Rebecca McKinney talks about her route into broadcasting, her appointment as an ambassador for Youth Empowered and why she was devastated by the recent fire at Primark in Belfast
Rebecca McKinney and I were due to meet in Belfast city centre the day the horrendous fire engulfed Primark and one of the city’s most historic buildings.
Our plans had to be changed, as had many people’s on that dreadful day, and speaking about it now, it’s clear the Cool FM presenter and fashion stylist was deeply moved by the terrible event.
‘‘It’s such a sad sight for Belfast, such a beautiful, iconic building, I’m devastated for the people who work instore and those who worked on the refit. My heart goes out to them all. Clothes can be replaced, but people can’t so thank goodness no one was injured.
‘‘I’m a big high street fan and regularly found some hero buys in Primark. I have no doubt that when it returns to Belfast, everyone will rally round and show support as much as ever! That site on Royal Avenue will forever be Primark to me.’’
Rebecca McKinney, 31, has become a household name as one of the broadcasting trinity that make up the morning Cool FM team.
Alongside co-hosts, Pete Snodden and Paulo Ross, the trio are much-loved for their banter, brightening the morning commute with their mix of music, witty repartee and good-humoured mutual slagging.
Recently, Rebecca was appointed ambassador of the Youth Empowered Programme - an initiative of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (HBC), to urge young people, aged 18-30 across Northern Ireland to register for free life and business skills training courses online at www.youthempowered.ie.
Rebecca said it was an honour for her to launch the programme.
‘‘I understand what it is like to feel lost in a career journey and the importance of taking risks, chasing your passions and keeping a positive mental attitude to achieve your goals. It’s important for me to give back.
‘‘My journey is far from conventional, Law graduate to fashion stylist to broadcaster. I’ve been very lucky, but taken every opportunity that came my way, so hopefully I can comfort them a little if they feel like chasing their career dreams is a far off possibility. I love my job, so it’s great to be able to share that passion with young people here in Northern Ireland.’’
Rebecca certainly had a circuitous route into broadcasting, but says she followed her heart to land her dream job.
‘‘While on the waiting list for a place to complete my further legal training after my graduation from Queen’s, I studied for my Masters in Communication, Advertising and PR in Ulster University. I followed my passion for marketing into a retail marketing agency in Belfast where after months of interning for free, I landed my first job.
‘‘From there I took an opportunity at Victoria Square in Belfast to head up their Personal Styling service and spent three of the happiest years there. Learning off all the talent around me, a boss that pushed me on and the national brands I got to work with on a daily basis is the experience that made me realise I can chase my dreams and a passion can become a job.
‘‘I had always wanted to work in the media and when I reached out to a few contacts I’d met through my time in Victoria Square, took the risk of making a radio demo. The bosses at Cool FM gave me a shot and for that first summer, I worked my full time job in Victoria Square as well as the breakfast show.’’
And Rebecca’s advice to someone starting out on their career path is this: ‘‘Back yourself - if you’re not confident in your own abilities, how can anyone else be?; surround yourself with positive people who not only empower you, but aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re wrong; and when life opens a door, be brave enough to walk through it! If you don’t, someone else will.’’
At the moment Rebecca is loving life at Cool FM.
‘‘I still pinch myself every day in Cool Breakfast with Pete and Paulo. Learning about the industry, while actually being on the biggest commercial show in the country is a rare and special situation. I am working with two of my best friends, while running my styling business when I’m off air. The stuff dreams are made of. And I’m so glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to get that chance.’’
There is a lovely synergy between the three presenters, and Rebecca says they ‘‘truly are great friends’’.
‘‘We support each other unconditionally on and off air. The boys are like brothers to me and we fuse hard work with banter, laughs and real life thrown in. We try and share as much of our lives as we can and always be honest, I think people relate to that. The radio is meant to be fun; people listen to have a distraction from their morning routine and we are so grateful that people let us into their busy lives. Chemistry can’t be faked and that’s why we feel the show has a special edge. I’m very blessed to love getting up for work every morning - even if it is a 4.45am alarm.’’
But just recently she did sleep in. ‘‘I woke up at 5.40am one morning and that’s a one off fright! I threw on comfies and was there for the 6am news. No make-up mind you, so just as well it’s radio and not TV!’’
And as for the future, a career in television is definitely something she would consider.
‘‘Radio is where I’m happy at right now, but a long term goal would obviously be to move on to TV at some stage. Options are limited here and it’s very much a far off dream for me, but Holly Willougbhy is a complete inspiration of mine. A show like This Morning ticks all the boxes! Maybe we need a Northern Irish version!’’