- 11 Oct 18
Throughout most of her life, broadcaster Nikki Hayes felt like an outsider looking in. Starting as a teenager, she battled severe Mental Health problems and on more than one occasion attempted to take her own life. Finally, in 2015, she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Getting the right treatment now, and with a new high profile daily show on Classic Hits 4FM, she feels like a changed woman. Here, she recounts her own remarkable story – and talks with fascinating candour about her attitudes to sex and love.
Today, Nikki Hayes is laughing and joking, full of the joys of life. It’s truly great to see her in such fine form. Because it would be a wild understatement to say that the past three years have been very tough for her.
The popular broadcaster suffered with postnatal depression after the birth of her now four-year-old daughter Farrah. She was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2015 for her own safety after self-harming and attempting to take her own life. She was then subsequently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. As if all that weren’t enough, Nikki then found herself dealing with the breakup of her marriage.
Nikki has battled mental health problems since her early teens. She decided to set the record straight in her candid memoir, Crying Into The Saucepan (2017), which is what she found herself doing after the birth of her daughter.
Now 39, she is not so much shedding her inhibitions as shredding them. It’s probably safe to say that no Irish public figure has ever spoken with such refreshing candour as Nikki does here about sex.
As the interview winds up, she demonstrates her black sense of humour. “I’ll be screwed for talking about porn!” she quips. “You can try and kill yourself and we’ll keep you on (in your job), but if you talk about porn you’re gone!”
And she laughs her typically infectious laugh. In truth, it’s hard to see Nikki’s rejuvenated career stalling anytime soon. The most important thing, as Nikki knows better than anyone, is that she needs to mind herself. In this, of course, as this special Mental Health issue of Hot Press demonstrates, she is very far from being alone.
Jason O’Toole: What type of character were you growing up?
Nikki Hayes: I was always the black sheep. I was never someone’s best friend. I was never in the inner circle. I was always on the outside looking in. Always hanging on the edges. Always trying to please everybody. I wanted people to like me all the time. I never knew why I didn’t fully fit in. I think the only time I properly fitted in anywhere was when I started working in radio.
You grew up in Bray which is where Laura Whitmore is from.
Yeah, she went to school with my younger sister. There’s a good few actually: Dara O Briain is from Bray. Al Gibbs is Ballybrack. But there’s a good few DJs that are actually in Bray. So, there must be something in the water. It’s either that or we hated a good day’s work (laughs).
How many siblings have you?
I have three sisters and a brother. I’m the second youngest. But my eldest brother and sister had a different dad. Their dad died when my mum was younger. So, I’m the middle child of my dad’s kids.
That must’ve been tough on your mother.
She had it tough. She buried two husbands. But they were all our brothers and sisters; there was no stepbrother, stepsister. We were all raised in the one house. Even to the point where my eldest brother and sister’s grandparents were our grandparents. People used to say to us all the time, ‘How do you have three (sets of) grandparents?’ (laughs).
Did you always want to be a DJ?
Yeah. My dad used to run dance clubs back in the 60s. He’d be singing all the time or talking about music. We used to always have the radio on. We didn’t have a TV. So, I got hooked on it very early. I was mesmerised by the idea of the face behind the radio. Who were they? What were they? Because back then, we didn’t have social media. We didn’t have magazine interviews with DJs. They sounded so mysterious and glamorous.
Why didn’t you have a TV?
It was just my parents were adamant that we weren’t going to have a TV. For years. And then when we did get one – I probably would’ve been about seven or eight – it was on certain times, maybe between six and seven, and then it would go off. Music was always more important than watching TV.
What type of music did you like growing up?
My very first album was Dire Straits. I went into Virgin Megastore with my Dad and bought myself a Walkman and the Dire Straits album. Then my friend’s Mum used to listen to Joe Dolan all the time – so we grew up knowing all the words to those songs. In my teens, I did go down the boy band route for a little while. But we won’t hold that against me.
Who was your teenage crush on?
Oh my God! It’s so embarrassing. I used to have a huge crush on Tony Mortimer of East 17 (laughs). He tweeted me back about two years ago and I had a little fan girl moment (laughs).
Did you read Hot Press growing up?
Yes. My sister probably would’ve got Hot Press more, because she was into a lot of alternative music. There was always a copy lying around the house.
What type of music are you into now?
Everything. Whether I was brainwashed when I was younger, I don’t know – but I find myself listening to a lot of the old metal/rock music, stuff that you don’t hear anymore. I went to see AC/DC a couple of years ago live. I went to see Metallica live. You don’t get that quality anymore.
Where did you go to college?
Letterkenny. I went to study law, believe it or not (laughs). It didn’t work out. I wanted to study radio but my parents were saying, ‘Radio’s not a real job’. At the time, I was working for pirates so I wasn’t earning money. They told me I had to get a proper career. I got the points to do legal studies with a backdoor into law, but I never made it that far. I was coming home every weekend to go on the pirate radio station.
Were you wild in your college days?
Yeah, I was completely off the wall. I ended up in hospital – from partying.
I had a brain seizure. I fell and took a fit because we were out partying and taking drugs. I was walking up the main street and over a combination of days, it was (like an) overdose – so my system literally collapsed.
That must’ve been horrifying.
Back then, you didn’t think about the consequences. You just had a good time. It was back in the late ’90s and everybody was doing it. I didn’t know anybody who wasn’t. When we were out we’d party – and we’d party for days on end.
What type of drugs were you taking?
God! Everything. It was back when anything kind of went. It was speed, ecstasy, hash, acid. Whatever was going around the club you took.
What about heroin?
God no! (Laughs) No. In college, I did experiment with a good few things. I’m proud to say that it was a college experiment that ended in college. But, at the same time, there was a period that it was hairy.
I presume you tried coke?
No, actually, believe it or not.
Did you take Xanax?
You got that at the time as well because you had to come down someway or other.
You don’t smoke hash still?
No. See, I don’t smoke. So anytime I ever would’ve tried hash it was in a yoghurt, or something like that. And I’m not going to sit around eating yoghurt with my friends (laughs).
What’s the most extreme thing you got up to when drunk?
I’ve lost my dignity many times when it comes to flashing people. I was at a funeral, beside where we used to work in Spin, a place called Valance & McGrath’s. And there was, like, all of us gathered in one area and there was a funeral taking place in the back. And the funeral started getting rowdy. It was all inner-city heads. They were having a good time. So, what did I do? I walked over to them and pulled up my top and flashed them. And it was like, ‘Hurrah!’ But I was like, ‘I can’t believe I just did that at a funeral’. I tend to strip when I’m drunk. So, it’s probably better I don’t drink now.
What about morning afters?
Oh, we were at the Student’s Union house having a party and it was a great night. I was the one who people would always dare to take off my clothes and run down the road. And I’d do it! But one of the guys thought it would be hilarious to lock me out and I’m standing there, butt-naked, nothing on me whatsoever, and it’s coming up to six/seven in the morning and traffic is starting to build again (laughs). I was in two minds: do I try to leg it home now – butt-naked? Or do I stay hide behind the bush? So, I stayed behind the bush, but they came out and rescued me. That could’ve worked out really bad for me (laughs). I could’ve had to do a very bad walk of shame – or run of shame!
Growing up, how important was chasing boys and sex?
I had my first kiss when I was 17, going on 18. So, I was a late bloomer. I think it was because I was so confused about who I was, sitting on the outside of everyone. I was never one of the girls that the boys fancied. It was actually a dare to kiss a friend of a friend – and I did. Then, I did lose my virginity that same year, at 18. So, it wasn’t important for me growing up– but once I got a taste for it it was like, ‘Yeah! This is a different part of life.’
What was that first experience like?
It was in a motel in New Jersey (laughs). Seriously! It was a friend of my sister’s. She was living over there. We were at a pool party and he asked did I want to come to the off-license with him to get some more drinks? I went with him and then he suggested checking into the motel – which I did. It sounds so seedy, but there you go. That’s what it was: a motel at the side of the road in New Jersey.
Did it live up to expectations?
No (laughs). I remember going, ‘Really! This is it!’ He told me, ‘The more you do it, the more you’ll enjoy it’. I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever’. I went home a month later and that was the end of that.
Did you question your sexuality growing up?
I did at one stage. Even though I have never had a relationship with a woman, I’ve been with women. I would appreciate women. Not that I’d say I’m bisexual, but I would’ve probably had times where I would’ve questioned, ‘Am I?’ Maybe I am to a certain degree because I do appreciate women as much as men. I would fancy a girl. But I’ve just never had a relationship with one.
But you’ve had sexual relationships with women?
I have, yeah.
How different is it from being with a man?
It’s very different. It’s more intellectual in a way. You meet each other here (pointing to her head - JOT) before you meet down there. It feels a little bit more organic. You can’t compare the two. There’s been situations where the minute you say to a guy that you’ve been with a girl, they’re like, ‘Oh, bring them around’. And you’re like, ‘It doesn’t mean I want to bring them in straight away (laughs)’. And that’s always the thing: ‘If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it with me’. But that’s not always the reason – you don’t want to do it for the threesome side of things, you know?
Have you ever had a threesome?
Yes. I was a lot younger. I just didn’t care; it was like, ‘Ok, let’s do this. Come on – everybody in!’ It was more of that. There wasn’t much thought. It happened because a load of us were out drunk. And the guy said, ‘You kiss that girl’. Or, ‘You do that’. You know, dare you to do it. It happened like that. And then, sure, we were so drunk it just kept going (laughs). It became what it became. I couldn’t look back and tell you, ‘This felt great’. Or, ‘This felt wonderful’. It was so frenzied and drink-fuelled, that it was just a bit of fun. It was alright.
What age were you the first time you were with a woman?
The first time, I actually went looking on a website, a forum and they had a section for bi-curious, and I went on. I was 21. And this was around the time I would’ve questioned: ‘Ok, I do have feelings for women – what’s going on here?’ But I got in touch with her. Her name is Emma. But I had a real crush on her. A real crush on her. She played GAA, and she was very well built. And when we were together I was seeing a guy at the time and he got really jealous and was not happy about it at all. So that kind of went sour.
You didn’t end up having a threesome?
She had no interest in being with him. And I had no interest in sharing her with somebody (laughs). But she comes into my mind every now and then, where I wish we had kept in touch because we got on very well. We’re talking nearly 20 years ago now at this stage.
Could you see yourself in a long-term relationship with a woman rather than a man?
I don’t think so because I’ve never thought about being in a relationship with another woman. But I appreciate the feminine form. I can sit back and say, ‘She’s gorgeous’. I’ve often turned around to different boyfriends and said, ‘Look at her! She’s drop dead gorgeous’. Or, ‘She’s a ride’. I appreciate someone alongside him. But I don’t know about having a relationship with a woman – never say never, I suppose.
Is a woman’s body more aesthetically pleasing than a man’s?
Without a doubt, much more. There’s no way you can put the two beside each other and say otherwise. There’s more to look at. It’s more – what’s the word? – landscaped. There’s just more going on.
What turns you on in a man or a woman?
I don’t have a type when it comes to a man. When it comes to a woman, I probably have more of a type. Generally it would be: good-looking, tends to be blonde, or at least kind of brunette; I’ve never really gone for other coloured hairs. But just really good-looking, confident woman.
It’s like’s you’re saying, ‘You need to get into my head first if you want to get into my bed’.
With men it can be straight away. I’m not saying every man because straight away you’ll get hit on (about) that. But straight away it can be, ‘I like you. We’re going to bed. That’s it’. Whereas women, we’ll talk about things you like… it’s like a spiritual thing more so than straight away a sexual thing. You get talking, you connect on a feminine level.
Getting back to the opposite sex…
With a guy, I don’t have a type. What attracted me to my last ex was that from the minute I met him he was very protective – and I liked the idea of someone wanting to mind me. And then obviously as we got to know each other more, I fell in love with him.
Do you have any fantasises? A few women have told me that they’re turned on by the idea of a guy dressing up as a priest, which seems odd.
Really! I have a total girl crush on this girl on Instagram, right? And she knows it because I’m always telling her she’s gorgeous. She’s tattooed from head to toe. She’s a model from the UK. Her tag is #makaniterror. She is absolutely stunning. And she’s made me fantasise about that, where I never would’ve thought of a woman head to toe in tattoos. But this girl is absolutely incredibly gorgeous. So, fully tattooed is something I’ve never done before, but deffo is something I wouldn’t say no to.
George Hook once said he loved wearing women’s underwear.
(Roars laughing) No. I do like role-playing. I do like dressing up. I like getting into character. So, that’s something that would never be turned away from my door – if a guy dressed up and made an effort in that way. It’s something I’ve always been interested in.
Your ex-husband was in the army. Was the uniform part of the attraction?
I don’t know! People have said that. They’re like, ‘Was it the uniform?’ It was that whole protective thing, you know, coming in to nearly rescue me, or whatever. But it probably was (the uniform) subconsciously. I never made him wear it in bed though (laughs).
Were you tempted?
I asked him before and he said no (roars laughing).
Have you ever made a sex tape?
Never. Thank God, with the leakage these days.
What’s your attitude towards porn?
I’ve no problem with porn. I think porn, to a certain extent, is healthy for a couple. It can be healthy for people. I don’t have any massive issues with it, unless it comes out of the complete extreme porn where some things just really don’t need to be seen. But when I was a teenager I knew who Ron Jeremy was. I grew up very much open to porn. And to this day, I wouldn’t go, ‘Oh my God! Turn that off.’
There’s an argument that it can give younger people false expectations.
Yeah, because you’d get a younger guy who might be watching girl-on-girl action and think that the first girl they’re going to meet is going to bring her best friend in and that’s going to happen – which it’s not. And you couldn’t accept that pressure being put on a young girl either. Or vice versa.
What’s your attitude towards strip clubs?
If I’m seeing somebody and they’re going to a strip club, well, so be it. It’s not a big deal. Porn and stuff like that has never been a huge issue to me. I find it healthy.
Many women would go ballistic if they found of that their man had gone to a strip club.
I probably would’ve been (upset) when I was younger and more ‘not worldly’. But I know some girls who work in strip clubs and they’re great girls, and they’re working because some of them enjoy it. It’s not all just to get money for college. Some people actually enjoy it. And the money’s good and they’ve a good life because of it.
There’s a presumption that strippers are willing to sleep with clients…
The girls I know who work in them, they don’t go home with guys. They’re not prostitutes – they’re lap dancers. So, that’s a huge difference.
How important is sex for you now?
Well, it’s non-existent. I’ve been single for a year-and-a-half (laughs). But, you know, if I find the right person it probably will be important again.
What about one-night stands when you were younger?
No. I never did. I had one I can remember that kind of sticks out: it was a friend of mine, Fiona, her friend Sam came over from Wales. They had been working together in Mallorca and he was just drop dead gorgeous. And the minute I saw him I was like, ‘I have to have him’ – and I did! That was my biggest conquest. I was delighted. That was, well, a three-night stand – but still (laughs).
Was the best sex you’ve ever had with a man or a woman?
No, it was a man.
No, no. I stopped to think. It was with a man. Like I say, I think about that girl Emma a lot, because there was something there – but I was young and we didn’t keep in touch – so that’s always a what if? I’m not just saying this because he’s my ex-, but he would’ve been the most loving partner I’ve ever been with, without a doubt.
You mean your ex-husband?
Yeah, yeah. I’ve only ever had three boyfriends so.
How many men have you been with?
(Holds up five fingers) Five.
Do you get sexually frustrated…
I do sometimes. I think everybody does. If you say you don’t you’re lying. Sometimes there’s more important things going on in life and you just have to dose down the fire and get on with it.
You don’t even touch yourself?
No. I’ve literally joined the nunnery (laughs). A year-and-a-half of celibacy. God love the next person who meets me (laughs).
When is the last time you had an orgasm?
A year-and-a-half ago.
Do you feel lonely at times?
I do. Yeah, of course I do. I’m over a year-and-a-half on my own. It is lonely sometimes because there’s only so much two Jack Russells and a four-year-old child can say to you. She gives great cuddles, but sometimes it’d be nice to have someone look after me and not be the one who has to be the carer all the time. But life deals you what you’ve got, and you have to go along with it.
What about dating apps?
I tried (laughs). I tried recently and it’s just not for me. My friend Linda, she’s a lot younger than me, she said, ‘Yeah, come on let’s do this. And let’s do that’. She signed me up to Tinder and I hated it. It was basically offers of sex. It was like, ‘Am I coming over to yours tonight?’ And I’m like, ‘What! No! I don’t even know your name’. And then I tried Bumble, which wasn’t too bad because the girl is in control with Bumble. Boys can swipe you as much as they want, but unless you swipe back they can’t contact you. But I just don’t think it’s for me.
You look really happy now, but you’ve been through hell recently, depression-wise.
Oh, yeah, completely. I had the breakdown, believe it or not, three years ago now – I was in a psychiatric unit being held under the Mental Health Act. So, that was only three years ago now. Then, when I came out there was a lot of recovery going on. And then a year after the breakdown, my marriage broke up. So, I never really properly recovered – just as I was starting to get back on my feet again, I was back down in the dumps.
How did the breakdown come about?
I had Borderline Personality Disorder, which is something that I didn’t know I had. And looking back, it explains, growing up, how I felt – I was never part of things properly. Why I acted impulsively: I was always in trouble. And then obviously going into the college years where I was impulsively drinking for days on end, taking drugs. All of it led up to one thing and that was the fact that (with) the Borderline Personality Disorder there’s addiction involved, there’s impulsivity, there’s obsessive compulsive behaviour. It’s all part of the one thing.
Eventually there was a crisis…
I’d be going from high to low – not just high to low, from crazy to down in the dumps. My mood swings were just unbelievably bad. And it just all came to a head. And I was upset, I’d had words with a couple of people that week where things weren’t going great – and I overdosed. I overdosed and I self-harmed – and I ended up being held for my own safety.
How long have you had Borderline Personality Disorder?
They think I had it as far back as my childhood. They think from the first time I presented when I was 15 with the anorexia – that was Borderline Personality Disorder. But every time I just kept getting treated for something different. So, first of all it was an eating disorder, then it was a suicide attempt, then it was self-harm.
Self-harm is difficult for most people to understand.
I sliced my legs and my arms open – with a knife. It’s like a release. You’re so frustrated and you’re so scared. It’s like the world is coming in on you and the only thing you can do is (self-harm). You hate yourself so much because you don’t know why you’re feeling this way. And all you want to do is release the pain.
Did it happen in your teens?
I’ve no aggression towards anybody else. I hate confrontation. So my only way I could ever do that was by harming myself, which I did growing up in my teens. I self-harmed for quite a few years. But it was just when things got to that point where I felt like the world was caving in on top of me, the only thing I could do was lash out at myself. When the ambulance men came they had to take knives off me.
That’s how fragile the mind is. But, like I say, when I look back now it explains all the behavioural patterns I had when I was a child, and when I was in my teens, and when I was at college. Whereas back then it was just, ‘She’s wild! She’s crazy! That one’s off her head!’ I feel I’ve got a good handle on it now because of the support I have. At the same time, you’re always aware that you just don’t know.
And you did try to take your own life.
Five times. The time I was up in college, they said I was lucky to be alive because I had significantly overdosed.
How old were you the first time?
I was 15. Then I had another small episode when I was 18. I was 21. Again when I was 28, the year after my dad died. And then the major one three years ago.
What happened when you were 15?
I had anorexia. The suicide attempt was because I was just feeling so frustrated. I was trying to take control over my moods and the way I was feeling, that the only thing I felt I could control was what I put in my mouth. So, I went on a diet that went out of control and ended up in hospital being treated for anorexia and an overdose. I don’t think I actually wanted to die that time. I got a fright and I told my parents and they rang the ambulance. It was more a cry for help.
Was it always an overdose?
Yeah. When I cut myself, I didn’t cut on my under-arm, I cut my thighs and my over-arm. When I cut it’s to release pain – it was never to try and kill myself.
Your father passing away hit you hard.
I had a mini-breakdown. After dad died, I went off the wall for a year. I did what I usually do: everything was going fine; I was out partying all the time – suddenly it became three nights a week, four nights a week, five nights a week. Then, it just got to a point where I had a breakdown. It wasn’t sit down and take an overdose. I literally had alcohol poisoning from going on a bender. So, I needed to go in and get flushed out.
I presume you don’t drink anymore.
No, not anymore. My doctors haven’t said that I can’t, but I realise that when I do, it leads me to other things. So, I’d be afraid that – if I did drink – I would feel very down again, and I could want to harm. It just doesn’t suit some of us and that’s that.
Have you blacked out on booze?
I checked out of rehab in John of God’s and I’d been on a ward with a lot of guys who were there for alcohol and drug dependency and I rang them from the airport and I said, ‘By the way, lads, guess where I am?’ Took a photograph with my phone of a glass of wine and me sitting in the departures area in the airport – and off I went, not a bother on me, to London (laughs). That was the year after my dad died, so that was 2008. I was 28. That was probably the most extreme thing that I’ve ever done –randomly getting on a plane and taking off.
You don’t remember getting on the flight?
No, no. I don’t even know how I was let on, that’s the worst part.
Was there something that went wrong to trigger the most recent incident?
I think it was building up from the time I had Farah, because when I gave birth I had post-natal depression. But with the post-natal, I was on my own with Farrah, when Frank went overseas to Syria, in the army. I was on my own with post-natal depression, so things were very tough. And when he came back it didn’t really get any better. So, we had a honeymoon period of getting married and everything was great, but once all that died down, everything that had built up over the last year just blew, and there was no coming back from it then.
How bad was the post-natal depression?
I was crying all the time. Everything just seems like the hardest thing in the world to do. Even to boil a kettle, whatever. Just the smallest things seem like the biggest challenges. And if it wasn’t for my public health nurse noticing that I wasn’t well, I don’t know what would’ve happened. She was the one who said, ‘Something’s not right here’.
Was struggling with your mental health the reason your marriage ended?
Yeah, it was one of the main reasons. Frank tried and tried and tried to live with it and live through it. But it’s not an easy thing to live with and it just got too much. So, it most definitely impacted on us. It’s not easy to love someone with borderline personality disorder.
Do you feel there’s a stigma associated with mental health?
It is and it isn’t. I would say it, because I’m open about it. But if I say to someone, ‘Hey, my name is Nikki and I’ve got a personality disorder’, you know the reaction is not going to be great. Straight away, they think, ‘Personality disorder! Oh, my God! What the hell?’ But if they took five minutes to sit down and talk, they’d realise that all it really means is that I find emotions harder to process, I get hurt more than most people hurt. You know, if you get hurt – in my case I’ll be devastated; if you’re happy? Well, I’ll be delirious – that’s kind of what it means. It’s controlling it, with medication – my life right now is as normal as somebody else’s.
Are you in therapy still?
Yeah, yeah. I work with a multi-disciplinary team. So, I have a nurse, an occupational therapist, a psychologist and psychiatrist. Having that support network is a big deal. I’ve my own mental health nurse, so I find if I’m having a bad day I can pick up the phone and say, ‘Hi, John, I’m not doing too good’. And he knows everything about me, he knows my whole treatment, so he can straight away say the right thing.
Are you’re on meds now?
I’m on a mood stabiliser, anti-psychotic and anti-depressant. I feel that I make sense now. I never understood myself. And I didn’t know why, when I thought I was acting normally, people were saying I wasn’t. I always thought that if I was upset about something and I was sobbing – I thought that was normal. Or if I was extremely happy and I was like hoorah, I thought that was normal too. I didn’t realise I was being very extreme in both ways. But now I can accept it, it’s like, ‘Ok, if I am devastated than, well, that’s alright. I’ll let myself be devastated and I’ll get over it’.
Most importantly, you feel great now…
Yeah, I feel really good and I feel really focused. I’ve got through this last year-and-a-half, whereas had I not had the support and proper medication, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here chatting away to you.
You have a new weekday radio show.
I’m going full-time with Classic Hits 4FM, which is really exciting because it’s a station I really enjoy. It’s something I’m really looking forward to. It’s a midmorning show: it’ll be music, a bit of gossip, you know, kind of what’s going on. But it’ll be the Nikki Hayes Show, which is nice to have my own name on a show. It’s cool.
Who’s your favourite DJ?
You’d have to say Larry when you talk about DJs. At the end of the day, he is the ultimate DJ. Larry is a pet of a man as well.
Garth O’Callaghan is sadly stepping down now due to illness…
He needs to concentrate on his own life and happiness now. He’s got a lovely partner and they need to spend time together. It’s bittersweet that I’m getting the position because he’s resigning.
The Nikki Hayes show is on every weekday from 10am to 12 noon on Classic Hits 4FM. She also has an evening show on East Coast FM, 7pm to 10pm, Monday to Friday