Amanda Byram is one of the most famous women on the small screen: we know her as a successful tv presenter who has lived and worked around the world, but she’s also a symbol of strength whose unflinching honesty is a rarity in celebrity interviews.
In the first of our series, Byram recalls cancelling her 2011 wedding to former rugby player Craig McMullen and the knock-on effects it had on her life, shaping her into the woman she is today.
What is it about that moment?
“I cancelled a wedding, it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done my life, I hurt him and let people down. I was 38 at that point, I didn’t have children, I had never married and I had all these emotions whishing through my head,” she tells Independent.ie Style.
“At the time when he proposed, when we were together, I was very happy but I think I was really searching for companionship. I was successful in my career and happy in my life… I was at a place at 36 where I thought, ‘It’s maybe time to meet a guy’.
She had ended a long-term relationship before meeting Craig, a former rugby player, and describes their time together as “fantastic”.
“In a way, I thought I knew what I wanted but obviously I didn’t,” she says.
After McMullen popped the question, Byram began working straight away on what she described as a “picture perfect” wedding in the South of France, but she couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling in her gut that he maybe he wasn’t The One.
“I got so caught up in the flowers and dress, the wedding was in the South of France and people were flying in from America, Australia, I had friends from LA coming over. It was going to be a four day affair – the most beautiful day, picture perfect event with 45 people,” she describes.
“Something struck me a month and a half before the wedding and it’s very hard to put into words. I just thought I wasn’t sure.
“I thought, ‘it doesn’t make sense that I’m not sure – here is a great guy who is kind, caring, loving, intelligent, he would be a great father and husband, but there was something in my heart. I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
She turned to her parents Betty and Denny for counsel weeks before the big day and they gave her the courage to listen to her heart – and gut – ultimately for her own happiness. It was because of their unwavering support that she found the strength to call it off one month before.
“I said it to my mum and dad, and they said, ‘You know what, it’s a long time if you’re in an unhappy marriage’.
“I remember when I was a kid, the first time when I was in college in third year, I was unhappy because I wanted to take a different subject and focus on photography, but they wouldn’t let me. I thought that was it: you’re born, go to school, get married and die, that’s the way of the world.
“They said, ‘If you’re unhappy, walk away’. That was a huge pivot and made me do what I do. I thought, ‘I can do whatever I want, my parents are so supportive, which brings me to this moment.
“They said, ‘You don’t have to do anything, it’s only money. If anyone complains then they’re not your friends’.”
The following months were tough on her: she and Craig stayed together after the wedding was cancelled, but split by January 2012.
“It was so impactive on me – it was a really difficult time, I went through a really bad patch,” she explains.
“I cancelled a wedding, it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done my life, I hurt him and let people down. I was 38 at that point, I didn’t have children, I had never married and I had all these emotions whishing through my head.”
Others suggested she should have gone through with it and divorced him later, something she said would have been “so much easier and less painful” at the time, but it would have been a short-sighted tactic. Now, women approach her from all walks of life, praising her decision.
“I was quite low for six months after. We stayed together, but I just wasn’t happy. It turned me into a completely different person,” she says. “I became brave, empowered and strong. Sometimes you have to do things to help yourself and not others.
“When I speak to women about it, they say, ‘oh Christ, if only I listened to my heart on my wedding day’. It’s something that should be talked about more. I mistakenly thought I wanted something – I was seeking something that everybody else had. I wanted the guy, the nice guy, but I was settling.”
The following six to eight months were filled with feelings of doubt, which she describes as being “quite low”. But the positive effects began pouring in “when I realised I did the right thing”.
She grew newfound confidence and turned to self-help, crediting Neuro-linguistic programming with her positive outlook on life. And after three years of being single and learning to love her own company, she was open to the idea of a new relationship.
“I got to a point where I thought I’m ready to meet someone,” she said.
“I really think I was very lucky that I got the chance in my late 30s early 40s to get to know myself. And you know what? I’m not with someone because I’m lonely or desperate or feel like it’s time; I’m not settling and if that means being alone, so be it.
“And that’s when I met my husband.”
Amanda met tv producer Julian Okines in 2014 and they wed in London last year. He says it was love at first sight.
“In years gone past, I would have been afraid that something would go wrong, I was very cautious about guys – before I’d done all that self-help,” she explains. “If I met a guy who I thought was the one, I would act a certain way around them, but I was so totally relaxed and not needing to impress him, I thought, ‘If you don’t like me, I’ve got myself’.
“I was going on a trip to Italy with mum to Puglia – at this stage, I was single for a solid year, it was three years in total, but one year since I touched a man – I said to my mum, ‘I met this cute guy and we really hit it off. Will I ask him to come to Italy with me? Is he going to think I’m too full on?’
“And he said it was one of the things made him fall for me: there was no bullshit, he said, ‘you weren’t wrapped in your own head’.” Her mother missed out on the Italy trip for Julian, but she gained a son-in-law in the process.
“That was really it, then our relationship blossomed. I was in a place where I knew if it doesn’t work out, so what? Prior to that, I cared so much about what if what if I messed it up, but because of what I’d been through, I was so comfortable with myself and my decisions. It’s truly why we’ve lasted the test of time.”
Amanda has recently launched a line of activewear Body By Byram which is available at Arnotts and Pamela Scott stores nationwide. Catch Amanda in Pamela Scott in the Cork and Tralee stores on Friday, December 8th and in Limerick and Ennis on Saturday, December 9th.