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What a difference a decade makes - how we have changed since our school years

Model Gisele Bundchen has revealed how she was taunted in her younger years for her looks. Here, five well-known people tell Kerry McKittrick about how they got on with their fellow pupils

Published 06/06/2016

School prefect: Noel Thompson
School prefect: Noel Thompson
Noel Thompson today
Young tomboy: Tiffany Brien as a Rockport pupil
Tiffany Brien as she is now
Big features: Gemma Garrett at school
Gemma Garrett today
Pamela Ballantine as a child
Stand tall: Gisele Bundchen
Gisele as a school child (second left), at a time when she had to deal with taunting

Too tall, too skinny, buck-teeth and gangly legs - it's the perfect description of the ugliest girl in school. It's also how Gisele Bundchen described herself when she was younger. At just 14, she was already 5ft 11in and was nick-named Olive Oyl after Popeye's girlfriend.

It's a far cry from her current role as one of the world's most successful supermodels. Indeed, at 35, she remains a regular feature in those 'most beautiful woman in the world' lists. She is married to Tom Brady, a star American football player and the pair have two children. For more than 10 years she has been the highest paid supermodel in the world.

It's hard to believe that the Brazilian beauty, who boasts a net worth estimated to be around £300m, had such a poor opinion of herself as a teenage schoolgirl.

Times have certainly changed for the woman who was bullied at school and subjected to hurtful name-calling.

We talk to five local people about their younger selves and find out just how much they have changed since their school days.

Former Miss Northern Ireland Tiffany Brien (25) is an estate agent and champion sailor. She says:

At school I was totally different  — I was the biggest tomboy ever. I wore trainers and combat trousers the whole time. I’ve sailed all my life but I started sailing competitively when I was 14. Before that took up all of my time, I was doing every sport and joining every team I could be on — everything from cross-country to hockey to table tennis. I went to Rockport prep school, where I stayed until 5.30pm each day. After classes finished I played sport and that suited me down to the ground.

I always wanted to be a sailor from a very young age and I never made any other plans. I knew even then that I wasn’t going to university. In fact, I never went to a single careers class because sailing was all I was ever going to do.

I never got bullied when I was younger but then again I was quite tough so I don’t think anyone would have had the nerve. Being sporty also brought a lot of friends with it because you were always on a team and you had to get on together.

I was very into girl-bands at school — I loved the Spice Girls, All Saints and B*Witched. I didn’t really like boybands. And I certainly wasn’t very conscious about my appearance. I don’t think I wore make-up until I was in fifth form and I didn’t dye my hair or get my nails done until I’d won Miss Northern Ireland.

After Rockport, I went on to Sullivan and then moved to Methodist College. I don’t think I would have changed any of it. I was always quite involved at school and being in teams or groups brings you more friends. I also think playing sport gave me confidence — physical confidence at the very least.

I got straight As in my GSCEs but didn’t do so well in my A-levels — probably because I was away for most of the year before them. As I said, I didn’t want to go to uni anyway, so I wasn’t overly concerned with my results.

University wouldn’t have been for me — I wouldn’t have been able to do the whole student thing because I would have been away sailing so much.

I did take a break from sailing at 22 to do Miss Northern Ireland and after that I became an estate agent.

Now I have the best of both worlds as I’m working my way up the career ladder and still sailing — I have both the British and Irish Championships next month.”

Gemma Garrett (34) is a model, make-up artist and a former Miss GB. She says:

When I was a kid I went through a couple of different stages. I went through a real geeky stage and then became a real tomboy and played lots of football.

I had really big teeth when I was younger and everyone told me I would grow into them, which thankfully I eventually did.

I think I was well out of my teens before I grew into my looks. I always had big features which are all the rage now, but they weren’t back when I was growing up.

I’m really happy about my teeth now, but as a teenager I didn’t feel so great about them. I was certainly an ugly duckling.

I went to Brooklands Primary School in Dundonald which I absolutely loved and then I went to Bloomfield College which I hated.

It was an all-girls school which was quite bitchy and there could be a bit of bullying.

I wasn’t a girly-girl back then — I’m very far removed from my teenaged self. When I was younger I listened to Bros and Kylie Minogue but then I started rebelling against anything girly so I turned to rap and Eminem.

I definitely gave my parents a spot of trouble when I was growing up.

My mum always said I was the best child, but that I became a horror as a teenager.

I would sneak out to nightclubs, smoke and drink underage — all that sort of thing.

There wasn’t anything too serious but it was all stuff that your parents didn’t want you to do as a teenager.

Still, at least the police never came to the door.”

Noel Thompson (59) presents Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster. He is married with two sons and says:

I was an enthusiastic but not brilliantly proficient sportsman at school — I went to Campbell College in Belfast. I was captain of the second cricket team and played rugby for the fifths. I really enjoyed sport.

I always sang and still do — I was in the choir and sang in a rock band, too.

I was always good at languages and something of a non-starter at science. We had to make a choice at 13 if we were going to follow a language path or a science path. I decided to do languages at A-level and thought that I would go on to be an international businessman. I did German, French and English for A-level. I hadn’t a notion about business, but that’s what I wanted to do.

I wasn’t one of the cool kids — I don’t think we particularly had any in my time at the school. I was school prefect and head of my house though. My grades were good — I got an A1, A and B in my A-levels and won a scholarship to Cambridge.

I had spots when I was young but I wouldn’t have said I had any huge image issues. I think I was quite sensible about it all.”

Pamela Ballantine (57) is a TV and radio presenter. She says:

Back when I was a child, I was desperately shy — I didn’t come out of myself until I went to school in England for a year.

I also played a lot with my brother, so his mates were my mates and I was something of a tomboy. I played cricket, football, rugby and all that kind of thing, even though I hated sports like netball and hockey at school and didn’t like to get involved.

I often say if I wasn’t doing what I do today not one person in that school would remember who I was. I hated my ears as child because they stuck out. I would never get my hair cut short and I always wore alice bands to try and hide them.

I did grow into them though.

I was mediocre at school because I wasn’t pushed — I have three or four good friends who were about the same.

Schools tend to focus on you if you’re doing really well or really badly but I was just middle of the road.

I wasn’t stupid and got nine O-levels but I didn’t want to go to university, so I didn’t bother with A-levels.

I never really did know what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be a nanny for a while which is hilarious as I don’t have a maternal bone in my body.

I just thought it was a glamorous lifestyle that would take you all over the world.”

Pete Snodden (35) is a DJ with Cool FM. He met his wife Julia (35), a classroom assistant, when they were both studying at the University of Ulster, Coleraine. They have two daughters, Ivana (6) and Eleyna (18 months). He says:

For me school was all about playing hockey. I recently found a load of my old reports and they all have lots of references to hockey and how if I spent less time on the hockey field and more time knuckling down to my studies I might do better. I was certainly a middle of the road student.

That suited me though — for me playing sport and getting involved in clubs was where I was at. Because of that I made great friends at school, and I’m still friends with many of these people now.

 In the Nineties I was listening to bands like the Prodigy — dance music was very big for me when I was a kid as it still is. In saying that, I also liked bands like Oasis and The Verve.

Urban Hymns is my favourite album of all time and my first big gig was seeing The Verve at Slane in 1998.

I was an only child, so I always had a good relationship with my parents. We lived in Bangor but I got the train to school in Belfast every day, so I was pretty independent. My social circle was in Belfast and those were the days of the Troubles. 

My parents were most concerned about knowing where I was, not what I was up to, so I never felt the need to rebel against them. I knew I wanted to be a DJ from when I was about 10 years old, but everyone I went to school with went on to be dentists or doctors.

My friends would joke about it, but there were some boys who tried to make my life a bit difficult because of it.

I don’t talk about it much but it was around the time when I was in third form.

I remember coming through that particular stage and wondering what I had done wrong. In saying that, the experience drove me forward because I was always keen to prove that I could do what I had said I would do and I’ve made a career out of being a DJ. I don’t look back with utter regret, but nor do I think I was the coolest kid.

If I were to do it all again I would tell myself not to worry as much because I always worried about fitting in. However, I didn’t have any confidence issues.

I think kids always want acceptance when they’re young. I think as a kid I was just like my grades — somewhere in the middle.”

Belfast Telegraph

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