TV stars including Lorraine Keane, Vogue Williams and Aidan Cooney recall Leaving Cert results memories
Building a career in the world of arts and entertainment is a question of persistence and luck as well as talent; of courage as much as qualifications. As young people across the country prepare for their Leaving Cert results, Andrea Smith spoke to leading figures within the industry about their routes to success
DJ, TV presenter and model
"I was always in trouble at school, and my auntie, who was my Year Head, said I was one of the worst students she had ever met. I always wanted to be in TV, but couldn't depend on that as a career, so I applied to do law. I only got 300 points in the Leaving, which wasn't enough for any of my chosen courses. My stepdad Neil helped me choose a great degree course in construction design and management in Aberdeen, and then I came back and got a degree in quantity surveying here.
"I worked on a building site for six months and loved it, although my colleagues once locked me in a digger. Then the building industry collapsed and the TV programme Fade Street came along, which gave me the chance to follow my dream of presenting TV shows. I still have moments where I realise how lucky I am, and my advice to other people is to look into going abroad or doing courses that will eventually get you into the job you want."
Presenter, Risin' Time, RTE Radio One
"The Leaving didn't go too well for me as I was never the studious type. I got a couple of honours but nothing spectacular, so didn't get my choice of a BComm at UCD. I eventually accepted a management accountancy course at Carlow RTC, but hated it and left after a year. I worked as a painter/decorator for years, and then answered an ad for continuity announcers for RTE Radio. I was selected for training and began working part-time at RTE in 2005, and got my own radio show in 2011.
"My advice to students is to defer if the course offered is not for you, and find work that's similar to the job you want to do, which will give you some clarity and direction. Don't waste the year doing a course you know you'll hate or working in a job you know you'll never want to do. For aspiring radio presenters, that oft-quoted path of 'making tea' really works. Local stations are good for experience, but keep expanding your horizons, use your initiative and show people what you can do."
Artist at www.miriamsmithersartist.com
"At 17, becoming an artist seemed like a pipe dream. I got five honours and three passes in the Leaving, and was gutted when I didn't get into art college. I did a secretarial course and started working at A-Wear, ultimately becoming group merchandising manager. I started painting and drawing again in 1999, and people seemed to like what I did, so I began doing it professionally. Highlights of my career have been my involvement in the Converse Made By You global ad campaign, and my Love Irish Design exhibition at Arnotts.
"My two eldest children will be opening those envelopes on Wednesday, and I hope they get the outcome they're looking for. I told them that sometimes the most brilliant and intelligent minds don't shine in exams. You have to get specific about your goals and always keep them visible, and don't be afraid to change direction along the way. Experience is the most brutal of teachers, and I have learned that I can be both soft and successful; a traditionalist and a rebel."
Presenter, TV3's Ireland AM and Call Cooney on Q102
"I always wanted to work in broadcasting, and was lucky and pushy enough to work for some pirate stations while at school. The Leaving went well and I got the journalism course at DIT, Rathmines, but ended up doing the breakfast show on Radio Dublin instead. This caused murder at home, but I was only 17 and headstrong. I did the entrance exam for the Civil Service to keep the parents happy, and was marched into Dublin Castle and press-ganged into signing up.
"I worked in the Department of Revenue for nine years, where my first boss, Hugh O'Donnell, was extremely supportive of my pursuit of a career in media. I was able to combine the day job with work on Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio. With the advent of the new commercial stations, I took a career break and began a contract with 98FM, and after that, there was no looking back. My advice to students is that hard work, enthusiasm, a willingness to take on all challenges and a healthy respect for everyone around you is the key to success."
Creator, Cocoa Brown Tan
"My teachers probably hated me because I missed school and never turned my homework in on time, but always did well in exams. My two best friends and I had commerce in UCD as our first choice, and I was devastated when they both got it and I didn't, as I was 30 points short. I started a degree in management and marketing with French at DIT, but wasn't mature enough for college as all I wanted to do was party. My brattiness caught up with me, as I failed four out of seven end-of-year exams, which shocked me.
"I took a year out but never went back. I worked in the office of Galligan Beauty School, and trained as a beauty therapist at night. I opened a beauty salon in 2009, and created my own brand of tanning products, Cocoa Brown. The highlight of my career has been seeing my products selling internationally. My advice to others is knowing the difference between pushiness and not giving up, and tenacity and knowing when you're beaten."
TV presenter and host of Keane on Style
"I was a big swot in secondary school because I had been a dosser in primary school and wanted to make my parents proud. I got nine As and Bs in my Inter Cert and thought I was a genius, so I didn't do enough work for the Leaving and got five honours and two passes.
"I had applied to do veterinary or architecture, but didn't get the points. Knowing I really wanted to be on stage, my friend Ali suggested doing a foundation course in broadcasting at Ballyfermot. I was meant to go to DCU the following year to do communications, but I got the job in AA Roadwatch and then moved to TV3 after that. I was lucky because it all worked out the way I hoped in the end."
"I left school at 16 and worked in the admin department of Terenure Badminton Club. I left that job as my lovely son Dean was born three months before my 18th birthday and I minded children, as I wanted to spend more time with my baby. It was surreal becoming a mother at such a young age, but I wouldn't change it for the world. Then I worked as one of the "Thunder Girls," at 98fm, driving around to events in Dublin in a Jeep.
"I always took the promotional pictures while we were on the road, and used to borrow a friend's really nice camera to take portraits of family and friends. It made me feel really good when I produced images that people loved. My husband Martin (TV3's Martin King) saved up and bought me my first camera for Christmas, and wrote in the card, 'Now off you go and follow your dream, darling'.
"I practised 24/7, and went to college at night to study photography. I have my own studio now and love doing portraits, baby shoots and weddings - photographing Joan Rivers was a highlight. My advice is that you may become side-tracked, but remember to aim for what makes you happy. No matter what you do, hard work pays off, so be willing to go that extra mile every time."
Michelin-starred chef and proprietor of l'Ecrivain restaurant
"I originally wanted to go to sea, but when I was 14, I started working at the Man Friday restaurant in Kinsale during the summer holidays. I was cleaning pots and pans and working in the kitchen and front-of-house, and I loved it. I did it for three summers, and went to work there full-time at 17 after my O Levels. I was made for it really, as cooking came very easily to me, which surprised me.
"I was going to open a restaurant in Dublin at 24, but knew I was too young and didn't want to fail on my first restaurant. I opened l'Ecrivain when I was 30 and was much more mature. When I was younger, I wanted everything instantly, but as you get older, you realise that everything happens slowly in time, and that's good because you appreciate it more."
Proprietor, Sobe Brown, Cork, and official hairdresser on The Today Show, RTE.
"I always wanted to be a hairdresser so I got a summer job at 15 in Victor Frank's salon in Cork, and absolutely loved it there. When it came to the end of summer, I cried and asked Victor to keep me on and talk to my mother. He arranged a meeting with her and explained that he would be keeping a close eye on my progress, so I left school just before my Junior Cert. I applied myself 100pc as I was so eager to show them I was serious.
"After a few years, I moved to New York, which is where my career took off. I worked in an Upper East Side salon called Alice's, where I learned the art of signature hair styling, a concept I brought home to Cork when I opened Sobe Brown 10 years ago.
"My advice to Leaving Cert students is that if you gave it socks and didn't get what you hoped, do something about it. Go travelling, make decisions, and don't just sit there and be disappointed as your time is precious. If you want to sell turnips, find out everything there is to know about them and get creative about them. You will soon be known as Mr or Ms Turnip, an expert."
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