Jemma McGrath: ‘I was shot nine times but now I have turned my life around and have my own business’
Last night extraordinary young people from across Northern Ireland were celebrated in a glittering awards ceremony held at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. The Prince's Trust and TK Maxx and Homesense Awards recognised the achievements of young people who have succeeded against the odds, improved their chances in life, and had a positive impact on their local community, as well as those who have played a part in supporting the work of the trust.
Jemma McGrath, who now lives in north Belfast, won the Northern Ireland Ulster Bank Enterprise Award.
The 29-year-old was shot nine times five years ago and was told she would never walk again. During her long recovery she studied to become a beauty therapist, finally setting up her own business Makeupurlife. Five years to the day of the shooting, she picked up the keys to her new premises.
I grew up in a community filled with religious and racial hate and fought my way through life," she says. "I worked in care but used drugs and alcohol out of hours and let my life spiral out of control when my dad died.
"Coming from a broken home and having responsibility of looking out for my wee brothers just gave me a burden and made me spitting fire and angry at everybody in life. The drink and drugs got me into trouble in the end and I ended up getting shot nine times.
"I came home from work at around 10pm and was approached by masked men. I was shot five times in one leg, once in another leg, twice in one arm, and once in the stomach. I remember lying on the ground and looking behind me, seeing that they were away. I remember saying to myself 'just think positive' and I even tried to ring my own ambulance.
"I didn't think I was going to die, not for one minute. And I think that is what gave me inner faith. It was just a mind over matter for me. It sounds really extreme to other people, but being brought up in east Belfast on the peaceline, you were brought up to hate people because of their religion and beliefs. I was brought up in a rough area that was being run by paramilitaries. It's sad to say but I have had so many friends who have been shot before, so listening to their stories, I knew that you got shot, you got pain relief. I knew how it worked.
"When the ambulance came, I asked the paramedic if could I have my pain relief now? I was so calm. The ambulance man said he had never seen someone as calm as me in that situation. I remember even telling my mum to calm down.
"I was trained in first aid. I couldn't do anything about my leg, it was out of control, I was trying not to look at it, but I was holding my arm over my stomach, to keep pressure on it. Everything is a clear as day to me.
"I was in surgery for 12 hours, in hospital for a month and then spent three months in a wheelchair. It was just rehabilitation after that. I suffer from post-traumatic stress. If you looked at me you probably wouldn't realise that there is anything wrong. But inside my leg I am like the tin woman. There are plates and pins and screws and all sorts holding me together."
The then chief constable of the PSNI, Matt Baggott, blamed the UVF for the shooting.
In 2017, Jemma began to turn her life around. "Last year I went to counselling, which was great, and I also started on an antidepressants. And that was when I connected with the Prince's Trust."
Jemma says that she was always a driven, stubborn and determined person. As well as proving doctors wrong, she set out to prove the people who shot her wrong, too. As she learned to walk again, she also perfected her beauty skills and planned for a bright future.
"I did a make-up course in the April and I was shot in September, so when I got out of hospital and I was in a wheelchair I had a make-up box and sat and did tutorials," she says. "That is what I focused on first of all. I started to do more and more courses.
"I set up my brand, Makeupurlife. The name had a double meaning for me. Yes it was about make-up but it was also about how I was going to make up my life. You make it up in your mind, you make it up in your reality.
"I joined the Prince's Trust to learn a bit more about business. And then I created my own eyelash brand from scratch.
"I met my Prince's Trust mentor Sandra and she was so positive and helped me look at life through business eyes. I had never known anyone in business. It made me think that I could be something big. And the next thing I knew I hadn't thought about the shooting in a long time."
Jemma says that winning the award feels 'amazing' and that she is finally proud of herself.
"Winning the award was such a confidence builder for me," she said. "It has really made me think that I should be proud of myself. Now I've just taken on my own premises and I'm going to be developing courses of my own. It has been amazing and I really feel like I am on the right path and I have the right people around me.
"It's crazy how things can just turn around. It was funny, I signed for my premises in September and the shooting came up on my Facebook memories from five years ago that morning. It turned out I was picking up the keys to my new business premises five years to the day that I was shot. It was fate."