FROM firing a machine gun to enduring the world’s highest skydive, Irish TV presenter Baz Ashmawy’s 71-year-old mum, Nancy, was up for almost anything while filming new travel show 50 Ways To Kill Your Mammy. But when the retired nurse was asked to give her only child a “Mammy” inking at a hip tattoo parlour in Miami, she put her foot down.
“There was no way. I don’t like tattoos,” the softly-spoken grandmother says over afternoon tea. “That was out right away.”
“I didn’t understand it,” adds 38-year-old Baz. “In the same shooting schedule Mum had flown a 1942 war plane upside down, bet her pension in Las Vegas and sat on an alligator, and I was really sulking about it.
But I’ve got to respect her for the fact that no meant no, and for sticking to her guns.”
The inspiration for the Sky1 series – which also sees the pair visit Thailand, Morocco and Cambodia – came when Dublin-based Nancy heard a news item about a skydiving nun. “Mum asked me if I’d do a skydive with her. I laughed it off, but I went home and thought, ‘Who am I to tell her what she can and can’t do?’,” recalls Baz, who has been presenting on Irish TV and radio for the past decade. I rang up lots of skydiving schools and they said they had people of all ages doing it and it’d be perfect for her, and the idea for the show snowballed from there.”
Despite the show’s memorable title, Baz insists: “It’s not about trying to kill Nancy; it’s about trying to make her feel as alive as possible and not treating her like a 71-yearold.”
And Nancy’s reaction? “I said, ‘Let’s go!’ When am I going to get this chance again at my age?”
The trip wasn’t Nancy’s first taste of adventure. As a young woman, she spent 10 years in Libya and Egypt, where she met Baz’s late father, before returning to settle in Ireland. The pair’s close bond is evident on screen, as Baz gently coaxes his mother into taking risks, and looks on with pride when she completes them.
The production crew also enjoyed the maternal presence during filming. “If any of them said a curse word, they’d turn around immediately and say, ‘Apologies Nancy’. It was the best behaved crew I’ve ever worked with in my life,” says Baz.
He couldn’t even have a quick ciggie in secret. “She’d spot me,” he says, laughing.
“I’d be behind the crew truck having a cigarette and they’d be like, ‘Your mum’s coming!’”
Nancy hopes 50 Ways To Kill Your Mammy inspires other retired people to challenge themselves. “When you get up in the morning, there’s nothing as bad as having nothing to do. You should look forward to something if you can – go for a walk, play Scrabble, have something to do,” she says. “I hope people see me and say, ‘Well, look at her, she’s 71, and she can do it’. If you’re healthy enough, you can.”
USA: In Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Florida, Nancy’s challenges included Tasering her son, learning to drive a stunt car in Hollywood, and getting up close and personal with alligators.
MOROCCO: The 71-year-old’s adventures ranged from riding a camel through the desert and learning to be a snake charmer to driving a 4x4 in the Intercontinental Rally.
THAILAND: Nancy was challenged to go white water rafting, give her son a piercing, stay in a dorm in a Bangkok youth hostel and ride a bareback elephant.
SOUTH AFRICA: Whether it’s riding an ostrich, cage-diving with great white sharks or walking with lions, no animal is deadly enough to intimidate Baz’s Mammy.
CAMBODIA: On top of driving an army vehicle deep into the jungle and zip-lining through tree canopies, Nancy was presented with her most dangerous dare of all: surviving on a deserted island for 24 hours.
50 Ways To Kill Your Mammy begins on Sky1 on Monday, August 25