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Pamela: I thought I'd be on the school run, but I've never been busier

Meeting kit Harrington is all in a day's work for Co Down Emmy award winning make-up artist Pamela Smyth

By Karen Ireland

Published 24/09/2016

Pamela Smyth with her Emmy award
Pamela Smyth with her Emmy award
Film family: Pamela with husband Mark
Screen ready: Pamela Smyth works her magic

A car accident on the freeway in Los Angeles almost caused Pamela Smyth (50) to miss the highlight of her career after being nominated for an Emmy award.

Pamela, who lives with her husband, Mark Lowry (48), and two children, Lex (13) and Myles (11), in Crawfordsburn, says: "I was late getting to the ceremony as there was a car accident on the freeway and we were held up.

"The ceremony had started when I arrived and they wouldn't let me in without a ticket. One of my team was inside with my ticket and they wouldn't let her out either.

"I was nearly hysterical about getting in and in the end they said the only way I could get in was with a police escort. So typical me to have a drama.

A policewoman had to walk me up the red carpet to where the team were. I was laughing to myself thinking that everyone must think I am really important with a police escort.

"Later, after I had won and was clutching my statue, I went back over to the policewoman, who was lovely, and thanked her for getting me in and told her it was well worth it because I had won."

Pamela admits she was surprised and delighted when she took the award for Outstanding Make-up in a single camera TV series for the Battle of Bastards in episode nine in the last season of the most watched television show in the world, Game Of Thrones, which is now attracting up to 25 million viewers per episode.

"To be honest, I was just thrilled to be invited and to enjoy all the hype and excitement and be surrounded by celebrities," she says.

"I am useless because I wouldn't even think to take my phone and take photographs. There were lots of people there from television who I recognised, but I couldn't tell you any of their names.

"I was excited to see Bob Newhart, who was the dad in Elf, and who I watched in comedy shows back when I was growing up.

"As it was in the afternoon and very hot, I opted for a simple Ralph Lauren dress as I didn't think it would be that dressy at that time of the day. Boy, was I wrong - the style was unbelievable."

Not one to be starstruck, Pamela has in the past done make-up for everyone from Liam Neeson to Natalie Portman and Gillian Anderson, and Game of Thrones stars such as Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke.

As well as Game of Thrones and The Fall - yes, she did indeed get to make over Mr Fifty Shades Jamie Dornan - other famous faces she has tended to include Elliott Gould, who gave her some sage advice about growing older when she was 24. He said: "We are all the same age, but some of us have been here a bit longer." And during the filming of Your Highness here, she was responsible for making James Franco and Danny McBride ready for their close-ups, as well as providing the cast with "300 unsullied spray tans" among a host of other things.

People often ask her how she ended up with the Game of Thrones job, not realising that she has worked on it from day one and is now in charge of a team of 50 artists who work with the extras.

"I had worked with the producers before on previous jobs, so they asked me to work on it from day one. I've been there for every season. It takes up about six months of my year," explains a proud Pamela, who works wherever the show is filming, be it Belfast, Spain, Croatia or Iceland.

"It sounds glamorous, and sometimes it is. I'm flying back and forth between destinations and living out of a suitcase. It's the closest I'll ever get to feeling like a rock star on the road touring."

The reality for Pamela, however, is 3am starts and long days on the set, managing the entire team and making sure that she sees every single extra involved before they go on screen, which can sometimes be up to 500 at a time.

"Game of Thrones is all about dirt and beards," she explains. "I check each and every one of the extras to make sure their make-up is right and that the continuity is correct.

"Sometimes, I have to check characters over Skype, but I see them all before filming.

"They are long days, but I love my job and I also feel very privileged to be doing it."

It is all pretty good for someone who fell into the work by accident.

Pamela grew up in a inner city terraced house and went to Orangefield School. Her father, Sandy worked for Ford Motors, while her mum, Lorna, had a part-time job in a shop on top of running the family home and bringing up Pamela and her sister.

"I am a working-class girl from east Belfast and was modelling since from when I was about 15 and always doing my own hair and make-up," she says.

"As I got older, I started to do less modelling and more make-up. The models asked me to do their make-up and it snowballed from there.

"When one of the models was asked to do a commercial, she asked me to do her make-up and I went along and loved it. The next time that company was shooting another commercial, they asked for me.

"I enjoyed it so much that I decided learn more and did specialist courses in London at Pinewood Studios and then in LA. After, more work came my way and I was travelling the world.

"I loved my work, and after I met Mark and settled down and had the boys, they came with me and we had a nanny a lot of the time.

"Then when the boys started school, I thought that side of my life would be over, that I would settle with the school run and the odd job, but I have honestly never been busier."

On meeting her husband of 18 years, Pamela says: "Mark is an art director in film and television and we met when we were both working on a film, Korea, in Dublin back in 1994. We got on really well, but I thought he just saw me as a good friend.

"Then, after the filming was over, he asked me out to dinner and we have been together ever since. It is coming up to our 20th anniversary soon and we plan to do something special and bring the boys with us and make them part of it."

According to Pamela, Mark is the core of the family and the one who looks after everyone.

"He does all the shopping, cleaning and cooking," she explains.

"He works on Thrones too, but his days are much shorter than mine. We meet up most days and have breakfast on set, but when he is only starting I have already been working for hours and I don't get home until well after him.

"Everyone thinks we are really cute sitting having breakfast together, but it is great to have that time to catch up with him and talk about what is going on in our lives.

"He has the dinner ready for me every night. I do realise how lucky I am to have him, but I am exhausted at night when I get home and couldn't start to make a meal for everyone.

"The boys are still too young to have seen Thrones, but they are aware of all the hype about it and know the characters, so they think mum and dad are pretty cool.

"Mark has taken them in to see the armoury, which they love, and I have used them as models when I was prepping for dead children in one of the episodes.

"They really loved doing it and I got great satisfaction out of involving them."

Pamela refers to herself as the "eternal student" and is forever studying new courses.

"I love learning and the more courses I do, the more I can offer clients and students," she says of her other baby, The Make-up Department.

"There are so many more creative opportunities for people in Northern Ireland now, with more films and TV programmes being filmed here.

"I have women working for me who never thought they would end up working on something as massive as Thrones, but they came and learned all the techniques and came out ready to become part of the team.

"In fact, my Emmy belongs to everyone. Everyone from the producers to the main actors down to the extras and everyone behind the scenes gets on really well with each other.

"We see the lead stars such as Kit and Emilia at the tea trolley and everyone had a chat and a laugh together."

Pamela reveals that the Game of Thrones stars, like any of the other big names she has worked with in Northern Ireland, love Belfast: "When James Franco was here for Your Highness, he would fly over to New York and be back in one day for a workshop. All the actors love the people here because they are real. They don't get mobbed or pursued by the paparazzi like they would elsewhere.

"I will really miss it (Game Of Thrones) because we are now on our final stretch, but there are new opportunities."

Away from work, Pamela likes to relax and spend as much time with her husband and their boys as possible.

"We just enjoy doing ordinary things and spending time outdoors," she tells me.

She reveals that in the summer they went on holiday to LA, which is where, ironically, she found out about her Emmy nomination. 

"We stayed with a friend of mine who lives out there and went to Universal Studios," Pamela says.

"Then I was whisked back here for the awards and then back home again. It was like a dream come true."

Pamela adds that her statue is now basking in full glory in front of a mirror in her living room.

"She might move around a bit and end up in the dining room the next time I have a dinner party," she jokes.

Belfast Telegraph

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