Cliona Hagan: I want to show young girls that if they want to make it, they can - country music isn't just a male-orientated scene and us females can be successful too
In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to country singer Cliona Hagan (30), who lives in Ballinderry, Co Tyrone.
Q. Tell us about your childhood
A. I grew up in Washing Bay, which is a lovely place not too far away from where I'm living now.
There's my mum Claire, dad Joe, me and my two sisters - Nicole is a hairdresser and Teresa works in sales. They would have sung a little bit as well when we were younger.
From a very young age, I was always singing around the house. I used to stay with my grandmother a lot and I remember putting on different shows and singing with her. It has always been a great passion of mine. Then, I got the opportunity to sing on the radio and it progressed from there.
I sang in the school choir and took part in all the school plays. I was very lucky to land leading roles - I played Mrs Johnston in Blood Brothers and Tallulah in Bugsy Malone. My parents and family members would always come to watch me. It was so much fun and I learned a lot being on the stage.
My parents have always been 100% supportive of my passion for singing. Just the other day my mummy told me she was very proud of me. You can't ask for more than a parent saying that.
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Q. What are you most proud of?
A. When I completed my first album, Straight To You, in 2016. All the hard work that went into it was worth it. The album went to number one in the iTunes Top Country Music Albums Charts and the recognition I got from it was just amazing. I am very happy that it reached number one, that it was welcomed so much and people enjoy it. I love it as well when people are singing your own songs back to you.
The past few years have been filled with accomplishments. I feel very humbled to have received Best Female Vocalist the past three years running in the Irish Post Country Music Awards.
Getting to represent Irish country music on Dancing with the Stars (on RTE) earlier this year was a wonderful experience.
I really have just loved it all and I'm proud of it all - I couldn't pick just one thing.
Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?
A. I got into the country music scene after I completed my teaching degree - I had graduated from Queen's University with a degree in music and then I qualified as a secondary music teacher from Edinburgh University - and I've always thought, 'I wonder if I had started any earlier, would it have made a difference?'
But I would have to say I don't have any regrets. This past six or seven years, I've just gone for every opportunity that has came my way. I'm enjoying myself, doing what I love to do and I'm not causing any harm to anyone - so, as for now I have no regrets because I just keep taking chances.
Q. Do you have any phobias?
A. I am petrified of spiders. One was on my arm the other day and I squealed like a pig. My friend was sitting beside me and, when I screamed, she practically threw her glass in the air and her water went all over her.
When I was younger, I watched the film Arachnophobia and ever since then I've been looking under my pillow, under towels, checking for spiders. It's ridiculous how afraid of them I am.
Q. The temptation you cannot resist?
A. Kinder chocolate. I'm obsessed with Kinder bars - I can't get enough of them.
Any time I'm in a shop I'm like, 'Right Cliona, don't look at the chocolate concession' because I'll just buy all the Kinder bars.
Q. Your number one prized possession?
A. I've got a little brooch of the country of Australia that my grandad Joe gave me years ago - I really treasure that.
Also, I still have a dog teddy bear that was given to me by my granny Mary when I was a baby. Both items hold a lot of sentimental value for me.
Q. The book that's most impacted your life?
A. I love reading fiction but I don't have one particular book that stands out for impacting my life.
I especially love, when I'm away on holiday, lying in the sun, reading a book because you really get lost in the characters.
I really enjoyed Irish writer Amanda Brunker's novels Champagne Kisses and Champagne Babes. She's brilliant - I messaged her to say I loved her books and she replied, which was lovely. I would recommend reading her books.
Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?
A. I would have the power to do what's right in every case. I would listen to my conscience rather than go with what others might think.
Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A. Someone chewing their gum loudly. Also, drivers who keep their indicators on when they have already made the turn - I mean, are you kidding me?
Q. Who has most influenced you in life?
A. I would say my mum and my late granny Mary.
They have always been such strong, positive and independent female figures in my life - I really respect those traits.
They morphed me into the woman I am today.
Any time I've experienced self-doubt, they have always been there to encourage me.
Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A. Number one would have to be Dolly Parton because she seems absolutely hilarious and I just think she would be the best craic to hang out with.
Second would be Elvis Presley because he was always so cool.
When I was growing up I watched a lot of his movies and I was head over heels in love with him.
I was also in love with Patrick Swayze so he would be my third choice - what a dancer, what an actor.
Q. The best piece of advice you ever received?
A. Don't let fear hold you back. When I was growing up, I was painfully shy - I had a fear of putting myself out there and people laughing at me. Now, I don't let my insecurities hold me back and I take every opportunity presented to me.
Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A. I'm very old school. My career keeps me very busy so when I do get a day off, I like to put my pyjamas on, light the fire, put a movie on and enjoy a glass of wine. I don't have much time to myself, so I treasure the time I get. I would love to learn Spanish - I keep saying I'm going to do it, but I never do. I think it's such a beautiful language. I would love to give it a go some day.
Q. The poem that touches your heart?
A. I couldn't ever say that any poem has touched my heart to be honest.
There's a song that I absolutely love, called I'll Need Someone To Hold Me (When I Cry), originally by Janie Fricke.
That song stands out to me because not only did I record it, but before I recorded it I sang it to my grandmother and I'll always remember her face when I did. For me, it's such a beautiful song with lovely words.
And, I do believe that, sometimes, everyone does need somebody to hold them when they're crying.
It's soppy but it's lovely.
Q. The happiest moment of your life?
A. Making it to the final of Dancing with the Stars (with her professional partner Robert Rowinski) was really cool because I didn't even think I was going to get halfway through. It was an experience that was out of my usual comfort zone and I took the leap.
Q. And the saddest?
A. I don't know about the 'saddest' moment, but I've had some very hard moments in the past where I was worrying how I could afford to keep the band going alongside everything else.
I remember pulling over, coming from a gig, and just bursting into tears. I thought, 'I can't do this. I have bills to pay - I can't go without even having a wage myself'.
I think that was probably the hardest moment, but in a way, it was good too because I appreciate everything so much more now.
Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?
A. My first concert in September last year at the Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen.
Performing and singing is fine but when it comes to talking to an audience who are sitting there, listening to you - it's something that doesn't come naturally to me.
It was a real turning point that night because the audience were there for me and they really gave me the confidence that I needed. It was great to get out there and chat and let people see who I am.
Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?
A. I always like to be in competition with myself and see how far I can progress myself as a person - that's what drives me forward. But not only that, it's also the people who spend their hard-earned money to buy my album or come to my shows and they have so much faith in me.
That gives me the motivation to keep on bettering myself.
Q. What's the philosophy you live by?
A. Again, don't let anything hold you back - take every opportunity that comes your way. That's the one thing I live by.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. I want to be remembered as someone who left a dent in the Irish country music scene. Especially for young girls, to show them that, if they want to do it, they can.
It's not just a male-orientated business, us females can do it as well.
Cliona Hagan's new single Get Your Redneck On! is out now. For more information visit clionahagan.com. Cliona and fellow country music star Nathan Carter headline the second annual Shoreline Music Festival at Enniskillen Castle Museums this summer. The pair will perform at the three-day event which runs from August 9-11. Tickets cost £25 and VIP tickets are £35. Visit eventbrite.co.uk/e/shoreline- music-festival-enniskillen- tickets-53836467323