'I felt hopeless and broken and that I would never achieve anything or be happy ever again ... but then the Prince's Trust helped me to turn my life around'
The tragic death of his dad and business failures led Coleraine man Ryan McIntyre to think of taking his own life, but now that he is an ambassador for the charity set up by Prince Charles, he tells Ivan Little he wants to say thanks for its help in rebuilding his career.
Coleraine man Ryan McIntyre's world almost fell apart as a teenager when he lost his 'hero' father to a rare heart condition - and just a few years later he thought about ending his own life.
Distraught Ryan was still so grief-stricken and depressed about crises in the business he ran after his dad's death that he admits he contemplated suicide.
But Ryan stepped back from the brink and earlier this month he mixed with the likes of ex-footballer Thierry Henry, broadcaster Phillip Schofield and actor Tom Hardy at a glittering awards ceremony in London to recognise the achievements of inspirational young people like himself who have fought back against the odds.
Ryan, who is 26, was one of a quartet of hopefuls in the running for a prestigious Prince's Trust honour, a nomination which he knows would have made his late father proud.
He didn't win it but that was almost incidental for Ryan, who could never have imagined there would be such a bright light at the end of his very dark tunnel after his dad Ian McIntyre died in 2006 at the age of just 39, when Ryan was only 14.
"We were all shattered," says Ryan. "Dad passed in his sleep.
"It was completely unexpected. It was later established that he had an undiagnosed heart problem."
Cardiomyopathy is the condition that has claimed the lives of young sportsmen here at cruelly early ages. Ian was the chairman of the highly successful East End youth football club in Coleraine, for whom Ryan played.
Ian, who also sponsored the fledgling Northern Ireland girls football league, was described as a sporting visionary.
The shock and sorrow over his death were accompanied by the reality that the McIntyres had to somehow keep the family floor-covering businesses in Coleraine and Cloughmills going without Ian's guiding hand.
Three years later at the age of 17, Ryan - who was studying business management with a view to becoming an accountant - dropped out of college to help his mother Heather run the stores.
"But the stress of running the business, missing my friends and the loss of my father took a heavy toll on me," he says.
"That's when the depression really kicked in. I was struggling with simple things like getting out of bed in the morning and even talking to anyone."
Ryan got so low that he seriously thought about suicide.
But he says: "The only thing that saved me was that I didn't want to put my family through even more grief."
Ryan spent six weeks in hospital in 2010 being treated for his depression and the stay helped him to deal with his demons.
"I learnt how to control my emotions and not to overthink the bad thoughts," he says.
"They also encouraged me in hospital to accept that tomorrow is always another day."
But while his personal difficulties were being confronted after his discharge from hospital, the economic challenges for his business were soon so overwhelming again that the young man made the decision to make himself redundant.
The Cloughmills business was shut down and Ryan, who was then 22, tried to set up his own car cleaning operation. But after a nine-month struggle to get planning permission for a permanent site, the plan ended in failure. Ryan lost all his money.
"I felt hopeless and broken and that I would never achieve anything or be happy again," he says.
For the first time in his young life Ryan was unemployed, but after three fruitless months looking for work his luck changed in the local job centre.
It was there that staff told him about the Prince's Trust, a youth charity that gives disadvantaged young people crucial help to find a job.
Ryan says: "I'd never heard of the Trust before. But the leaflet I got sounded interesting, especially their 'Get into Retail' programme."
Ryan did four weeks' work experience at a Marks & Spencer's store in Coleraine on its employability programme Marks & Start.
The upshot was that Ryan gained a part-time job with M&S, and although it was a low-key break back into retailing, it helped restore his self-esteem.
Ryan was eventually offered a place on the M&S trainee management programme which took him to the company's Foyleside store to run its cafe, before moving to its Junction outlet store in Antrim where he still works as a section manager with responsibilities for 36 staff members.
Meanwhile, in his spare time Ryan became a young ambassador for the Trust. "I wanted to give something back to them for turning my life around," he says.
Ryan received public speaking training and was involved in The Big Debate at Parliament Buildings with Carl Frampton (left).
He has also told his story to businesses across Northern Ireland to raise awareness of the work of the Trust.
He has also co-hosted an awards ceremony and met with political leaders here and in London.
Ryan has adopted a mentoring role, giving regular support and advice to young people who are in the same position he found himself not so long ago.
A Trust insider says: "Ryan is a shining example to other young people on the Prince's Trust programme.
"He brings a unique, understanding and empathetic approach to mentoring.
"He is a fantastic role model - someone who young people can relate to having completed a Prince's Trust programme himself and having had such a positive outcome since completion."
Ryan went on to win the Prince's Trust Young Ambassador of the Year Northern Ireland award last year and was shortlisted for the UK Mentor of the Year 2018 award.
It was supported by the Good Morning Britain TV programme, which featured Ryan's story.
Ryan says that even though the award by public vote eluded him, his confidence has soared - and he's hoping that his long-term future can see him progressing through the managerial ranks at M&S. Ryan hasn't actually met Prince Charles, (below), whose Trust he is promoting, but he and his mother Heather have been invited to a Royal garden party to celebrate the heir to the throne's 70th birthday at Buckingham Palace later this year.
Ryan, who is a Liverpool FC fan, occasional golfer and motorcycling enthusiast, says he would recommend the Prince's Trust to any young people seeking assistance.
He says: "The amount of support they give in so many fields is absolutely incredible.
"I've met many young people who have regained their lives thanks to the Trust at a time when the employment environment is not easy.
"I learned the hard way that sometimes all you need is someone to believe in you and give you some practical support and encouragement.
"Making a difference to other young people's lives just by sharing my own experience, skills and knowledge is a hugely rewarding way to repay a little of the faith people had in me."
Ryan says the Trust has helped an estimated 825,000 young people like him in the 42 years since the Prince of Wales set up his charity. The Prince had just finished his service in the Royal Navy when he established the Trust to "improve the lives of young people in the UK".
The 1970s were a particularly difficult time, with record levels of unemployment and spiralling inflation.
A Trust spokesman said: "The Prince used his Navy severance pay - £7,400 - to fund a number of community initiatives."
The 1980s weren't much better on the jobs front and unemployment rose above three million.
The next two decades saw the Trust building on its work to help young people get a foothold in society.
But economic recession was to rear its head again after 2010, which the Trust says had a devastating impact on young people - with one in five 16 to 25-year-olds out of work.
Ryan says the Trust's success rates in redressing the situation speak for themselves.
Studies have shown that three out of four people that the Trust has helped have achieved a positive outcome, moving into education, employment or training.