Apprentice star Grainne McCoy tells how overwork in her beauty business led to her collapse
'I was on the dancefloor and then I fell right back, out cold... it was my body's way of telling me to take a raincheck'
She was thrust into the limelight with a star turn on The Apprentice three years ago, and since then things haven't slowed down for Grainne McCoy. Juggling motherhood with a high-profile career in the beauty business, the 34-year-old spent most of last year dealing with a dramatic leg injury and all the emotional baggage that went with it - all the while forging ahead with her work.
But now, says the Co Armagh woman, it's time to take a step back.
Because last week, says Grainne, she collapsed and had a seizure on a night out - and believes exhaustion from working too hard was to blame.
The former star of Lord Sugar's landmark show, the latest series of which started on BBC One this week, has opened up about the pressure she puts on herself to succeed and admits she finds it hard to slow down.
"It was just my body's way of telling me to take a raincheck," says make-up artist Grainne.
"I'd been working all day doing a million things and then I was up and down the road from Newry to Belfast, doing other people's make-up, doing my own make-up and then I had to be all dressed up and ready for this big event.
"I was really looking forward to it, but I was exhausted before it even started. That's what every day has been like for months. It's non-stop."
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After a night at the NI Social Media Awards where she was shortlisted for a hair and beauty gong, Grainne (34) moved to a bar nearby in the city and was on the dancefloor with a friend when she collapsed after 2am.
"I'd had a great night," she recalls. "I knew I was tired, but I was having a brilliant time so I stayed out. I was so pleased to have been shortlisted because I'm pretty new to the whole influencer industry and we went on to a bar afterwards.
"Then all of a sudden, when I was on the dancefloor with my friend, I just felt it coming on. I hadn't had that much to drink but I thought, 'I'm going to go down here', and then I did. I was right back, out cold on the dancefloor.
"I've since found out it was a non-epileptic seizure, where your body just collapses and goes into spasm.
"My blood pressure had just dropped and I fell back, limp mode, completely out of it and an ambulance came out to me."
Grainne, from Dromintee outside Newry, spent seven months on crutches last year after breaking her leg and ankle in a skiing accident.
She has spoken about hitting rock bottom as she battled excruciating pain as she waited for her injuries to heal.
And now, following last week's collapse, the blogger, who has more than 80,000 followers across her social media platforms, says she has now been referred for follow-up appointments at a seizure clinic to find out the exact cause of her collapse.
"I'm not too worried," she says. "I had tests done the next day and I don't think I'm dying or anything. I think I was just exhausted, pure and simple. I've been doing too much. I just need to take it a bit easier for a while."
But Grainne, mum to Ryan (18), is the first to admit she struggles to take her foot off the gas.
"I know this should be a warning sign," she admits. "I mean apart from it being quite worrying, it's embarrassing, too.
"Apparently after I collapsed I was lying there snoring and everything. Can you imagine the state of me? I don't want that to happen every time I have a night out.
"But even though I know it's the right thing, it's hard to slow down because professionally things are happening that I've been working towards for months and the momentum is going the right way.
"The day after it happened, my head was exploding but I had to run into an event because people were expecting me. I felt dreadful but I'm my own boss and it's hard to ease off because I only have myself to make things work."
Grainne's ambition and strong work ethic have been developed over years - attributes she traces back to finding out she was pregnant at just 15 years old.
Determined not to let motherhood throw her life off course, she carried on at school right up until Ryan arrived, and was back at her desk at St Paul's High School in Bessbrook the very next term - just four weeks after giving birth in August 2001.
While her GCSE results the following year weren't as good as she'd hoped, Grainne's plans to succeed were set in stone - and she hasn't slowed down since.
Training as a make-up artist in Dublin as she juggled motherhood and earning a living in retail, she then made inroads in London, building contacts right across the industry from TV and music videos to huge events like the Cannes Film Festival.
"There have been brilliant times of course, but doing so much with a young son at home wasn't always easy," she reveals.
And in the background, says Grainne, was the knowledge people didn't expect her to succeed.
"That was always there," she says. "But it drove me on."
And with series 15 of The Apprentice already back on our screens, Grainne's memories of her time on the show are front and centre in her mind.
"If I'm honest, the series I was on was full of idiots," she remarks. "Genuinely. I really felt like the outsider because they'd look at you like you were nothing because you didn't have a university degree.
"It was like I wasn't as worthy as them because I was a single mother and it was pretty clear they thought I'd be out on week one.
"It was even my accent too. I was once told by an agent in London, 'Go to your own turf and try to get some work there'. The claws were out for me. But it didn't put me off. It made me want to do better."
And she's certainly worked hard since then and three years on from making the semi-final of the programme Grainne still has a relationship with its makers, travelling last month to London for the third year in a row to meet the most recent intake before their series began.
"I was over there at the start of September," she says. "It's just to give them a bit of advice about how it all works - and the main thing I always say is that it lasts five minutes and then it's gone. It's not like Love Island, a whole summer of the public getting to know these people appearing every night on their TVs.
"It's not a reality show where you become a star - or at least it shouldn't be. It's a business programme. You have to prove yourself the right way."
And one man proved inspirational to Grainne during her stint on the show.
"I don't keep in touch with Alan Sugar, but I have so much time for him," she says. "He taught me such a huge amount, as did the whole process.
"If you want to be taken seriously in business, don't have an Instagram account packed with images of yourself in a tiny bikini or with crazy seductive pictures.
"Match yourself up with the reality of what you want to be when it's over, otherwise people will very quickly see through it and they'll know you're fake.
"Going into The Apprentice, I feel like I was a bit naive. I thought I would get all this exposure, that I'd walk out with a career and a big bank balance.
"But the truth is, it only started properly when it was over - and I did the hard work myself."
And if it was easy money Grainne was after, she could have had it - but opted out.
"I was offered money for pictures I'd never have done," she says. "What kind of pictures? Well I'll say the word 'seductive', but it was the sort of thing I would never be interested in. I'd worked so hard right from Ryan was born. I wanted to be the best mother I could, I wanted to be taken seriously in my industry. I wasn't interested in messing about like that.
"What would that make you - half business woman, half glamour model? It would have totally undermined everything I wanted to do, to be taken seriously as a businesswoman - not to mention the fact no-one needs to see this body."
And while Grainne spent a lot of time trying to maintain her links to London after the series ended, at this stage, she's focusing her career locally.
"I think everyone gets distracted by London," she says. "I was flying back and forth loads, but in all honesty there is absolutely plenty of work here. Too much, obviously, if I'm collapsing with exhaustion.
"So I've sort of backed out of that. I love it here, I love the whole scene and I find it's so much more me.
"When I need to relax, which I obviously need to do more, I go for walks up the mountains, I see my family and friends."
And for the first time in seven years, Grainne is seeing a new man - although for now she's keeping schtum on exactly who he is.
"Yes, there's somebody on the scene," she says. "It's quite new, he's local and it's nice to keep a bit of your life on the Q-T, but people are starting to notice a bit on Instagram because they'll joke with me - 'Hey, you're not in the pub on your own!' when they see me posting.
"He's met a few of the family, but I don't want to put too much pressure on it yet because it's early days. I've been single for a long time, so it's nice to throw a man into the equation.
"He knows I'm running about like a headless chicken for work, so hanging out with him does take the strain off a bit. He's definitely putting a smile on my face and it's nice to find a friend, somebody I'm connecting with."
And following last week's collapse, Grainne plans to take some time to reassess her schedule.
"At the minute I'm never off the road in the car," she says. "I'm juggling sales with my brushes and all the products with trying to keep up my presence on social media.
"There's pressure to be there all the time and it's going really well. I love it and I'm lucky because I haven't had some of the negativity other influencers get, so fingers crossed but it obviously does take its toll a bit.
"When I need to relax or if I'm a bit upset I'll sit on my bedroom floor for hours and play about with make-up. It's therapeutic and it puts me in a really nice place.
"But other things are good for me too and I need to mix it up a bit more. I haven't done a lot of walking recently because there have just been 1,000 things work-related, so step one, I need to get back up the mountains.
"But it's probably worth me looking for a distributor for work, someone to take off a bit of the pressure so that I can get more of a balance.
"After all the rushing about I've been doing for years, I just need to chill out a bit more, go for more walks - and delegate."