“Joseph Mary Plunkett is my great-uncle. How more Irish am I supposed to be?’
I was shocked when I was asked, “Should you use a name like yours and your accent to represent Ireland?” It wasn’t what I expected to hear when I called the Irish Embassy in Paris, where I lived, especially as I had been chosen to represent Ireland at the 1990 International Art Exhibition in Grenoble.
The authenticity of my Irishness had never crossed my mind. I regained my composure and replied, “Joseph Mary Plunkett is my great-uncle. How more Irish am I supposed to be?” That has become my instant answer to anyone who is wondering.
During a film festival in Cannes, an arrogant producer asked me, “So where are your roots?” I quickly replied, “I’m like the carrot; You pull me out and I am the root”.
Born in London – father Irish, mother half Irish – I was seven years old when my father was appointed General Surgeon in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. He flew and we (mum and five children) took the ship on a magical journey through the Panama Canal, with stops in Curacao, Cristobal, Pitcairn Island and extraordinary places that had my favorite trees – palm trees. I ran across the deck instead of being in ship school.
When I finally arrived in New Zealand I thought we were in paradise. We went to live in Ireland 11 years later (we were now eight children). Shortly thereafter I took the boat to London.
The love of art has led me to spend most of my life involved in film, music, art and children’s opera.
My father’s zest for life is my inspiration. I remember he said to me: find what you love to do and do it until the day you die
When I was 16 and at boarding school, the New Zealand Herald ran a front-page headline: ‘Convent Girl Wins National Short Story Competition’. I was that girl, totally surprised because I didn’t enter the competition. It was my teacher who raided my desk. She claimed if she had asked me I would have said no. The Mayor of Auckland gave me prize money and I spent it all on books.
My first real job was in Swinging London at Horizon Pictures, Sam Spiegel’s film company, where I worked with screenwriters on script development and bought film rights. After that I worked for many producers. As a European producer for Prodigy Movies, I produced the Australian thriller Black Water. As time goes on I come to appreciate what a great producer Sam Spiegel was.
I have co-produced documentaries and directed and produced the documentary Walk on the Wild Side about my experience with stage 4 cancer. In 1994 I was also part of the fun team that launched Women in Film in France at Cannes.
After getting married in Dublin, I became a full-time student at Dún Laoghaire College of Art, interrupted by the birth of my daughter Nico and son Kristian. When I moved to Paris with my two babies in 1978, I attended the Sorbonne and had my first art exhibition there.
Unfortunately Covid has ruined our plans to spend Christmas 2021 together in Dublin.
In 1982 I founded Dublin Children’s Opera. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was our patron. While we were preparing a third opera, we moved to the USA. Heartbroken, I cried for abandoning the 116 incredibly talented children and what I loved to create.
When I’m not working on film or music I’m sitting in a coffee shop, painting, writing two books or trying to revive projects that were in the air when I was diagnosed with cancer 12 years ago. My mobile steel sculpture L’Essor still hangs across from Dublin’s NCH.
Walk on the Wild Side is a cinematic tribute to the great pioneers of cancer treatment and those who followed them, along with the optimistic story of my (hopefully) surviving stage IV ovarian cancer in France. I am alive thanks to my incredible medical team, family and friends. It’s on Amazon Prime for anyone dealing with cancer (and other trying times). The film will be shown in Monaco early next spring and will benefit the Princess Grace Foundation, which supports medical research for children. It was also shown benefiting the Chemotherapy Foundation in New York City.
Despite Covid, with all the restrictions, the initial dread of being locked in, the sadness of being cut off from those I love the most and not knowing what to believe, I’m happy to have spent most of can continue my creativity at home. I value my friends and family now more than ever and am so grateful to have them all in my life.
My father’s zest for life is my inspiration. Although a busy consulting surgeon until his death, he devoted time to his family, sailing and playing golf with amazing energy. He had tremendous kindness. I remember him saying to me, “Find what you love to do and do it until the day you die”. My mother told me never to lose my sense of humor. She was right.
Germaine Kos lives in Paris
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