’m enjoying getting to know the new me. I’m no longer someone who was one half of someone else and I don’t need a man to complete me.

“But having said that, I’m looking forward to getting out there fishing again!” 

She says she gravitates towards other single-mum friends, and they have provided her with solidarity and guidance in the times of crisis.

Moving back home to County Tipperary this summer, after 13 years in the UK, has also provided some stability and peace.

She always wanted to bring up Aoife and Tadhg in Ireland – they started at her old school earlier this month – and live closer to her family, especially after months of forced separation.

“The kids are delighted to be back here. In case of another lockdown, I don’t think 

I could go through all of that again, so it is the best base for me at the moment. My mum and dad are just a huge help to me. 

“I will still travel to the UK because I need to work and provide for my family.”

That includes hosting her weekly show on Country Hits Radio and running her eponymous shoe collection, which she designs and develops the 100+ range for, as well as overseeing the business. She’s sold over 100,000 pairs of shoes since launching three years ago.

But it’s making music that will always be Una’s first love and she’s channelled a lot of the turmoil from the last two years into her song-writing – her latest single  Until You is a dream of a track that shows off her lyrical storytelling skills and the strength of her voice.

“I love the fact that it’s quite a positive break-up song,” she says, “because it’s about how you’ve learned so much from that relationship and you wouldn’t change a thing because you wouldn’t be who you are without it.”

Since her country-inspired debut  solo album three years ago, she has been releasing singles “as we go along”.

She hopes to have another album ready by next year. But the pandemic has left so much of the music industry facing precarious futures and touring simply isn’t an option for the foreseeable.

“I’m so worried, it’s just so sad,” she says. “It’s all very uncertain and no one knows when we’ll be able to perform again. But at the same time, we have to keep everyone safe.”

An accomplished musician, Una waited a long time to get her big break, plugging away on the pub scene, sending her demo tape off to record labels, attending audition after audition before finally winning a place in The Saturdays in 2007 at the age of 25.

The band went on to sell 5 million records worldwide, including 13 Top 10 singles over their seven years together.

“But this job is like a rollercoaster, although not one where you ever really feel like you’re at the top. So maybe it’s more like one of those swing boats! You don’t ever really feel like you’ve made it. 

I always kept going because I love music, it’s my passion and I was inspired to write, play guitar and perform. I didn’t do it for any other reason. I still don’t.

“I hope one day we have a reunion. I think we still have it in us.”

She gets nostalgic about how the industry has changed, chuckling as she reveals Aoife’s ambition to be a YouTuber (“she’s only eight!”) and how she’s already been coerced into joining TikTok by her daughter (“I feel really old”).

She really does seem content – relaxed, assured, completely at ease with herself and excited about what the future holds.

In the wardrobe

What’s your lockdown look?

Very casual, rotating the same outfits. I wear three different tracksuits, leggings and a hoodie.

Fave high-street store?

Online, where you can look at a lot of different brands, like ASOS and Littlewoods. I find them really handy. I also love Topshop and River Island.

And designer?

I’m not really a label kinda girl. I have a few designer bags. I’ve got a small Gucci one that I love.

Most worn item?

My leather jacket. I think it gets better and better with age.

“Being a family forever isn’t realistic for everyone. It doesn’t happen for all of us. 

“I know it’s not going to be easy, but there is a bright future ahead for me and my kids. I’m sure there is someone out there somewhere.”

She mimes casting a fishing line.

“It’s a big ocean!” 

● Una’s single Until You is out now. The Una Healy Original Shoe Collection is available at Unahealyoriginal.com. 

Hair: Dino Pereira using Kiehl’s Since 1851 Magic Elixir 

Make-up: Aimee Adams using Sculpted by Aimee Connolly 

Styling: Nana Acheampong  Una wears, p10: suit, Primark  P13 top, trousers, both Prettylittlething.com; bag, Primark; shoes, Kurt Geiger

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