Gemma Garrett on the bullying nightmare that made her stronger, being single and why she’s sceptical about the world of bloggers
The former Miss Great Britain has just launched a business venture selling cruelty-free beauty products. The 37-year-old from Belfast talks to
Stephanie Bell about her love of animals, cosmetic surgery and why, after a brief first marriage, she wants to find love again
As she walks her two pet British bulldogs in her local park every morning, Gemma Garrett mentally makes a list of everything she is grateful for in her life. One of our bestknown beauty queens, models, actresses and one-time would-be politician now turned businesswoman, she has a lot to be thankful for, but her life is richer than ever since she started to practice the ‘law of attraction’ over a year ago.
It is a philosophy based on the belief that we are able to attract into our lives whatever we focus our mind on, and it says a lot about Gemma that she consciously works everyday to stay upbeat and positive.
“I know some people will think it is a load of c***, but I have been practising it for a year and a half and I have really seen the difference,” she explains.
“I am a much happier person, and it is about trying to see the good in everyone and the positives.
“It is so easy to get dragged into a negative spiral, but I am more aware now of what I think about.
“Just listing 10 things in my head that I am grateful for helps to set me up for the day and make me feel more positive.”
At 37, Gemma is still single, but she hopes her new philosophy will help to find her a soulmate.
She married in her late 20s, but it ended amicably after four years when they both agreed they had made mistake.
Last year, Gemma took part in what turned out to be a hit TV series for BBC NI, Beauty Queen and Single, in which she and other local beauty queens stripped off their make-up to go bare-faced on a blind date.
Easy fodder for online trolls, the girls had to fend off some malicious remarks, but most of the responses were complimentary, and it is this positivity that very much drives Gemma today.
Having suffered all her life because of her choice of career — she was bullied for five years at school because she wanted to be a model — Gemma has developed a thick skin and doesn’t let the odd catty remark get to her anymore. Her strong social media profile means that she does attract the odd troll, but she chooses to ignore them and instead focuses on the many good things and people in her life. At the moment, that positivity is being poured into a new business that Gemma launched last week. Online retail venture Buella Life (named after her beloved pet pooches, Buddy and Stella) is a shop selling carefully sourced, cruelty-free, organic luxury products. It came about more by accident than design when Gemma, who also works as a make-up artist, developed a conscience about her beauty blog. For years she enjoyed blogging as a hobby, and would receive free products from companies hoping that she would give them a mention and share details with her 15,000 Facebook followers. However, endorsing something she was not entirely happy with did not come naturally to her, and she is now convinced that blogging has had its day.
“It was a hobby for me, but I am really sceptical myself now of that whole blogger world now,” she says.
“I was getting between 150 and 200 messages every day from people asking me if I really believed in the product and if I was getting paid to promote it.
“I’ve never taken payment to endorse a product, but when people send you stuff, you do feel obliged to put something up about it.
“I really do think that the world of blogging is going to die out very soon because people are more switched on now.
“You have beauty bloggers promoting probably what is their seventh great self-tan- ning product in a year, and to me that has no credibility.
“I just thought that I would list all the products I actually do love on a website, and they all happened to be cruelty-free, humanely sourced and organic. These were all tried and tested by me.
“I put the website up at the start of the year, and as a result I was approached by the owner of Lumity in London, who asked for a meeting and offered me sole Northern Ireland rights to selling his products. That was the start of the business, and it has grown from there.”
As well as Lumity skincare products, Gemma’s range also includes Blossom Hill’s Manuka Honey, award-winning wine from the Peccavi vineyard in Western Australia and men’s products from the likes of the Pankhurst barbershop collection.
Natural, cruelty-free products are hard to source, which makes Gemma’s website all the more appealing.
She is also passing savings on since her luxury brands are available at huge savings on the recommended retail prices.
Although determined to sell only cruelty-free, organic products, Gemma has not gone down the vegan or animal rights route.
“I am an animal lover. I have my two dogs and, in fact, I prefer animals to humans,” she says.
“I think when you get a bit older, you start to think a bit more about where your food and clothes come from.
“I grew up in Ballybeen housing estate in Dundonald, and whatever you were given to
eat, you had to take, because money was tight, but as you get older and more educated about it and have your own money, you realise you do have choice.
“I did go vegetarian for six months last year for health reasons, but I believe we are meant to eat meat, although I think it is an industry now driven by greed.
“So many animals are being tortured or farmed badly, so I try to make a good decision when I am buying my meat.
“I like to go to a local shop where I know what farm it has come from.
“All of this comes from my love of animals, and I also believe that animals suffer because of a love of money and greed. I don’t use any cosmetics that have been tested on animals. They can be really hard to find, although, thankfully, most companies are trying to make a change, which is great.
“It all started because I wanted to show people I am not being paid to say what I believe in.
“It’s been hard work getting the business off the ground, but it is very exciting.”
Gemma has always had the courage of her convictions, even though as a child growing up in east Belfast (the family moved from Ballybeen when she was seven), she paid a huge price for it.
She is the middle child of three, and has an older sister, Lisa (41), and brother Stephen (31), a well-known local footballer who plays for Cliftonville.
Her parents, Margaret, a classroom assistant, and Stephen, a security manager, encouraged all three of their children to pursue their dreams.
“I got 10 GCSEs, but I left school. I absolutely hated it because I was bullied,” Gemma says. “The bullying started on my first day and lasted right through to my last day.
“Bullying is more to the fore now, but back then it was just part of school life — you got on with it.
“Sometimes I feel I missed out, especially when I hear people saying that school was the best days of their life and they wish they could go back to it.
“I don’t think I had one good day in school for five years. It got to the point in fourth and fifth year when it became physical.
“Mum and Dad always told us that we could be whatever we wanted to be, and I was obsessed by beauty queens and models, which didn’t go down well with the other girls in my school.”
Gemma won her first beauty competition, Miss Ulster, at 17 and started modelling with Belfast agency Style Academy.
When her year as Miss Ulster ended, she returned to college to study for a diploma in applied science and sports massage, with the aim of going onto university to study to become a physiotherapist.
However, her heart lay in modelling, so she moved to London when she was 20, soon landing a job as a lingerie model.
Over the next few years, she became known for her saucy underwear snaps, which appeared in national tabloid newspapers.
Homesickness, though, led her to give it up and come back to Belfast.
She got a job working on the promotions team for Budweiser, and loved it so much that she would have happily carried on with it, only the company closed in Northern Ireland.
Deciding to return to modelling, she knew that she had to raise her profile again, so she went back to London to enter the Miss Great Britain competition, which she won in 2008 aged 26.
“I did see the contest as a stepping stone. I knew I needed something like that to make a name for myself in modelling, and I was over the moon that I won,” she says.
“My life did change overnight. I was earning a lot of money and spending it not very sensibly.
“I still hadn’t learned my lesson, though, because after a year, when you hand your crown over, you are very quickly forgotten about and it is someone else’s turn.”
Despite her success, Gemma struggled with insecurity, which is why at 26 she decided to get breast implants.
She opted for PIP silicone implants, which were embroiled in a national scandal a few years ago when it was discovered that the silicone could leak.
HIGH LIFE: Gemma smiling for the cameras on the red carpet at a film premiere
FAMILY SUPPORT: Gemma with younger brother Stephen and mother Margaret
WOMAN’S BEST FRIENDS: Gemma Garrett and (above) out for a long walk with her two bulldogs, Buddy and Stella