Gemma Gar­rett on the bul­ly­ing night­mare that made her stronger, be­ing sin­gle and why she’s scep­ti­cal about the world of blog­gers

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

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

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