Sinéad Burke: Meet Your Heroes

Pace the room. Watch the clock. They are expecting the phone call in four minutes. Should I dial the number now? No, it’s too early.

Read the questions once more. Pace the floor. Glimpse the clock. Two minutes to go. I’ll just check that the line is working. It’s working. Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Dial the number and act composed.

The phone rings and in my nervous state, the recurring dial tone feels almost taunting. My breathing has increased in speed and I can feel my pulse throb at the back of my ear. Inhale. Exhale. I can do this. I CAN do this. The call is answered, the interviewee laughs at my attempt at a joke. My nerves are settled. The metaphoric ice has dissolved.

I have spent the past eighteen months interviewing the people who interest, inspire and intrigue me most. I never set out to meet my heroes, at least, I never thought that they would say yes to meeting me.

The desire to meet them arose from a triad of reasons. I was frustrated that mainstream media appeared to be pacified by asking questions that barely broached the surface and that they seemed to be satisfied to regurgitate the same material over and over. I also wanted a vehicle for me to refocus the vocabulary and framing in the discussion of women – particularly those who have attained a certain level of fame or success.

The rationale for the interviews is to engage in an insightful conversation that aspires to challenge both parties. There is no financial reimbursement for either interviewee or interviewer and the rhetoric is never permitted to solely focus on the candidate’s latest product, collaboration or business endeavour.

It is a conversation filled with philosophical statements, admittance of failures, regret, pride and tonnes of heart. It’s been one of my proudest achievements to date. But prior to each interview, the nonchalance fades and a wave of nervousness swells. Doubt enters my mind and almost persuades me not to take part whilst, physically, nervousness manifests in moist hands and an off-beat tapping foot.

Why do it? Why put my circulatory and respiratory systems through such unnecessary duress? I don’t have the vocabulary to explain my behaviour, but the opportunity to host an interesting conversation with my hero and to possibly share it with others is something which fills me with bountiful joy and satisfaction.

Walking down Aungier Street in Dublin on a summer evening, I’m laden down with bags, a winter coat and an umbrella. Crossing at the pedestrian lights and meandering onto George’s Street, I notice a silhouette that seems somewhat familiar in the distance. I don’t pay adequate attention until it’s almost too late.

I walk backwards a few paces to gather my thoughts. Paul Costelloe is standing approximately ten footsteps ahead of me, casually leaning against a shop window and admiring the display. I have been infatuated with a lot of his work but he is often recorded in the media commenting on the type of women who he desires to wear his clothes. I don’t fit this criteria.

I was reluctant and a little embarrassed to introduce myself, and questioned what my dad would do in this situation. He’s an energetic, caring, loud and brilliant person who doesn’t value a person on their success and wealth, but on their manners. I knew that he would march straight up to Paul and say hello. With a smile on my face, I took a deep breath, embodied my father’s psyche and marched forward ten steps.

Tugging on the sleeve of Paul’s jacket, he looked around but didn’t initially see me due to my height. I tugged once more, exaggerated a cough and he looked down. Prior to any words, a smile took hold of his face. I introduced myself, shook his hand, declared my fanatic nature and walked off to get my bus home. In text, the experience appears anti-climactic but Paul was polite, generous with his time and words and the moment felt authentic. I was impressed.

The commute home was filled with machinations: I wanted to interview Paul. I had a sense that there was a more complex narrative to be excavated from the rough – I quite fancied myself as the proverbial archaeologist. Using the internet connection of Ireland’s inter-county bus service, I emailed the most generic email address, sourced via Google cache, and pitched a possible interview with Paul Costelloe. An infinitesimal part of me believed that I would get a response prior to arriving home. A infinitesimal part of me was wrong.

There was no contact for weeks. I had searched online for an alternative point of contact but couldn’t source one, even with honed sleuthing skills. I admitted failure – silently.

An email arrived approximately three weeks after first meeting Paul. I had inadvertently contacted the commercial strand of the brand and my request had been misplaced among miscellaneous orders and queries. The kind salesperson pointed me in the direction of Paul’s assistant; a warm, intelligent and charismatic man who tolerated my tenacity and over-enthusiasm. I populated his inbox with emails, made a small number of phone calls and apologised profusely for my perseverance. It worked. On his next visit to Dublin, I had a fifteen minute appointment with Paul Costelloe.

I arrived thirty minutes early. I had already bought a fancy coffee and relentlessly paced the foyer whilst simultaneously sipping on the most hipster of beverages. The receptionist arched her eyebrow in my direction and I cocooned myself in the venue’s sofa. Inhale. Exhale.

I re-read over my questions and a ping alerted me to the oncoming arrival of the lift. The metallic doors squealed open and Paul emerged in his uniform of a navy Blazer, a crisp white shirt, a knotted tie, ripped jeans and battered grey Converse. He bent down to greet me, energetically shook my hand and his first question sent me reeling – “Where can I sit that’s most comfortable for you?”

The most comfortable position was Paul perched on the fireplace hearthstone with me standing beside him. We were at eye-level but I stood taller, – a physical motif of power, but one that Paul did not comment upon. It was a fascinating conversation where we each were challenged. He questioned the ethics of the adult-child hybrid clothes which I have access to in many high street kids departments ,while I challenged the lack of diversity in fashion and the lack of autonomy with the monopolisation of global conglomerates.

I left abuzz, filled with new information but satisfied that my curiosity had been sated and my perspective had been changed.

Two weeks later, an embossed ornate envelope was delivered to my humble abode. The calligraphic font detailed that I had been invited to the Paul Costelloe presentation at London Fashion Week. I would like to admit that I acted graciously and calmly – but I screamed excitedly and erratically, much to the postman’s confusion and surprise.

My first experience of London Fashion Week was magical, perhaps because I felt a personal tie to the designer, his inspiration and the narrative he unfolded in the collection. I never imagined that London Fashion Week would be become part of my experience and to think, it might not have ever happened had I not tugged on Paul’s jacket in the middle of George’s Street.

Interviewing my heroes has taught me that they are people too. I’ve learned about the morals and values that I hold dear. It has encouraged me to be selfish in my expectations for life and it has brought me on a journey – one without satellite navigation and a destination – but with the most exquisite and complex scenic route.

Meet your heroes. Embrace your inner fan-girl. You never know where it might lead.

Sinead Burke is a woman of many talents. She tweets at @minniemelange and writes here

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