Extraordinary Women: Paloma Faith

The domain of celebrity culture can often be quite fickle, those whom you admire for their public persona can offer differ greatly in private. I was a little nervous about meeting Paloma Faith at Groove Festival – she has often been perceived as an outlandish character with a warm smile and an almost garish sense of humour.

Paloma exceeded my expectations instantaneously. She was articulate, honest, informed and unafraid to poke fun at herself – my favourite combination!

Paloma - Extraordinary WomenHow would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

Personally, I would say that I am funny and probably quite self-deprecating but those two things usually go hand-in-hand. I think that part of the artistic temperament is that naturally you never quite feel that you are good enough because if you don’t feel like that, then you would stop. So that’s what pushes you forward and it’s what pushes me forward, I go through all of these private moments where I often think that I’m not quite worthy. However, professionally I would say that I am super hard-working and quite controlling but not in a way that’s horrible for people, I just like to be involved, especially in the creative aspects and I always have an opinion about everyone’s work. I think quite a lot of the men on my team are a bit quite scared of me… (*looks suspiciously at the one man in the room*)

One of the criteria that I tell people when I interview them to work for me is ‘please don’t be scared of me because I’ll be able to tell and I won’t like it’… (*Paloma and I giggle girlishly*)

It’s in their eyes…

Exactly!

Paloma & Minnie

Prior to entering the music industry, you had quite a colourful employment background. From working as a magician’s assistant, a sales assistant in Agent Provocateur, training in ballet and studying a degree Theatrical Directing in Central St Martin’s, but what have you brought forward from those experiences to influence your current profession?

Well, I think the common denominator between everything that I have done is that I have always been observed and I’m very comfortable being watched. As well, with my dance training, as much as it wasn’t good for me psychologically, I would say it’s given me a very strong awareness of how I am on stage; what I look like, what shapes I’m making. I tend to work the stage naturally in a way that I think quite a lot of people learn as they go along through their career  but me, I’m jumping up and down on everything when I’m on stage and I think that training really helped with that.

In particular reference to your degree in the domain of theatre, did that instill in you a love for fashion and looking to clothing as costume?

Yes, definitely. Clothes give me confidence and I’ve always had that outlook about fashion. Even before this job, I dressed in a way that was somewhat outlandish almost to shroud my insecurities which I’m sure quite a lot of women could relay with. I remember when I was younger, a woman told me that I wore far too much black and since then, my wardrobe has been filled with bright colours.

Well, according to Dior’s couture collection at Paris Fashion Week, black is on-trend!

(*raises nose in the air haughtily*) I don’t follow fashion, I start it! (*guffaws obscenely!*)

I don’t know if you’ve seen the new film ‘Begin Again’ with Keira Knightley?

I haven’t yet, what’s it about?

Keira is a singer/songwriter and Mark Ruffalo is an A&R man from one of the biggest record companies. He is very aware of Kiera’s talent but her sense of style is naturally quite androgynous. One of the most interesting talking points of the film for me was Mark’s need to change Kiera’s appearance in order to ‘fit’ with the music industry. Have you ever felt pressure like that from the industry either when you were at the beginning of your career or today, after three albums?

Not really, I do think that the more you are surrounded by people who eat healthily and partake in physical activity, the more you grumble to yourself thinking ‘oh, maybe I should just do it’.  At the beginning of my career, I just really wasn’t interested and thought ‘yeah, whatever’. Back then, I thought that I was really healthy and in great shape but looking back on pictures, I wasn’t. Today, though, I have been influenced by those people in a way but I’m not fanatical about and I’ve never been told by anyone to dress like this or that and perhaps that storyline from the film is more typical in America than in Britain or Ireland.

I was in America recently and I was speaking with a girl who wants to work in the music industry and she felt that on this side of the world we don’t have a prescribed image of a musician or singer like they do in the US. I think she’s right, I think we’re more willing to celebrate diversity and we enjoy it when someone, who could be our next door neighbour, is incredible.

Very much so! We can’t go much further without mentioning you winning Best British Act at the O2 Silver Clef Awards. I know that it was announced in May that you would win but what thoughts were running through your mind when you accepted the award two weeks ago?

I think when you don’t win anything you kind of say ‘I don’t really give a shit’ and when you say that, you generally mean it but when you do win something, well it made me reflect on how much I had worked and it was the first music award that I had ever received. I worked it out and realised that it had taken me thirteen years to get it because it took me seven years to get a record deal and three albums later I’ve won an award. I think that’s why though I was overwhelmed when I accepted the award, I really didn’t expect to feel so emotional and I think I even said, whilst sobbing a little bit, “I’m so embarrassed because you all don’t think that this is a big deal but to me, it is!”

I think people always assume that because of my outward-projected confidence, I’m always alright and I think they were a little shocked to see that I really cared and that it had upset me that I hadn’t been acknowledged for my work.

You’ve spoken about it before, this notion that when something positive is happening in your life, cognitively you’re almost preparing yourself for something horrid to occur. I don’t for one second think that this thought process is unique to you but how do you manage this?

Em, I think that you have to be kind to yourself and that’s easier said than done. Self-acceptance is hugely important and I think people underestimate what they are capable of coping with. You know when you hear about other people’s lives? Your natural instinct is to think ‘how awful for him / her’ and ‘I’d never be able to cope with that’ but it’s important that we realise that life is about finding the balance between light and shade. I guess that’s why I called my album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’, this one is all about how I can’t really appreciate anything without experiencing what life would be like without it. I wanted to write an album that was celebratory but acknowledged those dark moments. That’s what I hope people hear when they listen to it.

Within the past twelve months, you’ve been an architect in constructing a platform for yourself as a British icon, particularly within the domains of music and fashion. From performing at Burberry’s flagship store opening in Shanghai to the brand’s spectacle at London Fashion Week, what were those experiences like?

The first Burberry performance in London was really nerve-wracking and I made a mistake and then had to apologise to Christopher (Bailey) afterwards. I had to go up to him and say “I’m really sorry that I ruined your whole show!” and he said that he didn’t even notice. Liar!

I would have blamed Cara Delevingne…

Well, she was walking towards me making ridiculous faces the whole way up the catwalk. Then in Shanghai I was a little bit more relaxed because I had done it once before.

With models flying overhead, that would have made me quite nervous.

I have got to know the models now and in particular Cara so she’s completely un-intimidating to me. I also knew that she needed a wee for the entire time that she was up there so that really took the edge off!

Unfortunately, we’re coming to the end of our time together but who would be the people whom you would admire most or even look up to?

The first person who jumps into my head is Malala Yousafzai, she’s a Muslim lady who took a bullet to allow young girls to have an education in Pakistan. Em, I find it very difficult in celebrity culture to see that people are celebrated in a much greater way, just because they are famous, rather those who are on the ground making changes. I mean this sounds nuts, but I am obsessed with the National Health Service – the work that nurses, doctors and people who teach do is much more admirable to me than other celebrities. I just like people who are really saying something and I think that those nurses are saying something as important as those who have a million followers on Twitter.

A huge thank you to Paloma, Kathryn and Chris for all of their assistance at Groove Festival. You can find Paloma on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Make sure to download ‘A Perfect Contradiction’ too – ‘Love Only Leaves You Lonely’, in particular.

Fancy reading about other #ExtraordinaryWomen? You can find some of my heroes here.

Making The Scene

Scene

Whether your penchant is for literature or computer programming, Ireland has cultivated an incredible mass of talented individuals. Many of whom receive international recognition for their achievements.

Perhaps it’s my own personal bias, but this trend appears to be even more pronounced within the domains of fashion and photography. Whether that’s Boo George photographing Armani in Dollymount Strand or Danielle Romeril being awarded the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN scholarship, the Irish have conquered fashion at home and abroad.

To coincide with PhotoIreland; a festival aiming to begin conversations around photography, the Gallery of Photography are hosting lunchtime discussions with some of Ireland’s most distinguished fashion and photography talents.

Including Conor Clinch, Barry McCall, Aisling Farinella, Johnny McMillan and Ruth Anna Cross, the line-up curated by Jocelyn Murray Boyne and Darragh Shanahan is one which shouldn’t be missed.

The conversations begin at 14:00pm today, July 9th and span until lunchtime July 11th.

Entry costs €5 (or €2 if you’re a Gallery member) and whilst you may think ‘Why should I pay?’, I have a very strong feeling that you’ll get your money’s worth!

To find out more about ‘Making The Scene’, you can find the event on Facebook here.

Mrs Brown D’Exhibition

IMG_2127

IMG_2127Within the past couple of days, there has been huge discourse online in relation to the city’s divide. In particular, how those inhabiting the South Side perceive those residing on the North Side and vice versa.

I’m extremely proud to say that I was born in Finglas and lived there for most of my childhood. I returned to Finglas to teach and it’s difficult to explain but standing in front of thirty children, teaching them about the positives and the successful people who have emerged from Finglas, I’ve rarely felt more at home.

One of those successes is Brendan O’Carroll; a man who has achieved great heights professionally but also struggled financially, even experiencing a failure or two. Yet, he never surrendered his dream, something which I greatly admire him for but more importantly, he never forgets where he came from and in every project he appears to recognise the city that born him and the town and streets that consistently support him.

For those reasons, I was hugely honoured this week to attend the opening of Mrs Brown D’Exhibition in The Little Museum of Dublin – my favourite haunt

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The initial concept of the exhibition came about but four weeks ago with NBC Universal exploring various avenues to interestingly promote the release of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie. Upon this decision, Kimberley Foy curated the exhibition due to her being a loyal fan of the television programme and Agnes Brown’s personal cheerleader – a career I’m currently looking into…

Speaking with Brendan O’Carroll at the opening, he genuinely appeared a little taken-back by the presence of his family, the support of Dublin and the interest which The Little Museum of Dublin had in his life.

When I initially got the call, I was a little confused – I didn’t know what such a prestigious museum wanted but when they said that they wished to do an exhibition on Brendan O’Carroll and Mrs Brown, I was genuinely shocked.

We helped as much as we could but walking into the exhibition and seeing all of the photos of myself – it’s a little embarrassing. You know the first time you heard your voice played back on tape, and you think to yourself ‘Oh God, that doesn’t sound like me’, it’s a little bit like that here at D’Exhibition but I’m also hugely flattered and honoured.

Kimberley Foy, curator of D’Exhibition, did an incredible job in honing down the mass of material needed for the curation. In his opening address, Brendan O’Carroll admitted that the highest compliment he could pay Kim was that his mother would be extremely proud of D’Exhibition.

Both Kim and Brendan worked collaboratively to present a balance of information and props to appeal to those with either a passing or insatiable interest in Mrs Brown. But how does the exhibition give an insight into the film? Brendan explained;

With D’Movie, we really tried to expand Mrs Brown’s story and give the audience history and character depth. Here at the Little Museum of Dublin, attendees at D’Exhibition will gain further insight into the character of Mrs Brown and will hopefully leave understanding Moore Street, Finglas and even me a little more. For me, that was really important!

Brendan O’Carroll’s mother was the first Labour TD and was an advocate for worker’s rights, along with being the primary drive behind women being allowed to enter an Garda Siochana.

As you walk in the door of the exhibition, there is a beautiful photograph – Brendan’s favourite element of the D’Exhibition – of him and his mother, the only photo that exists of the pair. With such a strong female role model, along with having five sisters, I asked Brendan what impact this has had on the development of Agnes’ character.

More than I know! I remember when I gave Jenny (Gibney) the first book I ever wrote – at the time we were just working together, she didn’t know me that well – I picked her up for rehearsals and she said ‘I finished your book last night’. I was a little nervous and asked her what she thought of it. She said ‘Either you have a lot of sisters or you’re gay!’

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In this island, and on the other to our right, Mrs Brown’s Boys’ reputation alters greatly, depending on who you speak to. Some are engrossed in the programme, whilst others perceive it to be nonsensical. Speaking to the exhibition’s curator, Kimberley Foy, I asked her if this conflicting audience was a concern for the museum.

I think people need to take a second look at the programme and Mrs Brown, in particular.When I was chatting to people telling them that we have this exhibition on, I didn’t necessarily say to people that I was the curator because I wanted to see what their honest reactions were.

A lot of people questioned if it was a good idea but I tried to emphasise that the television programme and even the film itself isn’t just about crude language but offers a glimpse into Dublin of the past. Now though, I’m so close to the show that I feel almost offended when people discredit this great moment for Dublin.

However, my favourite moment from the opening of D’Exhibition came from the curator, Kimberley Foy in her explanation of what the exhibition means to her.

The highlight for me is definitely my first conversation with Brendan. Interestingly, the one phone that I could use to record the call was in my Grandmother’s house. If you can imagine the scenario, I’m on the phone talking to Brendan O’Carroll and beside me is my Grandmother, sitting in her dressing gown, trying to suppress her laughter at the antics he was describing. I had to take a moment to realise just how special that was, for my own family, that I could make a further connection to Mrs Brown, one that spanned generations.

D’Exhibition resides in The Little Museum of Dublin until July 20th. To visit the museum, it costs a maximum of €7 (but if you plan you’re clever when planning your visit – you may gain entry for free). On leaving you’ll come away with a sense of why Dublin and even Finglas, is so important to me. I can’t recommend it more highly.

Mrs Brown D’Movie arrives into cinemas on June 27th.

Thank you so much to Jill Guest for all of her assistance. All photos are taken with the Canon 100D – courtesy of Pembroke Communications.

Are you serious?

FREEICECREAM

FREEICECREAMTake a second to look out your window or to just glance up from your phone. That miraculous ball of energy in the sky is known in warmer climates as ‘the sun’. Strange, right?

It offers both heat and light and is the perfect accompaniment to delicious frozen treats from HB Ice Cream.

To celebrate this sunny phenomena; an Irish summer - HB Ice Creams are offering three of you ice cream vouchers to spoil both yourself and a friend!

How do you enter?

Simply follow the directions from the app below and keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for the winner’s announcement on Friday June 20th.

Are you serious?

Extraordinary Women: Sarah June Fox

Before Christmas, I vividly recall sitting on the steps of a shop in Drury Street talking to an incredible person about being a woman, the worlds of graphic design, fashion, music and the challenges of being a Canadian living in Ireland.

Since then, Sarah has gained citizenship and is quickly becoming one of the most incredible graphic designers Dublin has to offer – an unbelievable feat having spent the first half of her life touring the country as JJ72′s bass player.

This week’s Extraordinary Women interviewee is Sarah June Fox; an amazingly talented individual who will have you wanting to achieve and learn just as much as she does.

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How would you describe yourself?

Gosh, that’s so hard.

Even on a business card, what would your write about yourself?

Hmm. Well, my Twitter line – which you can only have a few characters in – says Sarah June Fox, designer, print-maker, dislodged Canuck and noise-maker.

From making noise to designing, your career seems to have been quite diverse. Where did it all begin?

Since I was four, I played music and that was all I did until I was about thirty. Back in Canada, I trained as a musician in a very specific music high-school, it was an arts school of sorts. I then pursued music in University and then played music for approximately ten years as my career. I didn’t know anything else, I didn’t do anything else and when that didn’t work out, it was devastating. In retrospect though, it was amazing – I went back to college when I was 31 or 32.

 

What was that like?

Scary! Being a student is grand when you’re 21 or 22 but being a broke student when you’re in your thirties is a different kind of thing. I took to it really well, though. Being in college as a mature student was amazing though, I really wanted to be there and it didn’t feel like a chore. I think when you move straight from secondary to school to college, it’s your first bit of freedom and perhaps you don’t go to class as much as you should. I was like that in my first degree, I scraped through – I loved it but I needed a little break after high school.

When I was in college, we had several mature students in our year. Some of them had families and studying primary school teaching, that was both an advantage and a disadvantage to them. Instantaneously, they knew what children would enjoy or appreciate but they also had a much bigger personal workload than any of us younger students. How did you find working with students of different ages, when you returned to college?

It’s an interesting balance. The course that I did was hugely demanding and if you didn’t work hard, you failed – regardless of your age. However, people brought such different experiences to the table and that was a real pleasure to see and work with. Graphic design is a technical skill but it’s also hugely creative and imaginative, you get to bring a lot of your personality and personal interests to your work and specific projects. I do think though, that both I and the other mature students really benefited from having a wider range of experience.

What made you choose graphic design after music?

My boyfriend at the time was doing design and it’s kind of as simple as that. I saw what he was doing and I think I had known about design for quite some time but didn’t really know what it was called and didn’t think of it as a ‘thing’. So, when I finally saw that this was something you could pursue and making posters wasn’t just for fun, I began to see it as a career for myself.

Sometimes, the creative individuals are often looked at as having this innate skillset. Beginning a career in graphic design in your thirties, was it something you took to easily or was it an initial challenge for you?

There were a lot of things that I had done previously that were similar to design but I just hadn’t tagged them as that because I really didn’t know what design was. Playing in bands my whole life, I always designed the posters but I didn’t know that I was designing – I was just making a poster for my band. I had an interest in layouts and I had quite good visual awareness but at the same time I was making prints and mono-prints which is similar to design but…

You hadn’t really linked them all to the career of design.

Yes, exactly. I almost fell upon this career that encompassed all of my interests.

AtelierYou currently work in Atelier David Smith, did you gain that position straight after college?

From college, yes.

What was the job application process like?

In college, Dave was my tutor so it was great that I knew him already. I knew how to work with him and it still feels like a learning experience working with him because he’s so…

Ridiculously talented.

Ridiculously talented! In a way, it still feels like an extension of college but overall, ‘real-world design’ is very different to that of college. Now, I have clients, time-constraints…

Managing relationships is a huge part of your work too, I guess.

Yes, exactly and that was one of the great things about my course – we were constantly presenting our work, which at the time was terrible because I’m quite bad at public speaking and I’m quite shy but it really prepared me for talking about my work and explaining my creative processes – which is amazing.

I imagine that every day for you is different, but what would your average schedule look like?

At the minute, I’m essentially working two different jobs: I’m based in Atelier, three days a week and I work freelance four days a week. I’m often trying to juggle both of them. A day in Atelier, we will often have several projects on, some of them will be coming to a close and you’re dealing with printers and then other jobs are just beginning and they may require research or mock-ups.

How does that compare to working freelance?

I really enjoy the balance of the two. Atelier is amazing and I would definitely work there full-time if I could but the portfolio of work that I do for freelance is very different. However, I do think that I would find permanently working freelance extremely difficult.

Because of the constant demand to pitch ideas to new clients?

Yes, that and also because I’m not a very good time-manager – Work wise, I’m good at scheduling that but I find it very difficult to tell myself to stop working or knowing how much work to take on, that’s one of the things that I’m currently working on.

 

Whereas when you’re working in an office, when the lights are turned off – it’s a sign for you to go home.

Yes, it’s nice to go to a place of work and come home from work. When I’m freelancing, I could be replying to emails in bed when I wake up and before I go asleep – I find it difficult to just ‘turn off’.

Which is problematic for your mental health, almost?

You really need a different space for working, otherwise you just can’t decipher between work and home. Today, between email and mobiles phones, we’re all available twenty four hours a day, people expect you to be available at all-hours and it takes a really strong person to ‘turn off’.

Particularly with social media, we’re only every 140 characters away from a reply.

It’s a little scary.

Sarah & Corina

You’ve worked on some incredible design projects but what ones are you particularly proud of?

One that I particularly love is the Lennon Courtney project, which are a client of Atelier but it’s my favourite website that I’ve worked on. They’re amazing clients and they always look for a beautiful aesthetic – it’s a dream job! You get to work with amazing clothes and images and our ambition is just to accent that. It was also our first time to work with e-commerce and ‘Shopify’ and that was hugely interesting as I got to learn a new form of code – that’s the nerd in me!

Professionally, you’ve accomplished an incredible amount. First, you had a hugely successful music career with JJ72 and now you’re dominating the domain of graphic design but what remains on your bucket-list for the next ten years?

I’m really not sure. I mean, I’m working my dream job at the minute so I’m happy career-wise but I want to learn more and that’s why I keep taking on new and interesting projects. For example, I’m currently working on a programme for TV3 at the moment and I’ve never worked in the medium of television before and whilst there are huge similarities with other projects, I’m really enjoying the challenge of it and the opportunity to learn from it. My aim for the next decade is really to continue to educate myself and to upgrade my skillset.

 

That’s really inspiring and something, as a teacher, I would be a huge advocate of. At ‘Offset’ a couple of months ago, I was quite surprised to see how many women were involved and hugely successful in the domain of graphic design. My assumption was that it was a dominantly-male career. Was it that way when you were training?

In colleges across the country, the number of females studying graphic design greatly trumps the number of male students and whether or not they continue on to careers in graphic design is different but in terms of the workplace, I’ve never met any misogyny or nobody has ever discriminated against me, in getting a job, because I am a woman. The only thing that I have ever seen is that clients are sometimes surprised that I’m interested in coding and the technology side of the career but it’s nice to surprise people sometimes!

When I was scribing a list of people who inspire me for this interview series – it was quite long, to say the least but who are the people who impact upon you?

Oran Day in Atelier is a brilliant designer and the way that he thinks and talks about his love for design is extraordinary. When I watch him interact with clients or other professionals, I always learn something new and I’m regularly inspired to do better in my own work.

Sarah June Fox

Finally, earlier this year you took part in The Science Gallery’s ‘Fail Better’ exhibition, what was that experience like?

It was really nerve-wracking. We had to talk for five minutes about failure and when I said that I would do it, I explained my transition from music to graphic design and then I felt a bit like a chancer – I mean, I had quite an enviable music career, on paper but I wasn’t making any money from it and it just didn’t work out but I played some amazing shows and met some incredible people. Was it a failure because it wasn’t profitable? It was an amazing experience and the reaction from it was really lovely – I bared my soul and some may find that embarrassing but I’m really glad that I did it. 

Thank you so much to Sarah for participating in the Extraordinary Women series. Following Sarah on Twitter is something I would wholly recommend – tell her I sent you!

Counter Culture

According to a study undertaken by One4All, three quarters of people spend €1,000 on clothes and accessories each year. The study also revealed that 39% of people shop for new clothes and accessories once a month, whilst one fifth of people are shopping ever week.

Spending this much time in department stores and retail outlets, it wouldn’t be considered alien for relationships to develop between the customer and the sales assistant but how often do you stop to have a brief conversation with the person behind the till? Do you know their name? Would you be able to recognise them outside of their uniform?

The role of the shop assistant can be a thankless one. Behind the facade of the Cheshire cat grin, you can often feel invisible whilst simultaneously trying to assist difficult customers and demanding management.

This week, the exceptionally talented Katie O’Kelly takes to The Axis stage to explore the darker side of the retail domain in her brilliant play ‘Counter Culture’. I had the great fortune of speaking with Katie about her own experiences of working in retail and the influence of the 1913 Lockout in her performance.

How did you first get involved in theatre?

My dad, Donal O’Kelly, is an actor and a playwright so I’ve grown up with theatre and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been around a stage or a set. In a strange series of events, my Dad is the director for ‘Counter Culture’ too, but when I was younger I went to an amazing drama school, Ann Kavanagh’s Drama Class and really got the bug for it from there.

After the Leaving Cert, when it came to CAO applications, drama was the one area which I seemed to really enjoy doing so I thought I’d give it a go and I was accepted into Drama and Theatre Studies in Trinity which was brilliant and as part of that course, I spent the third year of my degree studying in Goldsmith’s College in London. Goldsmith’s was much more physical approach to learning in terms of course content whereas Trinity was very much theoretical-based.

When you were choosing to explore theatre as a career, did you feel any pressure or that you had a certain reputation to live up to due to the fact that your father was already established as both a playwright and an actor in the same field?

It was scary, I had a big shadow to fill but because of my Dad’s involvement in theatre, I never saw it through rose-tinted glasses. I had no aspirations that as soon as I would leave college I would see my name in lights, I knew the challenges of the career, but I loved it and really wanted to pursue it and it’s been amazing so far.

Has working with your dad in a professional capacity altered your relationship?

At the very beginning, we had to decide – particularly because he was directing me – to leave the personal elements of our relationship at the door and be entirely professional as the most important thing is making the show the best that it can be. It did help too as we both understood each other so well, throughout the process we had an almost shorthand way of communicating that the other could decipher which really brought a lot to the process.

Where did the drive come from to write such a focused piece about the retail industry?

A year ago, I found a picture of my granny when she was on strike, standing outside of Clery’s on O’Connell Street in 1983. When I was younger, I worked in retail myself along with many of my friends and have always wanted to write a play about that experience, the crazy customers who come in asking mad questions and the challenges of the work. However, I really wanted the play to be about something so when I found this photo of my granny, it was something that I never really knew about my granny and really gave me a new angle to explore for the play.

The piece is structured around four characters, without giving too much away; could you give me an insight into each of them?

The main character Bridie is modeled mostly on my granny; she’s 64 years old and retiring on the day which the play is set (The play spans one day in the department store). Then there’s her granddaughter Gemma, who is heavily pregnant and is sent to work within the store’s soft furnishings department – management no longer believe she’s able to pull off the costumes and clothes that’s needed to sell ladieswear. Gemma is not based on me – I promise!

The third character is Simon; he’s a ladder-climbing, assistant manager who is trying to implement zero-hour contracts, which are being brought in by the store’s senior management on the day the play is set. Finally, there’s Jonathan who is a happy-go-lucky Dublin security guard. His character offers a light-release from the tensions of the play and the chaos that ensues when the zero-hour contracts are introduced. I wrote the play last year, at the time of when these zero-hour contracts were first implemented in Ireland last year and I wanted to discuss the difficulties these conditions and legalities had on employees, particularly because last year was the centenary of the Dublin Lockout.  

The statue of Jim Larkin has a physical presence in the piece but was it important to you that he was referenced within the play?

When I visited Clery’s, as research for the play, one of the things that struck me was Jim Larkin’s statue shadowing the building just outside the door and thought it would be interesting to transform the statue into a character of sorts, like Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ in style, watching the mayhem unfurling within the department store. I must mention that in the play, the store Mackens is fictional but inspired by Clery’s.

How does the retail domain which you’ve constructed for Counter Culture compare to the real one?

The play takes the hierarchical structures found within your typical department store and uses them for dramatic effect. In a sense, I wanted to create a modern fairytale with almost magical characters coming on and off stages and whilst the play is set over one day in the department store, the audience are offered breaks in the action with training video excerpts which I remember very vividly from working in retail. In my day, they were over-heightened American videos reminding you of titbits such as ‘Always fluff and fold’ and ‘Always smile’ – lots of nonsense but I wanted to incorporate that part of my retail experience into the piece too. 

Delving into the darker side of retail, behind the façade of the cash desk smiles, has creating and performing this piece altered your customer experience of retail?

It has actually, you notice far more – especially when you realise that most of the people working in these shops are the lowest paid workers and they’re now being asked to take on these new contracts that offer them so little job security. It’s so unfair that these are the people who have to bear the brunt of the economic downturn. Plus, you often see some of these people working on the shop floors having a tough time, either from a challenging customer or management and working on this play really affected how I reacted to those behind the tills or stocking shelves. You see retail in a whole new light!

What is the one talking point you want to emerge from ‘Counter Culture’?

I would love for people to emerge from the performance talking about the zero-hour contracts and to have them keep in mind that standing up for workers’ rights is not something that belongs in 1913 but is just as relevant today and we need action to change that. 

You can read more about ‘Counter Culture’ at The Axis here whilst tickets are available for the two performances of June 12th and 13th here. This is one piece of theatre you should definitely in 2014.

Featuring X

Feautring X

What’s your favourite music video? On Twitter, I asked the same question and below are some of the responses:

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Though, what makes an artist’s video so memorable: A connection to the lyrics? Cinematography? Plot? Cultural references? Product placement?

Last year, the five most popular music videos on YouTube / Vevo were Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ and ‘We Can’t Stop’, Will.I.Am’s ‘Scream & Shout’ which featured Britney Spears, Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ and Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’.

For me, I tend to be drawn to a video that takes inspiration from the past and alters it slightly. Whether that’s Blink 182′s ‘All The Small Things‘ (a parody of various pop videos including The Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’) or Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ which was heavily inspired by Clueless.

Thus, it was of no surprise that I was drawn to Drogheda-based five-piece Featuring X’s debut video ‘Wild Love’.

Within the opening frame, it’s obvious whereby the group attained their influence; Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love‘. A visual which has been parodied more times than I count, including at the VVIP Awards last year with Bressie and a host of models.

Within Palmer’s video, Terence Donovan directed models Julie Pankhurst, Patty Kelly, Mak Gilchrist, Julia Bolino and Kathy Davies to be robot-like, inspired by the representations of women in Patrick Nagel’s artwork. For the shoot, a musician was hired to teach the models guitar fingering techniques but succumbed after an hour.

This stoic portrayal of women was key to director Gavin Kilduff choosing to renew the classic with the Irish musicians.

“Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ being one of the most iconic images of women within music videos, it always bothered me that none of the women could actually play their instruments but were there purely as set dressing. When meeting and seeing how talented the Featuring X’s girls were I felt they would be the perfect group to subvert that famous imagery as here were girls who could really play their instruments.”

‘Wild Love’ took six hours to record, a surprising duration as visually it may appear quite simplistic. However, my favourite feature of the video is how it was recorded: To attain the grainy aesthetic symbolising the past, Kilduff recorded the video in HD using a Canon 5dmk2 but exported it to a VHS format to give the video an authentic antiquity.

In the midst of their Leaving Certificate exams, Featuring X (comprised of Niamh Sharkey, Dara Farrelly, Eleanor Rogers, Sarah McLaughlin and Jenny McKeown) have released an impressive track with a video that questions the traditional roles of female musicians in pop culture.

‘Wild Love’ is officially released on June 26th but I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. I’d recommend you do the same!

You can follow Featuring X’s journey through Facebook and Twitter.

Extraordinary Women: Caroline Downey

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Caroline Downey’s curriculum vitae would consist of more than one ream of paper. From embracing upcoming Irish music talents to exclusively producing shows that involve Barack Obama, Frank Kelly and more, Caroline is one of the most driven, ambitious individuals whom I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Extracting the profession, as a person Caroline is kind, approachable and always willing to listen to your idea – whether it’s tremendous or terrible. I could list her characteristics for many more characters but one of my favourite elements to her personality –  like me, Caroline has a penchant for ridiculous millinery.

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How would you describe yourself?

I’m Caroline Downey, I’m 52. I’m the Director of the Gaiety and co-owner of MCD Concerts. I’m managing a new artist called Hozier. I produce some shows and I sit on the board of the ISPCC and the Christina Noble foundation.

I imagine that day-to-day, your schedule differs hugely.

Vastly.

Is there one particular element of your work or schedule that you would have preference over?

It really depends on the time of year. At Christmas and in the lead up to the festive season, the pantomime in the Gaiety is all encompassing. During that time too, the Childline concert is on and that takes up a considerable amount of my time but I have a tendency that when a project is finished, I move on almost immediately. I don’t dwell on it, I don’t live in the past and sometimes people who work with me can find that quiet difficult but I have to.

With a schedule so demanding, that’s very understanding. You started your career as a model…

Well, I was a waitress from the time I was about fourteen but I’ve worked at almost everything – from the factory, to supermarkets, you name it. I was raised between Australia and South Africa and didn’t go to school in Ireland for quite a while.

Growing up on the other side of the world, did that have much impact on you in later life and in your current line of work?

Not really but what it did make me want to do was to make sure that my children stayed in the one school and grew up with the same friends. That was a definite as when I was growing up, I had been to eight different schools, it’s not the best…

I moved schools after first year in secondary school and found the one change of school particularly difficult. I can’t imagine what eight changes were like.

It was a challenge but particularly because later in life it transpired that I was dyslexic. At the time, I put it down to just being stupid but every time that you moved country, which we did every two to four years, it means learning new history, new geography – one country did French, another did Africans.

Were the different cultures a challenge to embrace?

No, that you can live with. As a teacher yourself, you know that there is not a global curriculum apart from maths and maybe science. External to that, the content is pretty relevant to the effects of a country itself. Then imagine adding all of that onto being dyslexic, it wasn’t pleasant but I was quite sporty – sport was my saviour. I played hockey and water-polo but sport was great in terms of integrating as it didn’t matter what your language barrier was or the country’s culture, sport was sport – you just had to be good at it!

Earlier you mentioned waitressing and working in a factory, did those jobs provide you with the skills you needed for your current roles or did you learn on the job?

When it came to work, I knew what I didn’t want to do (laughs).

And what was that?

I knew that I didn’t want to work in the Supermarket or waitress again. Actually, I enjoyed waitressing and I think it’s something that everyone should do. Storm, my daughter, is doing that at the moment – she’s in the middle of a gap year before she undertakes her Masters. I think it’s a great way of making money, it’s a great way of meeting new people. I didn’t much like the other part-time jobs that I had when I was younger but yes, I knew what I didn’t want to do.

In the early days of founding MCD, were they challenging?

No, not at all because when we started out, we had nothing – we didn’t know any better. I worked the door, we drove to all of the gigs and mostly, it was fun!

Looking at your role as a producer, is there much difference for you in producing a concert like Childline, in comparison to producing a pantomime?

The concept is the very same – except actually, everyone gets paid at the pantomime! At Childline, they all work for free. It’s the same formula though; you need lots of great talent! For pantomime, you have to find a good script – for Childline, that’s the songs. For both projects a great director and set designer are required.  It’s almost identical in one way, much like producing theatrical pieces for the stage like Moll which is currently on in the Gaiety but it’s the same recipe as when I produced the Meteor Awards or Barack Obama at College Green – fundamentally, it’s about your team. You can produce as much as you want but if you don’t have the support system around you, then it’s not going to work.

What makes a great team?

Efficiency and a willingness to listen to me (laughs)! I have an amazing team, in all areas. Interestingly, with Childline the team is predominantly female.

Does that make much of a difference?

No, they weren’t hired based on their gender but because they were the most efficient team for that project. Actually, the lighting designer for Childline is male but then in the pantomime, Daryn Crosbie, Ronan and Matt McCluskey are each male but they were the best in their field. For my team, I choose the best; it’s irrespective whether they’re male or female.

You’ve mentioned your involvement with Childline but why do you think the work of the ISPCC is so important, particularly in 2014?

Because abuse is ongoing, it’s possibly just more out in the open today than it was thirty years ago when I first started working with the ISPCC. I first got involved because of Ann Lovett but now we have bigger problems with the issue of bullying and in particular, cyber bullying. With all of the great things that the Internet has brought to society such as Twitter and social media, it also has huge downfalls.

In the past, if you were being bullied in school, it finished at the school gates at 3 o’clock and commenced again the following morning but that doesn’t happen any longer, through the medium of the internet, it continues.  Also, children are still being beaten, they’re still being sexually abused, they’re still living below the poverty line, there are still parents who aren’t caring for their children and that has not altered, not one little bit.

The ISPCC has been in existence for almost 110 years and wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need the ISPCC – along with Barnardos and all of the other brilliant charities that are doing incredible work for children in this country.

Earlier, we were speaking about gender-roles in the workplace, do you think there are any further challenges for women in employment versus men in the same roles?

No and I’ve asked my girlfriends this question too and their response is that they are successful because they work very hard. Recently, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ and for all of the hype that surrounded it, she spoke frequently that there wasn’t enough women but I think a lot of women prefer, by choice, to stay at home and raise their families and it seems to be because there aren’t enough women in high executive positions that it’s frowned upon. I think that if a woman wants to do it all, can do it all but then, I’m not in the corporate world and perhaps I haven’t hit the glass ceiling. In our industry, it’s irrespective whether you’re male or female; you have to be good at what you do.

Also, I know many won’t agree with me on this but I also don’t believe that a woman should sit on a board just because she’s a woman, your position should be granted because you deserve to be there –irrespective of your gender. I sit on a variety of boards, the work is slow and tedious but it has to be done. Me, I want everything done tomorrow and at meetings I often find myself asking ‘What do you mean we have to wait a month?’ but sitting around the table, I don’t count the men and the women I just think that they’re all there because they have a specific reason to be present. 

 To the young women of this country, who perhaps are still in school, what advice would you give them?

Try everything and that goes back to what I was saying at the beginning; through new experiences you may not find exactly what you want to do but you will discover what you don’t want to do. When Zac (Caroline’s son) was in Transition Year, he did some of his work experience in radio. He worked in Today FM and Setanta – he spent much of his time there logging information. He came away from the experience totally confident knowing that field wasn’t what he wanted to work in. Jeff (Caroline’s son), I’m not certain where he worked, perhaps it was in MCD.

When transition year students come for work experience in MCD, they have this image of it being a very glamorous job but it’s really not.

Filled with lots of paperwork, I imagine.

If you’re lucky! If you’re working on festivals, Croke Park for example, you’re stuck in window-less concrete obvious and you’re completely oblivious to the show that’s happening outside.

Prior to last year, people knew of your work but perhaps they were unable to put a face to a name. What was it like being involved in Celebrity Apprentice?

I found it very difficult; it was naïve of me almost. I hadn’t allowed that I would have known so many of the celebrities that had taken part – of the ten, I knew four very well. It’s very hard to fire someone who you know so well, someone who has been so supportive of you, particularly in the case of Mikey Graham. He’s an ambassador for my charity, so that was very hard.

At the same time, you can’t show favouritism to him in the boardroom.

No, you can’t because each of the celebrities were raising money for phenomenal charities. If I had to think of the charity first, they all could have won so I had to take it challenge-by-challenge and the women buried the men!

Was the outcome what you expected when it initially began?

Initially, I didn’t think that Edele (Lynch) would have won but that was because of pre-conceived notions. I thought Amanda (Brunker) might have been in the running and as the series progressed I thought that Daniella (Moyles) would do very well but the efficiency of Edele – you would give her a job tomorrow morning. Daniella was pretty efficient too but her career and star is rising already on the rise – she doesn’t need us!

Caroline Downey - Celebrity ApprenticeWere you glad that you did it in the end?

I was, at the time I wasn’t and shortly afterwards when I was publicising it I wasn’t but looking back on it, I’m glad I did. We raised a lot of money, almost €135,000 and when that much good comes from a project, it’s difficult to look back on it negatively.

You’ve worked on a gargantuan number of projects, programmes and performances but is there anything remaining which you wish to do in your career?

Nothing that I’ve ever done is what I’ve wanted to do, does that make sense? I’ve fallen into a lot of things but I just like to have a new chapter. As we were saying earlier, women can have it all but I believe that perhaps they just can’t have it all at once. Sometimes it can be difficult juggling both your family and your career. In my case, I didn’t do as much when the children were smaller so fundraising became a big platform for me and I worked from home. As they grew older, I could take on more in terms of work but my new journey is managing Hozier, along with producing plays and pantomimes in the Gaiety.

I imagine it’s rather difficult to choose, but is there a moment in your career which you’re most proud of?

My greatest wish, and I don’t know if it will ever happen, I would like it to happen and I hope it will, is that the ISPCC Shield Campaign becomes international. I would love if people wore their shield for the month of March around the world for anti-bullying. If that happened, I would be extremely happy.

How could that happen? Is it about encouraging celebrities around the world to embrace the campaign?

I would like to think that at Childline we have a template which other nations can take example from. At the moment, we have a repertoire of twenty eight huge celebrities, each of their photos taken by Barry McCall but the celebrities themselves are so willing to be involved. After all, most of them too have been bullied. I think they can empathise with children. For other nations, they can bring their own celebrities forward and they can use our template – I want them to take it!

On behalf of Little People of Ireland, I travel to quite a few schools – both primary and secondary schools – and give talks about my experience of being a little person.

Were you bullied?

I wasn’t and I get asked that question quite a lot as part of the various talks but I really owe a huge amount to both of my parents. They instilled in me a confidence and a real sense of self that really helped me pave my way through education, employment, friendship and all that falls between. I think it was because I was so comfortable being me…

That they just left you alone, really.

Yes, exactly and even now, among my closest friends they often forget that I stand at 105.5 cm tall – until of course I can’t reach something or there’s an obstruction in my way.

That’s them seeing you, for you. It’s irrelevant what size, race, or age you are. 

This series, Extraordinary Women, began due to the reporting of L’Wren Scott’s death in the New York Times. She was a woman who I admired greatly for being both a fashion designer and a savy business women. On the announcement of her death though, the headline read ‘Mick Jagger’s girlfriend has died’ and whilst that may have equated to more website views due to Mick’s fame, I was deeply saddened because at the end of the day, L’Wren was someone’s daughter, someone’s niece, someone’s sister, she was a person in her own right.

Unfortunately, that’s how tabloids work. She did come to people’s attention thirteen years ago because of her relationship with Mick Jagger but she stood out on her own. I don’t know what it is, I’m always tagged with Denis. It happened only recently, ‘Manager of Hozier, Caroline Downey (wife of Denis Desmond)’ and you think to yourself ‘When do you become your own person? Why must you always be tagged with a man?’ They don’t write Denis Desmond (husband of Caroline Downey).

It’s also really common that journalists will report, ‘Caroline Downey, mother of three’ but they wouldn’t write ‘Denis Desmond, father of three’. Why is that relevant?

In those particularly cases, let’s be really honest here, the women do the bulk of the juggling when it comes to children. There are some extraordinary men in existence who do care for their children in the same way but perhaps it’s written that way to illustrate that women achieve all of these things along with being a mother of three.

I always find it interesting with Amy Huberman, when Brian (O’Driscoll) is interviewed he’s never asked about when he’s having his next child but it’s a question that she’s commonly asked. Equally with Dawn O’ Porter, Chris O’Dowd is never asked about having children but Dawn is continuously asked about being mother.

My final question for you Caroline, from meeting you in a cold rehearsal room with matching fox hats (the photos are on Twitter) you have had an incredible influence on me personally, but who are the people who inspire you?

Christina Noble. Without a shadow of a doubt! When Storm was in Transition Year, she and I went to Vietnam to visit the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. We visited the orphans – the foundation has built schools and a place where the feel safe, they even have Westlife posters plastered all over the walls. Within the Foundation, education is key – the belief is that you don’t give a hand out, you give a hand up. We also went to the blind school which affected Storm the most because the children can only identify you through touch – their injuries mostly from surgeries because of Agent Orange.

For me though, there’s just something about Christina. She’s one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. 

We succumbed to the #selfie.

We succumbed to the #selfie.

Thank you so much to Caroline for taking an entire afternoon to speak with me.

To follow Caroline’s summer journey managing Hozier and the upcoming pantomime season, you can find her on Twitter. Tell her I sent you!

To view more Extraordinary Women interviewees, simply click here.

Extraordinary Women: Jo Linehan

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Taking an active interest in fashion, particularly within the Irish landscape, has taught me a gargantuan number of lessons but more importantly, it has introduced me to an array of exciting individuals whom I am lucky enough to now call friends.

Jo Linehan is one such talented person and friend. I could scribe a litany of characteristics to attempt to describe Jo’s enigmatic personality and professional drive but the reason as to why I would define her as extraordinary is that Jo never looks at a challenge as an obstacle and whether you meet her at 8am or 8pm, you always leave her company her with a smile on your face!

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Tell me a little bit about yourself

Ok, so I’m Jo Linehan and I’m Junior Editor here at Image Magazine. Unusually though, journalism isn’t my background. After school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I was really interested in third world policy so I decided to study that. I went to UCC for a year and while there I thought ‘There is plenty of food in the world, I can totally sort out this whole poverty-hunger issue’. Then I realised that actually it’s this ginormous ‘thing’ that no one is going to fix in just a week or a day – not even me! I studied a lot about women’s right, women in literature and men’s rights – it really opened up my mind to a broad range of really interesting new subjects. I did that for one year but then decided to study music; which had always been my love. I studied music for three years – majoring in singing and percussion. Whilst I loved it, I knew that it wasn’t something that I wanted to explore as a profession.

 

It’s rather difficult to make money from a career in music.

Absolutely. Whatever about there being no money in media, you are literally living hand-to-mouth working a musician. Especially if you love something, putting that kind of pressure on it to also become your income…

It’s really difficult.

Yes, that amount of pressure would just break your heart. So, during my second year of studying music, I started to develop my interest in fashion. I was reading a lot of magazines but I had always written. I had written for the newspaper in UCC and I had written bits and pieces but I decided to start a blog – purely for myself, just so that I had an outlet. I really, really loved it. Back then though, blogging was in a different place where no one was really doing it, it was only just starting off…

Just you and Susie Bubble paving the way!

Ha!  The two of us – together! Back then though, I was just doing really small posts such as interviewing Sonya Lennon from ‘Off the Rails’. Then I entered a blogging competition with Vogue and was shortlisted. They had my blog up on their website for what I think was a couple of months – that gave me a real ‘bump up’.

In the midst of all of this, fashion and blogging were still just hobbies and I remember finishing my music degree thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ Stefanie Preissner who I grew up with, who is a writer, was pitching a play for the Fringe Festival and needed a percussionist. She asked me to move to Dublin, write the music, be in the play and she would pay for my accommodation for a month. I just thought, ‘Look, I’ve got nothing else to do, why not?’ and when I moved to Dublin it just felt like ‘home’. I loved it immediately and although I love Cork, I have never really felt that connection to Cork. So, when the month was up I just thought, ‘I’m in Dublin, there are plenty of magazines, let’s just see if there’s an opportunity to get an internship’. At the time, internships were just starting to become popular.

Image Magazine was my number one and I literally spent weeks getting up at 7am and cold-calling Image, writing to all of the different editors, researching them, going to events hoping to run into people who worked in the fashion industry and just made a huge effort to try and get to know the community – all the while I basically stalked Image. That went on for months and everyone back home thought that I was absolutely off my rocker. They all said that I should have just come home and got a job teaching music. I won’t lie, I was tempted to do that but I really felt that I had to give this whole fashion ‘thing’ a go.

 

Then one day in November, Kate O’Dowd – who was Junior Editor at the time…

And now Editor of Bash Magazine!

Yes, she rang me and said ‘Listen, we’re up the walls before Christmas. We just need hands on deck to make tea and to keep us fueled. Will you come in?’ I did…

Was it the Holy Grail?

I guess you could say that. I went out, I bought a new outfit and didn’t sleep for four days before hand – literally, to just go into Image to make the tea.

Ha! You were the new Emily!

Yes and I was never so happy to be the new Emily. It was just one of those things; I spent my time in the office making myself really indispensable. If I was making tea, I made it exactly how everyone wanted it, if someone was asking for something to be done, I volunteered to do it. I literally did all kinds of everything – I tided shelves when I had nothing to do, I tried to pick up on the vibe of the office and the magazine and most importantly, I really tried to listen to what people needed and what they were doing.

You wanted them to question how they ever survived without you, I guess.

Exactly! I really had no idea what was going on, if I’m honest. I had never worked in publishing and I remember Google-ing words from conversations people were having in the office. I remember people asking ‘Is this a DPS?’ and ‘subtly’, I would type into Google ‘What is a DPS?’ – it means a double-page spread. I just had no idea – I was in over my head!

From there, things just went from one to the other. It’s really interesting though, whatever you do in your life will help with future projects and goals. For example, I remember Image asked me to come back for a second day and one of the editors had a recording machine and she was freaking out. She had been sent by Brown Thomas to do an interview abroad but she couldn’t find it on the recorder. At the end of the day, she was quite upset and I just said to her ‘Can I take it home?’ She said ‘Yeah, please do whatever you can’ but because I had studied recording in my music degree, I was able to download some software and retrieve the file of her. Looking back, I think that was one of the things that made the magazine realize that I was ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’. In the middle of my degree, I never thought that studying music would have a hand in furthering my career in fashion but everything you learn helps.

From there, I interned with Image for six months. I set up Jobsbridge here at Image Publications so that I could stay on and make a small bit of money. Since then, that has helped other interns but when that came to an end, I needed to get paid so I asked them if I could freelance which meant that I got paid for big articles that I did.

At Christmas time in 2012, they gave me a job as staff editor which meant that much of my role was the same but I would work across Cara and Bash if those editors and staff needed assistance. Then in August of last year, Melanie (Morris – Editor in Chief) offered me the job of Junior Editor which meant that my role would not so much include tea-making and doing the post but a greater emphasis on writing and taking over the front of the magazine, which is the job that I always wanted. That’s where I am now – I guess you could say that was a whistle-stop tour of my professional journey so far.

Image MagazineMore and more, it appears that the first route into a profession is through an internship. In particular, the fashion industry has quite a negative reputation in terms of its treatment of interns, did that influence you and how you interacted and worked with the interns in your office today?

Absolutely and that was a big reason as to why I wanted to start up Jobsbridge here. I know that Jobsbridge gets an awful lot of criticism but as long as there is someone employed to ensure that it is being done in the right way and that people’s expectations are managed, it’s mutually beneficial. I think Image have such a brilliant intern system. People come in, they are told that they can sign up for Jobsbridge or they can come in a work for six months, which is unpaid – there’s no bones made about it! While you’re here, not only will you make the tea and open the post but you will also work events, you’ll work within PR, you’ll work on the online element of the magazines, you’ll see how the design team function and you will also be given an opportunity to write for different publications. At the end, your CV will be bursting.

From the perspective of the employer, managing expectations is important but you have to be in a position to give interns your time. You need to sit down with interns, ask them how their day is going? Do they have too much on? Have they been left with nothing to do? What are they finding difficult? Do they understand what’s going on? If you just bring people in without having that level of interaction, it can be really overwhelming and a lot of the time people want to do well, so they’re afraid of admitting that they don’t understand something or are unsure of how to do something. I spend a lot of time sitting down with them, talking with them, having the craic with them because after all, it should be fun too!

So yeah, I would see that as one of my biggest roles here at Image and even though the fashion industry has a bad reputation when it comes to interns, we need to work at making it a really valuable experience for both the intern and the employer.

1797394_10203951194525305_8641713766335891294_n (1)I found it really interesting how you mentioned earlier that your skills from your music degree better equipped you for a career in fashion and the fact that you’re not alone in training in an area alien to fashion. For example, Simone Rocha studied Fine Art in NCAD and Aisling Farinella has a Masters in Film. Would that be something you would recommend to those who seek a career in fashion, that perhaps they should explore a different field first to equip them with other skills rather than just fashion or journalism?

Absolutely! Fashion is so much more than just clothing; it’s art, it’s history and it’s people. The broader understanding you have of life, the more that will impact upon your take on fashion. Without being hugely controversial, the people who have come to Image who have a Masters in journalism or their primary degree is in media, sometimes they’re very focused – so much that it can sometimes be a hindrance. They have been trained in a certain way of doing things and within publishing, different companies have various ways of working and sometimes they find it difficult to adapt to our way of working.

They almost have to re-train themselves, it seems.

Exactly, the most important thing about working within the fashion industry is not your primary degree but having a passion and a genuine interest in fashion. You know yourself with fashion, it’s about being able to chat with people, it’s being able to pull out different references and it demands a wide range of skills.

Fashion is so encompassing now, it’s not limited to just one domain. Fashion has infiltrated the music industry. For example, on Beyoncé’s recent tour, her costumes and the designers who created them, were as much a talking point as the music itself. She spent more time in Tom Ford and Emilio Pucci than she did on stage!

Ha! Exactly.

 fashion industry, thoJo LinehanI suppose to dwell further on the role of women in these who work externally to this domain are often very critical of how fashion treats women, in a sense. My insatiable interest in fashion came about from feeling that it was an industry I could not interact with because I stood at 3’5” tall and I actively sought a way to gain access. What do you perceive to be fashion’s role in representing women and do you think the industry as a whole should be doing more to encompass a wider spectrum of women?

It’s one of those ongoing debates and I think that anyone who works in the fashion industry is very aware of it and is something which they are very sensitive towards. Personally, I’m very interested in the weight debate and also the age of models – those are two areas which I actively research and do a lot of work on myself. At Image, I work very closely with the fashion team to ensure our models are never below a certain age or weight. The industry on a whole has a lot to answer for but at the same time, some changes have been made. For me, all I can do on my small scale is start from the grassroots up.

I think fashion is for everyone though, but as you said, you do have to find your own way to enjoy and interpret it. There have been great things, people like Penneys who make fashion really accessible. Ireland is great for the high-street and permits people access to the trend. At the magazine, we’re constantly publishing brilliant finds from the high-street whilst also featuring the Mary Katrantzou €12,000 jacket. To answer your question though, it takes people, like you and I, who are working on the ground to start questioning the norm of the fashion industry, we have a responsibility to demand such improvements and I’m very passionate about putting people on the hot-seat.

As am I. In your journalistic career thus far, you’ve achieved an incredible amount but what does your ‘Bucket-List’ for the next five years consist of?

There are SO many things. I’m really starting to become interested in styling, which isn’t something that I have had a huge chance to explore just yet.

Aisling Farinella takes all of those jobs, damn her!

Damn her, exactly!

We’ll forgive her because she’s so mesmerisingly talented.

Exactly, I want to see her doing as many shoots as possible!

I would be interested to get into styling and one of my favourite things to do is to champion new designers. I’m constantly looking for new talent and I’m also intrigued by the digital side of things and how the future of the digital sphere will impact upon the fashion industry. Finally then, we’ve already touched on it but I would be hugely interested in working on those areas of the fashion industry which aren’t functioning as they should.

Should Melanie Morris (Editor in Chief of Image Publications) and Ellie Balfe (Editor of Image.ie) be concerned about you looking for their jobs sometime in the near future?

They should be terrified! This is something that I tell them every day…

(We both guffaw in a non-lady-like fashion…)

My primary reason for undertaking this series of interviews was to mark, in my own small way, the incredible women who intrigue and inspire me but who would be the people you look to for ideas, advice and critique?

There are so many. Obviously, Aisling Farinella is someone who is…

Mind-blowingly talented…

Mind-blowingly talented and is also someone who has done incredible things for the Irish fashion industry, both at home and abroad. Paula Hughes, in terms of styling – she has married a very creative mind with a commercial income which is a challenging feat.

My friends back home in Cork are some of the most inspiring people to me. They’re like you in that they’re teachers – sometimes when you’re working in fashion, I think it’s really important that we do realise that at times it is just shoes and bags. After a tough day, I’ll ring the girls and they’ll ask me how my day was and I’ll complain about the challenges of interviewing etc. I’ll then ask them about their day and they’ll say ‘Today was really hard. I have five children in my class with ADD, we’re low on funding and my job isn’t permanent’ – they’re really inspiring to me because their job sometimes feels more ‘real’ than mine. I am really so lucky to do what I love every day. Those are the people that really inspire me…

Even with all of those challenges, they still carry on and continue to greet their friends or class with a smile…

Exactly! I don’t know where they find the energy or the enthusiasm. I don’t know how they do it!

For me, teaching is similar to entertainment. You are a constant performer to a group of thirty children. You have a stage at the top of the classroom and it’s your responsibility to engage them in an interesting way so they have a memorable experience that they are actively involved in.

You’re right, it’s an element of entertainment.

It’s the marrying of the entertainment and the creative industries because the content that you present to the children has to be creative in order to spark their interest. Much like yourselves here in Image, if you released a stagnant issue or continuously pitched your content to American or Parisian readers, your loyal fan-base here would become disengaged. It’s extremely similar to the classroom, your content has to be innovative, presented in a way that embraces digital technologies and it has to be pitched at the appropriate audience.

Who knew fashion and education were so intrinsically linked.

Ha! Exactly, our teachers will be so proud of us.

Yeah, I guess those are the people who inspire me most but also the people who have stayed in Ireland. It’s a difficult time in Ireland, so I’ve great admiration for those who didn’t emigrate – we’re making it interesting to be here! 

A huge thank you to Jo for being so enthusiastic about this project. If you’d like to stalk her via social media (who wouldn’t?!), tell her I sent you via Twitter and Instagram!

Extraordinary Women: Maureen Grant

Maureen Grant

If one was to search the dictionary for a definition of Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, I imagine that the work, character and personality of Maureen Grant would be central to the description.

Visiting Maureen at her home was quite a surreal experience. Dispersed among the furniture and ornaments are framed photos of her with some of the globe’s most famous individuals. Our conversation began by Maureen telling me how Bono was in the Olympia recently. I asked how he was and she replied by saying ‘Ah sure, you know Bono…’

Em. No Maureen, I don’t.

Maureen Grant is an incredibly kind, warm and often hilarious person and I’m rather honoured to feature her as the most recent ‘Extraordinary Woman’.

Maureen GrantPhoto by Kyran O’Brien

Maureen, how would you describe yourself?

My name is Maureen, but of course, the Olympia is my life. I’m in the Olympia since 1949, since it was the ‘Old Time Musical Hall’ – though no one would remember that, they’re all gone now. I’m still there, I’m very happy there – I don’t be well sometimes but then who does? After all, I’ll be – I better not say my age! – ah well, I’ll be 89 on my next birthday in August. So I’ll be 68 years in the Olympia come June. I’ve had a lovely time there – hard times and good times – nice bosses and cranky bosses – but the people who are in management there at the minute, they top the list. Who are of course, Caroline Downey and her husband, Denis Desmond. They’ve both been very good to me in the Olympia and my other pal, Pat Egan. Over the years though, I’ve met some amazing people. People like Rebecca Storm, you name them…

You’ve met them.

Yes, I’ve met them. They come from America and even farther but I’m like the ‘Meet & Greet’ at the Olympia. I’ve met Tyrone Power, Laurel & Hardy, the Blues Brothers, who else? Well, everybody that’s anybody, really.

How did you first get the job at the Olympia?

Maureen & GayMy mother-in-law, Lord be good to her, she used to mind the babies for me. I knew that she was fed up minding though so she told me that she was going to get a job. ‘I wonder’, she says ‘is there any chance I could get a cleaning job, where I could do two to three hours’ but in them times you had to have ‘backers’, like a priest or somebody who you worked for. So I said to her, ‘what we’ll do is we’ll go down to Liberty Hall and we’ll find out there’.

So we went and met Frank Robinson, Lord be good to him, he was the boss down there and he said ‘I’m sorry, but we have no places for cleaners’ but he did say ‘there’s a barmaid’s job going up in the Olympia for three weeks’. My mother-in-law said ‘The Olympia Theatre? God no, I wouldn’t be interested in that’ but then we realised that Pat wasn’t talking to her but to me. He said to me ‘Maureen, that’d suit you down to the ground’. At the time though, I was seven months pregnant but no one ever knew.

How and ever, I went up to the theatre at 3:00pm, met the boss and he said ‘you know it’s only for three weeks. Meet Carmel at the stage door and tell her that you’re the girl that’s starting’. By this stage, I was sweatin’ but along came Carmel, a lovely girl, and she says, ‘I’m taking you up to the Circle Bar’ because in those days at the Olympia we used to have two houses a night; a half six one and a half eight one.

Up we went to the bar and she introduced me to a man named Mr. Kenny, he had a spittoon in the bar and you know, he’d never miss the spittoon. I used to think ‘oh, Jesus’ – especially with me not being a drinker or a smoker. I didn’t know what to think! He said to me ‘You’ll be grand once you get a night in’. That was grand and I asked him where do we pull the pints from. ‘Oh, we don’t pull pints here’, he says but I was after telling the manager downstairs that I worked in the Sadler’s Wells Theatre – I’d never even been across the bridge at the time. I said to myself, ‘now, what am I after landing myself into?’ We talked for a minute but then he points to the shelves and says ‘Do you see this? It’s bottles of stout that we serve here.’ ‘Just take it easy’, he says to me but of course, every second cork that I’d pull, I’d break and I kept hiding them in behind the others. The night passed and he congratulated me, ‘You done well, you done well’ he says.

I started on a Wednesday night, Monday morning was the stock take, in them times you had to go in for stock take, all the stuff was put up on the counter for the auditor and of course, all of the half-bottles were found… ‘I wonder how that happened’, Mr Kenny said. I had to admit it – ‘That’s alright’, he says ‘You didn’t do too bad’. Twelve bottles, I think it was and it was deducted out of my wages at a shilling a week. I was just worried that I wouldn’t get it cleared by the three weeks.

The three weeks passed, no sign of anything so Carmel says to me ‘Just keep coming in because your woman hasn’t come back yet’. So then I had to take Carmel, trust in her, and tell her that I was pregnant. ‘Just keep your mouth shut’, she says ‘just say you’re going on holidays’. ‘Holidays?’ That’s what I did and do you know, those three weeks turned into the amount of time that I’m in the Olympia. That girl never came back! So, yeah I went on “holidays”, I had the baby and I came straight back to work but of course, I was up and down and up and down, as I had a baby nearly every year. That was the time then, you know.

Maureen & Carrie UnderwoodYou had many a holiday!

Too many ha! But when Stanley Illsely and Leo McCabe took over the house (in 1952) I only had two days to go to give birth to Marie. I was in charge of the Circle, I was waiting to get my holidays the next night but that night, I got a fall. I fell in underneath the sink and I really didn’t know what to do.

We had St John’s Ambulance in those times and the two young lads were on duty. So, they brought me over to the couch and lay me down. In them years, we had great belief in cold tea leaves if you got a sprain. The boys, they’re pulling out this and pulling out that but I’m getting pains. So I says to them ‘Listen to me love, will you go over behind the bar – there’s a teapot there. The tea leaves will be cold in it by now, bring it over.’ ‘For what?’ he said. He brought it over and put the tea leaves all over my leg, and of course, Miss Leddy walked into the bar saying ‘Oh my God, Miss Grant. What’s wrong with you?’ Of course, she thought it was something else on the floor – it was red tea. The lads got me out but God love them, they were bringing me to Jervis Street Hospital. Instead though, I didn’t go to no hospital, I went home and got into bed.

The lady next door, Mrs Brackett, took the two young kids for the night and all of the fellas were up with Mrs. Grant but during the night, I hemorrhaged, so an ambulance arrived and whipped me off to hospital. There, they told me that I had damaged myself and that the only thing that they could for me was to keep me in, give me a teaspoon of castor oil, an enema and a hot bath every day. In the end, I was four weeks in the hospital because the afterbirth fell and stuck in the neck of the womb. In that time, it could quickly go one way or the other so I stayed in the hospital for the month and Marie was born on the Bank Holiday Monday. She was six pound of course then, everyone had heard that Maureen had a baby girl. In those years, you couldn’t be married and you couldn’t work if you were married.

Mr Illsely went to see Miss Leddy, he says ‘Miss Leddy, did you hear Miss Grant had a baby girl?’ She says ‘I did’. ‘Oh my God, does she know who the daddy is? Is it any of the lads backstage?’ says Mr Illsely. ‘Oh no, no, Mr Illsely, I have a confession to make’ she says, ‘What’s that?’ he says. ‘That’s Miss Grant’s eighth child!’ ‘Sacred heart of God’, he says ‘I don’t believe you, give me a large brandy! How did she do it?’

That went off anyway and I came home from the hospital. Of course, my job was gone. So, I got the uniform ready but I got a phone call from them asking to speak with me. Over I went to the office and I brought the uniform with me. Two gentlemen were there, they shook hands with me – they were very nice. He says to me, ‘Well Miss Grant, you certainly pulled the wool over our eyes there.’ I said, ‘Well, these things happen, Mr Illsely and Mr McCabe and I’m not going to apologise for it. It’s done and that’s that!’ They said ‘Well, we’ve been speaking to the Trade Unions, you’re a good unionist and we’ve decided that you’re going to stay – on condition.’ ‘What’s that?’ I say. He said, ‘That you don’t take holidays for the next seven years’. ‘I don’t want holidays’, I said ‘It’s never a holiday for me’. I went back to work and seven years to that day, practically – Mr Illsely and MrMcCabe only owned the theatre for three of those years – I had a baby boy.

How many children do you have in total, Maureen?

I had nine of my own and I adopted four. Now though, with the deaths and everything else, there’s not nearly as many. Just things that happened, but I can certainly say that all of the Directors of the Olympia Theatre, helped me out in all of the burials and difficulties. It’s a great place to work!

It certainly seems that way. In this city though, there are lots of different theatres and venues but what makes The Olympia Theatre special?

I don’t know what it is about it but it doesn’t matter what other theatre I go to, it has to be the Olympia Theatre for me. The customers that come in to me in my bar, they say ‘I’ll never go upstairs again. This is a great bar. There’s a great feeling here!’ and that makes me very happy but I just don’t think that there’s another theatre like it. Now the Gaiety Theatre; that would be next to it but it still hasn’t got the feeling that you get in the Olympia.

You have worked in the Olympia Theatre for such a long time but is there any moment in particular that you are most proud of?

It’s hard to say because I’m proud of every moment that I’m there.

What was it like when the bar was renamed?

Well, that nearly killed me with shock. I had an awful habit that if someone said ‘That’s a lovely photograph of you, Maureen’, I’d say, ‘Yeah, but I’d love to see my name up in lights’. So, they’re all on stage, it was the end of the show, we’re in the seats, jeerin’ and laughin’ and goin’ on. The actors were getting presented with this, that and the other. They called me up on stage, they presented me with a little trophy and they told me to close my eyes. ‘What are you going to do to me?’, I said. When I opened them, they told me to look up, where all of the cast were sitting down in the stalls.  I’m looking but I can’t see anything. ‘Look at the back of the theatre’, Brian Whitehead says to me. I was so excited that I didn’t know what I was looking for. ‘Look at your bar’, he says to me and when I saw ‘Maureen’s Bar’, I cried and when I looked down, they were all crying too. It seemed everybody was happy to see ‘Maureen’s Bar’ go up – it was a very special moment.

You eventually got your name up in lights!

I did, in a really special theatre too. Actually, I hope to die there.

Really?

Yeah, I’d be happy if I can die there. We’re not too far of it now… *laughs*

Not at all – I have a strong feeling that you’ll be with the Olympia for a while yet!

Thank you to both Maureen and Noelle for their involvement in this interview. The next time you’re in The Olympia Theatre – make sure to take a trip to Maureen’s Bar and say hello!

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