International Women’s Day: Gráinne McCoy on overcoming challenges and accepting every opportunity

Settling in to her new role at Q Radio, former star of The Apprentice Gráinne McCoy chats to Sophie Clarke about how having her son Ryan at 16 inspired her to pursue her dreams

Q Radio presenter and entrepreneur Grainne McCoy
Q Radio presenter and entrepreneur Gráinne McCoy (Mal McCann)

STILL on a high from hosting her new show on Q Radio on Sunday afternoon, Gráinne McCoy relays how her listeners took over her station for a “power hour” filled with empowering and inspiring songs from female artists as a way of kick-starting the week leading up to today’s International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day aims to celebrate the successes and achievements of women all over the world from different cultures and backgrounds and Gráinne is a prime example. In addition to her new role as a radio presenter she is also an entrepreneur, content creator, make-up artist and mother.

“I love everything I do,” she explains.

“It’s all so different which means I’m constantly learning and developing new skills. I think I get a bit of anxiety whenever I don’t have a project to work on, to be honest.”

It is evident that Gráinne is not afraid to push herself as she admits that although she loves presenting now, it was far outside her comfort zone.

“My biggest fear was public speaking,” she says.

“Whenever I went on The Apprentice I never pitched once. I said openly in the boardroom, ‘Lord Sugar, don’t put me in that position, you’ve always said put the strongest people in the strongest positions when it comes to winning the task’ – I couldn’t pitch because I couldn’t speak.

“So being a radio presenter now and hosting events in front of hundreds of people is like day and night to what I thought I ever wanted.”

Gráinne appeared on BBC’s The Apprentice in 2016 with her tenacity and determination taking her all the way to the final five.

“I’d watched a girl on The Apprentice the year before me and she was a hairdresser and I thought if she can do it, I can do it,” she recalls.

“It was crazy because every year thousands of people apply for the show and they have to get it down to 18 but I just had a feeling.”

“I remember getting the phone call and all I could see was my family staring in through the glass in the door and I had to mouth that I got on the show,” she laughs.

Gráinne quickly became a fan favourite when audiences learned she was juggling her career aspirations with motherhood after becoming pregnant at 15 and giving birth to her son Ryan when she was 16.

Q Radio presenter and entrepreneur Grainne McCoy
Q Radio presenter and entrepreneur Grainne McCoy (Mal McCann)

“I remember when Ryan was born, and I was in a little room on my own because I was so young and just looking down at him and saying, ‘I’m going to make you proud’.”

Four weeks after giving birth Gráinne returned to school to do her exams.

“I went back to school because a lot of people thought I wouldn’t after I had Ryan and I’m stubborn, so I wanted to prove them wrong.”

After finishing school Gráinne went straight into work. However, she believes that her time on The Apprentice served as an alternative to a getting a degree.

“I didn’t go to university, and I was a single mum, so I always say that couple of weeks on The Apprentice was my university because I was able to learn a lot.

“I always took so much advice from Lord Sugar - even when he was giving feedback to other people, I was trying to take it all on board and absorb it because I was constantly trying to get better as the weeks went on.

“I learnt a lot from the experience about how to run a business.”

Eight years on, Gráinne has indeed found success in business, between owning her own make-up line Give Us Beauty, founding the Make-Up and Beauty Awards NI, opening her own beauty store in Newry and last year hosting several beauty workshops to help inspire others to get involved in the industry.

“If I can inspire one person to change their mindset from thinking that they can’t do something to actually going for it then my job is done,” she says.

However, Gráinne admits that although she has forged a successful career, she often worries she has done so at the expense of her family life.

“Before The Apprentice I was working as a freelance make-up artist and when I was training, I was travelling back and forth to Dublin every day, then I got a job and was travelling back and forth from London,” she says.

“As a parent you do feel guilty when you’re not there. Even though I was working so that I could afford to get Ryan the things that he wanted I worried that he would grow up to resent me.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth as it clear Gráinne is her son’s biggest role model.

“He understands that I was doing it for him. He actually says that I never would have done any of it if it hadn’t been for him – so modest,” she laughs.

“But he also says that because he’s watched what I’ve done he knows that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.”

In fact, the pair are so close they are jetting off to Marbella for a Mother’s Day celebration on March 10.

“I’m very lucky because not only is he my son but he is also my best friend.”