Caitríona Perry On How She Has Witnessed The Story of The Century

Having caused a stir in the Oval Office at THE WHITE HOUSE earlier this summer, the unflappable Perry talks to PENNY McCORMICK about TRUMP, finding her voice and CHECKING TWITTER first thing in the morning …


On my vocation: I always loved storytelling and writing. When I was a teenager I was inspired by Olivia O’Leary and Veronica Guerin, who were always on television, and it was a natural progression to study journalism. I’m fascinated to see how the world works and I find it exciting to see history in the making.

The role of a correspondent: In my case, it’s to be the ears and eyes for the listeners/viewers in a different country, in a different timezone. Currently the US is going through a period of change, I keep pace with all of that and distil it into chunks across the various RTÉ platforms, providing context and analysis, so the audience can dip in and out, find out what they need to know to keep up-to-date in the course of their busy lives. When I first started in RTÉ, my mentor was Ingrid Miley, RTÉ Industry and Employment Correspondent. She was very empowering and her feedback was always great.

On Trump: I’ve been in Washington for three and a half years, and I’ve been lucky to witness the story of the century. I believe you make your own luck, and though I’ve worked very hard to get here, I’ve benefited from timing, as the last nine months have been extraordinary. Trump tapped into the zeitgeist and the more I travelled (I’ve visited 40 states so far) I realised he presented coherent reasons for many people who were concerned about the economy, their jobs and being worse off than they were twelve years previously. They responded to Trump’s “everyman” portrayal rather than the measured, controlled approach of the professional politician. Hillary Clinton was seen as the natural progression of Obama and having been on the receiving side of negative public opinion she was very cautious. Her version of what a president should be was rejected.

Key moments: My interview with Sean Spicer was a key interview, and covering the Special Olympics World Games in LA was also a standout memory. It was such a joyous occasion and marked so much hard work for the participants to get there. I’ve also covered the Oscars, though my beat is mostly politics.

My day: I never switch off my phone. My day starts at 6.30am when I trawl through emails (Ireland is five hours ahead of DC) and check the POTUS tweets. I usually cycle or walk to the office. As I work in a visual medium, appearance is part of that and I’m usually on air every day. I do my own hair and make-up and while a presenter should not be the story, I have respect for my audience and try to look as good as I can. I always go for bold colours as patterns are distracting, and tend to wear dresses as they are easier. The content of the news can be all about men in grey suits, so I want to stand out from that. A core part of my job is liaising with Dublin as well as researching and trying to get interviews. I send through live reports for the various news slots in Ireland, which means I am often up until 1.30am in Washington. I attend White House briefings at least once a week. There is a collegial spirit among the international press corps. As foreign correspondent I have a different mandate than the other US network broadcasters. Where once I enjoyed relative anonymity, I now get recognised much more in Washington. We have a small studio and office, so forward-planning and administration are all part of the role.

My creed: You make your own luck, and you make it through hard work, spirit and determination. Never quit. Never settle. Don’t wait to be appreciated by others in order to find fulfilment – that appreciation might never come – do a good job yourself, one that you are proud of, and that is the best reward. You will have to be ruthless in your choices at times, but don’t do so at the expense of others. You can’t do everything, prioritisation is what makes sure you’ll get a few hours of sleep. Be supportive of others and help who you can. Keep smiling!

On finding my voice: The older you get, the more comfortable you become in your own skin, and the less you care about what other people think or say. It is really important to always be true to yourself, and to feel comfortable with what you are doing.

On life in Washington: I have a good gang of girlfriends of different nationalities, and we get together for paddle-boarding on the Potomac, exercise classes – I’m a fitness junkie – brunches and dinner parties where we try to solve the world’s problems.

Inspirational women: The women in Syria who are trying to protect their families and their neighbourhoods, in the face of the current conflict. They have lived through unbearable horrors, many of whom have undertaken life-threatening journeys in search of a better life; to me they are true heroines. The inability of the international community to intervene in any meaningful way in Syria is concerning. As a result of the Syrian conflict, and so many others, there are more displaced people around the world now than at any time in modern history, again the international community could – and should – be doing more to help them.

On being recognised: It’s not something I’m used to. I don’t think of myself as a role model. However, if I can inspire women to work hard and follow their dreams then I am happy to do that.

Caitriona Perry’s first book In America: Tales from Trump Country will be published by Gill Books on October 27, 19.99.

As told to Penny McCormick.

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