Monday 10 December 2018

God created Annie and Niamh...

This Mother's Day, Annie Gribbin and her model daughter Niamh McCormack discuss the challenges they've overcome

Andrea Smith

The one thing Annie Gribbin noticed about her newborn baby daughter, Niamh, was that she had "gorgeous big lips and was long and skinny". Niamh, now 17, has grown into an absolute stunner with those bee-stung lips and beautiful features, and combines her Leaving Cert studies with being a model with Morgan the Agency. She's slender and 5ft, 10in - her mum, Annie, is eight inches shorter - and spent two months of her transition year modelling in Milan.

A rising social influencer, Niamh has 28k Instagram followers and wants to be an actor. She had a small part in the short film Lily, Graham Cantwell's acclaimed LGBT drama. It will be made into a feature film this year and she will reprise her role in it. This may sound like a fairytale life, but Niamh has had her share of hardship, particularly when bullies at school taunted and excluded her.

It got so bad that she left school at 14 to be home-schooled, and is now studying for her Leaving Cert at a private college. The experience has taught her a lot of valuable lessons though. "Life is not all about fitting in," she says, wisely. "My mum was one of my only friends at this time and I had a very close attachment to her and still do. People who bully want to smush you into the floor, so they called me 'fish lips' and accused me of having fillers, and said I was anorexic because I was so skinny."

It broke Annie's heart to see Niamh so distressed, and she says the experience has given her daughter incredible empathy for other people. Niamh's a very kind girl and very quirky and creative and they're incredibly close. Well apart from when they "bicker like sisters", but sure that's normal.

Now 57, Annie was 40 when Niamh was born and it has just been the two of them for most of the past 17 years. Annie's relationship with Niamh's dad, publican Paddy McCormack, was on-off for a few years, and ended when the baby was five months old. He's married with children now and Niamh spent weekends with him when she was younger and they're still in contact.

Niamh, herself, has been dating Matthew for a year and Annie really likes him. "Mum is so independent and strong," says Niamh. "We're not perfect, but she's like a hero to me. She's so kind and generous and I tell her everything. Well, almost!"

While Annie has made a great name for herself in the make-up industry, she also loves singing and performing. While Niamh was doing a professional acting course during her transition year at school, Annie embarked on a jazz-singing course and an adult acting one. "People thought it was amazing that we were both on acting courses because there's a 40-year age gap between us," says Annie. "I'd love to do more of it because the way I look at it is that I'm a fresh face in an older market."

Annie's Northern Irish accent comes from being born in Omagh as the fourth of Eddie and the late Kathleen Gribbin's six children. Her family moved to Belfast, then Strokestown in Roscommon, and then settled in Malahide - her dad was a bank manager there for years. She spent a year at boarding school in Coleraine age 12 and interestingly Niamh asked to go to the Gaeltacht in Ring at 11 for a year. Annie was creative, but she went to work in the bank like her dad and stayed for four years. She started selling Party Plan make-up as a part-time job, and discovered a real talent for it and went on to train as a make-up artist. She won a prestigious competition and went to Paris for six weeks, taking a career break from the bank. She attended beauty school at Christian Cheveau in Paris, and was taught by Dany Sanz, who founded the Make-Up For Ever brand.

Annie landed back to Ireland buzzing with new products, brushes and techniques, and began knocking on photographers' doors to build up a freelance make-up career as 'Annie G'. When it took off, she left the banking career behind, and did a lot of fashion and editorial work. She also did extensive work in the music industry, including styling the artists' overall looks. After a few years, she opened her first shop in 1989. Now on Clarendon Street, she has weathered several recessions but is still at the top of her game, with a training academy offering courses for professionals and regular women.

Through it all, she has suffered huge problems with her back since adolescence, from scoliosis and Scheuermann's disease, compounded by a car accident. "Not many people know that I live with chronic pain and am in a lot of discomfort," she says, adding that she has had procedures like a spinal fusion and nerve block injections over the years.

Not that she lets it stop her, because Annie enjoys challenging herself and is always up for new ideas. It annoys her that society can expect older women to disappear so she runs 'Age Beautiful' masterclasses, aimed at giving them confidence.

Mind you, the one area Niamh and Annie fall out on is make-up because they have differing ideas on what looks good. Aside from that, Niamh says that when she doubts herself, Annie never does. "Mum really inspires me, so if I'm having a bad day at school, I'll phone her and she'll give me a really motivational speech," says Niamh. "She believes in me more than I believe in myself, and I feel very lucky to have parents who support my dreams."

Make-Up For Ever, 38 Clarendon Street, Dublin 2.

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