Two years ago, I was just a normal schoolgirl

Teenager Demi Isaac Oviawe talks to COLETTE SHERIDAN about studying for the Leaving Cert, her role on ‘The Young Offenders’, and her upcoming stint on Dancing With The Stars
Two years ago, I was just a normal schoolgirl
Demi Isaac Oviawe.

MALLOW native Demi Isaac Oviawe is living the dream. The 18-year-old Leaving Certificate student is the youngest ever contestant on Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) which starts on RTÉ1 on January 6.

She is also looking forward to filming the second series of the hit comedy, The Young Offenders in which she plays Linda Walsh. The character finally got to kiss the character of Conor after several abortive attempts at the end of the first series.

Demi says her late father always told her she could follow her dream or focus on reality.

“Dad was always on about education, if you really want a good job. I wanted to become a teacher of history and music. I always thought if I do become an actor, that’s great. But I felt it would never happen because you need to know someone in the industry for that to happen. When I got The Young Offenders and DWTS, my mind was completely turned. I don’t know what I want to do anymore.”

However, Demi, who always wanted to be a performer, will fill out a CAO form. She thinks that doing a third level degree “is probably the wisest thing to do”.

She added: “But what if I get accepted to, say, the UCC Drama and Theatre Studies degree and all of a sudden, I get a phone call from the BBC to do a massive TV show? You can’t predict the future.”

A student at Davis College in Mallow, Demi says she got a fierce slagging after the episode of The Young Offenders in which the kiss featured.

“It was a dirty, manky kiss and I got crucified over it at school. It was all great fun obviously but it was just the fact that it was the worst kiss in Irish history and it just so happened to involve me. It was embarrassing at school but it was the talk of the week.”

The DWTS gig came about as a result of Demi attending RTÉ’s latest season launch. She was interviewed by Jennifer Zamparelli (of Bridget And Eamon fame). A few weeks later, independent TV company, Shinawil (which produces DWST for RTÉ) contacted her, saying they liked the way she responded to Jennifer’s questions. And so, about four weeks ago, Demi started rehearsing for the popular dance-off show.

Demi, who was born in Nigeria, lost her mother when she was just five. She lives with her four younger brothers and her stepmother (who is her father’s former partner) and her father’s brother, Courage. She travels up and down to Dublin to rehearse but she will soon be staying in Dublin all the time as rehearsals intensify and the programme is aired.

“My school is very supportive. They’re making sure I get all my work done now. If I have any problems, I can come down to Mallow and see a teacher one-to-one, to go through the work. I’m more than likely going to have a tutor as well, just to stay on top of things. But at the moment, I’ll see how I’m going.”

Director Peter Foott with cast members Jennifer Barry and Demi Isaac Oviawe at The Young Offenders official season finale premiere hosted by The English Market.Photo: Cathal Noonan
Director Peter Foott with cast members Jennifer Barry and Demi Isaac Oviawe at The Young Offenders official season finale premiere hosted by The English Market.Photo: Cathal Noonan

Academically, Demi doesn’t think she is the strongest “but I’m still brainy enough. I like learning new things”.

Before her involvement with TV, Demi starred in pantomimes at school.

“That required me to be able to act, sing and dance. I’d say I’m a good performer but I wouldn’t be the strongest dancer. However, I have a slight upper hand when it comes to performing in front of an audience.

“I’m not finding the dancing rehearsals difficult at all. I think I’m really lucky. Obviously, I can be mentally drained because I’m learning two different dances a week.”

Demi isn’t allowed to reveal the identity of her dancing partner. That will be announced a couple of days before the programme is transmitted.

Despite having such a high profile, she doesn’t have any inflated notions about being a celebrity.

“Doing something like this is absolutely mad. I went from just being at school two years ago, having craic with my friends down the town, to doing The Young Offenders and DWTS. It’s mad. I’m super-proud of myself. I never thought I’d be able to do anything like this.”

Demi hasn’t so far attracted paparazzi types but says “there’s people who record you when you’re eating out with family. I just forget about them. I don’t make a fool of myself.”

Admitting to feeling “very vulnerable,” Demi says: “I’ve never really been in a relationship. I don’t know who to trust now, who my real friends are. When you’re in the public eye, everything kind of changes. You’re praised for no reason.

“I like being treated the way I was before all this happened. Instead, you have people saying: ‘Is that the girl from the telly?’ Don’t get me wrong. I love meeting people and hearing what they think of the programme.”

Filming hasn’t yet started on the second series of The Young Offenders.

“I don’t know what’s happening. All we know is that there are going to be big developments in our characters.”

When she was filming the first series of the comedy, Demi didn’t miss much school as a lot of the filming took place during the summer holidays. Going back to school in September was a little strange.

“I went from being on set with full energy to being back revising biology. But you have to find your own routine. It was grand.

“The school has been on board throughout the whole thing. My biology teacher just can’t believe she’s teaching a ‘celebrity’!”

She loved filming The Young Offenders.

“It was great craic. Whatever the viewers saw is what we felt when we were filming. If you felt compassionate towards a particular character, we felt it ourselves. The programme was scripted but the way the director, Peter Foott works, we do two or three takes of the script and the next three takes is improvisation. Whatever you think your character would say naturally is what you say.”

The RTÉ/BBC co-production was filmed entirely in Cork.

“It shows Cork in a very positive light; there’s the scenery and the city. The two boys are supposed to be scumbags but in a lovely warm-hearted way. They wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

As for taking to the stage and screen in DWTS, Demi says she isn’t focusing on winning it right now.

“I just want to make it to week seven or eight. I want to see how far I can go and have fun with it.”

Demi wants to be a role model for young women. “I’m not your stereotypical model or actor that you see on social media or TV. I’m really tall (5ft 10 inches) and quite big, a lot bigger than most girls. And I’m black. That’s not depicted in the media.

“Ireland is more diverse than it was 10 or 15 years ago. I think it’s only right for me to pave the way for girls. I get them texting me and emailing, telling me they love what I’m doing. They want to follow in my footsteps. But I’m just showing my personality the way it is. I’m not going to change who I am,” says this talented — and very grounded — young woman.

Dancing With the Stars runs on RTé One for 12 weeks from January 6. The line up also includes legendary former Munster and Ireland scrum half Peter Stringer, country music sensation Cliona Hagan, Fair City actor Clelia Murphy, TV presenter Mairead Ronan, actor Johnny Ward, actor Eilish O’Carroll, GAA player Denis Bastick, TV presenter Darren Kennedy, comedian Fred Cooke and model Holly Carpenter.

Jennifer Zamparelli and Nicky Byrne will join forces to present the new series. The expert panel of judges includes Brian Redmond, Loraine Barry and Julian Benson.

Can’t Stop Dancing, the preview show for Dancing With The Stars hosted by Bláthnaid Treacy will be back on Friday, January 4, on RTÉ One, where she goes behind the scenes to capture all the glitz, glamour and gossip back stage and get the low down from the judges, the professional dancers and the stars.

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