MIKE TOOLAN © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“- there is a guilt anytime you do anything for yourself” Mike Toolan

Award-winning Radio & TV Presenter, doting Dad of two, Mike Toolan, is one of the UK’s most loved presenters; with an impressive career spanning over 20 years. After starting his career as a radio presenter in America, his career in Radio really took off in UK at the exact same time as he became a dad for the first time! In recent years Mike became a single dad, with his two children living with him full time, so he had to learn to manage the juggle of looking after two teenage children and school runs, alongside his work as a radio & TV presenter, Voice-over artist, numerous theatre roles and the latest string to his bow – writing for TV! We sat down with Mike to chat about how he managed to get through the haze of his first big break as a breakfast presenter (with 4am starts), alongside becoming a father; becoming a dad to two under two, and the job opportunities that he turned down when they didn’t fit into his family life.

Known for his incredible sense of humour we enjoyed a hilarious interview with Mike, but underneath the jokes it’s clear to see just how much Mike’s children mean to him and it was inspiring to hear that despite having to turn down some amazing opportunities in order to put his role as a dad first, it hasn’t hindered his career at all, and he has no regrets about prioritising his family life first and foremost.    

Mike Toolan & Sir Alex Ferguson. (Image: Key 103/Hits Radio)
MIKE TOOLAN IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
MIKE TOOLAN IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

Where was you at in your career when you became a dad and how did you find the transition of managing your career alongside fatherhood?

“I have been a radio presenter all my life really, but I had just started on the breakfast show on KEY103 the same week that Luca was born. So that was a busy week!” He laughs “I think I got less sleep than a political prisoner for the first months, because he had colic as well, so he didn’t sleep at all, and I was getting up at 4.30am every day. It was all just a weird blur for those first six months to be honest. Obviously, it was amazing being on the breakfast show and it was all quite glamourous, and I remember thinking ‘I should really be enjoying this, but I’m just too tired to’. It was a bit like that feeling you get when you’ve been on a long-haul flight, and you get off the plane and the place is stunning and there’s a nice pool and you just think yeah this is great, but I just want to sleep!”

How did you survive? Because obviously it was a great moment in your career to get the breakfast show and obviously becoming a dad for the first time is wonderful, but that was quite a demanding schedule.

“I’d break up my sleep into two halves. I remember people in December would say only 18 sleeps until Christmas and for me there would be 36!” He laughs. “Every day turned into two days, I would go to sleep everyday about midday, wake up at 4pm and it would feel like a new day, although I did spend most of the time feeling very confused – I’m not sure I even knew my own name at that point!”

So as if that wasn’t enough to manage you went on to have another child – your daughter Lottie. 

“Yes, and there wasn’t a massive gap between them either, Luca was around 18 months old when Lottie was born. Lottie was a bit of surprise really – a nice one of course – but having two under two was a lot – the juggle was real managing that!”

Your children are a lot older now, how have you found managing all the different stages that children go through?

“I personally don’t think that there is any one stage better than another stage, they’re just different. It’s like my son Luca, he’s growing up now and he and I are just like mates, and it’s wonderful. And Lottie has just finished her GCSE’S and she’s an amazing girl. And it is so different to the beginning, because obviously at the beginning you’re like a full-on carer. When you have a baby, you get up to someone else’s schedule, your playtime is to someone else’s schedule, your sleep is to someone else’s schedule, you eat to their schedule and it’s almost like being in jail but you’re in love with warden.” We all laugh “Because it’s like 4am and you wake a bit disgruntled, then you’re like ‘oh it’s you’ and suddenly you don’t care what time it is. As the move through the different stages there are advantages and disadvantages to each stage.”

How do you think you have changed since becoming a dad?

“I think I was a lot more selfish pre kids, when you have kids, you instantly have to put someone else first don’t you? Your whole priorities change, and you become a much kinder person. I remember that’s when I started doing charity work, it sounds like a real cliché, but once I’d had kids if someone at the children’s hospital or somewhere would ask me to do a charity event I would be like ‘Yes!’, because you have this precious little bundle of life and you want to put more back into the world.”

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Has parent guilt been a factor for you throughout the years and do you manage to factor in some ‘me time’?

“Oh yeah, there is a guilt anytime you do anything for yourself – I was raised a catholic so there’s enough guilt going on there anywhere!” He jokes. “But there were things like I had always had a season ticket at Manchester United, but when Luca was born, I thought no, I can’t just leave him and his mum every other Saturday to go watch the football, so I decided to give that up. And for the last ten years me and Luca have been trying to get a season ticket back!” He laughs “But if you’re a decent parent you’ve got to put all of there interests first. There’s always going to be sacrifices but you get the fun in different ways once you have the kids because you’re having fun with them instead. Massive Saturday nights out with the lads become Saturday swim club with the lads, so you have fun like that. I was lucky because there was a group of us, almost like the show Friends. We were a group of single lads, then there were girls on scene, then everyone started getting engaged and married, and we all had kids at the same time. So now our kids are all the same age and we’re all still friends, so it’s been great to have that network of people all going through the same things.”

Has becoming a parent ever impacted your career decisions?

“Yes, it has actually. I have been offered jobs in London on a couple of occasions, various big radio opportunities in London, but I couldn’t really take them, because at the minute the kids live with me full time and have done for a few years, but there was a time that they were split 50/50 between me and their mum, and I just didn’t want to lose all that. I was actually offered to do This Morning regularly too, it would have been two days a week doing the interactive stuff it was called ‘The Hub’ and it was myself, Rylan and Coleen Nolan, and they said to me did I want to do Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it would have meant I would have had to give up my radio job here and spend time away from the kids so I just couldn’t do it. But I have no regrets about that at all.

I read a book recently called the 5 regrets of the dying. It’s written by a woman in America who works in end-of-life care, and she interviews all these people on their death beds – it’s really interesting. And she asks them ‘What is your biggest regret in life?’ and a lot of them say that their biggest regret is that they didn’t achieve their full potential in whatever area. I think yeah, I could have gone on to be a TV presenter but I couldn’t have sacrificed the relationship with the kids so I would still do the same thing tomorrow if I had to. I think whatever is meant for you will come anyway. Family is everything, and I’m very lucky to be able to do something that I enjoy as a career and it’s obviously important to me but it’s a secondary thing for me.”

Are there particularly moments that stand out to you where the juggle of work and kids has crossed over?      

“I was interviewing Fergie (Alex Ferguson) at Tesco when he had his first book signing, and he invited me down and I was on my way down there and I got a phone call from Lottie’s school and she had a sick bug, so I had to go and pick her up. But I still had to do this interview with Fergie, and I was just like, ‘Oh no! Oh god! What am I going to do?’ there was no one else that could help and no where I could take her, so I literally had to take her along and she had to sit there whilst I did the interview. Thankfully she wasn’t sick again, so it was alright, but he tried talking to her and she just kind of stared at him with this green face, and I was like ‘This is Sir Alex Ferguson Lottie’ and the poor thing was just sat there heaving!” He laughs “And there was another time, where I had to go and pick up a signed copy of Fergie’s book from his house for a charity event and had to call on my way home from the school run, so I had Luca with me – he was about 8 at the time and a massive Man United fan – and I said to him we’ve got to go to the Man United manager’s house. And Luca’s face was picture, because Fergie was his idol he was like a god to Luca, and we actually ended up going in and he gave us a tour of his house and sat down and had some tea with him. It was incredible, Luca was just sat there in his school uniform in a bit of daze, he couldn’t believe it. It’s still actually to this day one of his happiest memories. But they were both one of those times where you’re juggling, and you’ve got no choice but to do both things at once. Overall though I think I’ve been lucky that because of the shifts I’ve done, that other than having to get someone to come round and help in the mornings, I’ve been able to do the rest myself. Because I was on the breakfast show and I would finish at 10am, I could do everything apart from the morning school run. I was always at the school gates for pick up, doing the homework and cooking dinner and I know a lot of people don’t get that, as they might not get home from work until about 7pm so I have always felt lucky that my career has allowed me to be able to be hands on like that.”

Have you got any tips for any other parents juggling work and family life?

“I’m always making notes of everything on my note’s app, and I put everything in the diary, so the iPhone has changed my life in that way as there’s always reminders popping up. So, I would say just to be as organised as possible, as it really helps you from dropping the ball. I have to write everything down otherwise I’ll forget as I have a memory like Nemo!

Then the other thing that I do, that is quite a nice tip, is that whenever we go to bed, I have always got the kids to say their prayers at night – not even from a spiritual point of view, but just for them to think ‘what are you grateful for today?’ And we’d do a little list of gratitude, and then the one thing that does is remind them of the best bits of their day, even if that’s the dessert they’ve eaten or something like that. I think that it’s important that the last thing they do before they go to sleep is remember all the good things that have happened, and then they end their day on a positive. That’s really helped them both actually and I think it’s important to integrate a bit of mindfulness into their daily routine.”

Written by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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