First Published January 2020
MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND TURNED DANCING QUEEN
If you tuned into Dancing With The Stars on RTE 1 last Sunday night, you would have witnessed Buncrana beauty GRAINNE GALLANAGH take her first trip around the dancefloor on the hit show. Grainne and her partner, professional dancer Kai Widdrington, wowed audience and judges alike as they tangoed their way to an impressive score of 18.
And in case you didn’t know, although a Donegal native, Grainne has strong ties to right here in the midlands, so let’s get out the vote as if she was one of our own over the coming weeks! After being crowned Miss Universe Ireland in 2018, Grainne teamed up with one of the nation’s leading fashion boutiques, KODE in Tullamore, to make sure she never ran low on sparkle or glam, visited the historic Charleville Castle for a gorgeous photoshoot, and called into Liam Dumpleton’s Saturday View show on Midlands 103 for a chat. Grainne went on to make history by claiming a Top 20 finish for Ireland for the second successive year at the 2018 Miss Universe finals in Thailand.
On Saturday morning last, with just over a day to go before her big dancefloor debut, Grainne took a break from rehearsals to chat to OTRT. From the very real-world work involved in her life as a professional nurse, to being crowned Miss Universe Ireland, to becoming the first Irish model ever to walk the runway at the prestigious Miami Fashion Week, to being on the cover of magazines on both sides of the Atlantic (The Real South Beach Magazine in Florida, and the Sunday World magazine, and Sunday Independent Life magazine here at home), and now…on to Dancing With The Stars… I could only begin our chat by asking Grainne how crazy does it feel her life has become over the last year or so?
“[Laughs], I know! [laughs]. It’s actually so funny, and so surreal to think about what I’m doin’. I almost don’t believe it until it’s actually happening! But yeah, it’s very contrasting, from nursing to Dancing With The Stars, such a huge jump. One is so glamorous and glitzy, and then the other one, obviously not so much. It’s just craziness, it really is, but I’m so delighted to be part of it.”
People sometimes talk about ‘impostor syndrome’, where they feel like they don’t really belong wherever they happen to be, as if they’re not good enough to be there or something along those lines. Now clearly, Grainne is a celeb in her own right now, but I wondered what it felt like to walk into a room surrounded by all of the other stars on this year’s show for the first time?
“I mean, it was daunting, don’t get me wrong. I was worried that I’d come in and people would be very much keeping to themselves, maybe not very friendly. But it’s really, really not like that. As soon as I met everyone, everyone was just so friendly. So you don’t even really see someone’s status, or you don’t see their fame. You literally just make friends with them. And everyone has been so nice, we get on so well as a group. So you don’t see yourself as being any different to anyone else, you’re just here and you’re dancing, and you’re tryin’ to focus on that more than anything else. But we all get on really well, and thank God for that, because it really, really helps! We’re all in the same boat, so you need that bit of reassurance from everybody else.”
When we spoke on Saturday morning, Grainne was just over a day away from her first individual dance with her partner, Kai, a reminder that brought another gush of laughter from Grainne as soon as I mentioned it! What was the dominant emotion she was feeling at that point? Was it nervousness? Or excitement? Or some strange combination of both?
“[Laughs]. Yeah! I kinda felt o.k. up until today, and then we rehearsed in the studio this morning, where we’re actually goin’ to be dancin’, not where we’ve been rehearsing, ya know. So it all had a completely different feel to it, it took a different direction. Everyone was watchin’ for the first time. I feel like my nerves really took over and I feel like I didn’t deliver it the way that I know I can. So that kind of made me feel a bit more nervous than I have been. So I’m tryin’ to just get used to dancin’ somewhere else, and with people there. And not to let my nerves get the better of me. Because I am excited, obviously, but RIGHT NOW, in this moment, it’s the nerves that are dominant! [laughs].”
Now some people might think that this is just a bit of fun for the celebs involved. Do some dancing during the week, then be on national television of a Sunday night. But as country music star Cliona Hagan found out and told us here in OTRT last year when she danced her way to the final, it’s actually a much more intense experience than that…
“Oh my God! Yeah! It’s such a big commitment. You’re spending all your time tryin’ to learn something that you’ve never done before. It’s really difficult. You put in so much time, so much effort, the blood, sweat, and tears. It’s not just turn up and you’re o.k. It’s a long process to get to where you are on the night, and people obviously don’t get to see everything that goes on behind closed doors, like all the rehearsals, all the hours that you put in. So like, yes, it’s so much fun – we literally laugh and laugh during the rehearsals – but at the same time, we have to get it done, and get it right, because you don’t want to show up on the Sunday and not have a clue what you’re doin’. So it is a big commitment, absolutely.”
So just to give people an idea of the commitment involved, how much rehearsing has Grainne been doing since this all started?
“Pretty much every day! Like at Christmas, we had our Christmas break alright, but since December we’ve been in basically every day. So it’s intense!”
When Grainne was first approached about doing the show, what was her reaction? How long did it take her to say yes?
“Oh my God! I was ecstatic! [laughs]. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would ever say no. I was just like, absolutely, I would LOVE to do it. Because I’ve watched it before, I know what it entails. I love it. And I’d love to learn how to dance, it would be so much fun, and what a great opportunity, too. There was no question of anything else except that I was going to do it. I was delighted, absolutely delighted.”
Was she surprised to be asked?
“I suppose I was. But it was always something that I thought I would love to do. And ya know sometimes how it’s almost like manifestation! [laughs]. You keep thinking about something you’d love to do, and then eventually, it actually does happen! So yes, I was surprised, but delighted more than anything else.”
So would Grainne have considered herself to be a bit of a dancefloor-diva before this anyway? Is she one of those people who always has a few moves they can pull out whenever the occasion calls for it? Or is she more a complete non-dancer of any kind?
“Well I’ve never done any dancing in my life, never, never went to any dance classes. I’m basically a dad-dancer! [laughs] I have…no rhythm, no natural talent, no experience, I am really struggling with picking everything up! [laughs]. Sometimes it feels like you’re taking forever, and everyone else is picking it up so much faster. But it’s just that we’re all good at certain things. But I’m a complete novice when it comes to this [laughs], so I’m tryin’ to keep that in mind. I don’y want to be too hard on myself because at the end of the day, I haven’t done it before. And it’s all completely new to me. So I need to relax and stop putting so much pressure on myself to be really, really good. But Kai is fantastic, he’s an amazing teacher. What he’d done for me so far, you wouldn’t believe! I’m like a different person already! [laughs].”
Is there a particular dance that Grainne is really looking forward to taking on, and one that’s really giving her nightmares at even the thought of?
“To be honest, I don’t know the difference between any of them! I’m supposed to know that by now! [laughs]. But I don’t have a clue about what’s different to this one, say, compared to that one before it [laughs].”
Anyone who follows Grainne on Instagram will have seen how she and Big Brother star and presenter, Brian Dowling, have hit it off straight away, becoming fast friends. And as Grainne mentioned already, her relationship with Kai is also strong. How much easier have friendships like those been making the whole experience?
“Oh I mean, without that, it wouldn’t be enjoyable. Otherwise too, I’d be like well I don’t want to do this if it’s not gonna be fun. Yes, learning how to dance is a great opportunity. But first and foremost, you don’t want to be dreading coming in every day, ya know what I mean? Like, Brian is probably the funniest person that I’ve ever met! We go into rehearsals together because we’re staying together, too. So that makes everything so fun, so light-hearted. And with Kai, we just clicked straight away. So again, it just makes everything so much easier. He so patient, and so nice. He’s never, ever lost his temper, which is really sayin’ somethin’! [laughs]. Cos’ he’s had every reason under the sun to! [laughs]. I couldn’t be happier with the people who are involved in the show with me.”
Going back to last August, and when Grainne handed over the Miss Universe Ireland crown to Fionghuala O’ Reilly, the 2019 Queen, how emotional was that night given that Grainne had experienced such an amazing year during her time wearing that crown?
“Oh well you saw me, I was balling my eyes out! [laughs]. It was such an overwhelming night in general. You see your year in review on the big screen, and it had been such a great year for me, and I was so grateful for that, to Brittany and everyone at Miss Universe Ireland, and I felt so lucky. It was so emotional, and so overwhelming, that whole night. But you’re so excited for the next girl, too, because you know everything that lies in store for her, and you know how exciting her year is gonna be. Being Miss Universe Ireland was such a great experience for me, I was very lucky.”
Everyone who already knows Grainne will hoping that her Dancing With The Stars adventure goes all the way to the very end, and as more and more people around the country come to know her through the show, we can only see that feeling spreading nationwide! But looking past the show a little bit, what’s going to be happening next for Grainne?
“Oh Anthony, everybody’s asking me that, and I haven’t a clue! [laughs]. I’m just tryin’ to take this day by day [laughs]. So I have no idea yet. I’ll need to settle myself down and decide what my best plan is. I don’t know when I’ll be here in Ireland either, you see. So I haven’t planned anything definite yet for the future. But I’m sure you’ll see more of me!”