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Glow Up Ireland’s Glen Edward McGuinness on the heavenly inspiration behind his semi-final winning look

Make-up artist Glen Edward McGuinness’s task was to elevate Paul Mac Special’s beautiful headpiece and he pulled it off with style

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Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland semi-final challenge winner Glen Edward McGuinness, left, with model Kuba Odum in his winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland semi-final challenge winner Glen Edward McGuinness, left, with model Kuba Odum in his winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

The Glow Up Ireland semi-final judging panel, from left, Cathyanne Mac Allister, Paul Mac Special, James Mac Inerney and Emma O’Byrne. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

The Glow Up Ireland semi-final judging panel, from left, Cathyanne Mac Allister, Paul Mac Special, James Mac Inerney and Emma O’Byrne. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland guest judge James Mac Inerney. Photo by Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland guest judge James Mac Inerney. Photo by Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland guest designer Paul Mac Specal. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland guest designer Paul Mac Specal. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland's contestants (back row, left to right) Glen Edward, Leah, Michael, Marie and Laura (front row, left to right) Megan, Carol, Jade, Caolán and Niall. Photo: Ruth Medjber for RTÉ/ Indiepics 2021

Glow Up Ireland's contestants (back row, left to right) Glen Edward, Leah, Michael, Marie and Laura (front row, left to right) Megan, Carol, Jade, Caolán and Niall. Photo: Ruth Medjber for RTÉ/ Indiepics 2021

Glow Up Irelamd semi-final challenge winner Glen Edward McGuinness, left, with model Kuba Odum in his winning look and a headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Irelamd semi-final challenge winner Glen Edward McGuinness, left, with model Kuba Odum in his winning look and a headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

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Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

When Maura Higgins announced the industry challenge on last week’s semi-final episode of Glow Up Ireland, Glen Edward McGuinness’s nerves were matched only by his excitement. “That is always a stressful moment, when you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this’,” the 28-year-old says of the RTÉ2 series, in which 10 amateur make-up artists (MUAs) compete for the title of Ireland’s next make-up star.

On learning he would need to create a make-up look to be worn with a dramatic headpiece by avant-garde designer and hairstylist Paul Mac Special, McGuinness took a moment to plan before launching into it. “It was one of those moments in the competition when I thought, ‘Let’s stop wondering what the judges want and start doing what I’ll be happy with’. And obviously it worked!”

McGuinness’s vivid red and gold look was named the challenge winner, securing him a place in the final and the prize of having his work featured in the Sunday Independent’s Life magazine.

It’s been, he says, a long journey since he first started doing make-up at age 15 as part of a workshop with BeLonG To Youth Services before Pride weekend, which was also his first time doing drag. McGuinness, who is from the Liberties in Dublin, says make-up offered him an escape in his teenage years.

“Growing up queer in the inner city was a questionable experience. Other guys didn’t really get who I was, and I felt uncomfortable. I got bullied, but my family was always really supportive. I was always encouraged to be as flamboyant as I could be,” he recalls. “I just started playing with make-up in my bedroom, like [from] Claire’s accessories or whatever cheap make-up I could get.”

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Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Model Kuba Odum in Glen Edward McGuinness's winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

McGuinness says the support of his grandmother, who proudly took photos of his costumes for Halloween and Pride to show her friends, encouraged him to keep going. Soon, he began performing as his alter ego, Beau Peekaboo, at weekly drag shows. From there, he decided to study fashion and costume design at the Institute of Art Design and Technology in Dún Laoghaire, but ended up switching to character make-up design in his third year of studies, and completed his degree during lockdown last year.

McGuinness was working in a bakery when his friends sent him an advertisement for the casting call for Glow Up Ireland, and he decided to apply straight away. “I love competition shows. I’m that person who sits at home, being like: ‘I would have done that better, oh my God, these are all so bad!’ And now I watch a competition show and I’m like, ‘Oh, they’re struggling, the poor things! Oh Jesus, why was I judging them so hard before?’” he says with a laugh. Yet, despite being a long-time viewer of competition shows, McGuinness still felt unprepared for the reality of it.

“I watched the UK version of the show and I thought, ‘This will be loads of fun!’ Studying make-up for theatre and screen, I knew that filming days were long, but you can only expect so much. Once you’re in that pressure cooker of stress and you’re trying to get the looks done so fast and the judges are watching you and the cameras are at you and all of this is happening at once, it’s both amazingly fun to be sitting there — doing make-up and just getting lost in it and enjoying it — and also the stress is like a humming in the back of your mind, constantly.”

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Glow Up Ireland semi-final challenge winner Glen Edward McGuinness, left, with model Kuba Odum in his winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland semi-final challenge winner Glen Edward McGuinness, left, with model Kuba Odum in his winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland semi-final challenge winner Glen Edward McGuinness, left, with model Kuba Odum in his winning look, designed to complement the headpiece by Paul Mac Special. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

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With the semi-final industry challenge, McGuinness was keen to emphasise the sharper edge of Paul Mac Special’s design. “It looked like a crown of thorns, and [the model] looked kind of saint-like, so I wanted to play on that idea of religious iconography. I wanted to play on the idea of saint statues, and I wanted to paint him in colours that completely connected to the headpiece so they all looked like they were one.”

He decided to invert the palette: he used the red of the roses to complete the line work, mirroring the barbed wire, and added flecks in the gold of the ‘thorns’ to balance the look. For Mac Special, McGuinness’s make-up look instantly stood out.

“I thought he was a clear winner from the get-go — even if I was on set directing him, I don’t think he could have done it any better. It was excellent,” he says. “[The challenge] was a bit overwhelming for some of [the contestants], because they are young. They’re obviously very technically talented at doing make-up, but I think if you’re used to doing pretty make-up on yourself in your room, it is kind of a daunting task for them to match up with someone else’s vision.

“Although the make-up some of them did was, on its own, very good, there was no cohesion as an overall kind of look.”

Glow Up Ireland judge Cathyanne Mac Allister is an industry professional who has worked with the likes of John Galliano, Dior and Givenchy, and has created editorial looks for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She emphasises that such cohesion was crucial for each industry challenge.

“Depending on who you’re collaborating with, that sets the tone. In these industry challenges, you’re collaboratively working at the service of the industry, and in the case of the semi-final challenge, the wonderful thing about those [headpieces] is they’re all very evocative. But a MUA is always working to be at one with the project. It’s not about the MUA, it’s about, in this case, headpieces,” she explains. “You know when to take a solo and you know when to play with the band.”

McGuinness, she notes, implicitly understood that, which is what helped him to land the win. “I felt that he was respecting the constraints of the theme and he was supporting the headpiece.”

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The Glow Up Ireland semi-final judging panel, from left, Cathyanne Mac Allister, Paul Mac Special, James Mac Inerney and Emma O’Byrne. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

The Glow Up Ireland semi-final judging panel, from left, Cathyanne Mac Allister, Paul Mac Special, James Mac Inerney and Emma O’Byrne. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

The Glow Up Ireland semi-final judging panel, from left, Cathyanne Mac Allister, Paul Mac Special, James Mac Inerney and Emma O’Byrne. Photo by: Ruth Medjber

Mac Allister adds that she was very impressed with the standard of the competition on the Irish series, and in particular the sense of humour of the artists. “I think it’s really highly creative. I saw some things that just had me die laughing, in a good way, because I think it also stands to the Irish capacity to story-tell. Make-up artistry is one of those ways of telling stories. At times, I was just like a kid clapping my hands, delighted to see this other form of expression and storytelling.”

Fellow judge Emma O’Byrne is also a renowned MUA, having worked with industry legend Charlotte Tilbury on catwalk shows including Tom Ford, Chloé and Victoria Beckham, as well as creating red-carpet looks for Sienna Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Alexa Chung. In the Glow Up Ireland semi-final, she explains that part of the challenge was in knowing how your make-up would look on camera.

“What was interesting was, actually, when we saw Glen’s make-up before the picture, we were like, ‘Yeah, it’s good’. But, then once they were photographed, we immediately knew where he was going with it and he’d managed to nail that synergy,” she says.

“That’s the thing when you do an editorial picture: you know how it’s going to photograph. If I was doing an editorial, I would know that no matter what it looked like to the naked eye, once it was lit and photographed, the things that I was trying to achieve would happen.”

Life magazine editor Leslie Ann Horgan says that an editorial image can’t be one-dimensional. “Strong photography is at the heart of what makes Life Ireland’s best-read magazine. A striking magazine photograph doesn’t just capture your attention for a second, it draws you further into the image itself and then on to the words that it sits with,” she says. “With Glen Edward’s make-up look, the shock of colour grabs you but then there are finer details, such as the flecks of gold leaf on the eyes, to discover as you look closer.

“Finesse like this is key when your image is going to be reproduced large on glossy paper — there’s nowhere to hide. The look also has a narrative quality that enhances the drama of Paul Mac Special’s dramatic crown of thorns without overshadowing it.”

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Glow Up Ireland guest judge James Mac Inerney. Photo by Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland guest judge James Mac Inerney. Photo by Ruth Medjber

Glow Up Ireland guest judge James Mac Inerney. Photo by Ruth Medjber

The semi-final also featured Glow Up UK finalist James Mac Inerney as a guest judge, marking his return to the franchise a year after his own series aired. In the 12 months since, the Laois-born MUA says he’s been exploring different facets of the industry, from influencer collaborations to working backstage at London Fashion Week with MAC Cosmetics, in Paris with L’Oréal and even modelling for Jean Paul Gaultier.

“It’s been life-changing. It really pushed my career to heights I wouldn’t have imagined — it would have taken me maybe 10 years to even try to get to this point,” he says.

His appearance on Glow Up Ireland, he observes, “brought crazy flashbacks”, but he also “couldn’t stop smiling”.

“At that point of the competition, I just knew I was going to be the real sense of reassurance that the final four needed, because I’m the only one in the room who can get it as much as the guys who were competing for their own title.”

The Irish MUAs, he adds, can easily hold their own against the British contestants. “There’s a tie between the UK and Ireland with the standard and skill. The Irish as creatives have always been there over the decades and centuries, whether it’s literature, music, art — make-up is just as valid. The talent in the country is incredible, and this [show] is something that is definitely needed for the Irish creative industry as a whole, especially putting a spotlight on MUAs. It’s just so deserved that we have this opportunity on RTÉ2 to broadcast this talent and give artists the exposure.”

For McGuinness, who is now working as a bartender at alcohol-free venue The Virgin Mary, the industry challenge win gave him “a huge boost of confidence” heading into this week’s final. 

“Before the competition, I was confident when I was creating my creative looks, and then I came in and met the nine other MUAs. They were talking about their experience and I saw their work and everything was suddenly like, ‘Oh god, I’m not good enough’,” he says. “This industry challenge, especially, was something that I’m so not used to; having to do a look that had to be photographed for a magazine. I was like, ‘Oh god, do I do what everybody else is doing? Do I do what I’ve seen in magazines before? Or do I just go with what I am inspired by?’

“I took that moment, took a deep breath and said, ‘Do what makes you happy and do what makes you proud of yourself. And no matter what, at the end of the day, you’ll be proud of the image, even if it doesn’t win’. I think that point pushed me to do really well in the challenge, for myself anyway.”

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Glow Up Ireland's contestants (back row, left to right) Glen Edward, Leah, Michael, Marie and Laura (front row, left to right) Megan, Carol, Jade, Caolán and Niall. Photo: Ruth Medjber for RTÉ/ Indiepics 2021

Glow Up Ireland's contestants (back row, left to right) Glen Edward, Leah, Michael, Marie and Laura (front row, left to right) Megan, Carol, Jade, Caolán and Niall. Photo: Ruth Medjber for RTÉ/ Indiepics 2021

Glow Up Ireland's contestants (back row, left to right) Glen Edward, Leah, Michael, Marie and Laura (front row, left to right) Megan, Carol, Jade, Caolán and Niall. Photo: Ruth Medjber for RTÉ/ Indiepics 2021

Whatever happens in the final, McGuinness says, he is determined to branch out and take advantage of every opportunity in the industry. “Coming into the competition, I was like, I just want to work in theatre, maybe do some prosthetics and stuff for film, I’ll stay in my box. But after experiencing the industry challenges and talking to different MUAs about what they have done, I want to do everything. I want to try fashion, I want to try editorial, theatre, film, everything I can get into, to see what sticks and to see what I love the most, then just go for that completely. That’s my goal.”

The final of ‘Glow Up Ireland’ airs on RTÉ2 on Thursday, October 21, 2021 at 9.30pm


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