| 9.1°C Belfast

Rachel Dean's Big Ask: Apprentice star Grainne McCoy on why our education system is failing non-academic children


Close

 Grainne McCoy
Photography Declan Roughan

Grainne McCoy Photography Declan Roughan

Grainne McCoy

Grainne McCoy

Inspirational trip: Grainne McCoy is just back from Ethiopia where she helped a charity build houses

Inspirational trip: Grainne McCoy is just back from Ethiopia where she helped a charity build houses

Proud mum: Grainne with son Ryan

Proud mum: Grainne with son Ryan

Grainne on The Apprentice

Grainne on The Apprentice

Three generations: Grainne with mum Siobhan and grandmother Maria

Three generations: Grainne with mum Siobhan and grandmother Maria

Sister act: Grainne with her sibling Bronagh

Sister act: Grainne with her sibling Bronagh

Lewis Capaldi

Lewis Capaldi

PA

Grainne McCoy Photography Declan Roughan

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to make-up artist and The Apprentice 2016 semi-finalist Grainne McCoy (34), who lives in Newry with her son Ryan (18).

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. I grew up in Dromintree, Co Armagh. I have one sister, Bronagh, and three brothers, Peadar, Thomas and Sean. Sean's a new wee bro, he's only 10.

My mum Siobhan worked in the family car dismantling business. She and my dad separated when I was young. My stepdad Phelim Carragher came into our lives around the same time my son Ryan was born and took the reins.

Close

Three generations: Grainne with mum Siobhan and grandmother Maria

Three generations: Grainne with mum Siobhan and grandmother Maria

Three generations: Grainne with mum Siobhan and grandmother Maria

It was a very happy childhood. Me and my older brother Peadar were joined at the hip. There's only 18 months between us.

I was a proper little tomboy. I wasn't really into make-up then, I was more into bullying boys - especially my brothers! Welly boots and cars were my kind of things.

It's completely day and night, from what I was to what I am now.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Becoming a mother at 15 is probably the biggest challenge and the biggest job any woman could ever take on. I did become a mum at that age and I haven't done a bad job at it, so I think that's probably my proudest moment in my life to date.

My son Ryan is an absolute legend, I'm so proud of him. He doesn't even drink - all he does is work and he produces music too. I am blessed.

Close

Proud mum: Grainne with son Ryan

Proud mum: Grainne with son Ryan

Proud mum: Grainne with son Ryan

I was gifted with a child who's such a lovely human. We're so close - there's hardly any age between us!

We go to concerts and everything together. Last year we were at the front at a Stormzy concert and we went to see Tenacious D.

We do a lot of things together, so I'm very lucky that not only do I have a son, but I have a best friend as well.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I'm a bit airy-fairy and I don't let a lot of things annoy me, so I don't think I have any regrets at all. I take every situation or mistake and I honestly do learn from each of them.

I don't think there should be regrets in life - every day's a school day. Life's too short for regrets.

Q. What about phobias? Do you have any?

A. Mushrooms - I'm not joking. If someone's eating something with mushrooms beside me, I'd have to leave the table.

I get shivers looking at them and even the word itself makes me cringe. It sounds silly, but I actually feel queasy talking about them. It's a running joke in our house.

I remember years ago my mother made mushroom soup. She told me to close my eyes because she made this "beautiful vegetable soup" and I knew straight away as soon as she put the spoon in my mouth that it was actually mushroom soup - I was physically sick.

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. A jar of Nutella with a big spoon. It's my biggest downfall in life. I would literally go to the cupboard, get a spoon out and just start eating it from the jar. I put it on everything from wheaten bread, normal bread, marshmallows or just a spoon - you name it and I'll put Nutella on it. Sometimes I'll go into the restaurant that Ryan works in and I would order a Nutella pizza instead of just normal food like everybody else.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. Definitely my big make-up kit. I mean, when she goes in the car with me I buckle her up. She's called Nancy. And I drew a face on her too.

Q. The book that's most impacted your life?

A. I know a lot of people probably say this book, but I was introduced to The Secret by Rhonda Byrne when I was 19 years of age, which is a while back, long before I think anyone even knew what it was.

The more I read the book, the more I believed in it. Honestly - hand on my heart - I think it's changed my life because I've been thinking about it and I've been using the power of The Secret ever since.

I think that's why I'm such a positive Annie.

I know that a lot of people are talking about it more so in the last few years because we are all about 'positive thinking' now, but that book has been flying about for many, many years.

Q. If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?

A. I would change the education system in order to teach young people about more current trends.

We shouldn't be pushing them to try to achieve things they can't or don't want to.

Not everybody is set for university and not everybody is set for a bookworm education. There are entrepreneurial young people out there who just don't feel that school is right for them - my son being one of them.

I know Ryan, from day one being in school, just wanted to work. He used to take sweets and juice in and sell them from his schoolbag, like a little tuck shop. I knew the entrepreneur was in him, but the education system wants you to be a doctor or a dentist or something.

I feel like there's nothing in our current education system teaching the young people who aren't going to be brain surgeons things that are going to truly benefit them.

Close

Grainne McCoy

Grainne McCoy

Grainne McCoy

From third year, I just knew it wasn't for my Ryan - and he was in the top class even though he never opened a book.

But it just wasn't for him and he was getting depressed over it, so I sat him down and said as long as he got his maths and English, I didn't really care about the rest of it.

From that point, his own mindset and attitude towards school changed and he got a part-time job in the restaurant he's in now. Giving him the support he needed really helped him, and he got the two As in Maths and English, so I was happy.

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. People being late, like really late. It irritates the life out of me and it gives me anxiety. I always try to be early or on-time; it's very rare that I'm late.

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My mother. I am a little bit scatty and I'll try to take on a thousand things. I think that's my creative brain at work and I'll want a thousand ideas and a thousand things done. I call my mum my momager because she's my manager. We have a meeting at the start of every week and she'll be like: "Right, this is what you need to do; calm yourself. This is what needs to be done this week..."

Whenever I was 15 and expecting Ryan, I kept it a secret and I didn't tell her until I was six and a half months' pregnant. She was a young mum herself and I made her a granny at 34, so that's like me becoming a granny now.

But she was so supportive and she's stuck by me through thick and thin. Even now to this day, nearly 19 years on, she's the backbone of my business.

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. I would definitely have to say Anastasia Soare - founder of cosmetics company Anastasia Beverley Hills - because I love her story behind her make-up brand. Then Lewis Capaldi because he's absolutely hilarious. And my son. He's my best friend.

Close

Lewis Capaldi joins Reading and Leeds bill (Ian West/PA)

Lewis Capaldi joins Reading and Leeds bill (Ian West/PA)

Lewis Capaldi joins Reading and Leeds bill (Ian West/PA)

Q. The best piece of advice you've ever received?

A. "Work smart, not hard". A mentor I had a couple of years back told me this because, as I said, my brain works at a thousand miles an hour and I was running myself into the ground.

He said: "Grainne, your brain works overtime, but you need to work smart, not hard." He said that instead of doing a million things and going to a million places, I should sit down and organise myself. That's exactly what I've done since, and things are going a lot better.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I'm a massive 'DIY queen'. My main goal for the future is to get into property and the reconstruction of buildings. Like buying an old building, doing it up and selling it on.

Two weeks ago, I was in Ethiopia and we built houses for 10 days and I really surprised myself. I never realised I could be a plasterer - I'm not joking, I was a pro. It was all in the flick of the wrist. One of the guys was like, "Are you a professional?" and I said, "No, I'm just really good at this". I just loved it.

I don't have any plans to do anything to my own house right now, but I am continuing my volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity (right), the charity I went to Ethiopia with. They do a 'Houses to Home' programme in Northern Ireland where they fix up the interiors of houses, to get people off the street and give them a home. It's a great charity.

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. Footsteps in the Sand. It reminds me of my granda Peter, who, when I was growing up, would have been one of my closest and dearest.

He helped me a lot whenever I had Ryan; he used to get Ryan from school for me. Unfortunately, he's not here anymore - he passed away over 10 years ago. That was the poem at his funeral. I just know he would be very, very proud of where we are now.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. The first night in the maternity ward with Ryan. At such a young age, I didn't realise I could love something or someone so much until I saw his little face. I remember this one moment - it was that night and everyone had left - and I was in a little room on my own because I was so young. I'll never forget this until the day I die.

He was lying on the bed, obviously just a newborn, and I was just a child with no clue what I was doing. I remember screeching looking at him and I remember the tears. I was crying, "What am I going to do with you? But I love you so much".

I'll never forget that feeling of just so much love for this little thing lying on the bed that I had no clue what I was going to do with.

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. Two years ago, I went on a skiing trip and I broke my leg and my ankle. I had just come off The Apprentice, work was flying and everything was amazing, then in the first week of 2018, I broke my leg and my ankle.

I was out for nine months and I ended up getting a rare nerve disorder where I had to retrain my brain to know that my leg was there. For the first three months I lay in bed crying - I just didn't want to be here and I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Close

Grainne on The Apprentice

Grainne on The Apprentice

Grainne on The Apprentice

Prior to that my work had hit a peak and everything was taken away from me again. I was depressed. I was gaining weight and I didn't want to wake up. I know a lot of people are going through a lot worse, but it is a difficult time when you go from being so active to then hitting a low where you can't even get out of bed by yourself.

There was no work, there was nothing. I did hit a massive depression for months and months, until I had to turn it around. I had to mentally turn it around myself.

That's how I started getting into make-up videos and creating content on social media. I couldn't really talk to the camera myself until I came through that. And there is a positive to take from it - it's completely changed my career.

Q. What event changed your life?

A. Going to Ethiopia. It has changed my whole mindset on everything on life. I haven't stopped smiling since I got back. I know I did before but I always had a lot of self-doubt, especially in the industry I'm in.

When I was creating my brand I started to think, "Is it going to be good enough? Are people going to like it?" and I was always worrying about the tiniest things in life.

Then I went to Ethiopia and my eyes were opened to what other people are living with. I would see grown women crying with happiness because I'd handed them a single sweet. It's a different world. Unless you're terminally ill I don't want to hear you moan - that's the way I see it now.

Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. All I wanted to do was make Ryan know that with a lot of hard work, anything is possible. That you should never let anyone take your dreams away from you.

He's watched what I've done, and I never, ever gave up and I have been chasing my dreams since I was 16. That was the biggest thing for me, to teach him that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Feel good, look good, inspire. I have that on my branding. I think in life we need to make others feel good and, in my job, that's exactly what I want to do. The look good factor is the fact that I'm a make-up artist and I want everybody who sits in my seat to look good after feeling good. And the inspire part is that I want to spread good vibes to everyone I meet.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. As fabulous! Everyone knows that's my favourite word - I tell everyone they're fabulous. I say: "I want you to feel fabulous, but nobody can make you feel fabulous, only you."

Visit grainnemccoycosmetics.co.uk to browse Grainne's products and workshops. Find out more about Habitat for Humanity Northern Ireland at habitatni.co.uk

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph