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Moms Doing It For Themselves: Aideen O’Grady

Aideen O’Grady is a TV personality, MC and founder of STARCAMP, which she set up before going on to have children. How did she do it all? Did having kids hold her back, or were they the catalyst to push her forward? We find out...

Tell me a bit about your background (education, career)

My background is mainly performance and media orientated. I began performing classes at a very young age, and like nearly all children who are in any way exposed to music or dance, I adored it. Thankfully, my parents knew this about me and so allowed me to go to regular drama, dance and music classes. The combination of constant encouragement and praise at home with performing arts classes instilled in me a confidence that I, to this day, wish for every child. In the following years I went onto participate in numerous feiseanna, did my performing arts exams including LAMDA, I performed on many stages such as The Cork Opera House and The Olympia.

COMPETITION: Win a Free Place on the Amazing STARCAMP for your child

My working life began in publishing, something that I had a real passion for. I worked for The People newspaper group and Hotpress Magazine before starting my own women's national glossy magazine at the age of 21. I am delighted that to this day I still get to indulge in my love of media by being a regular panellist on TV3's Elaine show as well as still occasionally contributing to radio and publishing.

I started STARCAMP 10 years ago, it was something that had been in mind for years. STARCAMP is a combination of all my passions; performance, freedom of expression, my absolute love and respect for children and a desire to instil them with self-belief and finally business.

STARCAMP is aimed at all boys and girls aged 4-12, and it is so much more than a performing arts Summer Camp. STAR CAMPERS get to experience a mind blowing array of activities to include a superhero masterclass taught by a real superhero; news and weather reporting, camp games, arts and crafts and of course singing, dancing and drama. The week is scattered with new and fun surprises with a theme of “kindness” and a Friday finale showcase, where all are welcome. STARCAMP now runs in 200 towns across 32 counties and keeps thousands of children incredibly entertained for a week of their holidays, and keeps them singing and dancing for the summer. We are thrilled that the number of boys attending is now over 40%.

Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?

I started STARCAMP before having children, I now have three boys and number four is on the way. I always had a drive, a passion and a hunger to do as much as I could in this lifetime and to fulfil anything that my heart desired. Work was always important to me and I always got a sense of satisfaction from it.

The day that Dean was born (6 years ago today), as I looked down at his tiny face, the biggest shock was not that he had arrived, but that I didn't care if I never worked again. I felt this when each of my boys were born and it would last a couple of months, but soon the desire to jump back on board and the drive that I had, would begin to creep back into my bones (along with the thought bubble of being able to go to the toilet alone, or drinking actual hot coffee!). Having children has certainly slowed me down professionally. Something that I could not be happier about and that I never thought I would say. In the back of my mind, I do imagine that when my babies are all a little bit older, I may shift gears again.

What changes did you make to make your career work for you?

The best thing that happened to STARCAMP was that not long after Dean was born, I managed to finally convince my husband to come on board full-time. Paul is an accountant and brings so many things to the business that I could not offer. Neither of us knew how much we would love working together or how he would take to the business in the way that he did. It allowed me to step back at times to be the nurturer that I craved to be. 

How did you feel when making these changes?

I truly do adore STARCAMP. It began as a seed in my mind so many years ago and this Summer we celebrate its' 10th Birthday. Like every start-up business, it has taken my blood, sweat and tears. It has also given me endless joy and contentment. I have gotten to know thousands of kind, gifted and simply remarkable leaders and staff over the years who helped to make STARCAMP what it is and many of whom I remain friends with today. Not to mention the thousands of absolutely incredible, very happy and strong little children who have come and gone (some of whom now work with us!).

STARCAMP has evolved and grown over the years to become the renowned and respected camp that it is today. Fyffes has been on board as our Title Sponsor for the past four years and this has been fantastic for us. They are a wonderful company to be involved with and to work with.

This year as we celebrate 10 years and we have teamed up with TODAY FM to find "Ireland’s  Radio Kids!". Basically, a number of boys and girls from all over the country will be chosen to do live news and weather reports in studio during the month of August, which promises to be a great opportunity for them while captivating audiences nationwide.

(To actually answer your question) Change is part of life and it is most definitely part of business. You simply have to be open to change and you have to embrace it if you want to succeed and move with the times. Everything is ever-evolving and if you don't go with it, you'll just get left behind.

What worked and what didn’t work along the way?

In 2013, I decided that I would put the business out there and I applied for Dragons' Den. This was fantastic for the business, directly and indirectly.

I had three incredible offers from the Dragons and decided to go with Peter Casey who wanted only 5% of the business for the desired €30,000. Apart from the immediate interest in the business from many who hadn’t known of us, I was regularly invited on radio to chat all things children. I have MC’d numerous events, charity and otherwise and have thoroughly enjoyed dipping my hand back into further media circles where I started out. I have been totally honoured to also receive many awards including Network Cork Business Woman of the year. We also managed to buy Peter Casey out of the business within six months. 

Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now - how have they improved/decreased?

I am so so blessed to have always been a truly happy person by nature, something that I am eternally grateful for. Since having a family, what has changed is my level of contentment. I never really knew the power, strength and peace of mind that contentment brings. Something new to be grateful for!

How do you rate your work/life balance?

I'm really not sure that I do. I am mortified to admit that I am an extremely disorganised person (I think that there is a genius link to this, ha), I have an eternal New Year's resolution since 1988 that I will manage my time better.
I do live by one simple rule though, when I'm at work - I work extremely hard and when I'm off - I AM OFF! Our free time as a family is precious, we love to explore, take trips, go for walks, to the zoo or simply play pirates!
Paul and I also love to spend time with friends, we don't do as much of it as we would like to at the moment, but once this phase of life passes - watch out world!

Three bits of advice for working mothers?

  1. Feel the guilt for a moment if you must, then turn that thought around to doing your children proud - and come back stronger.
  2. Help other working mothers when and if you can, we are all fighting the same battles.
  3. Get your children interested and involved in what you do, they may just amaze you and you are teaching them basics from a young age.
Would you like to be featured in this interview series? Send an email to our Editor on mairead.cahalan@eumom.ie and tell us a little bit about your career, how you manage to balance your work and life balance and let us know if you've made any drastic changes to facilitate your family and career.
 

About the Author

Lucy Earley is MD of artisyn.ie, (former editor of Salon Magazine) and is a freelance writer, interviewer and editor. She's a delighted convert to the maternal side following the birth of her daughter, Lara, in August 2014

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