'I'm not trying to be a victim. I've always paid my way. I don't have a plan for a way out'
As a former model and rock star wife, Karla Elliott had the world at her feet -- now she sobs at her financial plight
Published 09/01/2011 | 05:00
IT is difficult not to be sympathetic to Karla Elliott's plight. Her reputation is on the line, her life in tatters. She doesn't have a bean to her name. She is on the dole in a rented house.
Karla's personal circumstances were on the front of the newspapers after it was revealed at the Employment Appeals Tribunal in Dublin last Wednesday that the once high-flying star is being legally pursued for outstanding wages she owes to a former employee who worked at Karla's beauty salon in Churchtown, Dublin, before it closed ignominiously in January 2009.
Think about it: the revelation that the perfectly groomed glamazon who was once the epitome of high-end glamour in Ireland had to go cap in hand to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service for advice about how to pay for her daughter Emily Jade's future education.
There is a certain morbid public curiosity in Ireland about how the mighty have fallen. Yet Karla Elliott's crash has been all the more humiliating because she was so known for her jet-setting and high-profile partners as much as her Rubenesque shape and eye-catching decolletage.
She cried for the entire hour we spoke on Thursday afternoon -- and again on Thursday night, and on Friday morning when we spoke again. She seemed like a woman at the end of her tether, with nowhere to turn, with no one to turn to in her darkest hour of need. That might sound overly dramatic, but after talking to Karla at length I can assure you it isn't.
"I am not a victim," she says, sobbing her eyes out and adding through prolonged attacks of coughing and wheezing that she has swine flu. "I am not trying to be a victim. I am not that kind of person. I have always paid my way in life. I am just trying to bring up Emily Jade on my own on the dole as a single parent. It has been incredibly stressful and difficult for me. I have had to sell my jewellery to make ends meet."
Those with hard hearts might condemn her for her mistakes and gloat at her misfortune, but my heart goes out to her. "I don't know what to do or where to turn," she kept repeating over and over -- like a sad mantra of a woman who has run out of options. "What am I going to do? I haven't a clue. I feel so numb. I feel so low. I feel so bad. I feel like I have been kicked and kicked repeatedly. It is so humiliating, all this. I am embarrassed about the situation. People can be cruel. I am worried about Emily Jade at school. Kids can be cruel. I have never robbed anyone. I am not a thief. I have never taken anything from anyone. I feel like a shell of a human being. I don't know how I could have got myself in this position. I really don't."
Neither do I, frankly. Once upon a time -- not that long ago -- Karla was married to shaggy-permed metal-lite English rock star Joe Elliott and flying around the world in private jets. After Joe, she would later be seen on the arm of chef Conrad Gallagher and Texan multi-millionaire Dave Doane.
Part of me finds it hard to believe. Once upon a time -- not so long ago -- Karla did swimsuit shoots for Switzers, Pretty Polly ads, magazine covers shot by Tony Higgins and was as much an It Girl of mid-Eighties Ireland as were Laura Bermingham, Sheila Eustace and Mari O'Leary.
She flaunted it too. In 1992, Karla picked me up outside The Shelbourne in a brand-new red Ferrari. She was wearing a purple, low-cut Moschino catsuit that left nothing to the imagination and vertigo-inducing high heels. She looked like a rich bitch straight off the pages of a Jackie Collins bonkbuster.
In 1993, she and Joe invited me to Los Angeles for Christmas. We stayed at the Mondrian Hotel and flew on their hired private jet to Phoenix, Arizona, for New Year's Eve. The following year, they had a huge New Year's Eve bash at their Xanadu up in the Dublin hills. Ian Galvin and I were guests, along with various Liverpool players and Def Leppard.
Joe and Karla were the king and queen of all they surveyed. They seemed to have unimaginable wealth and were not afraid to show it off. Karla didn't do Dunnes. She did Dolce. Back then, she told me how she liked to cook for Joe in designer underwear. They seemed made for each other. Then the cracks appeared and they divorced in 1997. It was anything but amicable.
As far as it appeared, Karla did well out of the divorce and she seemed to have two houses in Killiney as a result. But you could never be too sure with Karla. She liked to keep things -- and high-profile men like Conrad Gallagher -- close to her ample bosom. Karla claims, furthermore, that she loaned her ex, Conrad, £150,000 when they were going together in 2001 and never got it back. "He knows I loaned him the money," she sobbed on Thursday afternoon. "I sent Conrad an email a few months ago asking again for the money I loaned him back," she says.
"I had a legal document to do with Conrad's house in Killiney saying that when the house was sold he would give me the money that he owed me but then someone else he owed
money to came in and I was bumped down the list for payment."
When I contacted Conrad on Thursday night he denied he owed any money to Karla, describing her claims as "completely ridiculous and untrue".
I ask her what happened to the big house that she was living in in Killiney after the divorce from Joe. "That was in 1997. I had to sell that to pay bills. I'm not going into that now. All I know is that I'm totally broke now."
Asked why she continued to sell gift vouchers for the salon right the way up until she closed it, Karla claims that she "didn't know this was going to happen. A lot of bills came in suddenly and wiped the account clean . . . and I had no money. I didn't even get a wage ever out of that salon. I put everything into that salon. It was all my money and then it was gone. It was all me."
But who is she? She was born Karla Ramdhanie in Dublin to an Irish mother and an Indian father, a doctor who studied in the College of Surgeons; they moved to Trinidad when Karla was two. Her parents split when she was 12 and Karla and her mother moved back to Dublin and lived in the family home in Walkinstown. A sixteen-year-old Karla was walking down Grafton Street with her mother when a photographer approached her and asked if she could do a test shoot with her.
In August 2006, her mother, Victoria, died suddenly. Karla was with Emily Jade when she found the body. "Mum was such a huge part of my life -- and Emily's," she told me forlornly at the time. "We were so, so close. It was a very difficult time. My mother stayed with me five nights a week. She was my best buddy. Just as Emily Jade is now."
Karla's mini personal tragedy had been unfolding for years, painfully, inexorably, one of the most fascinating horror stories of the Irish recession. How can someone who once had so much now have so little and be living on handouts from the social welfare? How can someone who once had a giant mansion in Killiney (I went to many a party there) be now on a waiting list for a house for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council?
Of course the answer is that it could happen to any of us, and there but for the grace of God go you or I. "I can't see a way out of this mess," Karla cries again. "Emily is in the other room. I don't want her to hear any of this. She is looking after me through all this."
Others might be less sympathetic to Karla than I am. Others like the staff at her now closed salon in Churchtown who weren't paid would also, presumably, be less sympathetic. "What about all these other companies that are closing down all over Ireland? What about these multimillionaires who are robbing the country blind? What about them?" she practically screams.
"Why aren't they on the front pages of newspapers? Why are they not splashing all over the press? I am doing my best to bring up my daughter. I feel so shitty at the moment. I don't know what to do. I don't know where to turn or who to talk to. I have friends. But when you are in a situation like this you have no real friends because no one can help you. I don't have any money. I am on the dole. It is all so embarrassing and humiliating. Totally humiliating," she sobbed.
"I am living in a rented house. I don't have a plan for a way out of this. I don't know what to do. I am not the first or only person for this to happen to. I choose to struggle on myself. It is very upsetting to be in this situation. I don't have money, any money, to pay the money owed. Things are really bad."
There is no disputing this unhappy fact. By contrast, the Nineties were halcyon days for the one-time top Irish model. It doesn't seem like that long ago that Karla was flying first class to Mauritius for a shoot on the beach for the cover of a Sunday Independent travel magazine I was editing. David Conachy photographed her in the warm water at dusk. The gorgeous woman in the picture appeared to have the whole world at her pedicured feet. What happened to Karla Elliott is a salutary lesson, surely.
As F Scott Fitzgerald writes in The Great Gatsby, "I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
Karla has probably been a fool with money all her life, but she doesn't deserve to be dragged through the streets of Dublin with her head hung low in shame.