Daire Brehan: Dancer, actress and barrister, and broadcaster on Radio 5 and the World Service

Her 'Pick of the World' show on the BBC was listened to by around 30 million people

Despite having her life curtailed by cancer at the age of 55, Daire Brehan squeezed in several distinctive and successful careers. She started off as a show dancer, and was later an actress in her native Ireland. In the 1990s she became a popular BBC radio presenter after answering a humorous Irish newspaper ad looking for "the new Terry Wogan". Diagnosed with cancer in 1999, she returned to the Law, which she had studied 20 years earlier, and became a barrister both in the UK and in Ireland. In the last few years, she worked part-time as a popular health and fitness "complementary therapist." She also became a qualified London tour guide, which in 2009 won her the Freedom of the City of London with its quirky perks (see below). It was a shock to those who knew her that a lady of such talent, verve and fitness, who advocated healthy living, pain management and holistic treatments, should be cut down in her prime.

During the 1990s Brehan was one of BBC Radio's most prolific presenters, perhaps best-known for Radio 4's The Afternoon Shift; for Radio 5 or 5 Live programmes including Nightcall; and not least for the BBC World Service, where, from Bush House, her programme Pick of the World was listened to by 30 million people. At the peak of her radio career at the turn of the millennium, when she was first diagnosed with cancer, her voice, warm, rich in tone and conversational in style, was being heard somewhere on BBC Radio every weekday, and in every world time zone. She described her own accent as "posh Dublin."

During her tenure on The Afternoon Shift she chaired hundreds of discussions on wildly disparate subjects. She was equally at home doing searching interviews with the Nobel Prize-winning poet Wole Soyinka, pioneering heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard or Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Independent on Sunday's then radio critic, Sue Gaisford, wrote: "Brehan particularly is a fine, dispassionate interviewer, allowing guests ample time to air their views and unobtrusively bringing them back to the point when they wander." What listeners could not see was a handsome woman, tall and slim, with blue eyes under a mop of red curls, who cut a striking figure in a long black coat and black, flat-brimmed Cordoban hat as she swept in and out of the BBC buildings.

Daire Mary-Assumpta Veronica Holahan was born in Dublin in 1957, the third of four children of civil servant parents who separated when she was eight. She studied Legal Science at Trinity College and was the All-Ireland Debating Champion before opting for the theatre and changing her surname to Brehan. It was in her Dominican Convent school in Dun Laoghaire, and at Trinity, that she first showed the characteristics she would display in her legal and radio careers: an inquiring mind, a fierce intelligence, verbal fluency, a highly developed sense of justice and a gaelic taste for a good argument. While she was still at school her mother sent her to elocution lessons, as well as classes in drama and dance, where she excelled in ballet, tap and "modern" dancing.

Soon after graduating from Trinity, she chose acting over law and in 1983 won a scholarship to study acting and directing in Poland with Kazimierz Braun, Artistic Director of the Contemporary Theatre of Wroclaw. The same year, she married the Polish actor and director Maciek Bernatt-Reszczynski. Returning to Ireland in 1984, the couple founded the award-winning company Theatre Unlimited in Kilkenny, with Brehan acting in many productions inspired by modern Eastern European theatre or Irish cultural tradition. She also acted on television, winning fine reviews as Emma in the 1984 TV film Raic, set in 1940s Connemara, and as Cara Blair in the Irish series Inside in 1985-86.

In 1987 she answered the offbeat ad (not from the BBC) which read: "Do you want to be the new Terry Wogan?" She was taken on by RTE Radio One, speaking into a radio microphone for the first time on her 30th birthday in August 1987. She went on to present programmes including Sounding Out and Brehan's Law, the latter drawing on her earlier legal training.

In 1990, when the new BBC Radio 5 was searching for fresh voices, Brehan, having moved to London, quickly became one of their regular reporters, providing features for the citizen-help programme Sound Advice and for Johnnie Walker's AM Alternative. When it became 5Live in 1994 she hosted its late Sunday phone-in Nightcall but moved soon afterwards to Radio 4's You and Yours, where her experience of consumer broadcasting, underpinned by the disciplines of her law degree, were put to use. But it was the demise of Radio 4's Anderson Country that provided her best opportunity. She occasionally stood in for Gerry Anderson, and when the show was replaced by The Afternoon Shift in 1995, Brehan presented Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Laurie Taylor Mondays and Fridays.

After it ended in 1998, she continued to present for BBC World Service and briefly for RTE Lyric FM, but, with her radio work overshadowed by ill-health, she returned to the Law. She was called to the UK Bar in 2002 and to the Bar of Ireland in 2005, practising as a criminal barrister. She was the founder and honorary secretary of the Inner Temple Residents' Association.

Having received her ITEC diploma in Holistic Massage in 2006, she went on to achieve diplomas in Lymphatic Drainage Massage and Sports Massage. Pilates was recommended to her for the treatment of osteoarthritis and in 2007 she obtained her OCR certificates in Fitness, Exercise and Pilates instruction. Among the health centres she gave classes in was Robert Lowe's Sports Centre, St George's, at the University of London, where she taught until her health deteriorated late last year.

Fluent in Polish, she maintained her interest in theatre and, having been divorced in 2004, married the Irish actor Dave Marsden in 2009. Instead of wedding gifts, they "adopted" the village of Damaang (population 150) in Ashanti, Ghana, asking friends to help them pay for health, hygiene and household latrines.

After serving as a part-time tour guide in London she was given the Freedom of the City in 2009. She was as proud as she was amused that she now had the right to drive sheep across London Bridge, walk the streets with drawn sword and be drunk and disorderly, all without fear of arrest. She had not yet decided in which order to exercise these rights before illness robbed her of the chance. She is survived by her husband Dave and the two daughters from her first marriage, Klara and Niamh.

Daire Mary-Assumpta Veronica Holahan (Daire Brehan), actress, broadcaster, barrister and health and fitness instructor: born Dublin 7 August 1957; married 1983 Maciek Bernatt-Reszczynski (divorced 2004; two children), 2009 Dave Marsden; died London 30 August 2012.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album