Gill Dooley with her husband producer/songwriter Richey McCourt at their home studio.
I’m an artist manager and music consultant working for myself. Background would have been predominantly with labels: two and half years ago I left Universal after 11 years. Before that I’d worked with EMI. I would have spent some time working with Hotpress and working abroad in the New Zealand music industry but Universal was my home for 11 years.
My goal was artist management and that was a career long ambition.
It was 1999 >>Watch Video>>
I developed an eating disorder in my late teens which was a very challenging time. It was 1999, there wasn’t a huge amount of resources, there weren’t a lot of treatment options, it was just a very, massively difficult time in my life.
I have very close friends who I probably haven’t even told about this so… surprise! But I think it’s really important to talk about because we’re working in an industry where body image is a huge factor, where there’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and these mental health issues can arise out of those circumstances and those environments.
It was probably the leaving school change that triggered it in me. It was definitely one of the most challenging times in my life.
A control thing >>Watch Video>>
It was a control thing. Maybe people who have misconceptions about disordered eating don’t fully get that. Maybe they think it’s a vanity thing or they think that it’s actually just about willpower and body image and weight, and it really wasn’t.
You’re facing into your Leaving Cert, you’re maybe a bit of a perfectionist, you maybe have to work really, really hard to get good grades, which was me – I wasn’t just the natural brain. So there’s a lot you can’t control: you can’t control what points you’re gonna get, you can’t control what you’re gonna get for college, you can’t control all these things that are happening and changing forever, but you can control what you put into your mouth, and you can control how you treat your body. There were so many things in my life I couldn’t control but I could control food and how I reacted around it.
So I think that’s something that people probably don’t always understand and it doesn’t have to be a restriction of food. Eating disorders are no longer just defined as anorexia or bulimia and I think that’s really important as well. There are many different types of disordered eating.
Karen Carpenter >>Watch Video>>
Back when it was 1999 there were the scary stories about Karen Carpenter who even at that stage had passed away maybe 15 years prior to that. There was still a very rudimentary understanding of eating disorders.
I think if more people talk about it, or are honest about it, then there might be a young person on the other end who might say, “That sounds like me”.
I can understand the need for secrecy because you don’t want someone to take it away from you; it’s something you hold very dear and it’s your only place of control and you know that if you have to get better, it’s gonna feel like it’s being taken off you. But this thing that you think is in your control… it’s controlling you.
Stick around >>Watch Video>>
“This is getting scary, this is getting to a point where you could die”. It was horribly basic, it was like, “Do you wanna die?” My Mam was just straight in, she was like, “We’re just getting’ this sorted”, and we had a really good family GP which helped a lot.
I had the support of my best friend and my husband (my boyfriend back then) who were just like, “We love you, we want you to stick around, we’ll help you”. I had peers who were helping me out as well, it wasn’t just your parents putting you in a corner and saying, “You have to do this”, I also had friends who were struggling with different mental health issues at the time and it really helped me to talk to them and it helped them to talk to me so we weren’t just feeling like crazies in the corner. It was like, “Oh I’m in the clinic on Wednesday, when are you in for your counselling?”
It felt like something I could do but only when it was put under my nose and the realities of what I was doing to my body was really outlined to me.
It worked >>Watch Video>>
I received treatment at St. Vincent’s hospital. At the time they had a clinic there, I believe they still do, but in 1999 it was one of the only mental health clinics in Ireland. So with a lot of encouragement from my parents (because I would have been just not 18 yet when this really got to its worst point) and my friends, there was just huge support for me to get treatment. My parents fought tooth and nail to get me on this programme; it wasn’t private care, it was public so it was very hard to get onto it. It was group therapy, it was mindfulness back then, I was on medication… so it was a treatment plan to get me better and it worked. The nurse who ran the clinic, her name was Noelle Hickey, she’s no longer with us but she was an angel.
Then it’s monitoring it when you come out of the clinic. If you’ve had an eating disorder that has caused weight loss, you can very easily slip the other way – you’re like, “Now I’m gonna eat everything in sight because I’m fine now.”
It takes a while for it all to settle down because food is something that you have to live with. It’s actually difficult. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have addiction issues with alcohol but you don’t need alcohol to live so you can actually completely eliminate it from your life, whereas with food you have to find a way to have a healthy relationship with it and with your body.
So it was very much following a really excellent treatment plan with professionals and having parents who were pretty woke for 1999 and a boyfriend who was massively supportive; I ended up marrying him so that worked out.
There’s an organisation Bodywhys who are excellent and I leant on them from time to time when I was passed treatment with St. Vincent’s.
Survivors of eating disorders >>Watch Video>>
Survivors of eating disorders… we do tend to hold back but it is good to share and I recently spoke to a young woman who had gone through it and we had so much in common and I hadn’t spoken about it for ages.
It’s better if you speak about it, it just is. You learn and you can take a lot from just sharing that experience with someone and maybe it kicks something off with someone else who goes, “Oh I have a friend”, or “That sounds like me”, or “What did you do to deal with that?”
I’m fine >>Watch Video>>
You’re afraid to talk about it because you think people are gonna look at your body then. Or then they’re gonna think that if they mention dieting or bodies around you that you’re gonna freak out. I’m like, “Well it’s 21 years later and I’m fine if you tell me you wanna go to Weightwatchers”.
If you talk about depression, people don’t necessarily look at you physically to gauge a reflection of that or they don’t start to act concerned if maybe you’re working out a bit or if you might be cutting down on treats.
The first step
Just trying to find someone within your group that you trust, even if you have to explain to them that, “I don’t wanna stop but I have to tell you what’s going on”, it’s the first step.
I think that more people talking about it is really important and more people are talking about it now. The Instagram account I Weigh is really valuable for people to follow.
Tools >>Watch Video>>
I was quite lucky to really see the benefit of counselling very early on in my life and sharing these things and being given advice and tools and guidance by professionals on how to deal with the stresses of life.
There was a lot that came out of those group therapy sessions that I still apply today but I’ve probably altered my maintenance of my own mental health as well as I’ve grown older and there are more resources now: there is more understanding around exercise, you can do much more personal mindfulness plans.
The biggest thing that I recognise too is that talking about it and being open about it is the hardest thing to do, but the importance of that is huge.
Bowie >>Watch Video>>
I still to this day would periodically just go and speak to a counsellor, for example if I’m challenged by something, it doesn’t have to be something life altering but if I’m seeing those signs in myself that I’m getting down or if it’s getting on top of me.
For example, with the massive career change I went through I probably bit off more than I could chew transitioning: taking on consultancies and managing a number of artists, and trying to do everything, and having two kids…
I remember going to a counsellor. I gave her a David Bowie lyric, and I said I am this lyric and it’s off of the song Five Years on the Ziggy Stardust album:
My brain hurt like a warehouse
It had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things
To store everything in there
I was like, “That’s me, help me”, so she said, “OK, let’s just take all the things out and we’re going to sort them into piles…”. It just helps, it takes something that can feel like you’re catastrophising and simplifies it and gives you a plan.
I’ve worked with a counsellor and she said “I’m not gonna solve everything, but we’re gonna come in and we’re gonna deal with what’s most pressing at this moment” and I think that’s brilliant.
A gift >>Watch Video>>
We recently had a bereavement in the family and my children are going to grief counselling with the hospice and that’s provided for free, it’s so incredibly important and I hope that at their young ages that they’re learning a little bit about how to talk about emotions and feelings and all of that so I’m just such an advocate for it, I really am – I think it’s a gift you can give yourself.
It’s challenging at the moment if you’re in music particularly in management because most of our income comes from live.
I manage Aimée who is an emerging artist but who continues to be on a great trajectory. For me, live was a big part of that trajectory. She should have played to tens of thousands of people at all the festivals she was booked for over the summer and that’s a big part of developing your artist and their audience so that’s a challenge.
Irish Women in Harmony >>Watch Video>>
I’m so buzzed with everything happening around Irish Women in Harmony. Even though I was aware and up to speed with most of the women who were on it, it still helped me discover more music.
Rutheanne very graciously reached out to Aimée to be a part of Women in Harmony and it’s just been lovely. From the artists’ point of view, there’s just been such a community that’s been built and that was really Ruthanne’s goal; she’s part of the Women in Harmony group that get together for Grammy week in the US. She was saying “For me this isn’t just one release this is a community” and they’re all in a Whatsapp group together.
I think it’s great when you’ve got Aimee who’s just pure pop, loves Christina Aguilera, and then you have Pillow Queens which are a totally alt, totally bad ass band, and they’re all in a Whatsapp group. I love it, it breaks down all those boundaries around genre.
And then subsequently I found out that the female music managers are being extremely supportive of each other and we have a Whatsapp group. It’s a time that we need to support each other, we need to come together, the likes of the work that Angela Dorgan’s been doing with FMC to get the stimulus package across the line, you just have to have each other’s back. In some way Irish Women in Harmony for a small collective of us has brought that together super quick at a time when we needed it.
Not swimming at sea by yourself
It’s just knowing you’re not swimming at sea by yourself, it’s hearing about the wins and the really crappy losses, and I like that about the group. Traditionally music managers are very guarded but we’re sharing opportunities.
The plan for Aimée now is that we’re writing and working towards releasing new music.
Remember, if you’re a member of the Irish music industry, you can talk to a counsellor free of charge at any time of the day or night. Simply call the phone number below.