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Saturday 10 December 2016

Trusted by the stars... Dublin documentary maker Shauna Keogh

Dubliner Shauna Keogh has gained the trust of celebrities, 40-year-old virgins and serial killers. Now resident in the US, she tells exactly how she managed it

Brian Patrick Byrne

Published 08/06/2015 | 02:30

Life stories: Dubliner Shauna Keogh has worked on shows such as Too Fat for Fifteen, which was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
Life stories: Dubliner Shauna Keogh has worked on shows such as Too Fat for Fifteen, which was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
Shauna Keogh, though the Dubliner is based in the States, she plans to return home

MOST people would find the idea of getting personal correspondence from a serial killer pretty hair-raising.But Dubliner Shauna Keogh says that when she received a letter from 'Craigslist killer' Brogan Rafferty, it simply meant she was doing her job right.

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She wasn't frightened, or worried in the slightest: in fact, Keogh was so delighted, the first thing she did was send the letter to her mother back home in Kingswood, Tallaght.

"She didn't see the funny side," Keogh admits, speaking from her 11th-floor office overlooking lower Manhattan.

"Rafferty told me he had heard I was Irish, and so that was a huge incentive for him to contact me, as he also had Irish roots. He told me if I wanted to continue communication, the best way to do that was to write to him."

The Emmy-nominated television producer has a thicker skin than most. When she was working on Web of Lies for US network Investigation Discovery, she often made contact with killers like Ohio-born Rafferty, who was convicted of the aggravated murders of three men when he was just 17.

She was also tasked with interviewing the mother of tragic Missouri teen Megan Meier, who killed herself at 13 after being viciously cyber-bullied.

Keogh recalls: "It was just me, the cameraman and Megan's mother, and we asked her to take us through every step of Megan's childhood, from when Megan was born to the moment she found her dead in her bedroom closet. We had to stop that interview many times and just give her a hug."

Keogh, 33, who now lives in Brooklyn, admits that working on true-crime documentaries is a tougher gig than most. But if you had met Keogh 13 years ago, when she had just graduated with a Higher National Diploma in Television and Film Production from Ballyfermot College, you would be forgiven for not knowing where she would end up.

Realising that her options in Ireland were limited, she made the well-trodden journey to London in the hopes of breaking into the television industry. Despite having no ambitions for a career in front of the camera, she still faced modest beginnings, finding work in a bar.

From a young age, Keogh was tenacious. Her two elder sisters were carving out reliable careers - for Caroline, now 35, it was paediatric nursing, while Kerriann, 37, works in administration. Keogh says: "Being the youngest, I was always the crazy one who did my own thing."

She was still earning the minimum wage in a bar in London when she heard Katie Price and her then beau Peter Andre were staying at a hotel nearby.

The couple were fresh from the 2004 series of I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and Keogh had what she thought was a bankable idea.

She had never filmed anything for broadcast, and didn't own a camera, but she approached the pair's agent and pitched an idea for a behind-the-scenes reality show.

"There were so many of those types of shows over in the US, like The Osbournes. But there was nothing like that in the UK [at the time]."

She was told she could start shooting When Jordan Met Peter the very next day. Keogh says she was terrified. "I ended up finding an editing suite and buying a camera and a hundred tapes. I was there for everything - their engagement, the birth of their kids, their wedding, the whole lot.

"It was quite strange. I was still holding down a job at the bar, but then I'd be flying off with Katie on a book tour, or filming her on a Friday or Saturday night out, and being surrounded by dozens of paparazzi."

The programme, narrated by Terry Wogan, aired on ITV2 and kept more than a million viewers glued. Keogh produced another two series when word started to get around that she had a knack for dealing with the stars.

Keogh says the relationship she built with her talent was the reason the work started to fly in from names like Calum Best, Kerry Katona, Pete Burns, Janice Dickinson and Michelle Heaton.

"When I was doing Kerry Katona: 12 Months of Mayhem for MTV, she was having an operation for breast reduction, and she was going through a lot with her ex-husband Mark Croft. But I didn't just want to be someone who came in and took from her.

"There are a lot of people who want to get next to people who are famous. But that means it is very hard for these guys to build any sort of trust with people. It was essential for me to be able to have a good relationship with them.

"I guess I can do it because I have no hidden agenda. I love my job, and I love making TV shows."

This ability was the reason Keogh would make the move Stateside - but it wasn't for the bright lights of New York or rolling hills of Los Angeles. She had been directing, which involves shooting footage, and controlling how programmes are filmed, from a young age. But now, she wanted to learn how to produce, which includes everything from coming up with new programme ideas and pitching them to television networks, to writing, casting, set design and budgeting.

As it happened, Style Network in the US was looking for someone to produce Too Fat for Fifteen, a series which followed a group of morbidly obese teenagers as they attended a North Carolina boarding school designed to help them shift the weight.

"They were looking for somebody who could deal with sensitive issues. When they asked me, I jumped at the chance."

Keogh spent a full year in the south-eastern State, where she made 10 60-minute episodes. Then, during a production meeting with network executives in California, she found out the show had been nominated for a Daytime Emmy at the 2011 awards.

"I called my mam, and she was all 'That's great, angel. What exactly is it?' My parents are very like that. Even when I was working with celebrities at the height of their popularity, they never really said anything. They don't get sucked into that side of my job. Once I'm happy doing it, that's all they are worried about."

Then again, Keogh is often glad her parents aren't fully tuned into her day-to-day working life. Sometimes, it's because explaining what she is up to would make for a pretty awkward conversation.

Such as when she produced 40-Year-Old Virgins for Channel 4, in which she was present in the bedroom where sex therapist Cheryl Cohen Greene took the virginity of a middle-aged man.

Other times, it's because she has found herself in situations where she admits that if she filled her mother in, "mam wouldn't sleep at night".

Keogh braved Michigan's heaviest ice storm in 50 years last December as she drove between small towns in the Upper Peninsula, trying to find people with a story to tell.

"Most of the places I go are off the map. There has been a couple of times where I've ended up in places with no phone service and I'm lost, and it's kind of scary."

Keogh, who has been single for several years, admits a growing reluctance to spending long periods of time in such remote locations.

She reveals she even turned down an offer from adventurer Bear Grylls to produce his Channel 4 show The Island, because she didn't want to spend weeks on a Pacific island where she couldn't contact her family.

"I've been married to my job for years. But now that I'm in my 30s, my priorities are absolutely changing. I've loved every bit of what I've done so far, but my family are my bread and butter."

It's why she says she plans on returning to Ireland by the end of the year.

"I've missed weddings, birthdays, Easters. It's getting harder and harder as I get older, and I would definitely like to get back to the homeland."

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