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Rachel Dean's Big Ask: Make-up artist Paddy McGurgan on how pandemic is beauty industry's biggest challenge


Moving forward: Paddy McGurgan says he wants to improve as a make-up artist and not become dated

Moving forward: Paddy McGurgan says he wants to improve as a make-up artist and not become dated

So close: Paddy with his aunt Patricia

So close: Paddy with his aunt Patricia

Paddy making up Love Island star Jessica Shears

Paddy making up Love Island star Jessica Shears

Family time: Paddy with sister Anita

Family time: Paddy with sister Anita

Paddy working on a model at Belfast Fashionweek

Paddy working on a model at Belfast Fashionweek

Moving forward: Paddy McGurgan says he wants to improve as a make-up artist and not become dated

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to make-up artist Paddy McGurgan (39) who lives in Dunmurry. Belfast Telegraph Weekend magazine columnist Paddy, who has won many awards for his work, opened his first store five years ago selling his own and other top make-up brands and also teaches his craft to up-and-coming artists.

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. I grew up on a farm in Middletown, Co Armagh with my parents and my two sisters, Elaine and Anita. My dad, Jim, was a sheep farmer, but also owned cattle and hens, and my mum, Marie, helped. It's not an active farm now as they've got older.

My sisters and I helped out on the farm - there was no option! However, I do think I got the better side of things because I entered every single music competition known to man. I played a number of musical instruments - piano, accordion, flute and harp - which allowed me many opportunities to travel from quite a young age.

I got out of doing a lot of things because I had to practise. Mum and dad were always supportive of that, and they knew how much work I put into it.

I got into music in my first year at Keady High School. My mum always loved the accordion, so that was the first instrument I started playing. Then, I went for an audition to learn clarinet, but at that stage, my voice was breaking, and part of the audition was to sing a tune back.


So close: Paddy with his aunt Patricia

So close: Paddy with his aunt Patricia

So close: Paddy with his aunt Patricia

Of course, I couldn't sing anything back because my voice was all over the place. I'll never forget - because I was mortified - that the girl running the auditions said to me, "You don't have any musicality in you". A year later, I won the Ulster Championship playing the accordion. I think when you put your mind to something, you can do it.

I always liked school generally, but I found myself most at home with subjects like Art, English and Music, which I excelled in. After Keady High School, I went to St Patrick's Grammar School for my A-levels, before making the difficult decision between studying art or music at university.

I ended up choosing a music degree at the Jordanstown campus of Ulster University.

While I was at university, I was also the musical director for the Waterfront's winter and summer pantomime productions. I'd done that for about two years, and I was coming into the third Christmas when I realised I just didn't want to do the same thing for the whole Christmas period. It was just so intense doing that amount of shows.

It was a great experience, but I think the novelty had started to wear off. I still wanted to work over Christmas and a friend of mine had just started working in MAC Cosmetics, which had only opened about six months previously.

She told me they were looking for a fella to come in as a cashier - at that stage, they were specifically looking for a male cashier because guys weren't working in make-up here. Anyway, I went to the interview and I was sort of reluctant to even accept the job, but I gave it a go, and that's how it all started.

Even though I was only a cashier, I absolutely fell in love with make-up artistry and the magic you could create with it. That was me hooked.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I'm most proud of building myself up to a stage where I was able to open my Make Up Pro Store in Belfast, into which I am able to welcome many amazing customers, house some of my most-loved make-up brands, and teach or mentor new make-up artists coming into the industry.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I don't believe in regrets because all the things I've done, even the mistakes, have led me to the next stage of my journey.

However, I do think, like many others, it can sometimes be hard not to look back with the general attitude of "I wish I knew then what I know now ..."

Q. What about phobias? Do you have any?

A. Not really. I can't really deal with touching things like velvet. I don't know if that's an actual phobia, but velvet makes me feel strange.

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Amazon! It's too easy to go on there when you're bored.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. My make-up brushes, or my babies as I call them! I must have around 300-400 brushes. I have one particular make-up brush that has been discontinued.

When I found out that it was going to be discontinued, I bought every single one that I could. The last set of them that I got came from Spain and there were 17 of them.


Paddy making up Love Island star Jessica Shears

Paddy making up Love Island star Jessica Shears

Paddy making up Love Island star Jessica Shears

The problem with this brush is that it's made from human hair, so with constant washing it starts to frazzle - there's a shelf life with each one. It'll be a sad moment when I take the last one out of its packet!

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

A. When I first started out in make-up, I was told to read Making Faces by Kevyn Aucoin, another male make-up artist. I found his story touching and so inspiring.

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

A. There are so many things that we don't get taught about the world of business in school. When I worked at MAC, I had make-up training, and then from there I went on to Space NK, where I had some more training. So, I did do make-up artist training, but I had no business experience.

I wish that was something that was properly covered in school.

There have been a lot of things I've had to teach myself in the process, whilst also relying on my intuition - and relying on Google! So, I would set up a module in schools that helped young people better understand real-life stuff and business. I would also take a look at the structure of the education system.

There's a great focus on academia in our education system, but not everyone wants to or can go down that path.

With every job that's out there, there are people who just do the job, but there are people who are born to do the job and they have something extra.

That's what separates those who are passionate and love what they do, from those who just do a job because it's a means to an end.

You see that in every industry, even for those who have credentials and academia behind them - there are still people doing a job just because they have a degree that says they can, not because they are truly passionate about it.

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

A. People who are rude.


Paddy working on a model at Belfast Fashionweek

Paddy working on a model at Belfast Fashionweek

Paddy working on a model at Belfast Fashionweek

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My parents. They led an example of how to be a hard worker, and they were never afraid to get stuck in.

I've always had an elaborate imagination, when it came to art projects and things like that, and they were also so supportive of what I wanted to do.

My mum especially would always know the right words to say when things weren't going my way, I was frustrated by something or I didn't do as well in a competition as I thought I would - there was always that coaching voice to get me back up and moving again.

Many of their weekends off were dedicated to taking me to competitions and travelling all over the place. And finally, they always allowed me to be me - quirks and all.

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

A. First I would invite Jessie J because I'd love to do her make-up, and she could sing a song or two between courses!

Then, Catherine O'Hara because I find her very interesting and I think she's an exceptional comedic actress.

And last but not least, Michelle Obama. I love her positive attitude and I'm sure she would have some great stories to tell.

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

A. "Winners never quit, and quitters never win."

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I suppose it would be music. As I said, I'm able to play the piano, accordion, flute and the harp, which surprises a lot of people. I'm still very musical; I think I'll always be able to play music. It's something I have found myself going back to more recently because music calms me. It's a form of meditation.


Family time: Paddy with sister Anita

Family time: Paddy with sister Anita

Family time: Paddy with sister Anita

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. I will admit I'm not hugely into poetry, but I've always loved When You Are Old by WB Yeats. As I've got older, the words have made a bit more sense of the importance of living your life to the fullest and having as few regrets as possible.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. I don't have one singular moment - I'm at my happiest when I'm creating, spending time with friends or travelling.

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. When my aunt Patricia died suddenly around eight years ago. She took a massive brain haemorrhage.

She was my mum's only sister, and my godmother and we were very close. I'll never forget the day. I was in Galway teaching a class when I got the call to say she was in ICU and I would need to put the boot down to get there in time to say goodbye. To say it was a long journey home would be an understatement.

Q. What event changed your life?

A. I think I'm living through it right now, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, and I just don't know the full difference it will produce.

Of course, being able to do something I love as a career has been life changing for me. To find something that I was so passionate about and was able to express myself with was massive. Whenever you look back on it, you see it as life-altering, but when you're going through it in the moment, it just felt so natural. It was all I wanted to do and all I ever thought about. It's so natural; it's like breathing.

The first time you took a breath, did you think it was the most mind-altering thing? No, you just breathe. For me, being able to do make-up is like that.

The reason I say I think I'm living through it is because there hasn't been anything that has been able to stop me from creating in the way that I want.

The coronavirus pandemic has proved to be the biggest challenge for the beauty industry. We all rely on each other to create. Even when lockdown is lifted, how long will it be until people feel comfortable being in such close proximity with anyone, never mind a hairdresser or make-up artist?

I think there's a lot of psychology that is going to have to be explored before we all get back on track.

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

A. My worst fear is that I become dated or start relying too much on how good I once was. If you don't have the attitude that you want to keep improving, you're going to date really quickly. So, I always want to ensure that I'm always a better artist than I was yesterday.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. For my talent and that I was able to use that talent to create work that I'm proud of - and hopefully that will live on when I'm no longer here.

While Paddy's Make Up Pro Store is temporarily closed during the pandemic, you can still shop the range of products from his online store. Visit makeupprostore.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph