“Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey talks about the joy of creating
Derry-born actress who was leading star of CBS series Touched by an Angel
“I have such fondness for those times. My daughter will be 16 this summer and to get to share that with her has been great.”
Like all Derry people, Donegal is Downey’s natural hinterland and the site of countless magical holidays.
“We used to escape to Buncrana in the car if we were lucky on a Sunday afternoon. Honestly all the photos of us in Buncrana, I laugh so hard at them now, we’re always pictured on the beach there, and we’re all wrapped up with huge sweaters on,” she laughs.
“This is in August. The height of summer. With that wind always coming down Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. And here I am today on the beach in Malibu.”
It was the early passing of her parents that made leaving home that bit easier to branch out as a young woman. Downey's mother tragically passed when she was just 10, and her father passed when she was attending college. Some people might have been derailed by the dual misfortunes, but somehow she found the strength to move on.
“I haven’t lived in Ireland since I was a girl,” she confesses. “When I graduated from Thornhill I went to college. My mother had died when I was 10 and when I was in college in London my father passed away. So the wee house that I grew up in on Beechwood Avenue in Derry was sold.”
Downey hasn't lived in Ireland since. For years whenever she'd visit she became Auntie Roma in the spare room.
“I returned in the decade after that filled with tremendous homesickness. But eventually I figured out that the longing was really for the past, for a time that was no more, you know?”
You can still hear the cost of that time in her voice. “Losing a parent shapes you and you grow up around the loss,” she confides. “I felt that my mammy’s death really created a hole inside of me and the woman I became. And I just adapted to living with it.
“When my own daughter was born I felt whole again for the first time since my own mother had died. Becoming a parent restored to me a relationship I had been longing for. With Reilly's birth I really felt a healing come in.”
If her mammy and daddy had lived would she have emigrated, or at least emigrated with such ease?
“I just kept stepping forward into the unknown fearlessly. I moved first to Brighton to art school and then to London to drama school and then I hopped over to New York for a bit working in theater,” Downey recalls.
One of Downey's first and least glamorous jobs in New York was as a coat check girl. Her first great American moment arrived, she says, when she checked the coat of Regis Philbin at a society affair. She was pleased to see that he took the time to say hello and give her some face time.
"I remember that struck me about him and he left a very generous tip. Years later when I was starring on Touched by an Angel I was invited to appear on his show. I told him about being a coat check girl and he blushed and said, ‘You are only telling that story one for two reasons, either I completely stiffed you or I left you a good tip.’”
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