Monday 26 September 2016

Diana the hunter - Diana Bunici's new book is all about how to follow your dreams

Diana Bunici's new book is all about how to follow your dreams. She tells how she and her parents pursued their passions and changed their lives

Published 01/02/2016 | 02:30

Self-aware: Diana Bunici came to Ireland from Moldova with her family when she was eight. Photo: David Conachy.
Self-aware: Diana Bunici came to Ireland from Moldova with her family when she was eight. Photo: David Conachy.
Diana Bunici with her mother at last year's People of the Year Awards.

'As a kid, I was always really outgoing and outspoken. Not in an annoying way.You couldn't shut me up. And then we moved to Ireland and I got into this kind of shy, closed-up phase. I think a lot of that came from not knowing how to speak the language." As a child, Diana Bunici was an unlikely candidate for today's incarnation - a self-possessed, successful young woman; TV presenter, living alone in London and just about to publish her first book, not to mention the rock star boyfriend.

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Behind the polite manner and sweet demeanour though, is a well of strength and ambition.

"I do remember it being really daunting, you always went in thinking, 'Oh God, no one's going to talk to me, and I'm not going to understand what's going on,'" she says of her early years in Ireland. Diana moved here with her parents from Moldova when she was eight, her younger brother was born shortly afterwards. Her parents quickly made friends in the Russian and Moldovan communities, but Diana retreated into herself. "I just always chose to stay at home," she laughs now. "And then I was like 15 or 16, and I just turned around to my mum one day and was like 'I wanna go to stage school'."

After Westside Stage School in Lucan, she studied journalism in DIT, and scored her lucky break when RTE held open auditions for new children's TV presenters. "When it came to the final round of auditions, there were six of us. So half of us in the room wouldn't get a job. And I was so aware that I was the quietest person in the room. I was trying to push myself, to get my word in there or whatever, but it just wasn't natural to me. I remember going home and thinking, 'Oh, I definitely didn't get the job'. I just knew that I stood out because I was quiet. But I think in a way that worked to my advantage. Because everyone was quite outspoken, they needed someone to balance that."

She's fully cognisant of how lucky she was in a world that is notoriously hard to break into, and it's this that partly inspired her new book, The Pursuit of Awesome. "I just thought how great would it be if there was some sort of book where you could actually get all this," she explains. "Some might want to be footballers or rugby players, they might have dreams of being TV presenters, rock stars, but how do you go about doing this?"

Originally intended to be a motivational guide for teenagers who might want to follow a career path that does not lend itself to the traditional CAO route, it turned into musings and advice from successful people who have made it. Interviewees, both Irish and international, include Hozier, Rory McIlroy, Cecelia Ahern, Paul Costelloe. And it's not just the famous ones; she has stuntmen, special effects artists, producers.

One of the main messages that come across is you won't learn anything without making a few mistakes, she says. Diana's first TV interview ever was with rugby player Rob Kearney. She wasn't intimated by him, she says now, more by the thought of saying the wrong thing.

"But that's something that I've learnt, that it's ok to make mistakes. That's when you grow. When you get better at your job."

She was 21 when she started in RTE, 26 when she left. Now, she says she can hold her own in a group situation. "It's growing up, having life experiences. I feel like I have something worth saying. Whereas I think before, I was a little bit different from my peers. I didn't party as much. I hadn't seen as much of the world. So I always felt like 'oh, well they know what they're talking about. I changed a lot," she reflects of her time in RTE.

Her TV show Elev8 came to an end a year ago, and it felt like the right time to move on to the next stage. "It got to a point where I didn't want to be talking about Justin Bieber and One Direction every day."

She brushes aside any suggestion that leaving an established career, family, boyfriend and friends here to move to London , where she is a total unknown, was in any way courageous. "I found it funny when people were like 'you're so brave'. I'm going to a city where I can speak the language. I've got experience. I'm in a position where I can rent a semi-decent little studio for myself. At the end of the day, this isn't brave. My parents had it tough. The migrant crisis at the moment, those people had it tough."

She's right. Her mother is a doctor and her father an engineer and both knew they would not continue these careers on moving to Ireland. Her father ended up buying the chipper he first worked in here, her mother went from cleaning jobs to running a beauty salon. Now, her mother is working on opening an old folks home in Moldova. "We had personal tragedy in the family where my grandmother had an accident in hospital and passed away as a result of it," Diana explains. "So my mum wants to open up this home in memory of her."

"My family have been my rock over the years," she continues. "Even when money was extremely tight, they never denied me my extra curricular activities or passions. I hope I've made them proud. I want to make them even prouder."

To deal with any potential stresses in london, she has taken up Bikram yoga. Diana's is a naturally buoyant nature though, and on the whole she's hugely positive about the move.

"I didn't know anyone in the industry when I moved over, but that excited me, because I could just present me as an adult. I've always been stupidly optimistic so I'd email the top exec, or the news editor directly. They all gave me their time, which was amazing."

It's probably a hangover from her college days, but Diana behaves more like a journalist than a star, and that lack of ego has helped in a city where her years of experience count for little. Her natural reserve also stands to her in terms of moving from children's to adult TV - she doesn't have the overly hyper persona that is so suited to children's TV but has a drastic sell-by date once one hits the late 20s.

"It's challenging in a way, I suppose, because if you have an ego about you, you have to let it go. But I never had that in the first place, I was like, 'I'll work as a runner if I have to'."

She has been taken on by a good agent - which makes all the difference, and they are busily pitching.

She still comes home to Dublin regularly, both for work, and to see boyfriend Steve Garrigan, lead singer of band Kodaline. They got together after meeting through mutual friends, but had actually met before, when Kodaline appeared on Diana's show.

"I was supposed to interview Bressie and Kodaline on the same day. But having done my research I saw that they were quite shy in interviews, and me being quite shy I was like 'oh god, this is a recipe for disaster.'" She gave her cue cards to her co-presenter for the Kodaline interview. "So the first time I met them I was just observing. And then we met again a year later," she smiles.

While they're not at all an on-the-scene type couple, there have been some pinch-me occasions, including the time the band filmed a video at the home of Courtney Cox."We were all so nervous," Diana laughs. "Like what if we call her Monica, or what if we do something really awkward. But she was so friendly."

Living in different countries isn't the challenge it might be for some couples, Steve spends a lot of time in London as his record company is based there. "Of course it can be difficult at times because when you have someone and you really miss them you want to have them around all the time. That's partly why my phone bills are so big," she laughs.

@DeeBtweets

'The Pursuit of Awesome', by Diana Bunici, €14.99, Liberties Press, is published on March 9.

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