1. What school did you go to?
My school was Newpark Comprehensive School in Dublin. It was Ireland’s first comprehensive secondary school. It was mixed sex and mixed in every other way too! The school encouraged difference, creativity and individuality which really helped me find my feet as a teenager who felt ‘lost’ in more ways than one.
2. What is your favourite memory of school?
I loved Geography class. I had a teacher named Mr. Halloway who created a safe haven of laughter, silly jokes and memories in his classroom. I remember crying from laughing so hard in almost every class. It was one of my favourite times as a teenager. He understood me, he knew I was talented but also that I had my own personal struggles going on. He made an effort to make his class enjoyable for us all. Mr. Halloway was one of us, a friend, not just a teacher and we could talk to him about anything.
3. How did your school experience influence/help your career?
Because my school was so open and accepting of difference I know it made me blossom into the best young man that I could have been. I went from being a shy, sometimes anxious mess into a bright, bubbly and happy go lucky guy in just a few years. I was a joker, a class clown and it was almost applauded. The classroom became my stage and the staff/students at times were my audience. I got in trouble from time to time but it was the beginnings of my career in media and entertainment and I didn’t even know it!
4. Tell us about your experience of bullying at school?
In primary school I had my first experiences of bullying. Older boys in the school yard noticed my differences and that I liked hanging around with the girls. They would shout “Queer” “Fag” “Puff” at me before I even knew what those words meant. I knew I was a target so I went into my shell and became somewhat of a recluse in order to avoid the taunts.
The first three years of secondary school were just as bad. I was a seen as being a weird kid because of how I dress and my physical characteristics were a target for yet more name calling. I would walk with my head down. I remember being pushed and shoved into my locker as I collected books between classes. The bullies would stop me as I walked through corridors and loudly call me names and point out that my clothes looked like a girl should wear them. They would ask me if I was gay and push me to admit it in public even before I knew what my sexuality was.
I took refuge in some close female friends who were my protection in a way. I could be around them and feel safe, as if nothing I said was going to be judged or second-guessed. I still feel this experience in school has impacted my ability to have close male friends.
5. What was the lowest part of the bullying?
The worst part of the bullying was the feeling of being alone, being singled out and feeling like I genuinely had something wrong with me. Longing and wishing that I could just be normal, to be invisible and sink into the background. The constant fear of being ‘found out’ as gay or to have any attention drawn to me was terrifying.
6. How did you overcome your bullying?
I got over my bullying by talking to my parents, my small group of close friends and by just battling through it until the bullies gave up. Thankfully I survived and have grown into a very happy and successful young man with a great job and personal life. My bullying never defined me. It was a part of my youth and I will always remember it but it has made me stronger. I will never ever let someone try and bully me again. I know the signs of a bully and can stop them in their tracks because of my experience.
7. What was your favourite school subject?
I loved Art, English, SPHE and Geography. I saw these subjects as a fun ‘get-away’ during the school day. I would wake up feeling excited about having those classes to attend that day. They were a nice break in-between Maths, French and Physics which I was awful at!
8. What did you look forward to when you went back to school after the holidays? What advice would you give to young people who are going back to school after the holidays?
I loved getting back into a routine and feeling productive again. I know that sounds really nerdy but it was great to have a start, middle and end to a day and feel like I got something done. I also looked forward to seeing my friends each day and having a laugh in class when we should have been working.
For those heading back to school I would say just mentally prepare yourself for the change. It’s a big shift to go from summer holiday mode back into school mode. Think about how your day will pan out, the idea of doing home work again and the morning start. This mental preparation will make the whole experience a lot easier.
9. Was there anything you worried about when you went back to school after the holidays? How did you overcome this?
I did worry about social interactions, bullying and if I would be intellectually able for the class work from year to year.
I got over this by just taking things one day a time. There is no point worrying about what lies ahead of you in a week or two weeks. Just know what you have to do today, what your goals are and who you’ll come in contact with. All the rest can wait until another day. That way you’ll be less stressed, more focused and overall happier J
10. What was your favourite school meal?!
In my school my guilty lunchtime pleasure was instant Koka noodles. I know they were really bad for me but I couldn’t help but enjoy them on cold winter days while walking around the schoolyard.
11. If you had to go back to school again what would you change?
I would make sure that I cared less about what people thought of me. I would just relax more and try to feel as comfortable in my own skin then as I do now.
I would focus really hard in the subjects that I love instead of stressing over the ones I was bad at. Nothing can change what you are naturally gifted or ungifted at so just go with the flow, do your very best and know everything works out in the end.
12. What is your back to school advice to any young people worrying about going back to school because of bullying? Top tips/how to overcome/what to do.
If you are worried about bullies then be conscious of your surroundings, who the individuals are who are causing you trouble and act on it. Do not allow the abuse to continue. Go to a teacher in confidence and tell them exactly what is happening. If they don’t help then speak to another teacher or your principle.
If you are worried that the bullying may get worse because you spoke to someone then make sure to tell the teacher that the you would like the information to remain private. They should have ways and means of stopping the bully without causing you any extra strain.
Speak to your parents, aunties, uncles or friends that you know can somewhat protect you in a situation where a bully tries to pick on you. If you guys have each other’s backs then as a group of good friends you can stick up for one another in a non aggressive yet assertive way.
Finally, just know that this experience is just a moment in time. It will not be like this forever and usually the bully will come to their senses as they grow up. Maybe try and speed up the process by simply telling them that they are hurting you and you’d really like them to stop. It’s easier said than done but sometimes a straight up explanation like that can make a bully stop and think about their actions.
13. What difference would an Anti-Bullying Ambassador have made? (An Anti-Bullying Ambassador is a student in the school who young people can go to and talk about their bullying issues)
It would have made the world ofdifference. Sometimes speaking to an elder can be just as scary as taking a bully on yourself. It’s not easy to admit difficulty and ask for help.
Having someone of a similar age, a confidante who you know will listen to your problems without judgement would have been amazing and made the school experience a lot easier.