How Rachel turned her life around after tragic loss of dad
Rachel Dean's life was thrown into chaos when dad Graham died in front of her on the eve of her A-levels. Suddenly her university place and hopes of becoming a journalist were in jeopardy... but now she's doing her dream job with the Belfast Telegraph.
Every morning, Rachel Dean takes the bus into Belfast city centre and catches the next one to Queen's University. Her fellow commuters, whether they're bored or dreading another day, or even looking forward to it, don't realise there is a very brave young soul among them.
It's usually only curious people, or some writers, who might wonder what the story is behind that pretty face when she's taking her seat, not too formally dressed, and checking her texts and emails and all that social media stuff, on her iPhone.
This girl, at the tender age of 18, watched her father collapse and die in front of her, and her mother Anna and brother Michael, on his way to an ambulance in front of their home on the Ballygomartin Road. Graham Dean was only 47 when his aortic vein suddenly ruptured and killed him, within half an hour. Graham, a Specsavers manager, had not been in a car crash or any form of trauma - it was a biological fluke. His family still don't know why; and when he collapsed on that summer's night, they didn't realise he was gone for good.
For the next two hours, they sat and prayed in a hospital waiting room, while a surgeon struggled to stave Graham's internal bleeding. In one minute, Rachel Dean was swotting for her Sociology A-level exam the following day; the next, she had lost the daddy who had so dearly wished for her to have a university education.
"It hasn't really hit me yet; it was so sudden and I was in the middle of my exams," she says, her voice child-like and open. "I'd wanted to go to England to study English Literature, but daddy didn't want me to go. He said he'd get me a car and pay for driving lessons - he was bribing me. He would have been fuming at what happened next."
Traumatised and grief stricken, Rachel's mother Anna, a care assistant, had to phone her school to tell the headmaster she was unable to sit her Sociology exam that morning. A committed student, Rachel had achieved an A grade in the first part of her course last year.
Incredibly, the exams board then refused to take Rachel's bereavement into consideration, leaving her at risk of losing her offered place at Queen's University.
But an A in English and a C in History were enough for Queen's to accept her, despite their initial requirement of higher grades.
Unlike the strict Joint Qualifications Council (JQC) exam board, the university was prepared to take into account Rachel's excellent course work for her Sociology course and her A grade in the 2014 paper in the subject.
"When they said they'd accept me, I burst into tears - so did mum," Rachel recalls. "Dad would have been angry about all that, but he would be so proud now, with me and my brother both at university."
Rachel is an avid reader, and has her sights set on a career in journalism. This newspaper covered the story of how Rachel so tragically lost her dear daddy, and on learning about her ambition for a job in journalism, Editor Gail Walker got in touch with the young woman, offering her an opportunity to get some real experience in a busy news environment - out on the streets of Belfast city centre spotting the most stylish and best-dressed women for the weekly Fashionspy slot. As a part-time sales assistant for River Island in the city centre, Rachel is well qualified for the assignment and you can see her efforts which feature today.
"After I had been interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph about the problem with my A-levels, Gail contacted me about Fashionspy and asked if I would be interested," she recalls.
"It is such a brilliant opportunity and I really enjoyed my first go at it on Monday.
"At first, I felt a little awkward, as I was afraid I wouldn't get the details right or even be able to write that quickly.
"I was surprised by how many people didn't mind being interviewed and photographed. I'm looking forward to covering Fashionspy, and I'm excited to meet all different kinds of people with different styles and inspirations.
"It only took roughly over an hour because so many people were willing to take part when they found out I was a student and that I was just starting out, doing my first Fashionspy.
"I mostly looked out for anyone whose style caught my eye, or those who had some shopping bags, as I knew they might be more willing to talk about their fashion sense and monthly spend.
"I was surprised at how honest one girl was about how little she paid for some of her clothes. I admired her honesty and it was quite funny, we had a laugh about it.
"Everyone else I interviewed were just as down-to-earth and friendly. I was also quite surprised by some people's monthly spends as it made me question how much I spend on clothes myself - too much."
Rachel's only regret is that her father didn't get to see her name in print.
"He would be so happy for me. It's weird him not being here; it hasn't really registered yet," she says.
"All the exams stuff was a distraction, in a way. I'm not very religious; I don't feel dad around me, but my auntie (his sister) does. We're all getting together at Christmas in our house, both sides of the family.
"I'm not looking forward to it, but it will be good to have everyone there.
"It will be just me and mum and my brother in the morning, and then everyone later. My nanny, too. I don't know what it's like to lose a child; it must be so hard for her."
Meanwhile, Graham's two year-old niece, Edith, will be the centre of attention for the extended family at Christmastime. "She's such a happy wee thing," says Rachel.
"Daddy was very fond of her. She hasn't hit the terrible-twos yet. Edith's a family name which she has inherited - my auntie's Edith, too.
"I hope I'll see him again one day. We all do."
Rachel is saving her earnings from her part-time jobs to pay her university fees after she graduates.
She hopes to study for a Master's degree in English Literature and would consider teaching the subject.
"I was really nervous starting at Queen's - I didn't know anybody, but I have made all these new friends," she says. "All my own friends have been great through all of this, too, amazing. They're always there when you need them. We've been offered grief counselling, but I haven't done that yet. But it's good to know that it's there."
In the midst of her studies and part-time job, Rachel is enjoying pounding the pavements as a reporter for the Belfast Telegraph, style spotting all the city's most fashion-conscious women for Fashionspy.
"It's funny, at the start of the term, the students are all trying to be trendy and to look good. Then after a few week, it's like, throw on a jumper and get on with it. They all make more of an effort when they're going out at night, but during the day, it's like, 'Who cares'?
"Doing Fashionspy is really good experience, though, and people have been really open with me. I feel really lucky to have got the chance and I hope to do more human interest stories for the paper one day. Daddy would be so happy for me."