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‘When my dad died, I went into a dark place’

Wednesday, 16th January, 2019 4:51pm

When I call Demi Isaac Oviawe, the ‘The Young Offenders’ star is in the middle of ordering a wrap for lunch.

The 18 year old is on a break from rehearsals for RTÉ’s ‘Dancing with the Stars’, which kicked off two weeks ago. She is currently balancing the show with her Leaving Cert, something she is surprised some seem to be questioning online.

“I saw comments from people who think it’s fake, but I’m 100 per cent serious,” she exclaims, a mixture of puzzled and amused. “Like I wouldn’t lie about doing ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and exams - I’m not a psychopath!”

Going from researching her history project to preparing for this week’s dance is quite a changeup, and far from the life of a normal schoolgirl. But for Demi, a student in Davis College in Mallow, this has been the new ‘normal’ for some time.

The youngster, who admits she was “taking the piss” when she auditioned for last year’s breakout Cork series ‘The Young Offenders’, was thrust into the limelight aged just 17 for her role as Linda Walsh, the girlfriend of the hapless Conor MacSweeney (played by fellow Cork actor Alex Murphy).

Even speaking to her over the phone, it’s easy to tell how Demi endears herself to TV viewers and co-stars. She is bright and bubbly, with boundless energy and a willingness to chat the world away. Beyond that, though, is a wise head on young shoulders.

“I thought it’d be a lot harder (balancing exams with TV),” she quips thoughtfully. “I’ve found that when things become hard, you have to plough on with life. So I’ve just kind of learned that when I find something difficult, or I get frustrated with a step I can’t do, rather than crying about it I should just keep pushing harder until I get it right.”

Such belief no doubt comes from the experiences Demi has had in her young life. She lost her mother to cancer when she was five, and her father, whom she calls “her rock”, passed away three years ago, when she was 15. She lives with her stepmother, uncle and her four brothers, and says that although life has been a rollercoaster, she wouldn’t want it to be any different.

“I wouldn’t change anything. In my head, everything happens for a reason. I feel someone up above looked down and said ‘Demi’s been through a lot, let’s give her this and see how she copes with it, good or bad’. And I’ve been blessed with opportunities.

“On ‘The Young Offenders’, I was 100 per cent myself. I’ve never done acting classes. Whatever the audience felt watching was what we felt. Like, the scene where we’re singing ‘With or Without You’ at the graveyard with Jock’s mom, I was genuinely emotional, obviously with my parents.”

The teenager, who was born in Nigeria but has been living in Cork since she was a toddler, says she doesn’t mind being noticed, but says it can be overwhelming.

“It’s weird being only 18 and having little girls coming up to me saying they want to be like me when they’re older. There’s a small sense of pressure, you don’t want to mess everything up. You want to make everyone else proud.

“Sometimes you just want to throw your hair up in a bun and throw on leopard print pants and a bright pink top. You don’t want to have to find a matching outfit or think about anything!”

Demi says her pride also lies in representing women of colour and plus-size women on Irish TV. She assures me that, until Ireland’s diversity is mirrored on the small screen, her job won’t be done.

“When my dad died, I went into a dark place. I felt useless, and started hanging around the wrong crowd, not paying attention in school. So ‘The Young Offenders’ was a blessing in disguise.

“Now I’m representing the black community, women of plus-size. Growing up, I’ve always heard the same thing ‘oh you look like Beyonce’ or ‘this person looks like this’ etc. I always wanted to be an entertainer, but you never saw people like me represented in Irish media when I was growing up.

“Getting messages from people saying I inspire them makes you want to push the message that it’s okay to be different and represent your background, or how you look, without people judging you. It’s good to open more doors for more people.”

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