Wednesday 21 August 2019

In tune and pitch perfect

Singer Alma Carroll says her daughter Jess has her father's marketing flair, writes Andrea Smith

IN STEP: Mother and daughter Alma Carroll and Jess Ryan share many common traits. They both lost their hearts at 17 and share a
love of musicals, but Jess has also inherited a flair for business from her father Arthur Ryan, founder of Penneys. Photo: Tony Gavin
IN STEP: Mother and daughter Alma Carroll and Jess Ryan share many common traits. They both lost their hearts at 17 and share a love of musicals, but Jess has also inherited a flair for business from her father Arthur Ryan, founder of Penneys. Photo: Tony Gavin

Andrea Smith

WHEN it comes to love, Alma Carroll and her daughter Jess Ryan have one thing in common -- they were both snapped up pretty early in life. Alma, a former singer, was married at 17, while beauty salon owner Jessica, aka Jess, 25, met her fiance Rory when she was the same age.

The difference, laughs her mother, is that, unlike her, Jess didn't get married immediately. Alma was married to Gerry McGuiness, formerly of Independent Newspapers, and they have two sons, Gerry and Mark. That marriage ended after 12 years.

Alma subsequently met Arthur Ryan, founder of Penneys, and they fell for each other very quickly. Arthur had also previously been married, and has four children from his first marriage.

"I know people talk about love at first sight, but we had a very strong connection immediately," says Alma. "It was a really good time for me, as I was in my 30s and past the trauma of the separation, and we felt so lucky to have Jessica. We have been unbelievably happy. It was absolutely incredible having a daughter. She has been wonderful and has never given us any problems. I always say that if Jess is your friend, you're very lucky, as she is terribly loyal."

Alma grew up as the third eldest of seven children, but sadly her brothers Brian and Gary and sister Joan have now passed away. Her lovely singing voice was spotted while she was at school at St Louis, Rathmines, and she joined the Young Dublin Singers.

In what was a particularly stellar vintage, other members of the choir at that time included Maxi, Dick and Twink, and soprano Anne Murray.

While she had no great plans to go into showbusiness, Alma was discovered in the choir by Jack Cruise, and was chosen as lead singer for his Olympia shows. She would later perform at the Gaiety, with Mike Murphy on TV and also with the showbands. She entered the Eurovision with Nicola Kerr and the Swarbriggs in 1977, performing the song, It's Nice to Be in Love Again.

While she loved her singing career, and says that she had lovely times back then, Alma hung up her microphone when she married Arthur. Life was very busy, as his business was growing, so she felt it was time to pull back. She was happy to move on to other things, she explains, and Jess recalls that Alma was a really hands-on mother when she was growing up.

"We've always got on so well, apart from the normal rows you have when you're 13 and you think you're much more grown up than you are," she says. "Aside from being mother and daughter, we're really close friends, and we don't have many secrets from each other."

"We have so much in common," her mother points out.

"We're both fanatical about musicals, and every time we go to London, we have to get two or three shows in. And we like to share the odd glass of wine."

Jessica initially thought she might like to follow in her mum's footsteps after school, and she attended stage school and trained in dancing when growing up. While she did the Olympia panto, TV reconstructions and radio voiceovers, she embarked on a film studies course after school that she quickly realised wasn't for her.

She then began a marketing, PR and advertising diploma, and fell in love with the marketing side of things, and went on to obtain a degree and a masters in it.

"I saw what my dad had achieved in business and I wanted to follow that path," she says, adding that she worked part-time in Penneys' buying office while studying.

"I wasn't as much drawn to fashion as I am to beauty and accessories, and I said to Mum one day that I would really love to have my own beauty salon."

Jessica's best friend Karen Buckley is a qualified beauty therapist, and she discussed the idea of opening a salon with her. They were both very enthusiastic, and earlier this year opened the stylish Mimi's Beauty Room in the Dublin suburb of Sandymount.

Specialising in treatments for eyes, hands, feet, waxing and tanning, they are enjoying great success already, despite being only a few months in business. This is partly due to the fact that their treatments are very competitively priced -- as could only be expected from the daughter of the founder of Penneys. They also really believe in the quality of the products they use, such as Rockstar Tan and Minx Nails.

Jessica says that as Karen's dad is Des Buckley from the FX Buckley meat and restaurant group, they have both had amazing family support in terms of advice and business guidance. While she acknowledges that starting a business during a recession is challenging, she also believes that there are a lot of opportunities, as clients will always seek out well-priced, pampering beauty treatments.

"I see so much of her father in her," says Alma. "She stays so calm in a crisis and always finds a solution. She is a terrific little businesswoman."

Jess is engaged to quantity surveyor Rory McGuigan, and they will be married next May in Killarney. While they had originally planned to wed in Spain, Arthur felt that with the economy being the way it is, he would prefer to keep the money in the country, and the family agreed to this admirable sentiment.

Arthur was recently conferred with an honorary doctorate by DIT, which the charming Alma and Jess say was a very proud day for them.

Jess says that she and her mum are very close, and reveals that her mum is a lot more patient than she is. Alma says that her daughter is a very talented mimic, specialising in family members, and one in particular.

"She's a brilliant impersonator, and her best impression is of me," she says. "It's so good that even I have to laugh!"

Mimi's Beauty Room, 6 Seafort Avenue, Sandymount, D4. Tel: 01 207 1916, www.mimisbeautyroom.com

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