Tuesday 28 March 2017

Arrest blows lid on Ross's secret life with Antonia

Michael Cleary's son regrets drawing press-pack attention on 'good friend'

HOUSEMATES: Antonia Leslie and Ross Hamilton, son of Fr Michael Cleary, pictured last week. Photo: David Conachy
HOUSEMATES: Antonia Leslie and Ross Hamilton, son of Fr Michael Cleary, pictured last week. Photo: David Conachy
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

ON October 1, Ross Hamilton, the son of the late Fr Michael Cleary and his housekeeper Phyllis Hamilton, was involved in an altercation outside a nightclub at Prospect Way in Phibsborough. Gardai were called.

It was alleged that he committed an assault and when he was searched a very small amount of illegal drugs were found on his person.

Soon afterwards, he found himself facing charges in the Dublin District Court. The matter was adjourned and Mr Hamilton's bail was continued until his next appearance in November.

There the matter might have rested except that a sharp-eyed reporter from the Evening Herald noticed that there was something familiar about the address given on the charge sheet. And when he checked the Whitworth Road, Glasnevin, residence, stated to be the current abode of Mr Hamilton, it was discovered this was also the home of Antonia Leslie, Sunday Independent columnist, socialite and member of the well-known Anglo-Irish Ascendancy family, whose family seat is Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan.

And so reporters turned up on Ms Leslie's doorstep last week to inquire about the nature of their relationship. Taken aback by this sudden, unwelcome and unexpected media intrusion into her private life, Antonia gave a few flustered non-committal responses to the queries before retreating behind the front door. This, unfortunately for Antonia and Ross Hamilton, only served to pique the interest of the media even more.

She was quoted as saying they had been friends for "for some time now" and they had been living together "for a while".

On Friday, when the couple spoke to the Sunday Independent in the redbrick home they share, they were adamant that they were "not a couple", although Antonia was hard pressed to indicate which aspects of being a couple did not apply to them. Ross, for his part, said he was regretful about the media attention he had unintentionally brought into her life.

Nor is he happy about drawing the press on Antonia's doorstep.

"I feel really shit about bringing all this pressure on her . . . having the press at the door, under pressure, insinuating this, that and the other. It's not fair," he said. "They were camped outside for a whole day."

He seems more keen to talk about his impending court case and protesting his innocence. He says he intends to plead not guilty to assault and believes he will be acquitted.

Ross, 34, claims that the charges resulted from an incident on a night out when he was trying to get back into a nightclub to look for his friend. By his own account, he had drunk too much and found himself in a police cell accused of assaulting a bouncer outside the club. It didn't help matters that he also had a bit of cannabis in his pocket. There wasn't even enough for a spliff, he claimed. He now faces a litany of charges, including assault, public drunkenness and possession of cannabis. But he insists that his alleged behaviour is totally out of character for him: "I am not some thug that just starts throwing punches at bouncers." He says CCTV footage of the incident will vindicate him.

"It's out of character, no matter how drunk I was," he said. "I'm very embarrassed and ashamed about the whole thing."

In the meantime, the media spotlight remains firmly on the relationship between the writer and socialite abandoned as a child by her aristocratic father, and the son of a priest, who was his father's guilty secret. That combination was always going to make headlines, which is why they have tried to keep it as quiet as possible for as long as they could. Even as it hit the newsstands on Friday, both Ross and Antonia were striving valiantly to convince everyone that they were, to use the cliche, "just good friends".

The two were introduced by their mutual friend, Doodle Kennelly, daughter of the poet, Brendan. Ross, an actor in search of work, says he has been staying with Antonia since falling "between homes". But he insists he is looking for a place of his own. He sees Antonia's house as a natural home for someone of his artistic temperament because she is creative and often has other creative people to stay. "We kind of got a little close-knit group of friends, almost like a little hippy gang, or something, the children of famous parents' gang, or something. But we are just a really good little group of friends," says Ross. "It's all artsy type people here."

One of those guests he mentions is David Mark Duffy, the American artist known for his nude portraits of famous Irish women, including Nell McCafferty and Antonia.

But Antonia and Ross's social life isn't always confined to group outings. Last March Antonia and Ross were pictured together in the Angler's Rest public house in Chapelizod. The occasion was a glittering event to celebrate the 29th birthday of model Glenda Gilson. And they have been spotted out together frequently on the Dublin social scene, most frequently at such ritzy venues as The Gypsy Rose and Lillies.

That Antonia and Ross hooked up in the first place isn't surprising. Both were the children of famous parents, both had unconventional childhoods and both were the subjects of documentaries that explored how their unorthodox upbringings impacted on their lives.

Antonia, the daughter of Sir Desmond Leslie and the singer Agnes Bernelle, spent her early childhood on the grand estate of Castle Leslie in Glaslough, Co Monaghan. At the age of five, she returned from holiday with her mother and two brothers to find that their father had locked them out of the castle. He had moved in his lover and their children. Antonia, her mother and brothers, were housed in a council house in the village until eventually making a new home in Dublin. In a moving documentary, she described how she forgave her father, who remained the most influential man in her life. Antonia is currently writing her autobiography in which she will reveal details about her wild teenage years when, she says, she was a high-class hooker and a drug user.

Ross grew up in Rathmines in Dublin, the secret son of Fr Michael Cleary, then one of the best-known priests in Ireland. When he was 10, his mother, Phyllis, the priest's housekeeper, told him who his father was. Ross had to keep the secret from friends. Fr Cleary never publicly acknowledged his son, even concealing their relationship from his own family. Following his death in 1993, when Ross was 17, the scandal became public, with the priest's family refusing to acknowledge Ross. When his mother died in 2001, Hamilton hit rock bottom and he has struggled since to move on from the "scandal" that dominated his teenage years. And the latest publicity about his relationship with Antonia will not help.

Last week he said he has been trying to live a quiet life. "I still drink like the average Irish lad but I don't go hell-raising, I don't go nightclubbing often. I'm fairly sedate and I'm on my computer most of the time. I'm writing screenplays and a couple of short stories, nothing presentable at this stage."

"I had a few incidents years ago and I was in court . . . I promised myself this would never happen again. Then next thing I'm waking up in a police cell and it's like as if someone played a really bad trick on me."

Ross, who says he is still "earning his stripes" as an actor, has had roles in a number of plays and is currently looking for an agent. He once turned down an offer from Louis Walsh to join a fledgling Westlife.

"I did say to him, I didn't really sing. He said, 'Well, that doesn't matter'," Ross revealed. "The last time I saw him he said, 'You're dead right, go to Hollywood. Be an actor.'"

Sunday Independent

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