Eímear Noone

First Published November 2020

“MUSIC IS WHO I AM” (Part 1)

Those of us who are of a certain vintage in life will be familiar with the name Lynda Carter. The American actress – who was also a singer, songwriter, model, and beauty pageant title holder (Miss World USA 1972, and placed in the Top 15 in the Miss World finals that same year – brought to life the DC Comics superheroine Wonder Woman. That tv show aired first on the ABC network, and later on CBS, from 1975 to 1979. For so many around the world, Lynda, and Wonder Woman, were both inspirational figures because they showed that yes, a woman could be a superhero, too. And a damn good one at that.


Well, Irish composer and conductor EÍMEAR NOONE is a real-life, real-world, Wonder Woman. And just like Lynda Carter did back then, Eímear – through her enormous musical talent and her pure, magnificent, dream-warrior spirit as a human being – has become a hero and an inspiration on a worldwide scale. And for the record, I definitely count myself among that number, even more so since having the pleasure to spend some time in her company. 


Last February, the Galway woman wrote her own page into the history of the Academy Awards when she became the first woman to ever…that’s EVER… conduct the orchestra at the Oscars ceremony. And that was just the latest in a long-as-your-arm list of accolades Eímear has to her credit. Her work has been central to the World of Warcraft, which once held the title of highest grossing video game of all-time, at an astronomical $8.5 billion dollars. She has conducted the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic in London, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and even the Los Angeles ballet, to name just a few of the world-class ensembles she’s held in her charge. Eímear has also toured the world as principal conductor for the Zelda Symphony, a full, four movement symphony, and also with the Video Games Live Tour. As well as a real-life Wonder Woman, make no mistake about this, Eímear is, in essence, a rockstar!  


Eímear had asked me to give her a call around 1pm on the day we spoke, and as we began our chat, she explained why. That was when she put her baby down for its nap. So yeah, just take a moment to read that again and let it sink in. One of the busiest and most influential women in the world of music, a history-maker, a woman whose life is destined to become a movie in its own right some day, also had the kindness, the humility, and the grace to grant an interview in the hour or so that her baby was taking a nap. Like I said, Wonder Woman, superhero, and rockstar. 


We began our chat around Eímear’s performance at the Oscars earlier this year. Ahead of that event, in speaking about the Rickey Minor, the musical director of the Oscars, Eimear remarked that he was, “…an amazing kindred spirit who endeavours to elevate music and musicians at every possible turn”, and spoke of how generous he was “…to hand over this incredibly poignant moment.” What struck me about that more than anything was Eímear’s selfless grace in turning the spotlight on someone else in what was her own moment of glory. I asked her would it be accurate to say that as a conductor who has to care about everyone in her charge, that sense of care actually reflects an important part of who she is as a person as well, something which reveals itself so easily when she so often takes the time to speak so highly of people? 


“Well, I think there’s nothing wrong with showing gratitude. And when somebody bestows an opportunity like that upon you, it’s not just about you. You’re given this spotlight for a moment, but it’s about all of the people that helped you get there as well. Nobody gets there on their own. It’s a moment for humility, and it’s a moment for gratitude. Ricky Minor is just one of those soulful people who believes in good people doing good things. I was there because of my colleagues. There’s another colleague of mine, called Chris Walden, he’s the principal arranger for the Oscars. A lot of the musicians in the orchestra I’d worked with many, many times. They gave me strength. They gave me the courage to get up there and to really, really possess the moment. Not to just get through it, but to really, really live it, enjoy it, and own it. I could do that because standing next to me, filming me on his phone at my feet at the podium, was Ricky Minor, one of the greatest music directors of all time. He was doing that so that I could have it for myself, to watch it afterwards! And then I had the harpist, Gayle Levant, who’s played every Oscars for decades, she’s like my big sister in music ever since I moved to L.A. So any time I just glanced down at her I’d get a big smile and lots of good energy and love. So many of the players I knew. And the tough guys, the brass players who take no prisoners, they’re all pussycats that I’ve worked with forever, ya know! So when you realise that you’ve got there because of your own work, but also because of being championed by your colleagues, I think it’s a moment to celebrate that. And I think it’s a moment for other musicians as well to appreciate our community, and to see that we really do have a professional community. We are a big global family. I also was aware that that moment was a moment I was sort of inhabiting on behalf of female members of my composing and conducting community. It was something that I took very, very seriously. That moment belonged to our community, rather than just to me alone.” 

While the Oscars brought Eímear to the attention of the world most recently, she came into the world in Kilconnell in county Galway, where her grandfather, Joseph Shea, a celebrated Irish trad musician, and where also lived until the grand old age of 102, Paddy Fahy, often spoken of as the most lauded composer of the trad music scene. Eímear has said before that she wanted to be a conductor from the age of just seven, so the environment she grew up in, I reasoned, must have greatly shaped her love of music? 


“Well, I think just having space, and space to think, and this beautiful east Galway scenery, ya know. I also grew up in a very historic village. The ‘new’ Abbey is from the 13th century, on the site of a 6th century settlement. But Paddy, I mean, having somebody who was a composer in the village, it made it a really normal thing to want to be! I suppose deep down in my mind [I was thinking], Paddy was a composer, so that was a thing you could do [laughs]. And he was an absolutely wonderful man, I adored him. But for me, what really drew me in, was the sound of the orchestra. And I mean, my first experience of the orchestra was on telly, ya know. It says a lot for our national broadcaster RTE that they support the orchestra, because that was my – as an Irish child – first experience [of an orchestra], it was seeing an orchestra on television. I decided wow, this is just the most exciting and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, I have to be a part of it somehow, some way.” 

Eímear once referred to music as being “my friends on the page in front of me”, so clearly, music is a huge passion in her life. But I was wondering if she could look back on any specific moment in her life when music first became so much more than something that was just an interest, and instead, became as she has described it, “friends on the page in front of me”


“I can’t ever remember music being a hobby. It was always who I was. I can never remember all of a sudden going, ‘Oh, maybe I could do this as a career.’ I don’t remember thinking that at all. I just always remember thinking this is who I am. No even thinking, just knowing, that was it.” 

As wide-ranging a question as it is – possibly one that it’s not even possible to answer – why does Eímear think it was that way? Why was it music and her? 


“I have absolutely no idea. Absolutely none. I just loved it so much. It was exciting to me on an emotional level and an intellectual level. And it also was so deep, with so much to know and so much to learn. Every day I’m learning something new. And I don’t just mean new pieces of music, I mean I’m learning something new about music. It’s just so fascinating. It’s like this magical world to me. It just never stops giving back, there’s so much music to discover, and so much about music to discover. It’s a life-long pursuit. But as a kid, I don’t ever remember it being a hobby, it was just…who I am. Like every child, my first instrument was my voice. I remember…[laughs]…I remember my first time on stage…and I don’t think I’ve actually told this to anyone in an interview before. I was four years old, singing at my aunt’s secondary school in Castleblakeney. There was a talent show [laughs], and I think I was shoved out on stage at four. I sang a song called Little Mammy Birdy [laughs]. And my mother still has the dress I wore my first time on stage, yeah. I was only four, but even then I felt like, yeah, this is what I do. This is me! [laughs].” 


Well when Eímear is doing what she does, when she’s conducting, she can have up to ninety people in the orchestra in front of her, and as she had when working on the Warcraft updates a few years ago, a choir of fifty or sixty more people on top of that. What kind of mental preparation does Eímear go through prior to something like that to get herself into the frame of mind she needs to be in? 


“It’s important to me to be physically strong. And like a lot of musicians, I’m not super-fond of the gym [laughs]. But I try to be physically strong. But I also do some meditation based on the teaching of a guy called George Mumford, who taught the L.A. Lakers meditation. He understood what it was like to be ‘in the zone’, and to be at your best with a lot of pressure on your shoulders, and a lot of stimulus, and a lot of moving parts. I love his work, so I’ll just sit and listen to him give a lecture on guided meditation. The other thing is I prepare, I prepare like crazy. I will spend a lot of time with the music. And sometimes I don’t get to do that! When we recorded for Warcraft, and when we’re recording in general, I won’t see the music ahead of time. So we’re straight into it in the recording studio, a giant stack of scores lands on the music stand, and we just go from there. Dive straight in. But yeah, I do mentally and physically prepare. There’s no way around that one. You feel so much stronger and so much more in control, and so much better able to serve the audience with adequate preparation.” 

Is there a big difference in how Eímear would prepare for something that might be happening in the studio as opposed to for a ‘live’ event, like the Oscars? 


“Yes, there is. I mean, when we’re in the studio we don’t have rehearsal. But when we’re ‘live’ we don’t get to do another take [laughs]. And yes, the Oscars is ‘live.’ Everything you heard, we were playing ‘live.’ I try to bring something from what I’ve learned from the ‘live’ performance to the recording studio, and something from the recording studio to the ‘live’ performance. And here’s what I mean by that. When the red light is on in the recording studio, I try and get that electricity, that frisson of energy from myself and from the ensemble, as if we had an audience in front of us. Because it’s a different energy when the audience is there. And you see that right now, where in order to keep some performances going during the pandemic, you see a lot of filmed performances by all kinds of artists. And it definitely feels a little different when the audience isn’t present. And what I bring from the recording studio to a ‘live’ situation is that focus on detail, and that level of detail in the performance that I use in the recording studio. Because I know that it has to be absolutely perfect to live in a recorded format. Otherwise, you spend a lot of time in post-production tidying things up. And when you have hours of music, and millions and millions and millions of notes, you want to avoid that kind of thing because you do have to deliver a project on a deadline and so on. So in a studio, I’m very, very detailed orientated because you also need to know what can and can’t be fixed after the fact. So I bring that kind of head-space to the ‘live’ performance. I want that level of perfection, as if everything I do is being recorded. And it just turns out that at the moment, everything I do is being recorded! [laughs]. So that’s good! I’ve been lucky enough to work in some of the most amazing recording studios on the planet, like Skywalker Ranch, Abbey Road, the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox, Sony, Warner Brothers, Capitol Records, just being really spoiled.” 

And in the same way that she would prepare for a show or a recording session, does Eímear have any rituals for afterwards, to kind of come-down from that high of performance, and to help her unwind after the intensity of being ‘switched-on’? 


“Nobody’s ever asked me that question. Oh my goodness. It is so unromantic, I hate to burst peoples’ bubbles. Generally when I come off stage, especially if I’m on tour, I’ll check in with my family. And when I’m on tour, there will most likely not be anyone in the audience that I know personally. So I’ll come backstage, I’ll see the crew, say hi to all the orchestra managers, the stage-managers, that kind of thing, go into my dressing room…and pack! [laughs]. Then I go back to my hotel room, have something to eat, look at the news online, and stare at the ceiling [laughs]. So unromantic! It’s really hard when you’re on tour as well, because your adrenaline is going after the concert, and you’ve got to get up and travel the next day and do it all over again. So you come back from touring and your adrenal glands have just given up and died! When I was a student in Trinity College, a huge part of doing rehearsals and doing a concert was so you could party afterwards! And nobody told me that when you’re a pro you don’t get to party afterwards, only rarely. Very rarely do you actually get to do that. I remember when I started working at the studios in L.A. first, we’d do six-hour sessions, and afterwards your adrenaline is going mad, and you’re like, ‘Let’s go everybody, what pub are we goin’ to?!’ But everybody’s just like, ‘Ok, see you tomorrow!’ And you’re there like, ‘What?!’ [laughs]. I suppose that’s an Irish was as well. And it’s a healthy thing as well, to go and have a couple of drinks after a show and let that adrenaline just peter out, ya know. But if I have to get up the next day and do it all over again, I won’t even have a glass of wine. I need every brain-cell working at its optimum! Yeah, it’s weird. Especially if you’re dealing with jet-lag as well, things like that. You become this sort of energy-camel, it’s like you’re storing energy for the concert, and you won’t give it up for anything else!”Eímear continued, “I’m looking forward to doing something here with the Symphony Orchestra soon, and even after that, I mean, oh my God, I finally thought I’m doing something in Ireland, I can finally go and party afterwards, but nobody’s partying right now, at all. We can’t. At the moment, we’re waiting for restrictions to lift just so we can get the players together! Let alone the audience. You can’t even put an orchestra on the stage in Ireland at the moment because of the restrictions. And you know what? That’s all fine. We all need to keep each other safe. And we need to keep our musicians safe. That’s absolutely necessary. But it’s tough on all the players, not getting to be together, and not getting to play together. I saw some things about telling musicians to re-tool or whatever, and I thought it was hilarious. God, you may as well tell us to breathe through gills! That’s absolutely futile. You’re also talking about, in an archestra, everyone – every single person – has at least one post-graduate degree. The hoops that they jump through to actually get that seat in an orchestra, to be there…it’s just astronomical what they go through to get that job. Every single person there, they’re not there because they’re good at music, they’re there because they live, breathe, eat, and sleep it!” 

~ To stay up to date with everything that Eímear is working on, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Watch this space for Part Two of our chat coming your way in the weeks ahead! ENDS

Grainne Gallanagh

First Published August 2018

FROM BUNCRANA TO BANGKOK

In the fabulous surroundings of the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin last Thursday evening, Donegal’s Grainne Gallanagh was crowned the new Miss Universe Ireland, by her predecessor Cailín Toibín. Twenty-four year old Grainne, a nurse who’s based in London, will now go forward to represent Ireland at the final of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 17th. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Grainne for a little bit of a chat in the days just after she received her crown and sash. And before we even spoke, I got a measure of just how sound Grainne is. We were originally scheduled to chat on Saturday evening, but the day passed without anything happening. Now that can often happen from time to time when you’re hoping to speak with someone who’s in demand, and as of last Thursday evening, Grainne is VERY much in demand. So you take it in your stride and just see what happens. On Sunday morning, however, I woke up to a text from Grainne, sent at 1.50am the previous night (so right at the end of a very long few days), offering her apologies for not being in touch, explaining that the day had just been hectic (as you’d expect), and offering to chat instead on Sunday at whatever time suited me. Now keep in mind that this Sunday just gone was pretty likely to be one of Grainne’s last days to herself, of any kind, for about the next year! 


But there she was, thinking about others. I guess that comes with being a nurse. But like I said, sound. With beauty, brains, a huge heart, and a sun-bright soul – and this top-level sense of soundness – put your money on this young lady to do us proud when December comes, folks. 


I began our chat by asking Grainne how she was feeling, just a few days after being presented with the crown and sash of her new role? Had she begun to get a sense yet of how much her life was going to change for the next year or so?


“Do ya know what? I’m absolutely still on a high! I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet at all, to be honest with you. I’m so, so happy that my face is sore because I can’t stop smiling! [laughs]. I just got home here today from Dublin, to my hometown in Buncrana in Donegal, and when I got out of the car all my cousins, and my aunties, and my friends, and all were all down to surprise me. And everyone’s so happy, so it’s lovely.”

What went through her mind at the moment her name was announced? 


“We were just standing there holding hands, me and Aoife [Rutledge] the first runner-up, and I was just praying please, please let it be me! [laughs]. But then I just couldn’t believe it [when she was announced as the winner], and I think I just stood there thinking, did I hear that wrong? I stood there for about ten seconds with my hands on my face. I don’t even know what I was thinking, it was just a blur. But it was so exciting, and everybody was screaming, but I was crying. It was so, so nice, such a lovely feeling.”

This year’s Miss Universe pageant will be held in Bangkok in December, where Grainne has actually been before on her travels. But what’s in store for her between now and then as the new Miss Universe Ireland? 


“Well I’ve met up with Brittany [Mason], the director of Miss Universe Ireland, and we briefly went through things like what do I want from Miss Universe Ireland. And there’s gonna be an awful lot of photo-shoots, modelling, travelling. But obviously I don’t want to give up my job as a nurse, because that’s who I am. It’s part of me. And I just don’t feel that if I was to give up nursing that it would be being true to myself. So I’m going to continue that. And because it’s a flexible job, I’ll be able to do less hours and focus on Miss Universe Ireland as well, and keep both of them as a priority. But I’m definitely going to work so hard for Thailand, I can’t wait. Like, I’m so, so, so excited! [laughs]”

Grainne works as a nurse in London, so how will she balance and integrate those responsibilities and duties with her new role? 


“Well I didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t have any kind of a set plan for what I was going to do when I won, ya know. I just didn’t expect this. So I think now I’m just going to have to go day-by-day, and prioritize what I’m going to do. I can do agency work as a nurse, so I can book my shifts when I’m available and that way I’m not letting anybody down if I can’t go to work. And if an opportunity with Miss Universe Ireland comes up, I’ll be aware that I’ve got that and so I won’t be able to work this week, or whatever. I don’t want to be letting anybody down by not showing up to work, as such. So it’s good that it’s so flexible. If it was any other job, it might not be. So I feel like I’ll be o.k. in that sense.” 

Grainne has already stated that she wants to use her time as Miss Universe Ireland as a platform to promote and raise awareness and education for female health. Aside from the obvious reasons, I asked Grainne why this is something so close to her heart…


“I suppose with me being a nurse and being a woman, it’s very noticeable in the country, in Ireland, that women’s health issues do take a back seat. Obviously with the recent scandal around the smear-testing, being one example. It always seems to be that women’s health is never on the forefront, there’s always some publicity around it where something’s gone wrong, or the way it took so long for the Repeal the 8th amendment to finally happen, ya know. I just feel that in this country there could be more done to highlight the problems in women’s health. And obviously then with me being a nurse, and being a woman, all of these factors are the reasons that I chose that platform. I really do feel that it’s one that’s needed. There’s so many women in Ireland that need encouragement and support in that sense. And with me being a professional, I feel that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not just saying things off a whim, or while uneducated in those areas. So there was loads of reasons, but I’m definitely glad I chose that platform, and hopefully now I’ll be able to do more charity work around it now that I’ve got this title.”  

From working as a nurse in England, has Grainne noticed differences in standards towards women’s health care between the two countries? 


That’s a good question. I suppose there is a bit of a difference. I suppose in Ireland, it [women’s health] does take more of a back seat. Whereas in England, it is a bit more to the forefront. It’s just that you’ll notice kind of little things that are different in your day-to-day job. We’re not very bad, obviously. Women’s health is very important in this country, but I just feel it could use a little bit more encouragement with everything.”

As we mentioned earlier, Grainne has already been to Bangkok before, and indeed, has done a fair bit of travelling – spending time in Boston, San Francisco, and Spain – and with plenty more air-miles sure to be clocked up during the year ahead. But she’ll have to be careful not to have a repeat of what happened to her last Christmas! We’ll let Grainne explain…


“[Laughs] Is this the passport situation? [laughs]. I was going home for Christmas, and I was so excited about getting home to see my family. I was packing all my things, and packing all my presents, and didn’t realise that I didn’t have my passport! And I also didn’t have any photo i.d. at the time, because my purse had actually been stolen a few months before. So I got to the airport, realised I had no passport, it was Christmas time, so there wasn’t any other available flights to get home. So I started to panic, and I started to cry, and I was ringing my family saying I wasn’t going to get home, and that this was the most awful thing in the world! [laughs]. But then one of the girls that was working at the airport took pity on me and she checked my bag on herself, and took me up to the flight herself, and made sure I got on o.k. and everything. So it was great in the end. She was really, really nice.” 

The Miss Universe Ireland pageant 2018 wasn’t Grainne’s first venture into contests of this kind. She was actually crowned Miss Donegal in 2016, and was also the first runner-up in Miss Earth Northern Ireland in 2017. So I wondered when did Grainne first think about taking part in competitions like these?


“Yeah, my very first one was when I was Miss Donegal for Miss Ireland World in 2016, and I just entered that last minute. It was something that I’d always been interested in. Everybody told me it would be great for me to do that, so I just kind of thought well, why don’t I just go for it? And actually, Miss Universe Ireland was the first contest that I ever entered, but it didn’t actually end up happening that year. So Miss Universe Ireland was always my first dream, and my biggest dream. But before Brittany Mason took it over it was quite disordered, and disorganised. So it didn’t end up happening that year and that was when I decided to enter for Miss Ireland World instead, as Miss Donegal. It was a great platform, it was brilliant, but it just wasn’t to be the year for me. And again, Miss Earth, when I entered that, I think it finished the way it did for a reason, and that was because this one this year is the one I was supposed to get, ya know.”

For people who won’t know much about her yet, how would Grainne describe herself? 


“How would I describe myself? I kind of like everything! [laughs]. I like all different types of music. If you were on my phone you’d be thinkin’ what is this girl into?! Because I have everything from rap, to country, to pop, to Irish folk music! With t.v., I don’t get to watch much, because I’m quite busy. But if I’m free I like to sit in and watch some Netflix. And I love to run as well, and to swim in the sea when I can. Those are some of the things I like to do. As for my personality, well I’d like to think I’m quite bubbly, I’m definitely hard-working, I’m ambitious, I’m determined. And I feel like those are all good traits for me to have for being Miss Universe Ireland, and going on to compete in Miss Universe. And I suppose I’m quite talkative, too [laughs].” 

If, through being Miss Universe Ireland, Grainne could have the chance to meet anyone in the world, who would she want that to be, and why?


“Who would it be, and why? Hmmm. I don’t know actually. Oh my God, there’s so many people. I’ll have to think longer about that one! I don’t know. I’ll come back to you on that one [laughs].” 

As we came to the end of our chat on what I imagine will be Grainne’s last free Sunday for quite a while, I asked her if she had any kind of personal motto or mantra that she did her best to live by? 


“I do. What I live my life by is this: Anything worth having doesn’t come easy. And I’ve said that since I was very young. I just feel that if you work hard for something, that it’s always going to be worth it in the end. Because anything that you’ve worked hard for, is going to be something that you’ve really wanted. So it’s going to be something that you’ll look back on and be proud that you achieved. That’s definitely my motto, and it’s definitely something that I’ve stood by.”

Not only will Grainne stand out when it comes to beauty, brains, charm, and style in Bangkok next December, I don’t think there’ll be a sounder contestant there either. Maybe Buncrana should set aside December 18th for one hell of a party.

ENDS

Harleigh Buxton

First Published June 2020

A MODEL ENTREPRENEUR 

Model, designer, and founder of the RIOT FROM BIRTH label, HARLEIGH BUXTON

If you think there’s nothing more to modelling than just standing around and looking pretty, then you actually don’t know anything at all about what the profession calls for. But if you ever had the chance to spend some time watching one of the industry’s top professionals in action, you’d come away with a whole different viewpoint of what being a model entails, and an appreciation for just how well the best in the business do their job. A couple of years back I had just such an opportunity when I joined my good friend, the designer Charlotte Lucas, at the photoshoot for her latest collection. Modelling for Charlotte that day in Charleville Castle was a young lady from Clare named HARLEIGH BUXTON.

Watching Harleigh work, effortlessly making the most minute yet precise adjustments to her poses, all with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what was needed to make this second’s shot something entirely different from the last, and the next something different again to this, was actually fascinating. Much like Charlotte’s gorgeous designs, everything is in the detail. But there was something more to Harleigh, too. You could just tell by chatting with her. And in the last few weeks, that feeling was proved right as the Clare woman revealed the news that, as well as continuing to be one of Ireland’s most in-demand young models, she was also launching her own fashion label, the ultra-cool, fabulously titled, and also designed by Harleigh herself, RIOT FROM BIRTH.

Luckily for me, I had the pleasure of catching up with Harleigh again last week. Aside from everything that’s happening in the world right now, the name of her label immediately catches your attention. So, to get our chat under way, I began by asking Harleigh from where was Riot From Birth born?

“When I was about sixteen years old, it was always a dream for me to do my own clothing line. And I’ve worked in fashion for so long, it was always something I wanted to do. I was coming up with concepts for different names, and I had a few different ideas. But Riot From Birth came from the fact that with growing up in this day and age, even with social media, I feel that people can be very suppressed. I’ve experienced a lot of things where I’ve been told I can’t do this because I’m a woman, or things like that. So I really wanted the name of my clothing brand to be something that had a message and could be inspiring. So I came up with that name and I checked online and actually managed to get the domain name and the Instagram when I was just sixteen. So I’ve kinda had it hidden in the works for a few years [laughs]. So yeah, that’s basically where it came from!”

As mentioned earlier, I first met Harleigh when she modelled on a photoshoot for a very good friend of mine, the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards nominated designer Charlotte Lucas, at Charleville Castle a year or so ago. So I know from Charlotte how big and challenging a task it is to start a label and get things off the ground. So for Harleigh, when did she first know that this was something she wanted to do, and then, when did she decide she was going to do it? Was there, I wondered, a specific moment that acted as the catalyst?

“Yeah, it was always something I had in the back of my head that I wanted to do. Because I’m very, very passionate about fashion. So from a very, very young age, it was always something that I had in the back of my head. I guess sixteen was when I was beginning to think about it, but obviously it’s a very expensive and a very time-consuming thing to do, and I really wanted to have full creative-control. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to work with other brands and maybe have my own collection and things like that within them, but I wanted to have full creative-control of what I was doing. If I was going to put something out there, I wanted to do it myself entirely at the beginning. I wanted to make sure everything was exactly how I wanted it to be. So I started working and designing, and producing, and getting samples – because obviously that’s such a time-consuming thing as well – about two years ago. And then we launched officially about two or three weeks ago! But the company started to be built about two years ago, building my own website and everything like that. so It takes a lot, for sure! [laughs].” 

Harleigh is also a very successful and much in-demand model, of course. How much did being in the fashion world in that sense influence her to want to be involved as a creator, too?

“I struggled in school, but I was always a very creatively minded person. And also, my parents were in the fashion and the music industries. That was a big inspiration to me. And then I started modelling from fourteen. And even though you’re working and shooting and things like that, you also get to see a lot of other things, like creative directors working, the actual designers themselves too. You get to see behind the scenes of the fashion industry, you get to see how it all works. So yeah, modelling, and getting to meet and work with so many amazing designers, and companies. It all helped me in finding styles that I like, because there’s so many different fashion brands and labels, and so many different styles of clothing. It’s so diverse that you can really do anything with it.”

So even though Harleigh started modelling at such a young age, she was clearly paying attention to everything that was going on around her, she wasn’t just showing up to do a job?

“Yeah, definitely. And I’m so grateful because I’ve got to make a lot of friends from my work. And I’ve been able to meet a lot of people who have been able to guide me and give me advice on certain things. So it’s actually been very helpful being a model and wanting to pursue a career in another part of the fashion industry.” 

Staying with the modelling side of Harleigh’s life for a moment, how did her modelling career actually begin at fourteen?

“Well there’s lots of different ways that people can get into modelling, but I was scouted. That means an agent came to me, and said look, we want you to model. It was something I’ve literally wanted to do since I was tiny. I remember when I was younger, I actually went on a shoot with a friend of mine in London when I was really, really small. Then I begged my mum, I was like, “But mum, this agency is soooooo interested in me”, but she was like, absolutely not! [laughs]. Not until you’re a teenager! So yeah, I got scouted when I was fourteen, and I was with that agency until the beginning of this year when I decided to actually go freelance. I’m at that stage now where I’m quite busy with everything else that’s going on in my life as well, so I just needed to have a bit more freedom. And it was kind of unfair of me to dedicate myself to an agency when I was turning down a lot of work.” 

Going back to Harleigh’s new label, Riot From Birth, in as much as it’s a creative outlet – and adventure – it’s also very much a business. When she was thinking about doing this, how much was she being driven by the belief that it would be a good, solid business idea as opposed to how creative it would allow her to be? What was the balance of thought in that regard?

“The one thing I always made sure to do, was to have it exactly how I wanted it. And I wanted it to be perfect. I spent so much time on it. We had earlier dates that it was meant to come out, and the original concept is soooo different to what we actually finally came out with. And our next collection, we’re already designing, we have that in the works now. Obviously it is a business, as you said, and you do want to make some sort of a profit! [laughs]. For me, I’ve had all these amazing people around me, friends and family, supporting me, and they were saying if I just focus on the creative side and make something that’s quality, and that you’re proud of, and that you’ll be proud of other people wearing, then you’ll succeed. A lot of it is to do with your belief, and if you believe that you’re going to do well, then hard work will always make it happen for you. So I’d say I mainly focused on being creative. I love the graphic design aspect of it. I love the whole design process itself. But yes, obviously it is a business, and you do have to keep it in the back of your mind that you want to make a bit of money [laughs].” 

It sounds like Harleigh is very much a hands-on figure as far as the design side of everything to do with Riot From Birth goes…?

“Yeah! I got samples from lots of different manufacturers, and I had worked with lots of different companies. I ended up going with a manufacturing company in the U.K, so everything is printed and embroidered there. I wanted something that was quality, and was going to last a long time. That was something I was really thinking about. If I was going to put something out, it wasn’t going to be just another range that was cheap and quick. I wanted to put something out that would be a good reflection of who I am, and what I think fashion should be. I designed everything myself. I manage everything myself. I did all the website myself. It’s all 100% me. The social media, the P.R, the packaging, all designed by me. Yeah, full on! [laughs]. And just to say as well, that all of the pictures we had to shoot during quarantine, those are all of me modelling, which is not something I wanted to do. I actually wanted to have other people modelling as well. But that obviously wasn’t realistic during this time. But I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio and being a creative director and shooting something.” 

Why did Harleigh not want herself to be modelling for Riot From Birth?

“I think it was because I didn’t want it to seem like it was just merch for me. I wanted people to want to buy it, not because of me in any way, but because it stands alone by itself, that it’s a quality item, and that Riot From Birth is an amazing company, and because of everything that we represent, you know.”

Speaking of the Riot From Birth website, that was launched officially a couple of weeks back. So as of right now, folks can go on there and order from Harleigh’s range. So, what exactly can people order right now, and what else is going to be coming a little further on down the road?

“Well all my items are unisex. At the minute we have an over-sized tee-shirt, a tracksuit, and a hoodie. Now this was a lot smaller than what we wanted to originally release. I had a few more items in the works, but just because of Covid we just wanted to get everything out there that we could, and to gauge what people were liking and what people weren’t liking. We have another collection coming. We had originally decided that we wanted to do swim-wear and more festival inspired clothing, but again, because of Covid that just didn’t seem right for right now. But it’s something we’re definitely going to be doing next year. The next collection that I mentioned will be very similar to this one, but we’ll have hats and socks and different designs, and there’s a new theme for that collection so that will be very exciting. We have an amazing shoot planned for it, so hopefully everything gets back to normal soon enough and we can get started!” 

So for what Harleigh is designing for Riot From Birth, does each range go by season as it would in fashion generally? Or is it a little bit different than that?

“It’s a little bit different. I wouldn’t say it’s fast fashion, because the turnaround of what we make takes a very long time, because everything is embroidered on in the U.K. It’s more of an apparel, I would say, than a seasonal thing. I just wanted to make things that people would be comfortable in and would be proud to wear. And be happy! A big thing for me working in the fashion industry is I’ve got to try on a lot of clothes…and they’re not always the most comfortable! [laughs]. Or the most flattering! [laughs]. I feel like I was well-tested and knew what I wanted to do with Riot From Birth!” 

So if Harleigh was asked to sum up Riot From Birth – everything that the company is, and that her clothing stands for – how would she do that?

“I would sum up Riot From Birth as a unisex, apparel brand made for comfort and confidence!”

Switching back to Harleigh’s life as a model once again, I wondered how the last few months had been for her in relation to Covid 19?

“Well I’ve been working a lot on Riot, but also I’ve been making sure to do my own little shoots at home, getting creative with different media. I have a polaroid camera, for example, so I’ve been doing crazy make-up! Just trying to keep myself occupied so that I have that creative outlet. I’ve been working-out a lot too, just because being stuck inside you really need to burn energy! I’m so used to doing so much in a day, running around to all of these different places and shooting. When you’re shooting as well, that’s so high-energy, you’re in front of a camera for such a long time. So I’ve been trying to burn my energy! [laughs].” 

The day we spoke was actually Black-Out Tuesday, when people all around the world came together on social media to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and as a form of protest against the police killing of George Flyod in the United States. Like myself, Harleigh was taking part in that day’s protest, so I asked her for her thoughts on everything that had been happening…

“It’s very sad to see. I’m not someone who would tolerate any sort of violence or danger. I think it’s sad to see what’s going on. It’s crazy, because Instagram would be a massive platform for me. It’s all just so sad, and I’m sure we’re not even seeing the half of it over here, to be honest. You can only imagine what never makes it onto the internet, or isn’t allowed up. First in 202 we had Covid 19 and lost so many lives, and this is now happening. I think it’s important [the protest], I think it needs to happen. I think it’s good that people are taking a stand. There was a protest in Dublin yesterday. I think it’s important that people are finally doing something about it. I just don’t particularly like all the violence. All you can do is raise awareness, like today. It’s about educating yourself, constantly. Make sure your opinion is your own. I always say to people to keep an open mind, because you never know what you’re reading on the internet. It [racism] has been going on for years and years and years, and it’s probably going to go on happening for years and years and years still, because I don’t think the world can change – or heal – that quickly. But it has to happen.” 

~ You can follow Riot From Birth, and Harleigh too, on Instagram and Facebook. 

ENDS

Lorraine Keane

First Published February 2020

LORRAINE’S FASHION RELIEF RETURNS

(Part 1) 

Lorraine Keane

It’s probably something that we’re all guilty of to some extent from time to time. We think that because we can’t do something huge there’s no way at all in which we can help those in most need around the world. But thanks to LORRAINE KEANE and her FASHION RELIEF event with OXFAM, thoughts like that should never cross our minds again. The reason why is simple. From Lorraine’s own personal experiences of visiting some of the most impoverished places on Earth – countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia, Haiti, Guatemala, and more – she came to realise that in such places even as little as €20 can feed a family for a week. Just take a moment to think about that… €20 can feed a family for a week…

That knowledge was the spark from which FASHION RELIEF was first born a couple of years ago, as Lorraine and Oxfam combined to create an event where designer, pre-loved, and celebrity donated items can be purchased for as little as €20 in many cases. So even one sale like that will do a world of good that most of us, please God, will never be in a position to need. To date, FASHION RELIEF has raised in excess of €200,000. This year’s Galway event takes place in the Galmont Hotel on March 1st, and will be followed by a full weekend in Dublin’s R.D.S. on March 28th and 29th.

Ahead of those dates, I had the pleasure of catching up with Lorraine last Friday evening. We began our chat by going back to late last year when Lorraine visited somewhere that, hopefully, most of us will never come close to experiencing…the largest refugee camp in the world, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh…

“Like all of these trips that I do, and I’ve been doing them once a year for the last ten years, it was just very difficult. I’d like to think that they get easier, but I think they actually get worse, to be honest with you, because you know what to expect. These people are living in extreme poverty. When I’m there, yeah, I get a little homesick, I miss Peter and the girls, and my family. But when I come back, it kind of stays with you for ages as well. You meet these people actually face-to-face, you hear their stories, and see how they’re living, and the conditions they’re living in. And they’re so grateful. That’s the really sad part, when they’re thanking you for helping them and thanking Oxfam, and asking you to please tell the Irish people how grateful they are for giving them shelter. And that’s just a very basic tent they’re talking about, made from tarpaulin and bamboo. And also for giving them clean, safe drinking water, and food, and other supplies. I mean, all of these people were living in what were certainly poorer conditions than any of us would ever have to experience in this part of our planet, thank God. But they were still self-sufficient, they had farms and land, and homes. But they [the Rohingya] were literally just thrown out of those homes and off their own land, and their houses were burned down.”

 

Lorraine continued, “If it wasn’t for the Bangladeshi government being so generous – because they’re not a very wealthy country themselves, they’re already struggling to look after their own – but they opened up the boarder to a million refugees. And that’s a huge example to the rest of us. All these people want to do, remember, is to go home. Because they’ve been there now for two years, and it’s at about four times the capacity of people for the space that’s available, and according to what the U.N. recommended capacity is. But at least while they’re there, they’re feeling safe. And we’re trying to keep them healthy. Oxfam provide health -workers and have little clinics and things like that. And because of where they are, like so many places in the developing world, extreme climate is a huge part of the reason that they are impoverished. We worry about climate change on our little island, but my goodness! Our part of the world is doing all the damage, but their part of the world is suffering all the consequences, ya know.”

 

There was one woman in particular, Nalia, who told me about herself”, Lorraine said. “She had four children and was pregnant with her fifth when she was trying to leave Myanmar, to escape to Bangladesh after her house had been burned down. They escaped in the middle of the night, but they were caught, and her husband was shot dead in front of her. So, at eight and a half months pregnant, she struggled to get to Bangladesh. And then, just as they got to the boarder, her son was also shot in front of her, her eldest child. And her other children witnessed that. She went on to give birth to a little girl, and now that little girl is being brought up in Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee camp in the world. Nalia has become a leader within the refugee camp for women, and for girls. It’s a very strict culture, and religion, so it’s very restrictive for them living in those kind of conditions. They have no privacy. And yet, their culture and religion insist that they are very private, stay covered, and all the rest. It’s very tough. It would break your heart.”

 
 

Lorraine’s first Fashion Relief event of 2020 was just over a week away when we spoke, so I asked her how hectic was life as she took care of all the final preparations for Galway, and of course, continued to get ready for the two Dublin shows in the RDS at the end of March, also?

“Well I was just down in Galway for the last couple of days delivering by hand our leaflets around shops, and cafes, and restaurants, and boutiques, anybody that would take them! Just to publicise the event on the ground, at a local level. Then the lovely Keith Finnegan had me on with Jon Richards on Galway Bay FM, who is a friend of Peter’s for a long time because he’s been a big fan of The Devlins [Lorraine is married to Peter Devlin, of the band The Devlins], he would have had the band on performing ‘live’ over the years. And they’re running ads for us all next week for free, it’s just amazing, the generosity of people, what they’ll do to help. So maybe it does help to make a difference, the fact that I get to travel to these countries and then show everybody the difference that the money raised makes, ya know. Irish people, as we know, are some of the most generous people in the world. Nobody has said no to me. And that’s anybody from well-know, high-profile celebrities and sports personalities, like Miriam O’ Callaghan, Rob Kearney, Norah Casey, Mary Kennedy, Rosanna Davison, all of these fabulous people, the list goes on and on. I just had a text message there from Vogue Williams to say she was posting over some items, and Vogue donated last year as well. Roz Purcell was in touch this morning saying the same, so was Holly Wright, and Holly Carpenter. But apart from that, it’s the people who I wouldn’t have known, in AV (audio-visual), and staging, and events, things like that, they’re all providing it for free too. And that’s worth thousands and thousands of euro. But they want to help. I think most Irish people want to help, but they just don’t know how or what to do. So I’ve given them that outlet.”

Thinking back a few years to the moment when Lorraine first knew that she needed to do something to help these people, and then arriving at the idea of Fashion Relief with her husband Peter, did she have any idea at all at that time that this would become something which, as Lorraine has since said many times, she feels like she’ll be involved with for the rest of her life?

“Ya know what? I didn’t even know if the first one would work! You have to take some risks in your career. And I thought this was a risk worth taking. So we said we’d try it and just do our best. I mean, when you’re out there, in these countries, and you see that €20 would feed a family for a week, gosh, even longer, I knew that no matter what we raised it would help in some way. And it’s all been because of people being so generous. But no, I really had no idea. To go from one event in year one, and then last year having five events! And this year, we’ll probably have five or six altogether. It’s been great. And we’ve now raised over €200,000 which I never imagined we’d do, because Fashion Relief is not even two years old, although we’re on our third lot of events.” 

ENDS

Claire Garvey

First Published January 2020

AND GOING TO THE OSCARS…IT’S CLAIRE GARVEY!

(Part 1)

Claire Garvey

The prestigious Best Movie accolade may well have went to the Korean language comedy-come-thriller Parasite at this year’s Oscars, but as far we’re concerned, the two big winners of the night were definitely two fabulous Irish women. While Parasite will go into the record books as the first ever foreign language film to claim the main prize, history was also made in the orchestra pit where Galway woman Eímear Noone became the first woman EVER to conduct the orchestra on the biggest night of the year for the silver screen. And as she did so, she was resplendent in a warrior-like gold outfit brought to life through the creative genius of Dublin designer CLAIRE GARVEY. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Claire for the first time a couple of years back when she was a guest on Marian Shanley’s The Power of Dreams show on Dublin South FM on the same day as the Wrafter Family Band. Claire was wearing one of her own designs that day, and I’ve been a fan ever since, both of her designs and of the lady herself. In the wake of what was actually her second involvement in the Oscars (stay tuned for more on that!), I had the privilege of catching up with Claire again last week.

And I could only begin by asking Claire how that past week had been for her. Because, even for someone as accustomed as she to having her work in the spotlight, something like the Oscars invariably has an extra touch of sparkle involved. Even more so, of course, with Eímear Noone making history as well…

“It’s been absolutely incredible. I mean, to do two dresses for the Oscars…! I think I stayed up until half-two in the morning watching Eímear moving her arms wildly conducting and I was just mesmerised by her talent, ya know. And there’s actual been a cookie made of the outfit, an actual cookie from an American cookie company! [laughs]. The whole thing is just bizarre. I think they pick their four favourite Oscar outfits every year and they make cookies out of them! So it’s surreal, but it’s such a proud moment to do it for Eímear as well, because I’ve worked with her for years now. So this is just like the icing on the cake, if you’ll excuse the pun of the cookie again [laughs].” 

Eímear text Claire within about thirty seconds of first getting the news of her Oscars appearance herself. I asked Claire if she could take me back to that moment and what it felt like for her as she was reading that message…

“Gosh, I was sitting there eating chips and watching telly, ya know, with my husband at home. Then I get this text from Eímear and I said, oh, I wonder what she’s up up to now. And the message was like, ‘Claire!!!’ And I was like, oh, o.k…and I read on…’Can you help me?!’ And I was thinking, yeah, of course, but then I read on and saw that it was the Oscars! I just sort of sat there for a second, and the chips nearly fell off my lap [laughs]. But once she had asked me, we still didn’t know if an outfit would get approved, because you have to get approved by the Oscars for what she’s going to wear. I think it’s because Eímear was the conductor, because anybody else can wear what they want. The conductor of the orchestra, normally they’ll wear black or suits. So she wasn’t sure. I mean, I started straight away doing an outfit for her! Literally, sixty seconds after getting her message, yeah, I started working on something that night. So she rang me the next day and said to me, ‘I have an idea, I’m thinking of gold.’ And I was looking at what I had in my living room in front of me, that I’d started work on…and it was gold! And then she said, ‘And I’m thinking of a jacket!’ And that’s what I had started, a gold jacket! It was so bizarre that I’d actually started what she was thinking of in her head.” 

So what Claire thought of almost straight away after first hearing from Eímear, is almost exactly what they finished up with?

“Honest to God! I swear. That very night I started a leather, gold coat for her. And literally when I heard from her next…it might have been a few days because she was up to her ears…she said she was thinking of gold, and thinking of a coat. And I said to her, ‘You’re not going to believe this, Eímear, I’m sitting here looking at a jacket that I’ve started, and it’s gold!’ I think, because it was the Oscars, I was thinking of her conducting on the podium as a gold statue with her long, gold hair would be brilliant. Obviously we were sending cosmic vibes to each other! [laughs]. Thank God she said gold! [laughs].” 

Did Claire realise straight away that Eímear was going to be the first female conductor of the orchestra ever at the Oscars? Was that something Eímear had mentioned in her text? Or did it dawn on Claire later?

“It totally dawned on me later. I just saw Oscars and I was gone! [laughs]. I’d done Nile Rodgers [of the band Chic] at the Oscars a few years earlier. But to do a female, and then to realise that it’s the first female conductor ever, AND she’s Irish…! God, it was incredible! You’d be kind of pinching yourself. With Nile Rodgers you didn’t know if he was going to wear it until the night. Whereas with Eímear, once it was confirmed, she had told people then what she’d be wearing. So it was almost more pressure, in that I was scared something would go wrong, or maybe she wouldn’t wear it. I remember on Saturday night…I thought the Oscars were on Saturday night, I was so wired! [laughs]. I looked at her page and she was wearing this black dress, and I thought the worst! Because I wasn’t over there, ya know, so I didn’t know what was happening. But my husband said to me, ‘Claire…they’re not on until tomorrow night!’ [laughs]. I was like right…o.k…[laughs]. So it was a different kind of pressure. But it all went brilliantly, ya know, thank God.” 

That Nile Rodgers connection, of course, is something that some people may not be aware of, and the fact that Claire had an Oscars link in her story already. Claire explained how that all came about…

“Ah sure that was bizarre, too! A friend of mine sent pictures of my work to the girls from Chic, cos’ one of my friends kind of vaguely knew her. And they seemed to love the stuff and said they’d love to wear it when they were going to be in Belfast. So I did two outfits for Kimberly and Folami for that show, and Nile Rodgers saw them and said, ‘Hey, where did you get your outfits?!’ [laughs]. They said this girl in Dublin. Then, two days later I get a message saying it’s Nile Rodgers, he was looking for something for the X-Factor, could I do something for that which was in a few days time, and I think it was for the girls as well. That was another one of those moments. Although I didn’t have chips with me that time [laughs]. I put down the phone and I was like, oh my God, in a couple of days I have to do a man’s jacket for Nile Rodgers – and I’d never done mens’ wear before – and for the girls! But after that, we’ve done loads for him. For Bette Midler parties, for Duabai, and for the Oscars we did two outfits for him. He put mine on for the red carpet, and changed out of mine and ate his dinner in Louis Vuitton, then put another one of mine on to perform! That was my claim to fame! [laughs]. Then when I bought the shop last year, Nile flew over and cut the ribbon. So he’s been absolutely unbelievably supportive of me, he really has.” 

I was curious to know if the way Claire had that moment of almost divine inspiration where EÍmear’s outfit was concerned, had happened with Nile’s too? Or was that a more thought-out process?

“They’re never planned out. It’s funny, the first time I was doing the X-Factor one for him, I had only two or three days to do it, but I had it done. But I was looking at it, and even though I was flying out with it the next morning, I knew it still needed something else. So I got a can of spray paint – fabric spray paint – and I sprayed half of it blue! [laughs]. It could have gone soooo wrong! [laughs]. I don’t know if it was naivety or cleverness on my part, but i just went for it! And when I met him in his hotel room, he said, ‘God, I love the two-tone colors!’ And I did one for him for the Oscars that glowed in the dark. But he didn’t know it did! I never even told him. I presumed that when he was lying there the night before thinking what would he wear for the Oscars, it would be glowing back at him [laughs]. So people tend to trust me, and I tend to just do what I think is right. And if I second guess it, then it doesn’t work for me.”

ENDS