The stunning Belfast actress tells why she is organising a charity ball following the death of her beloved gran.
She’s played numerous characters from a modern day man-eating Rebecca Loos to an ambitious Regine in Ibsen’s classic Ghosts, but Belfast actress Seainin Brennan is about to take on a completely different role.
The 33-year-old Guildford-trained thespian has taken time out from her busy schedule to organise a huge charity black-tie event this October to raise much-needed funds for the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
And the inspiration for her project is her beloved grandmother Maureen Rafferty, who passed away in the summer of 2003 after losing a brief battle with cancer.
Maureen, described by Seainin as “an ordinary Belfast woman who lived for her family”, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January of 2003. Her desperate family immediately searched the internet for a cure but soon realised there was little hope.
“Our grieving began from that moment,” says Seainin.
“I come from a big family and everyone rallied round to support my granny and each other. We developed a rota to ensure granny would be completely looked after properly in the comfort of her home in Belfast.
“But she became so ill and went to the hospice for respite. We were lucky because my granny was admitted to the hospice — due to lack of funding and limited spaces the hospice cannot care for everyone.”
Maureen was helped through her illness by the specialist medical staff of the hospice.
According to Seainin, the respite care and support provided by the Hospice were “invaluable” and prompted her and her family to organise several fund-raising parties for the organisation — one in Donegal, where the Brennans have a holiday home, and one in Belfast.
They raised a whopping £25,000 and divided the money between the adult hospices in Donegal and Belfast.
Touched by the generosity of all those who donated, Seainin has now decided to go the extra mile and organise a spectacular event next month to raise funds for the Children’s Hospice.
It’s a tall order, but she’s confident her White Sapphire Ball at the Europa Hotel in Belfast on Saturday, October 3, will be a major success.
“I’m pulling out all the stops for this event and want it to be on a par with some of the biggest and best red-carpet bashes in London,” she says.
“The support I’ve received so far has been staggering, I’ve got some tremendous auction prizes from some major stars and I’m thrilled with how things are going.
“I thought we might have been a bit cut off here in Belfast but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m amazed at how many big names have agreed to donate after I basically sent off begging letters.
“We’ve got prizes from the likes of Madonna, Sir Elton John, the cast of Hollyoaks, Queen’s Brian May and, locally, from people like Michael Deane, Gerard McCarthy and Rory McIlroy.
“On the night there will be a Champagne reception and music by the Methody Junior Choir and the Ireland String Quartet. Then I’m delighted that we will have the brilliant Riverdance performing and Hole in the Wall gang member Tim McGarry will be doing a comedy routine. It’s going to be a great night and I really, really hope the people of Northern Ireland come out and support it.”
Seainin says she was always brought up to believe in “giving back” and was so moved by the kindness of the volunteers and medical staff who looked after her granny, that she decided this was the best way to say thank you.
“We’re a big family and pretty tight as well, so when my granny took ill we were all devastated,” she says.
“My grandad had passed away some time before and my granny was always quite an independent woman. But she was only given six months to live and when she became very ill it was suggested that she go to the hospice for respite care.
“I just thought it was an amazing place where so many people gave up their time to provide help and support.
“I immediately saw the good in the hospice. Everywhere you look there are people who care — those who dedicate their lives to ease human suffering and those who dedicate their time and services free of charge.
“When someone in your family is so ill, you are rendered powerless — your love is so strong but you cannot give them the medical attention they so desperately need.
“That’s why we decided to arrange the two parties to raise money for the Children’s Hospice. We were lucky in that my granny got that respite care, but plenty of other people can’t because of limited space and funds.”
Seainin took three months out of her schedule to come back to Belfast to help her family with the previous fundraisers.
BBC presenter John Daly agreed to host the Belfast party, while well-known names including Riverdance co-founder Moya Doherty, composer Phil Coulter and tennis ace Greg Rusedski all donated prizes. A sports bar in New York snapped up Rusedski’s tennis racket for $5,000.
Seainin says: “I was always very close to my granny, so doing this was a way to keep that closeness. When she died I was with her. That meant a lot to me because I was able to say a proper goodbye. We were all there with her and she died peacefully surrounded by her family.”
Following the two fundraisers, Seainin returned to London to continue with her acting career.
A former Methodist College pupil, she tells me she could sing before she walked and was always interested in musical theatre.
“I loved escaping into a fantasy world when I was a child,” she says.
“My first professional job was with the Lyric Theatre in the production Peter Pan. I also did a few television ads.
“I joined the Apollo Theatre Group at the age of 10 or 11 and decided to audition for the role of Louisa Von Trapp in the Sound of Music at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.
“Looking back, there were always the same faces at those auditions and we all got to know each other well.
“I was really lucky and landed the role. I can remember waiting in the wings and thinking how wonderful it all was. I think that’s when I caught the acting bug.”
After the Grand Opera House production, Seainin landed a presenter’s role on the BBC youth show Why Don’t You? She also successfully auditioned for a part in a big West End production, Educ Aid, while still at school.
“When I came off stage my parents told me they had been approached by scouts from the Italian Conti and Sylvia Young schools, offering me places, but they thought I was too young,” she says.
Despite her theatrical interest and obvious talent, Seainin decided it was better to return to school and continue her education. She passed her A Levels and was accepted by the University of Ulster to study European Political Administration with Spanish. It was, however, a world away from her dreams of being an actress.
After achieving a masters degree in European Political Administration from the College of Europe of Bruges, Seainin landed a prestigious internship at the Secretariat General of the European Commssion. But her heart still belonged to the stage.
“Then, I heard that the Ulster Theatre Company was casting for West Side Story, so I went along to the audition and landed one of the lead roles, Rosalia,” she explains.
“Next, I applied to three drama schools, LAMDA, Webber Douglas and the Guildford School of Acting. All three offered me places but I accepted Guildford because I wanted to sing as well as dance.
“My parents couldn’t understand why I was leaving an excellent career but when I explained that this was my dream, they told me to follow it.
“They told me: ‘Reach for the moon — even if you miss you will land among the stars’. That has since become my motto.”
Since drama school, Seainin has rarely been out of work, starring in numerous theatrical productions and radio dramas.
Her roles have included Guilietta Trapani in Aspects of Love at the Electric Theatre in Guildford, Helen Woods in Scenes from the Big Picture for Primecut Productions, Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Regine in the world premiere of the Frank McGuinness adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts, Caroline in Martin Lynch’s version of An Enemy of the People for BBC Radio 3 and Rebecca Loos in the Olympia Theatre comedy Macbecks. It’s a varied and colourful portfolio.
The Dos and Don’ts for the Mentally Interesting, for BBC Radio 4, in which she played the lead role, was chosen as the Pick of the Day by the Guardian, Times and Observer newspapers while Scenes From the Big Picture received an Irish Times Theatre Nomination for Best Production in its theatre awards in February 2008.
Seainin’s performances have won her rave reviews across Ireland and the UK.
As Regine in Ghosts, the British Theatre Guide described her as ‘potent and authoritative’. The Mail on Sunday said she was ‘perfect as the pert and pushy maid’.
The critic for Off The Wall magazine praised her ‘dazzling peformance’ and said he hoped to see her in many more dramas.
But he’ll have to wait a while before she returns to the stage, for the dark-haired actress will be busy for the next few weeks organising her White Sapphire Ball.
“A few years ago, when I was playing Snow White at the Waterfront Hall, I met a group of children from the Children’s Hospice,” she recalls.
“It was an emotional time for me. My family had just lost a young member tragically the night before and, to be honest, I didn’t think I was strong enough to meet them.
“I started to cry but the nurse told me not to. I told her what had happened and she told me to be strong.
“Those children really comforted me, their big smiles really helped me. And for that reason, too, I really want to help them now. I will never forget that moment and am so grateful that I met them on that day in my life. Things happen for a reason.
“The Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice only receives 10% government funding. Yet it costs £2m to run each year so it is essential that a voluntary income of £1.8m is raised to keep the doors of Horizon House opened.
“That’s why I hope as many people as possible will come out to support the White Sapphire Ball. It’s going to be a fantastic night for Northern Ireland and all in aid of a very special cause.”
Table packages – a table consists of 10 people. White Sapphire VIP: £2,500. Platinum Package: £2,000. Gold Package: £1,500. Silver Package: £1,000 sold out. For all event information log onto thewhitesapphireball.com