Singer-songwriter Brigid O'Neill on health, fitness and the odd Galaxy Ripple bar

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: singer-songwriter Brigid O'Neill

Downpatrick singer-songwriter Brigid O'Neill, who worked on her recently released debut album Touchstone in Nashville

1. Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I’m always up at 7am and straight into breakfast for the family and motivating the kids. We have boy and girl twins who are now in their final year doing A-levels, so they're not really kids, but they still need help to get out to school. After that, I always try to do my hour of exercise before getting stuck into guitar practice, songwriting and my never-ending list of music career ‘to-do’s’ for the day.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? A boiled egg and wholemeal toast and usually some fresh fruit.

Lunch? Lunch will generally be soup or a salad.

Evening meal? This will always be a home-cooked meal, with the cooking shared with my husband – everything from Asian curries to good old fashioned meat, two veg and some form of spuds. Every night we have a family sit-down meal and it’s quite a focus of the day – particularly for kids who are in the middle of exam study – and we all look forward to it. Mealtimes are a good chance to have a daily catch-up/row/laugh.

3. Is nutrition important to you?

Yes, nutrition is important. Apart from sharing a real love of food with my family members and friends, good food and feeling good about eating is important to me. Although I know I eat more meat and more sugar than I should, I still don’t eat too much processed, ready-made or fried food and I care deeply about my home-cooked dinners. When I was recording my album, Touchstone, with Gareth Dunlop he arranged for his mother-in-law to make a fabulous lunch every day for us and the musicians. I swear the power of that shared food seeped into the album.

4. Best meal ever?

I adore really really good Thai food which is hard to find in Downpatrick or Belfast, so my 'best meals ever' have been in Thailand and Malaysia. A second favourite would be steak, chips and mushrooms round at my mum’s house.

5. Do you have a guilty pleasure (food-wise, that is)?

That would be Galaxy ripple bars and chicken tikka masala….

6. Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

Yes and not well.

7. Do you take health supplements?

No, not really. Manuka honey is a staple for me, as it is for most of my singer songwriting friends.

8. How do you relax?

A walk with the dog either up mountains or by the sea. Even when nothing seem to be going well or if I get overwhelmed by the enormity of what I have on my to-do list, getting outside into nature usually always sorts me out and helps get things right into perspective again. Also, all my life I have loved going to the movies and I find that’s a great way to relax and lose yourself in another world; it's relaxing and stimulating at the same time. I really value a good massage too – I think massages are especially important for guitarists/musicians, but so few of us make the time for them.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

Oh, a tipple... I really do take great pleasure in a lovely wine and I especially love all the new, very cool bars and venues that have popped up all over Belfast recently. When I get a chance, I like to visit them for a favourite drink. Being Irish, though, I do take great pleasure in a good cup of tea too.

10. Stairs or lift?

Depends on my mood...

11. Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I usually try to get at least an hour's walk in every day and three or four times a week I will fit in a session of Pilates or yoga, either at home or in a class.

12. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Do it first thing in the morning… the day just gets away with you after that, no matter how good your intentions are.

13. On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I think I'm a five but would like to be eight.

14. Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

Yes, definitely; I love reiki.

As a writer, it’s really important to keep your head in the right place and reiki helps me with that.

15. Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

Absolutely the latter – though, to be fair, PE classes were the ones I laughed most in. I also got into the most trouble in those classes – usually for laughing so much with my equally unsporty best mate.

16. Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?


17. Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

Don’t focus on denying yourself things – just eat in moderation and consume more of the ‘good foods’. Always get outside into nature and find what activity you enjoy most. Balance things out – a bit like life, really.

18. Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness/attitude to life?

My husband [former DPP Barra McGrory] has a daily routine and he NEVER misses it, no matter what the season, whatever the weather or how late a night he's had the night before. I so admire his discipline and wish I had more.

19. What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I never get to bed before 12, despite my best intentions. I tend to get really motivated and have all my ideas for my music after 11pm. It’s hard to get my brain to switch off when it feels like it’s just woken up for the first time that day. Having said that, I'm a big fan of daytime power naps/siestas and snatch a few when I can.

20. Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

Yes, but to be honest, keeping healthy for me is more about feeling good while I’m here, rather than preventing myself from dying.

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