Co Armagh man on why he is ‘made up’ after securing Cannes Film Festival job

A model made-up by Paddy McGurgan
A model made-up by Paddy McGurgan

Helen McGurk enjoys some face time with Ulster make-up artist Paddy McGurgan before he jets off to France to work at the glitzy Cannes Film Festival.

Meeting a make-up artist, especially an award-winning one, is a daunting prospect, especially when one is more ‘no-maintenance’ than ‘low maintenance’ and still refers to blusher as ‘rouge’.

Paddy McGurgan in his Belfast store

Paddy McGurgan in his Belfast store

‘‘That’s fine, call it whatever you want,’’ says Paddy McGurgan, ‘‘there’s no right or wrong; if we were in France they would say ‘rouge’ more than we would say blush.’’

Paddy will, in fact, be in France tomorrow for the glamorous Cannes Film Festival, where his expertise in foundations, powders, and, yes, rouge, will be used to enhance the beauty of models and stars.

He didn’t believe he would secure such a prestigious gig and was a bit flummoxed when he received the email confirming his appointment.

‘‘I was shocked at the start,’’ he admits, ‘‘ I didn’t even have a tuxedo’’.

Celebrities expected to attend the glamorous festival include film maker Quentin Tarantino whose highly anticipated film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, will premiere. Starring in the film and attending the event will be Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Models Gigi and Bella Hadid are planned to grace the red carpet.

As part of the creative team at the festival, Paddy will also tread the famous red carpet. Such an honour demands a certain sartorial etiquette.

‘‘The instructions say you must wear socks and a belt,’’ he says.

Rightly, or wrongly, there is a perception that people in the beauty industry are vacuous and vain. Paddy McGurgan is neither.

The 38-year-old, who grew up on a farm in Keady, Co Armagh, is down-to-earth, with a great sense of humour and an infectious laugh.

Did he ever want to follow his father into farming ?

‘‘I think from an early age everyone knew that wasn’t going to happen,’’ he laughs.

He recalls a hilarious incident when his father ‘trailed’ him to a sheep market; his job was to spray a bit of paint on the newly bought sheep and lambs.

But rather than just spraying the fleece with a dot of paint as instructed, Paddy decided to utilise his artistic skills and ‘‘did a bit of graffiti art’’ on them.

‘‘I was bored, so I wrote my name on them in graffiti style,’’ he laughs.

‘‘My dad was mortified. He couldn’t wait to get them sheared.’’

Paddy, who lives in Carryduff, confesses he also shirked his farming duties by feigning the severity of his asthma and allergies.

‘‘Thank God I had a million allergies so I got out of a lot of the hay baling....I’d put it on a wee bit and say ‘Oh my chest..my asthma’s very bad today’.’’

Despite not having any agricultural leanings, Paddy said his mum Marie and dad Jim were very supportive of his interests and talents in music (he plays piano, accordion, flute and the harp) and the arts.

‘‘They have always known from the very beginning that I was very artistic.

‘‘I was someone who was very focused on creativity and seeing things slightly differently and that was never something that was discarded, it was always encouraged and celebrated, especially with the music and the achievements at competitions.

‘‘My dad was very supportive and so was my mum, taking me to my music lessons and taking me to the competitions.

‘‘When I had art pieces to do, they gave off a bit that the house was covered in stuff for my final projects,’’ he laughs.

When he decided to focus his energies on make-up artistry, they were equally supportive.

‘‘It did take my dad a while to get his head around the fact that people would pay you to paint their faces - he thought that was ludicrous, but he never for a second said don’t be doing it.’’

That support paid off and Paddy is now one of the most sought after make-up artists in Northern Ireland, ‘painting the faces’ of famous clients, such as Mischa Barton, Girls Aloud and Yasmin Le bon, and running his successful Make Up Pro Store on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, where he transforms the not-so famous into prettier versions of themselves.

It’s a job he loves.

‘‘A good make-up artist should be like going to a tailor when you are having something bespoke made. Make- up should be individual, it should be a way of expressing yourself and your own style.’’

‘‘The reason I set up the store was because I wanted to create my own environment where women could go in and ask for advice.’’

But he would never pass judgement on someone’s poorly applied make-up.

‘‘I think it would be horrible of me to judge because there would be an arrogance with that.’’

And when it comes to his own appearance, he is candid.

‘‘Very recently I did a video and I had to analyse it the next day which was horrifying for me, because I much prefer being behind the camera, as opposed to in front of it. I thought I looked like an angry old man, so the next day I literally went and had Botox.’’

Paddy knew he was gay from a fairly young age, but says it wasn’t until he was 21 or 22 that he was comfortable acknowledging it.

‘‘If you had asked me if I was gay when I was 19 I would have had a heart attack.’’

But he believes Northern Ireland is now a more accepting society.

‘‘I believe we should all live in a community where we allow others to live the way they want to live.’’