celebrity shopping

What Former Irish President Mary McAleese Can’t Live Without

Photo: Linda Brownlee, Illustration: Joe McKendry

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair but the stain-remover pen and the tongue-cleaner. We asked former president of Ireland Mary McAleese — whose memoir, Here’s the Story, is out now — about the sewing machine, waterproof hat, and reusable makeup cloths she can’t live without.

Umbrellas and I have a very, very bad history. There’s a black hole somewhere in the universe filled with umbrellas I have lost. In fact, in Rome, where I studied for a doctorate, I had four stolen in a row, at the Catholic University, no less — full of priests and seminarians. So I thought, Well, I’m obviously providing temptation. So on my first visit home, I moved on to a rain hat — I can roll it up, stick it in a pocket, stick it in a handbag. And it’s always there when the rain comes on. This one by Jack Murphy is very good. It’s a bad-weather friend, and I have it in a dark-green shade. I also have a Jack Murphy almost-full-length raincoat — a very country-looking coat, I would say, but in Rome, it was far too warm for a coat like that. But when a deluge came down, all I needed was this hat.

This is essential for making a very, very dry cappuccino at home — which is just how I like it. There are two places that I think make a good cappuccino. There’s the Greg bar in Rome, which is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s in the Pontifical Gregorian University, which itself is in the Piazza della Pilotta, 30 seconds from the Trevi Fountain. Fabio, who runs the bar there, makes the best coffee. The other place is Esquires Coffee, in Carrick-on-Shannon — it’s a chain, but the owner is our neighbour, and he makes a wonderful dry cappuccino. Until we can go back, I can make one at home how I like it with this inexpensive frother.

This was a present from my husband so I could make the curtains, cushion covers, and bedspreads for our home. I’m definitely a maker. I’m always knitting or making something; I’m never just sitting in front of the TV. It was like this growing up — we had everything made for us, from children’s clothes to little outfits for our dolls. It even has a special quilting table, which I get great use out of now that the house stuff is done and dusted. In fact, I have 60 first cousins (I know), and we all made a quilt together to commemorate our family. It was such a big project but so rewarding. We have this amazing piece of family history that we all worked on together. This is quite a well-known sewing-machine brand, although I’d actually been using a different one before I got this — I needed something a little more advanced. In return, I got my husband a lawn mower; both machines are well-used!

I don’t like to use cotton pads, as they’re so bad for the environment. These cloths, which come in packs of three, are excellent. I buy them for all my friends. You simply use warm water and your makeup glides off. When you need to clean them, you just put them in the washing machine, and they’re ready to go again, although to be honest I often just hand wash them, with a little bit of dish soap, and leave them to dry on a drying rack. I saw them when I was in Primark, which I love – I was in the queue and they had these at eye-level. I thought, “well, they’re inexpensive, why don’t I just buy them and see what they’re like?” and I never looked back. I often take one with me if I were travelling, I’d just pop it in my Cath Kidston makeup bag — although we’re not needing to travel so much now.

Kenwood Chef Stand Mixer
£289

I have this in white, and it has pride of place on my counter space — something I am usually quite protective over. But it earned its place because I started using it so often during lockdown. I really enjoy baking, but I’m not making things like on Bake Off — I like simple, classic recipes, such as currant buns. Those are my favourite. I can throw in all the ingredients, give it a quick whiz, and have them ready to eat in 20 minutes, still warm, with a cup of tea. My husband is very happy.

This is a gadget I was determined to avoid until my son bought me one to encourage me back to an exercise regime after a long, sedentary spell finishing my doctorate. When I was in Rome, I walked everywhere — but when I came home, and I had to write it all up, I just sat at home, working away. One day he said, “Come on, you need to get up and do 10,000 steps.” The Fitbit is a discipline. It accompanies you, and it doesn’t let you off the hook — it’s not an inanimate piece of plastic. It’s a reminder; it’s a challenge; it’s an alarm. And every so often, it’s a “Yippee, you’ve done it!” — so, yeah, I like the company of my Fitbit.

Kipling Backpack
£56
£56

I bought this by mistake, thinking it was a tote bag, but discovered it was in fact a soft foldaway backpack. I have used it nonstop for eight years to carry my books and computer to and from university in Rome and as a lunch pail for hiking. Recently, my husband asked me to borrow it when he went out on a hiking trip. I was actually quite nervous — what if he didn’t take care of it properly? — and several days later, I noticed he hadn’t returned it to its rightful place. I asked him where it was, and he assured me he knew, and although he did return it safely, I was anxious that he’d lost it. I actually have two now for that very reason. They’re just perfect.

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What Former Irish President Mary McAleese Can’t Live Without