Straight-talking, no-nonsense, beautiful and well-poised are just some of the words that spring to mind when thinking of Grainne McCoy, the most recent Northern Ireland representative to have starred on BBC’s The Apprentice under the watchful scrutiny of Lord Sugar, writes Kathryn McKenna.
And it seems that is an attitude that seeps into her personal life, as stoic Grainne speaks to Kathryn McKenna from bed in France after breaking her leg during a recent skiing holday in France.
“Honestly the way I fell on it, I knew straight away it was broken. I had to be stretchered down the mountain - I recorded the whole thing! From coming down the mountain, to sitting in the ambulance and in the hospital.”
Grainne 32 from Newry, who doesn’t speak French adds, “You know what though, they were lovely over there - thankfully. There’s always a story to tell,” she laughs, remarkably upbeat.
“I’m in a leg cast now, hobbling along. I don’t know how my poor mother puts up with me. I’ve been lying up in bed for weeks now.
“I try to stay away from painkillers though - I don’t take them if I don’t really need them.”
That same strong-willed attitude will ring a bell with fans of the BBC business show, which sees Lord Sugar, along with his trusted advisors, no-nonsense Karren Brady and steely-eyed Claude Littner, search for his future business partner - with the ultimate prize of £250,000 to be invested into their company.
“We always had about 10 minutes to get washed, dressed with makeup on, and downstairs or else we were in trouble”, Grainne reveals, “Including applying my false lashes, I was like superwoman in that bathroom!”
The former teen mum, fashion blogger and public speaker mentor, who has started her own YouTube channel since being left bedridden, was a semi-finalist in the 2016 series, and it certainly seems fitting that Grainne now has her own range of false lashes which are available across the UK and Ireland. And despite venturing into the realm of teaching with inspiring workshops aimed at young mums, the makeup mogul plans on remaining “hands-on” with the cosmetic side of her business.
“Next up I want to design my own palette, but one that I have designed myself”, Grainne explains. “I want to be there, making the pigments. I don’t want a white label, you know the way some people just put their name and their brand on a product. I want to put the white coat on, be there, and make the products myself.
“I have been a makeup artist for such a long time so I am very artistic. I like to get my hands dirty and actually get into making and testing it.”
Having bravely moved from an established role in retail management aged 20, Grainne made the leap into makeup 12 years ago, after discovering her true passion - but it certainly was not the burgeoning market it is today.
“There were no makeup artists around in those days, zero! Everyone went to beauticians so it was extremely risky. I remember doing a wedding show and there was just me there and everyone was staring. I went to London to try and get good work, because there was just nothing over here.
“Now the whole industry is changing, it is one of the biggest industries in the world. I couldn’t count the amount of jobs I did in the past for nothing. I made so many trips to London and the rest of the UK to work on films and never got a penny for them. But you know, it’s just something I really wanted. I was always thinking outside the box.”
Having become pregnant at 15, Grainne opens up on how difficult it was to leave her young son.
“When I was travelling back and forth to London each week, that was tough. My gut was telling me I was doing the right thing, but it was just so hard not seeing Ryan every single day. But now, me doing this, my whole focus my whole life since the day he was born has been him.
“It is a dog eat dog world, and if you want to be successful you have to understand that you need to work for it”, Grainne explains.
“I think people just sometimes stay in their little security bubble. But you need to crack that.”
‘Going on The Apprentice changed my life’
“I saw a hairdresser on The Apprentice the year before, and I thought well if a hairdresser can do that then so can I! The interviews were so difficult for me because they were in front of hundreds of people and I used to dread getting up and speaking in front of people. I think there are about 100K applicants, so it was a difficult process. But I learned so much about myself through it, and I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone on The Apprentice. I learned so much from the process.
“I can walk into a room now and speak in front of 800 people, and hold a confident conversation, I just love it now - but I would never have done that before, it used to be my biggest fear. You are put into so many different scenarios, in industries and sectors of work you have never seen before. It just makes you realise you can do things you would never thought you were capable of doing.
“I went on 100 per cent myself, and I wouldn’t change one thing I did.
“I’d love to work with the BBC this year to help inspire young people. There is so much anxiety, depression and suicide in our country - there has to be something given back.”
‘Inspiring young mums through my workshops is my passion’
Proud Ambassador for “Qube Learning” in the Uk, Grainne who doesn’t drink alcohol, reveals that her makeup workshops have allowed her to discover her passion for teaching by creating workshops which focus on encouraging young mums.
“I set up my teaching workshop for 16-24 year olds in Northern Ireland, and I work with different organisations to try and break the barrier and get young people back into a working environment, or even just a social one.
“Obviously I have a teenage son myself - he is 17 this year and I just cannot believe it - our relationship is just getting funnier with each day. We’re two idiots together, in fact he is probably the grown up! The craic Ryan and I have now is beyond funny. Every day I just think about how truly blessed I am, he is such a good child. I couldn’t be more proud of him.
“Obviously at 15 I didn’t realise at the time how much it was meant to be - I had thought it was my worse nightmare.
“I didn’t tell a sinner I was pregnant and had my first scan when I was 30 weeks. It wasn’t an easy decision to keep it to myself for so long, but I did - and I knew I wanted him so much. I had him on August 2 and I was back in school for September to repeat my GCSEs.
“I just hate when someone tells me I’ll not be able to do something. I was the first girl in our school at that age to have a child, so me being the stubborn little lady I was, I was determined.
“I was called every name under the sun, stuff was written about me in the toilets, everything, but I didn’t care. I had Ryan at home to keep me going, and I loved him more than anything else in the world.
“It was hard, especially back then as it wasn’t very common to be pregnant in school - it was quite a big shock to a lot of people. But I am very thick-skinned, and I made the decision to have my little baby. It’s funny though, whilst it was hard to tell people, from the moment I knew I was pregnant I was very happy about it.
“St Paul’s High School were great, Jarleth Burns was my form teacher at the time, and was one of the first people I told. Jarleth is now the principal of the school, and I asked him to speak to the Apprentice during filming of the Meet the Family episode!
“I have created a workshop for single mums which brings them all together and gets them an OCN Level One Certificate in makeup out of it. My courses are 30 per cent about makeup - a lot more of it is about confidence-building and socialising again outside of the home.
“I want to tell young mums through my workshops and YouTube videos that it is going to be OK. I was in your shoes once, I was 15 and thought my world was over.
“I tell them not to worry - especially as when they get to my age they won’t have to worry about starting a family as they’ll have it all over with,” Grainne laughs, “It is going to be hard - I’m not going to claim the last 17 years have been easy at all - but my message is that young women shouldn’t be afraid. It all comes in your stride, as soon as you become a mother.
“Makeup is at my core, but my main mission is to help and inspire young people through different scenarios. That is the main outlook of what I want to achieve in my business.”
Shop Grainne’s range of lashes and find out more about Grainne’s workshops and further details at grainnemccoy.com.
To view Grainne’s YouTube videos, search for Grainne McCoy at youtube.com.