By Marisa Reidy
YOU need only see him on TV or listen to him on the airwaves to know that he is one of the bubbliest and most down to earth guys you’re ever likely to meet, but when you delve deeper into the personality of RTE star Baz Ashmawy you find a genuinely friendly, proud man with deep rooted, inspiring family values.
We caught up Baz just days after a visit to Dingle where he was filming a new documentary and he told us that he is so in awe of the beauty of west Kerry that he has decided to return with his family over Christmas.
“I’ve been to Kerry a lot, but I’ve never really spent time in Dingle and around the Dingle Peninsula and it’s really gorgeous and there’s so much to do. My boys love swimming in the sea and water activities and part of me thinks it would be lovely to just make a little break there over Christmas, even just for a few days,” Baz told CONNECT.
“When we’re up in Dublin the kids run off with all their friends, so I wouldn’t mind just having them to ourselves for a while, because when we’re on our own we actually have a lot of fun and I think West Kerry might be the perfect backdrop. Kerry is definitely on my radar this Christmas.”
Born in Libya to an Egyptian dad and Irish mum, Baz lived in Cairo until he was six years old, when his parents chose to return to Ireland and set up home in Dublin. He says that while he was certainly made well aware of his mixed race growing up as a child in 1980s Dublin, it wasn’t until he was much older that he realised the underlying racism that had been going on.
“To be honest, I never noticed it being a thing until I was older to be honest. It was ok,” Baz said. “My dad left when I was quite young so I was raised by my mum and granny – two of the most incredibly Irish women you’ll ever meet. They were baking brown bread and saying the rosary at night and having them around me gave me a big baptism into Irish culture. So I never really struggled with that side of fitting in, even though there weren’t that many mixed race kids around at the time.
“It’s only now, when you look back and see how much we’ve come on and the language we use and what’s socially acceptable, that you think back and realise the things people said probably weren’t very nice.”
Being asked ‘where are you really from’ was often a hard one to swallow, Baz says, along with being called ‘half caste’.
“Where are you really from is the is the big one, isn’t it? I always struggled with that and anyone who is mixed race probably does too,” he says. “Also the expression ‘half caste’ – I always had a lot of resentment towards that as it implies that you’re half of something rather than being dual nationality.”
Thankfully, Baz feels that we have come a long way since his childhood days in Dublin, and testament to that is how his younger children see the world.
“We have definitely moved on a lot from those days and a lot of people are very vocal about it, which is great,” he says. “I have children who are half Irish, quarter Serbian, quarter Egyptian, they have a Greek Orthodox granny, a Catholic granny and a Muslim auntie. We’re very much a blended family. They go school with children of all denominations and religions and it’s not something they’ve ever mentioned. They don’t see colour and that’s just brilliant.”
An actor, TV presenter, producer and radio star, Baz certainly has a lot of string to his bow. He tells CONNECT that he always knew a career in acting and media would be on the cards. It was an itch that just had to be scratched, he says.
“I kind of knew from when I was little that I wanted to be an actor. I did drama and theatre and it was always something I wanted to do so I started acting after school,” Baz explains. “I wandered for a while and ended up in sales to earn money really. So in my mid 20s I was doing quite well, working as a recruitment consultant in London, but I just couldn’t envision myself doing this for another 10 years. Something in me was itching to go back and to chase the dream.
“So I started back acting for a year or two and then a presenting opportunity came along and I was asked if I wanted to do a travel show with two other guys. I was like ‘Yea, absolutely – so you’re going to pay me to go on holiday. I’m in,” he joked.
“The rest is history after that, really. It took a few years to find my feet but I’m one of the lucky ones because I love what I do. It spreads out into different things – presenter, producing, last year I did a stage show, I did radio in the early years and still cover radio shows, and now I have my own podcast. You are whatever you want to be.”
One of Baz’ most famous TV shows was undoubtedly the Emmy-winning ‘50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy’ which saw Baz and his beloved mum Nancy travel the world taking on all sorts of unlikely – and often dangerous – adventures. Baz explained how it all came about:
“It was kind of her idea to be honest. She wanted to do a skydive as she was turning 70 and I kind of thought ‘You’re too old, you’ll have a heart attack’, he joked. “She got annoyed with me, actually, but I went home and was chatting to (my partner) Tanya and said if she’s going to do it I’m probably the best person to do it with because I had done about 10 of them. We got chatting afterwards and I said to my mum that it’s very rare someone your age would want to do this, so we should make a show,”
Baz came up with hilarious name for the show and as we all know, it became a huge hit! A hit that Baz says he will always be grateful for.
“I think in the back of my mum’s head she was thinking ‘Ah yea, another one of his crack pot ideas’ but this one took off and I cherish the experience of being able to do something so amazing with my mum while she was in her 70s. We travelled 19 countries over three years and being able to have that adventure is something that will stay with us forever.”
Baz’ relationship with his mum is something he holds so dear and it is clear from chatting to him just how much he loves and admires her.
“There’s an honesty between us and that made us close. I used to get myself into all sorts of trouble as a kid and the only one who could get me out of it was my ma. I’ve always admired and respected her and I certainly got all my good traits from her – they are all from her. I model my own parenting on the way she was with me. She was an amazing mum. She’s just awesome,” he said.
And speaking of parenting, Baz certainly has his hands full when it comes to home life with six children to contend with. He and his partner Tanya have two daughters, aged eight and 10, and Baz is stepdad to Tanya’s four children, aged 16, 18, 22 and 24. Five of the six kids live at home with Baz and Tanya- and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way!
“I couldn’t do what I do or be what I am without Tanya. She is the boss and she makes it all work. I couldn’t get through a day without her – she’s the unsung hero in all this,” Baz says. “I grew up in a very small family so it’s ironic that I ended up in the biggest one you could get. When we walk in somewhere I always think people are saying ‘Oh God, look there’s eight of them’ but the truth is I get kind of proud. There’s a lot of fun, a lot of craic and personality and it’s busy and loud, but I love it. It just it keeps you young and there’s a blind optimism and energy and stupidity that comes with being young and if you could bottle it I swear to God I’d drink it every day. There’s all these different characters and that creates a lovely energy. Whenever they’re not there or we’re apart I miss them a lot. “
Like most families, lockdown earlier this year offered Baz a lot of down time to spend at home and the Dubliner savoured every minute of it.
“Lockdown was hard on the teenagers, because let’s be honest, who wants to hang out with their parents right? But I made it a priority of putting the kids first in regards to their mental wellbeing and keeping them buoyant emotionally,” he said. “So we did a lot of cooking, colouring in, having fun, drawing maps of Ireland, walking the dogs and just figuring things out. It was great.”
One of Baz’ most recent projects, of course, was fronting the Irish version of DIY SOS – a heart-warming show which certainly captured the nation in an extraordinary way. The show saw Baz and a team of volunteers transform the homes of several deserving families.
The feedback and public reaction was extraordinary –and something that Baz is very proud of.
“I knew when I was making the show just how special it was. I’ll never forget the first day on set and I saw all these volunteers walking up to the house and I just thought this is amazing. These people have all come here to build this woman’s house because of the story they heard,” Baz recalls.
“We had a Lot of fun and craic, but I was the lucky one because I got to meet these families and they opened up to me and shared their amazing stories. That’s very grounding. I’d be an emotional person anyway, and then I’m on site and I see one of the lads getting upset when I’d chat with the family and come back and remind the volunteers why we’re there and what impact this will have.”
Asked if he was surprised by the public reaction to the show, Baz says he was more thankful that it struck a chord with so many.
“I wasn’t really surprised, but I was very grateful that people connected with it. I was so happy that they connected with the kindness of it; with the importance of it and how traditionally Irish that is,” he said.
“It’s a very Irish thing to look after your neighbour or to do something for someone. It’s a personality trait that perhaps we’ve lost a little as a country in a time of me, me, me.”
The show, Baz says, also made him appreciate what he has.
“I came back from those shoots and I squeezed my kids very hard,” he said. “It made me very grateful and that’s an amazing thing to have in a TV show.”
Given all of the success that Baz has had in his career and family life, we chatted about what he is was most proud of in his life. Simply being a good, family man was number one, he said.
“I suppose if I’m honest, I’m proud of the man I’m turning into, if that sounds right,” he said. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life and it takes a while to right those. You can carry on as you are for a long time, but at some stage or another you’re going to catch yourself in the mirror and you’re going to have to ask yourself if you like who you see. For a long time, I think I didn’t like who I was or who I
was becoming, but now, even though I’m slightly boring if anything, I like who I am. I’m very content and I’m happy with the path I’m on and that I’m becoming the man I want to be.”