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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Noughtie people

My contribution to the Noughties special in yesterday's Irish Examiner...

My Decade:

*Anna Nolan

On the 18th July 2000, I walked through a door into a prefabricated building. The walls were blue, the people strange and the cameras were buzzing. I had entered the first UK Big Brother, and it would change my life.

The day before, I had stood on the Underground tube. It was full, and we were all so crushed together that we were breathing in unison. I looked at the people around me, none of them would have heard of Big Brother. I wanted to shout, “You have no idea the type of programme that is about to start this week”. I just had the tiniest feeling, as I was being squashed in this Tube, that a new type of television was about to be burst out into the stratosphere.

I spent 64 days and 63 nights under lock and key, under 24 hour surveillance - all of my own volition. We were na├»ve, enthusiastic, egotistic guinea pigs. We couldn’t have oinked any louder, if they had wanted us to. We gave ourselves to reality television.

After I left the house, I had opportunities to embrace and mistakes to make. I was offered thousands and thousands for interviews, book deals, appearances. A lot of hot air, and a bit of genuine offerings. I decided to knuckle down and try to have a go at working in television.

From working with the BBC for 4 years, to working with RTE for 6, it has been an incredible decade. Broadcasting is now my bread and butter, along with my writing. It is the most exciting job in the world, and I am lucky.

10 years later, and they say reality television is dying. It is certainly ill, and needs a jab of something. And as much as we are tired, irked and loathsome of it, it created me, a Big Brother monster – hear me roarrrr!!!!!

*Sinead Sheppard

In 2000-2001, I was doing my Leaving Cert, and at the end of August that summer, the auditions for Popstars came up. In October they picked 32 of us, and brought us to a secret location. They picked the final six for the band at the end of October, and we were then hid away in a secret location until the middle of January, when the show started on TV.

We were revealed to the public at the end of January 2002. We were locked away during the process, and didn’t really get how big the show was. The day after we were unveiled, I arranged to meet my family in town for a coffee. I remember walking through the Jervis Centre and this throng of people started screaming and running towards me. I couldn’t grasp that it was for me. It was mayhem.

We had three years in Six. We travelled the world, did a European tour and two Irish tours. It was a great experience. It was a bit upsetting not to be released in the UK but we were kids, and we got to see so much, I wouldn’t take a second of it back.

Within three weeks of the band breaking up, myself and Liam McKenna booked flights to LA, and we moved there for a year. That was my year out. I did loads of dance classes there, but I began to feel lonely so I decided to move home. I went into panto, and then opened my own dance school in Cobh.

Last year, I was approached by Fine Gael about running in the local elections in Cobh. I was a bit apprehensive, but I was always moaning about everything so I decided to get off the fence and do something about it. Plus there definitely isn’t enough female representation in Irish politics in general.

I felt like a fish out of water at first, but in the last three months I feel I’ve really settled into the job. I love it, but it can be hard. I won’t run in the next general election, though. I don’t feel ready. I wouldn’t rule it out in 5 or 10 years time, but I want to work my way up.

*Sinead Sheppard is starring in Jack and the Beanstalk in the Cork Opera House from December 13-January 17

*Karen Koster, presenter Xpose

I had just done my Leaving Cert in 1999, and hadn’t a clue at all about what I wanted to do. I said I’d figure it out once I got to college. I went to Trinity to study English Literature and French. It was a four year degree, and during the summer of second year, I auditioned for a TV show called The Fame Game, which Caroline Morahan ended up winning.

After that I got the bug for TV production, but I wasn’t going to quit college to get into such a fickle business. I never had a back-up career plan. We have a family business [Hermans Hairstyle] so I used to work summers there on reception and in the salon, and I liked it, but I knew it wasn’t for me. It was good that I didn’t have a Plan B because it made me strive for what I wanted.

I finished college in 2003, and then spent 6 months as a runner in RTE. In February 2004, I started as a researcher in TV3, and as a part-time weather girl to cover Alan Hughes on Ireland AM. I was their first female weather presenter, and I was very young, so I felt like a complete novice. I found my first live broadcasts really challenging - it’s a lot harder than it looks!

Xpose started on TV3 in April 2007. I wanted to be involved from the start; it was something very new for Ireland. It’s a brand now, but we’ve had to adapt to the changes everyone is experiencing in the country. We still offer a bit of escapism though.

Sometimes in this job, I find myself asking, ‘How did I ever land this gig?’ When your boss asks, ‘Is anyone free to interview Leonardo di Caprio this week?’, you do have to pinch yourself.

My big ambition for 2010 and beyond is to get to the Oscars. That’s when I know I’ll have arrived!

*Paul Howard

In 1999-2000, I was working as a sports journalist for the Sunday Tribune. I’d just finally moved out of home. I was 28 - far too old to be living with the parents.

In 1998, I had created this character called Ross O’Carroll Kelly in a column in the paper. Only about 5 or 6 columns appeared that year, and it didn’t become a regular feature until 2000. That was the biggest professional development for me this decade.

It’s odd because I only started writing Ross as something to amuse myself on a Friday afternoon after I’d finished my deadlines - my real work. It was just me goofing off really. It was a satirical column about a lot of the changes I was seeing in Ireland that came hand in hand with the Celtic Tiger, things like the growth of materialism, and the importation of a lot of things from America, namely the accent, as well as the values.

I’d only ever wanted to be a sports journalist since I was 11 years old. I never thought I’d one day give it up to become this character full time, which is what happened at the end of 2005.

It’s still very strange. I read to some students in Terenure College last month, who just referred to me as Ross, not Paul. My life has become his in lots of ways.

I hear there are a lot of Ross books lying around hostels in Asia, because Irish people bring them on their travels. I had a German couple at a reading recently who had discovered Ross in a hostel in Bangkok, and loved it.

In a perverse way, I think the economic downturn has helped me sustain Ross. It allows me to look at how Ross, and the generation and culture he represents, adapts to the challenging times in Ireland.

Personally, 2010 is going to be a big year. I’m getting married on New Years Eve to Mary McCarthy. We met five years ago in Lillie’s Bordello, which is a very Ross thing to say. I’m really excited about it. It’s a nice way to start a new decade.

*Rhino What You Did Last Summer is published by Penguin

*John Boyne, author

In 1999, I was working in Waterstones in London. I had just sold my first novel [The Thief of Time] which was due to come out in 2000. That was a very exciting way to start a decade. I came back to Dublin and continued working in Waterstones until 2003.

I left the job to be a full time writer. I’d published a couple of books at that point but they hadn’t really done anything. I decided I had to take the plunge and take it seriously. I wasn’t sure if I had a future in writing at all. I was quite down at that point, and I couldn’t afford to do it, but I knew I had to go for it or else I’d regret it.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was the turning point. I wrote it during 2004. The idea came to me quite quickly. I didn’t plan it at all, I just started writing it. I wrote the first draft very quickly. I gave it to my agent the following week, and it was sold a week later. My life changed forever as a result.

The foreign and movie rights sold before publication so there was a lot of excitement about it. The book was published in January 2006, and, not to dwell on it too much, it helped to alleviate the financial concerns I had when I became a full time writer. It was a big success.

The great change, mainly, is that it helped so much with the books that came afterwards. They are published around the world. It has changed my existence totally. I travel a lot, I’m always on the road, going to festivals. The life I had at the start of the decade seems so distant now.

I was 34 when The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas came out so I was in a good place. When the first few books didn’t do anything, I was disappointed, but I don’t think I’d have been able to handle success that early. Now, I’m looking forward to turning 40. I’ve been very lucky so far.

*John Boyne’s The House of Special Purpose is out now

*Mark Sheehan, lead guitarist with The Script

Thinking back on 2000, my overwhelming memory is of being flat broke. I remember I arrived in America with $192 in my pocket. I tried to get into every studio and work with every producer I could to get experience. It was all hustle: sometimes I was making tea, other times I got a chance to do some work.

I spent the next seven years working at it in America, along with Danny [O’Donoghue, lead singer]. That included almost three years working for writers and producers all around the country in Nashville, Atlanta, Memphis, Virginia Beach, LA. We tried to make enough money in one place to get us to the next.

We tried so many ways to get into the business, and eventually we got pissed off writing songs for other people. We decided to record our songs ourselves, and the record label heard it and was like, ‘These are great, who is the band?’ We replied, ‘There isn’t a band, but we’ll make one!’ That’s how The Script was born. That was our break.

We don’t think too much about success; in this business, it can become so much bigger in your own head. We don’t want to get caught up in what we’ve done as a band, as opposed to what we can achieve. But there are some things that blew us away: playing with U2 in Croke Park this summer was momentous. Oxegen was another big moment for me.

Musicians always have to believe their big break is going to come. Our success has been a shock and a surprise.We’ve just finished an American tour, and we’re back in Dublin next week. We’re going to book a recording studio and write some new music. We’re overdue some new stuff here.

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