Having shredded his results first time around, Stephen Byrne is back to resit the Leaving Certificate nine years on
How much would it take you to sit your Leaving Cert again?
"I'm shaving my head so don't mind the noise," Stephen Byrne says through staggered laughter at 10.30am on a Thursday morning.
His highly-publicised documentary Leaving Again airs on RTÉ One on Thursday night which shows the 28-year-old resit the Leaving Certificate while also maintaining a full-time job that involves interviewing the likes of Oprah, attending The Oscars and working a full radio show on Christmas Day.
"It was probably the most transformative year of my life, and it's so weird to go back and see the progress."
He describes his 2009 Leaving Cert year as one of his worst years.
He had moved school, was coming to terms with his sexuality and had just started working in RTÉ. So why go back and do it again?
"It was an idea that was there for about six years – I remember talking to Bláthnaid Treacy (fellow RTÉ presenter and friend) and my parents about it – but I often have ideas that I never end up doing so when I told them this was officially on the cards they thought I was mad," Byrne tells JOE.
"I was at a time in my life when I didn't feel myself and needed something to take hold of my life and give me some motivation, and for whatever reason, I thought it would be best served by the only time I'd ever felt that way before – and that was during my Leaving Cert."
"It was also the label of pure insanity that people gave me that kind of egged me on."
Byrne never opened his first batch of results, opting instead to run home and shred them. For years he felt he let himself and his parents down but also felt the system had also let him down in some way.
"The system obviously doesn't suit everyone but it suits some people. I'd say over the year I probably got close to 10,000 messages about it. Some people were positive about it – people can have amazing experiences about it, but it's not for everyone – most people have horror stories. It was overwhelming.
"What I want [from this] is to create a narrative around this, [to show] that this isn't right.
"I'm not the one to make that decision – I have ideas – but I can't. But, if it can create talk about mental health in the way we didn't before that I'd be happy."
And those ideas?
"Spread out the exams! Even from May for two months. I did ten exams in eight days. I couldn't sleep!"
Byrne, whose piece airs tonight at 10.15pm will spend the show watching from the comfort of his own home with the classmates who sat next to him during his six exams in June.
While they're all thriving in university life now, Byrne remembers a time life wasn't all that rosy.
"I ask them [the students he sat his second Leaving Certificate with] how's college and they're all like "great" and I was like, "you thought your life was over two months ago!" It's like they were holding their breath for a year and now they finally get to breathe in. And then they just don't talk about what it was like two months ago. It's mad."
The documentary concludes with Byrne comparing his 2009 results with his 2018 results, airing his academic dirty laundry to the world.
However, did he regret it?
"Not at all. Sometimes you've to go back to find out who you were."
Leaving Again airs on RTÉ One at 10.15pm on Thursday 20 September.