Saturday 3 December 2016

'Is it true that you're Terry's grandchild?' - Holly Carpenter on a grandmother with a 'Keane Edge'

Terry Keane was the social diarist whose lifestyle fascinated people, yet when it came to being a granny, she was fiercely protective and very playful

Holly Carpenter

Published 18/07/2016 | 02:30

Having Terry Keane as a grandparent made a big impact on top model Holly Carpenter as she started to pursue her own career. Photo: Fergal Phillips.
Having Terry Keane as a grandparent made a big impact on top model Holly Carpenter as she started to pursue her own career. Photo: Fergal Phillips.
Terry Keane

My grandmother was the late Terry Keane who passed away in June 2008 when I was 16 years old. Growing up I knew Terry was different from most of my friend's grannies. For one, we never called her 'granny' or God forbid 'nana'. She would joke that being called granny made her feel old, so my brother Ben and I always called her Terry. Whenever we were feeling brave we would say 'night, night nana' before we went to bed when she was visiting which would lead to us squealing and running up the stairs as she chased and tickled us.

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Terry had her long-running gossip column, 'The Keane Edge' in the Sunday Independent every week and although I was too young to understand the Irish showbiz scene, I thought that was cool. Terry would come over every other weekend for a big Sunday roast and I found it a bit confusing how her face would be on the newspaper on the table while at the same time she would be sitting opposite me asking me about school and piling spuds on to my plate.

While my school friends' grannies wore sweet pastel cardigans and smelled of lavender, Terry teamed chunky statement jewellery with colourful silk scarves and smelled of Chanel No 5. I loved how glamorous she was and I adored playing dress up at her house as a child. I would pretend I needed to go to the bathroom just so I could sneak off and have a good look at all of her make-up and shiny trinkets. My favourite thing in Terry's bedroom was her vintage, silver-plated hair brush. I once got in trouble when she walked in and I was brushing her King Charles, Poppy with it. I felt like a princess sitting at her dressing table brushing my hair, even though it made it static and stick up straight from the root. I would casually walk back to the dinner table thinking no one would notice the five-year-old with bright red joker lipstick smelling like a perfumery.

The list could go on about what made my grandmother different to the stereotypical 'Irish nan' but it's the similarities, not the differences, which were special to me. Terry was proud and protective of all of her grandchildren. I was always painting and drawing as a child and whenever I gave her one of my works of art she would make a big fuss over it saying, 'that's fabulous darling' and she would stick it up on her fridge. When my cousin Natasha and I made up dance routines to the Spice Girls, Terry would clap and sing along as if it was the most entertaining performance she had ever seen. My brother Ben is the only boy on my mum's side and Terry was so proud of him and loved to brag about her handsome and talented grandson.

Thinking back to how protective Terry was of her family I remember a funny story from right before she got sick. In 2007, after completing my Junior Cert and enjoying my summer holidays, I returned to school extremely excited to start transition year, only to find out that I had been separated from all of my friends and put into a class where I hardly knew anyone. I was very talkative and energetic in school (which is nicer than referring to myself as a messer) and I was one of the few students who had an assigned seat at the front of the class in most subjects to keep me from distracting any of my fellow classmates. Although a part of me understood what the principal was trying to do, and that it was my own fault, I still came home in floods of tears later that day saying how unfair it was and exclaiming 'how dare they' in classic teenage dramatics.

Terry was visiting that evening and never one to shy away from a bit of drama, she suggested we construct a strongly-worded letter to my principal. I remember us sitting together in my living room and as Terry spoke I scribbled away hanging on to her every word. I slipped the letter under my principal's door the next day with a newfound confidence and told my friends it was 'sorted' and that I should be in their class by the end of the week.

I flashed the girls a smug smile as I was called to the principal's office but instead of getting the apology I naively expected, I was questioned about who had written the letter. I was adamant it was written in my own words but looking back at the tone of the letter and the language used, it was quite clear it had been worded by a more mature writer and not a disgruntled teenager. Perhaps we should have toned it down a bit when using words like 'atrocity' to describe the situation of me being moved class.

I'm sure anyone who knew Terry, or ever met her, would agree that she had a presence. I always saw her as a strong, quick-witted, intelligent woman with confidence. I have two favourite photographs of my late grandmother which make me miss her. One is of Christmas 1997. I was obsessed with Phoebe Buffay from Friends that year and I had asked Santa for a long, blonde wig and a guitar so I could sing Smelly Cat and impersonate her. Dad captured a great picture of Terry wearing the wig, holding my guitar and throwing her head back in laughter with the wig sliding off. You can see my brother and I laughing hysterically in the background. I loved that fun and silly side of her.

The other photo of Terry that I love is framed in our living room at home. In the picture she's standing outside at an event with two of her close friends. The sun is shining on her and she's smiling into the lens, holding a glass of prosecco and looking tanned, happy and effortlessly chic. The eerie thing about this photo is that it was taken only two weeks before she died. When I look at the picture now I see her bright blue eyes looking back at me and it's a painful reminder that she was taken before her time. To watch someone go from the shining life and soul of the party to a frail, ill person almost overnight was difficult for the family.

I can remember vividly the last time I saw Terry in my house and she was very sick. She hugged me really tight for so long at the door before she left that it scared me. Terry always hugged me goodbye but it just felt different and I remember feeling uneasy when I looked at mum and could see the worry in her eyes. Looking back I feel like she knew it could be the last time. We all got to say our goodbyes individually by her bedside in hospital before she passed away, it all happened so fast. Although she was fading in and out of consciousness I felt like she could hear every word I was saying. While it crushed me to see my mum and my aunties so broken and devastated I knew it brought some comfort to see how peaceful she looked in the hospital bed and we knew she wasn't in pain.

When I started modelling in 2011 I did a fashion show in the Shelbourne Hotel and a photographer came up to me afterwards and asked, "is it true you're Terry Keane's granddaughter?" I was a bit taken aback, partly because I was a little shy at jobs back then, as I was only 19 and very new to that scene. But I was also quite naive about the interest that remained in Ireland about my grandmother. I said, "Yeah I am, did you know her?" The photographer laughed, said "yes" and asked for a photo. When I got home and told my mum about it she said "you should ring John Compton (my model agent at the time) and let him know because it will probably be in tomorrow's papers."

The interest grew when I was in the running for Miss Ireland and I was surprised at how many questions I was being asked about Terry. I felt a lot of pressure not to say too much because I was conscious that my newfound position in the Irish modelling scene was giving the press the opportunity to bring up Terry's past again. While I am very proud to be known as Terry's granddaughter, as I thought the world of her and loved her so much, my mum had to warn me not to be naive in thinking that every interviewer had the best intentions. I had to remember that any answers I gave could easily be twisted. While I didn't want to come across as rude and closed off in interviews, I also didn't want to upset the family, so I learnt two little words that solved that problem: 'no comment'. I felt like a bit of a diva saying it but it has come in handy since then.

It's hard to believe that eight years have passed since Terry's death. I feel like it's an awful shame that we never had the opportunity to enjoy an adult relationship. There have been so many milestones in my life that I would have loved to have had her there for, like my debs, my 21st and the unexpected journey my career has taken me on along the way.

Mum and I have often spoke about how much Terry would have loved going to Miss Ireland and Miss World to support me. I know she would have been so proud and would have adored how camp and glamorous those competitions were.

Only a couple of weeks ago I was in France with my mum, my aunty Madeleine and my cousin Natasha. Terry adored the south of France and spent a lot of time there in her final years. On the same day I was asked to write this piece for the newspaper Terry used to work for, we were sitting out on the patio laughing, gossiping and telling old stories. It was picture perfect as we sat there with the sun setting surrounded by big fresh salads, baguettes and bottles of wine. It's moments like that where I can nearly feel her presence with us and almost simultaneously my mum and my aunty said, "wouldn't it be so perfect if Terry was here".

Sunday Independent

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