The Pursuit of Awesome: Irish TV presenter Diana Bunici's passion for ambition
What takes Ireland's best-known personalities – such as Rory McIlroy – to the top of their game? That's the question behind Moldovan-born Diana Bunici's new book. Jenny Lee found out what makes the Irish television presenter herself tick
AS A teenager Diana Bunici was told she would never work in television because she wasn't fully Irish. But the 27-year-old Moldovan-born media personality who was among the first eastern European migrants to arrive in Ireland 20 years ago is delighted to have proven her critics wrong.
"It was quite ignorant and small-minded thing for them to say that to a teenager who has goals and motivations. But at the end of the day it made me stronger and more determined to prove them wrong. If you're passionate you must never give up. Instead, work harder to become better, stronger and inreplaceable."
During her final weeks of her journalism degree and completing her thesis on children's TV programmes, an advertisement the website of long-running RTE children's television platform The Den caught her eye and at the age of 21 she was thrown into the deep end of presenting live television.
Diana enjoyed five years presenting elev8, an RTE magazine entertainment series for eight-to-12 year olds, before leaving the show last year to further pursue her career in London.
"It was the most rewarding, challenging, satisfying and defining years of my life to date," says Diana, fully aware of how fortunate she in a world that is notoriously hard to break into.
This partly inspired her new book, The Pursuit of Awesome. Originally intended to be a motivational guide for teenagers who might want to work in the media, it turned into musings and advice from successful people who have made it in the world of print, broadcasting, film, music, fashion, sport and social media.
For the book, Diana interviewed 45 celebrities including Miriam O'Callaghan, Laura Whitmore, Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch, Al Pacino's producer Barry Navidi and golfer Rory McIlroy about the highs and lows of their success.
"I wrote this book as much for myself as for anyone reading in search of some guidance, motivation and inspiration. One thing I've discovered is that nobody out there has the answer to everything; we are all human beings trying to work it all out. Deep down we are all a little bit afraid of putting a foot wrong, failing and not meeting our own standards. I've learnt that it's actually OK to screw up sometimes because it's in the most testing times that you really discover who you are, what you want and where you want to go."
Diana moved to Dublin from her native Moldova at the age of eight, unable to speak a word of English. Although she admits she was "picked upon" by some of her classmates for being different, she describes her experience of immigration as "positive" and encourages Irish people to continue to be welcoming to migrants.
"I'm all for inclusion and diversity. I think having a diverse Ireland is a beautiful thing because it makes it a much more interesting society to live in."
Although her eastern European accent initially made her shy away from public speaking, Diana believes the challenge made her stronger. She likens her teenage years to those of one of her interviewees, Skulduggery Pleasant children's books author Derek Landy, who suffered with a debilitating stammer.
"I went through about a year where I couldn't answer the phone; I didn't want to say the world 'Hello'. Throughout my entire 20s, up until Skullduggery happened, I was very much a victim of my stammer," he says in her book.
Late Late Show presenter Ryan Tubridy comments that in Ireland, ambition has "sort of been made into a curse word" – something which angers Diana, but which she can relate to.
"Definitely as a woman if you are ambitious it's always seen as a negative thing. I think it was my first year in TV and I did a cover shoot and the headline was 'steely ambition'. Steely seems cold and has negative connotations. I think it's a brilliant thing to be ambitious and want to achieve lots of things. You only get one chance at life so why not do it – embrace it? Life's too short to stick to a palette of black and white."
So what's on Diana's long list of ambitions? "I'm working on the second Pursuit of Awesome, which will be more international and less media focused. It will be a series of life lessons in general from people who have experienced incredible things and built businesses out of nothing. For example, actress Jessica Alba, who also runs her billion-dollar business The Honest Company. I'd also love to do a documentary series in the vein of Stacey Dooley or Louis Theroux and dabble in travel presenting".
She still comes home to Dublin regularly, both for work and to see boyfriend Steve Garrigan, lead singer of band Kodaline – whom she also interviewed for her book.
Has she any plans to make a guest appearance with Kodaline some day?
"God no I'm a terrible singer, I don't have a note in my head. I remember whenever I was on elev8 I had to face my fears and mine was singing in public. I had to perform at The Music Show in Dublin's RDS. I've still got nightmares about that. Never again," she laughs.
:: The Pursuit of Awesome by Diana Bunici is published by Liberties Press.
BEING AWESOME: TIPS FROM THE TOP
"I always felt that the discipline and dedication required to take sport as far as possible could be applied to almost any challenge in life. As I've sort of got the hang of this golf thing, I'm probably as well sticking with it. I still have a lot I want to achieve in the long career that lies ahead of me"
"If you start with quality, people will always remember you for quality. Quality gives people confidence to invest in you and your brand"
"People say things like, 'What made you want to be a writer?' or 'Who inspired you to be a writer?' - and the answer is nobody. I think writing is in you."
"You have to be relentless in this business. You have to be almost distributed in your ambition. You should also never be afraid of your ambition."
"Ultimately you have to stand over your music and your choices. This iron belief stood up somehow in the face of absolute mediocrity when I was sh** and making music that I wouldn't rate now. The things I am best at today are the things I have failed at most through trial and error."