I AM perhaps the last person who could be considered an aficionado of reality TV programmes. To be honest, the briefest glimpse of one would generally have me reaching for the remote control and switching on an old episode of Frasier I’d seen more times than I can remember. Rather that than being forced to endure the sight of someone having their singing dreams mercilessly crushed by someone who, ironically, has done more damage to the music industry than a doe-eyed, off-key hopeful ever could. Likewise shows such as The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE) and Made In Chelsea, merely seem to exist to generate as many vapid stories in tabloid newspapers as they do onscreen, all in a world in which there seems to be some sort of perverse Darwinism on display, where only the thick, the thick-skinned and indeed the orange-skinned survive. So when I’d heard that Glasgow was getting its own version of the latter type of show–Glow—needless to say, I greeted the news with at best, antipathy.
That said, stereotypes are not always reliable and the world—even one in which a TV show coming with the ‘reality’ tag seems far removed from that—is far from black and white. In fact, in terms of Glow, it could be described as having a little green, white and orange in there, thanks to the background of two of the show’s stars.
A familiar face
Joanne Ferry is known to regular readers of The Irish Voice, not merely for her previous contributions to the newspaper itself, but also her work within the Irish community in Scotland and her selection as Glasgow’s Mary From Dungloe for 2015. When she told me of her involvement with the new show, I was forced to reassess some of my preconceived notions of reality TV and Scotland’s addition to that genre. Through her involvement, I became invested in the show to a greater extent than I’d anticipated.
Joanne graduated with an Honours Degree in Broadcast Production and works as a digital marketing manager, specialising in social media and content production for business. She is the daughter of Owen—who runs his own garage and is an independent specialist in German cars—and Kim, who works alongside her husband, albeit as Joanne is at pains to point out, ‘in the office, not on the tools!’ Despite being born and raised in Paisley, her connection to the Emerald Isle, is—as with many in the west of Scotland—centred on Donegal and it’s one that she has endeavoured to keep strengthened through diaspora initiatives.
“My grandparents on my dad’s side are Irish so a lot of my childhood was spent in Donegal visiting family,” Joanne said. “My grandmother, Rosetta Ferry (maiden name McLaughlin), was from Carndonagh and my grandfather, Tony Ferry, was from Crickamore, Dungloe.
“I still travel to Ireland at least once a year to visit family, but I am also one of the founding members of Donegal Heart, a non-profit organisation set up in Glasgow by myself and my good friends Breeda Ojo, Connell Boyle and Olivia Deviney. We started the organisation to support the link between Glasgow and Donegal. Our first event honoured the life and memory of our friend Adrian Medford, who was a pillar of the Glasgow-Irish community. He passed away after a short battle with Glioblastoma and his funeral took place in Ireland. So we hosted an event to honour him this side of the water at Celtic Park’s Kerrydale Suite and in the process raised £30,000, which was split between Padre Pio’s mission to build housing for retired priests in San Giovanni Rotondo, and Glioblastoma research. I produced a video tribute to Adrian, which was shown on the night and to date has been viewed online over 80,000 times.
“I am also now on the selection committee for Glasgow Mary in the Mary From Dungloe Festival.”
More than one Mary
And the Mary From Dungloe Festival was to be a key factor in not only heightening my interest in the show, but also enhancing this month’s VIP feature as Joanne explained that—albeit unbeknown to her at first—the show boasted another former Glasgow Mary within its ranks in Leanne Jeffrey.
Glasgow girl Leanne is the youngest of four daughters—Claire-Louise, Katie and Sarah Jane—born to Val, a nurse, and Brian, a police officer. She has a young son named Kiain and is engaged to be married to her fiancé Iain in the near future. Although she is makeup artist to trade, both she and her family have made a massive contribution to Irish Dancing in Scotland—something that has seen them develop strong links with Ireland and a love for the ‘auld sod.’
“Irish dancing is a huge part of my life,” Leanne said. “My mum and two sisters (Katie and Sarah Jane) are qualified dance teachers and were involved with the successful Jeffrey-McFadden Academy of Irish Dancing for many years. I began Irish dancing at the age of 3. I was once the Scottish Champion, I finished third at the World Irish Dancing Championships as part of our 8-hand group and won many trophies and medals.
“To this day I still participate and help out my sister Katie with her own school of Irish dancing. I currently teach adult Irish dancing classes and have a great relationship with other Irish dancers and teachers from all over Ireland that I work with. My sister’s school holds a large dance competition in Glasgow every year in September and we use many friends that are adjudicators to work alongside and help us with the judging. My mum also helps out with all the local dance competitions.
“Travelling to Ireland several times a year for dance competitions instilled in me a love of the country, culture and people. Ireland is one of my favourite places to be and Irish dancing is in my blood and will be [part of my family] for generations to come!”
When Leanne was chosen as the Glasgow Mary in 2006, not only was she able to showcase her dancing talents during the festival, she was also able to cultivate her love of all things Irish.
“I decided to get involved as one of my older sister had done it before me and told me about the amazing experience,” Leanne said. “I had the most amazing week, met such amazing people and would definitely recommend it to others. I got to visit lots of places, dance, laugh and learn some great songs that my sister and I still love to sing, especially Las Vegas in the Hills of Donegal.
“It afforded me the chance to learn more about Irish culture and I got to experience an amazing festival with some fantastic people. I still keep in touch with many of the girls today.”
Joanne’s experience of the festival was also extremely positive, enhanced to an even greater extent not only due to her family links with the area, but also because it was the first time that the popular event had ever been televised.
“The Mary From Dungloe Festival is something that is very close to my family’s heart,” Joanne said. “My dad spent every summer in Dungloe as a child and I had always loved the idea of being a Mary. The last time I saw my great aunt Kate in Donegal, I promised the next time she would see me I would be representing Glasgow, and she replied: ‘Wouldn’t I be charmed, my niece a Mary.’ Unfortunately, she passed away before she got to see me compete, but I did it in memory of her and my Uncle, Neilly Ferry.
“My year—2015—was also the first year in the festival’s history that it was broadcast live on TV. It was massive pressure, but also lovely that my Irish grandparents—who were living in Paisley and unable to travel due to their age—were able to watch me and not just hear about it. I watched it back with my gran and she cried she was so proud. That was really special for me.
“The festival itself taught me that I am much more capable than I give myself credit for. I worked hard to do my family, friends and Glasgow proud, and I believe I did that.”
Glowing for it
Joanne’s first major taste of TV no doubt gave her the encouragement to apply to star in Glow. Many of her friends, as well as those of Leanne, lent their support for applications to the show and the two former Glasgow Marys made the cut. However, given a Celtic mind-set might lean towards shunning the limelight, the girls explained why they chose to apply to star in the show.
“I was attracted to it from a life experience perspective,” Leanne said. “I love new experiences and meeting new people and I am very proud to be from Glasgow, so I wanted to show others how my life is.”
“I studied broadcast production and always wanted the chance to work in TV or radio so I saw this as a great opportunity,” Joanne said. “I always intended to work behind the scenes, but being on camera has been fun! Also as Leanne says, it has been a great opportunity to meet new people and experience things I may never have done otherwise.”
Despite its detractors, the show is now two seasons in and growing in popularity. It has attracted viewers not only from the UK, but also Ireland, the US, Australia, Italy and Hong Kong to name a few. Its social media platforms have garnered more traffic than TOWIE and its viewing figures exceed that of Scottish TV favourite River City. There is also talk of the show making the switch from being an online programme to one that is featured on a mainstream TV channel.
“The first series was great fun,” Leanne said. “Getting to know people and getting used to cameras in your face was nerve-wracking yet exciting at the same time. I can’t remember my life before it now!
“The most common reaction from people was that I was crazy for taking part in the show. A lot of people think I am mad to show my flaws and life and everything about me for others to judge, but luckily most feedback and been fantastic. Everyone that knows me says I come across exactly as myself, which is good to hear.”
“As Leanne says, it was nerve-wracking as you were forming new relationships with the cast and trying to get comfortable in front of the cameras,” Joanne said. “But I’ve enjoyed it all.
“I didn’t know what reaction I would get, but I often get people tweeting and commenting on Instagram saying they think I’m very down to earth, that I’m their favourite cast member and asking where I’ve got my clothes from and how I do my makeup. One girl even said she wished she had my figure, which is something I never would have anticipated.
“People have been largely complimentary and I really am so grateful for that because being in something like this really is throwing yourself to the wolves, people—especially online—can and will say anything they want about you. People who know me personally have all said that I am exactly the same on the show as I am in real life so as long as I’m being true to myself I’m happy.”
In terms of any negative reactions—and with a strong social media presence playing a major role in the show’s success, they’re to be expected—Leanne simply brushed them off, while Joanne stated that while she’d been slated for her fake tan, her mum gives her grief for that too, so it’s nothing new!
Joanne’s sense of humour is something that sets the show apart from its English counterparts. While Glow still exudes much of the drama and vanity prevalent in the likes of TOWIE and Made in Chelsea, members of the cast—and Joanne in particular—have provided welcome moments of comic relief amid the chaos and confrontation.
“I see that as my role to an extent, providing comic relief to defuse tensions,” Joanne said. “I’m not really confrontational at all. I always try to have a laugh and make light of a situation, and we definitely need that in amongst all the drama!”
Joanne’s amusing escapades have often seen her take a tumble more than once and almost always from some enforced sport-related exertions, be it ice-climbing, playing football or attempting to Irish dance in a class led by Leanne.
“That was hilarious,” Leanne laughed. “I loved being able to show off my talent and show people a side of me that they hadn’t seen before. Jemma seemed to do very well, however Joanne ended up on her backside.”
Another subtlety that has given the show a proper —rather than fabricated—air of normality has been the introduction of Joanne and Leanne’s respective long-term partners Dean and Iain to the show for its second season. Their involvement and the chance to see some genuine relationships on the show provides a much-needed tonic to the dysfunctional, tabloid-fodder relationships that are all too common on many reality TV shows.
“Now that Dean’s involved we get to share the experience and do a lot of things together that we probably wouldn’t have done before like trampolining, so I love having him on board,” Joanne said. “I remember in season one, one of the couples hit the rocks and it escalated into a massive drama. I came home to Dean and hugged him and he asked what was wrong I said ‘nothing, I’m just so grateful you’re normal!’ I love that Dean can share this experience with me. We’re a team so no matter what, in everything we do we’re in it together, that includes Glow.”
“Iain was unsure about the show at the start, but once I introduced him to the cast members and brought him along to filming he began to bond with the group as I did and now he loves being involved,” Leanne added. “Iain and I have been together for a long time. We have a son who is 7, a house, car, bills and so on outside of Glow, which keeps us grounded and very quickly brings us back to reality after filming. And Iain and I will always have each other’s backs in any situation on or off screen.”
The show itself has also had some knock-on effects with regards to the careers of both of the girls. Joanne has been given the opportunity to do a bit of presenting on the show, while Leanne has enjoyed something of a spike in customers seeking out her skills in the field of beautification.
“I loved the opportunity to present and hope that Glow might give me a platform to do something similar in future,” Joanne said. “I would love a career in presenting and being involved with the show will hopefully afford me the chance to pursue that.”
“Being on the show has given me more followers online who in turn see my work, my makeup artistry, and I have been fully booked most weekends now as a result of that to that,” Leanne said. “I am eternally grateful to everything and everyone who helps me succeed.”
As the interview drew to a close, the Glow stars thanked The Irish Voice for taking the time to speak to them about their involvement in the show and also paid tribute to the publication, which is approaching its fourth anniversary this August.
“The Irish Voice is truly fantastic and I’m not surprised that it is so popular,” Leanne said.
“It’s a great publication and will undoubtedly continue to be for many years to come,” Joanne concluded.
To find out how you can watch Joanne and Leanne on Glow and follow them on social media visit the show’s website: http://www.grtv.ltd