Rosie's Second Act
Quinoa eater, Miss World, nutritionist and Ireland's top model for over a decade, Rosanna Davison is moving on to a new phase in life as she puts her 20s behind her. She discusses the modelling industry, her relationship with her parents and pregnancy pressure with Sarah Carey, who is somewhat surprised to discover Rosanna is an astute businesswoman, who refuses to label herself a feminist. Photography by Kip Carroll. Styling by Liadan Hynes
Published 18/05/2015 | 02:30
When they suggest that I interview Rosanna Davison, I have mixed feelings. I'm a real nosey parker and love the opportunity to suss out public people, but the celebrity-model circuit is not my beat. I'm also a bit anxious. I've been a bit run down recently and am somewhat wan; my hair is past help; my clothes don't fit. I am not beauty-queen ready. Technically, I'm being sent to judge her. Instead, I'm afraid she'll judge me.
A quick bit of research reveals that Rosanna's big into healthy eating. She's been a vegetarian for years and then upgraded to vegan. There's talk of 'quinoa', an ingredient that has never made an appearance in my house. So I eat an apple and drink a few glasses of water in preparation. Yes, Rosanna: you've already inspired me to improve my health and we haven't even met yet.
When I show up halfway through the photo shoot, I can't see her; only a pair of distressingly long legs that stretch out from a deck chair on a Dublin roof garden. A photographer, make-up artist, hairdresser, artistic director and assistant continuously direct her to make imperceptible changes to her pose. The tone is serious. Everyone's voices are low; she offers brief suggestions. The sun is blazing but there's a nasty breeze. The hairdresser sympathises, but Rosanna brushes away the suggestion that she might be cold.
Later, when I suggest that the poses looked awkward to the point of painful, she dismisses that notion too. "Oh," she says. "I think most people would be quite happy to spend the morning sunbathing on a rooftop!" This hugely underestimates the tedious enterprise I just witnessed, but transpires to be the principal theme of our conversation. Rosanna refuses to complain about anything.
Watching the shoot, I'm struck by a few things. Rosanna is heavily engaged in the technical conversations with the team, but the second the camera is pointed at her something strange happens her face. The eyes change and that lips-slightly-parted pout appears. It's weird the way it's so automatic to her. To me, it looks quite alien, but this is not my world and I suppose she knows what she's doing. But then someone cracks a joke and she bursts out laughing. The eyes light up. She has an amazing smile, with the teeth my parents should have paid for. It's nice to see something so natural in an artificial universe, but her response to the camera is determinedly more formal.
The other thing that surprises me is that she's no stick insect. You hear a lot about anorexic size-zero models, but Rosanna's physically very normal. Tall and pretty, sure, but she looks quite strong, and definitely healthy. The quinoa, whatever it is, must do something after all. Her shoulders are broad, (mine are non-existent), she's toned but not muscular and - God forgive me - when I notice her thighs wobble, I'm relieved. Rosanna Davison: not perfect. I feel like a bitch for even thinking that. What's wrong with us?
Later, when we talk about the propensity of women to judge each other like this, I suggest that I can understand how Muslim women get used to a burka; being free from persistent public judgment must be a kind of liberation. "You know," Rosanna says, "I think when women judge each other that's often a lot to do with their own insecurities. [Guilty, your Honour!] And it doesn't help when you've got those magazines with the pictures and the circles around the worst bits, and the arrows."
We laugh at the entire concept of those awful photos. Does it get to her? Being scrutinised and judged all the time? "Not really," Rosanna answers. "It's not that I don't have my own insecurities. We all have things about ourselves that we don't like and I actually hate looking at photos of myself. But everyone is different. I would never look at another woman and criticise her or judge her appearance. The way I look doesn't say anything about who I am. Why should the way another woman looks say anything about her? It's meaningless."
I suppose she learned that the hard way; being judged for how she looks. But what about the politics of the business? Isn't the entire basis of her profession all about judgment? "But is it?" she puts the question back to me. "Eh, isn't it?" I wonder; a bit perplexed. To me it's self-evident, but she has a different twist. "Models exist because manufacturers need to put their clothes on someone to sell them. All the other stuff," she explains," the gossip, the judgment, that's all piled on later by the media. That's what goes on top of the actual business of selling products."
Hmmm. That's a fair point I suppose. Perhaps Rosanna has detached herself from that side of the industry - in a good way. She can leverage the PR, without getting emotionally involved in it.
What about feminism though? Rosanna has a degree in sociology from UCD where she was offered a PhD scholarship, which she turned down. She has a brain and has done the reading. "Oh sure, I read all the literature," she says, "Naomi Wolf and all that. I'm 100pc in favour of women's rights, like equal pay. I've always wanted to earn my own money and I'm really supportive of women being financially independent."
Right, but that label: feminism. She seems reluctant to take it on board, which disappoints me. It's a thing with me that women shouldn't be afraid to use the word. Why not embrace it? "I think a lot of people think that feminism is about being anti-men," she says. "I know there's more to it than that; that it's really about equality. But I don't hate men. It's a pity that the word has those associations, but it does and so yeah, I'm slow to use it."
Well, I suppose that's how a lot of women feel, I concede.
And the media? Has she ever felt hard done by? "No, not at all," Rosanna replies. "I've a very good relationship with the media in Ireland from talking to writers over the years. Anyway, it's such a small country that it's not worth anyone's while to screw you over. And vice versa!"
But what if they write something negative? How does she handle that? "My dad [Chris de Burgh] always told me that journalists just have pages to fill and you can't take it personally. They have a job to do." That seems awfully balanced. What about social media? Again, she refuses to whinge. She's on Twitter and Instagram. Does she get any grief? "No, not really," she says. "I like to reply to people and engage with them and it's actually good fun."
This must be fast-breaking news: 'Woman not bullied on Twitter.'
Why be out there at all? "It's part of the business," she explains in her matter-of-fact style. "If I'm selling products it would often be in my contract that I have to mention them on Twitter. But I'm careful about what I say. I like to share some things, but not others"
Where does she draw the line? "Wesley," she responds firmly, referring to her husband, Wesley Quirke. "I try to respect his privacy. My job is public, but that doesn't mean our relationship is."
Throughout our uncomplaining conversation these are the two themes that anchor every topic I throw at her: business and family. She strikes me less and less as a model and more and more like a professional businesswoman with a ridiculously normal family life.
It's not what was I expecting. So I have to reflect on what I was expecting as the poor woman is put through the hoops of my prejudices.
I'd wondered if she'd be one of those beautiful women who are stone cold because they've learned to be suspicious of people only seeing the outside instead of the inside. Or would she be open and wicked and tell me dirty little secrets? It's neither of the above. Instead, she's extremely focused. She's warm and friendly, but isn't giving anything away.
It's her job to sell stuff for other people and she doesn't lose sight of that for a second. Dutifully she slips into the conversation that she's a brand ambassador for Volkswagen and they've given her a cherry-red Beetle to drive around. She laughs talking about it and how much she enjoys the car, and I can see this is why she's good at what she does. Mention the car. Have a sense of humour about it.
Discussing her career and future, this business sense constantly comes to the fore. Immensely practical and aged 31, she's managing the transition to a post-modelling life. When I ask if she might ever go back to her PhD and sociology, she doesn't hesitate. "No," she says. " It was never my passion. The human body has always been my passion."
Last year, Rosanna completed a course in biochemistry and nutrition from the College of Naturopathic Medicine. "I loved studying again," she says. "I became a recluse and a nerd and my poor husband never saw me!"
Since her graduation she's been working with clients who have ailments and illnesses including cancer, HIV, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, fertility problems and food intolerances. Right now, her clients are mainly family and friends who know that this is her thing. It's a highly individualised process involving blood tests and liaising with doctors if necessary.
But she found that clients were ringing her afterwards to ask if she'd go food shopping with them, as they were a bit overwhelmed with the new diet. Then the former Miss World found herself cooking with her clients, showing them how to get the most out of the new foods in their life. "That turned into a real passion for me," she says. So, she put the recipes up on her website. Next thing, Gill & Macmillan approached her to write a book about it.
That'd frighten the bejaysus out of me but Rosanna got stuck into it, putting it together between August and Christmas last year. It's called Eat Yourself Beautiful. Given my previously mentioned withered appearance, I think I'm going to have to check it out. How on earth did she manage to write a book when she's so busy already? "I was used to writing long essays during my studies and I enjoy writing," she says. "And when I'd get on a plane I'd use the time to do a few thousand words." This makes it sound easier than it must've been.
Broadening it out, I suggest that some people say that food intolerances are a bit of fad and we're probably all intolerant to wheat. "I've seen for myself the changes in people, in my family and friends," Rosanna says. "For anyone who is sceptical, just try an elimination diet. Cut out the suspect food for two weeks and when you eat it again, see what happens." You can't argue with that and I like that she's not snippy about my question.
We move on to more personal matters.
Does it bug her that people keep asking when she's going to get pregnant? "No," she says. "My parents would love to be grandparents and Wesley and I would love to start a family. The last year has just been so busy." Is she worried about putting it off so long that she might end up having trouble? "No. I'm healthy and I know how to get my body ready to give myself the best chance. And how to boost Wesley's fertility too." We laugh at that. Good on her. Not all on the woman then.
When she talks about her friends who've already started having babies and how they talk about them all the time, I suggest it can be boring listening to other people's baby stories. "No. They're having fun and it's natural for them to talk about it so much," Rosanna says.
Then, half for devilment and half because it's true, I say, sure there's no rush on children anyway. Between their demands and the exhaustion, children can wreck a marriage. She and Wesley might as well enjoy their relationship while they can. Perhaps spotting a potential bomb, or because she thinks it's an odd thing to say (maybe it is), this elicits a polite smile, but no comment.
This is typical of Rosanna's composure. Every response is measured and positive. She's been at this for over a decade now and is too professional to let our interview slide into a confidence-sharing session.
Also there's no doubt that Wesley's family and hers provide an incredible foundation. She laughs while talking about her recent 31st birthday. She was coming downstairs that morning carrying laundry, to find Wesley tossing confetti, with a birthday cake, complete with candles and Champagne.
He jokes that when Rosanna says, "We have to put the bins out"; she really means that Wesley has to put the bins out.
What's the key to their relationship? "We've been together for nine years and we know what bugs one another," she says. "So we just avoid those things." Is this really the secret to life? Just be sensible and simple about it all? I'm taking notes. And not just for this article.
I propose that she manages a public life with such ease because she grew up the daughter of Chris de Burgh. She's ambivalent about this. "He's given me great advice over the years, but growing up, we were never really conscious of him being famous. To me that was just his job and my parents shielded us from the spotlight, so we had a very normal family life."
She's clearly very close to her father. But sometimes I've seen father-daughter relationships that cut out the mother. How does she get on with her mother, Diane? "Great," Rosanna says. "We go to Pilates together twice a week and go for a cup of tea afterwards. Of course, they live quite near me, so I drop in a few times a week. And we all go on two family holidays a year together." That's her parents, two younger brothers and Wesley. Wow. What about Wesley? Does he feel this is too much? "No, not at all. He's from a close family himself - he works in the family business - so he sees that as entirely natural."
After an hour or so of probing, I'm obliged to come to some conclusions about this woman. There are just two possibilities. Either Rosanna Davison is a serious case of WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get. Or, she's a remarkably composed woman who's brilliant at shielding the media from her true self.
I decide that it's probably a bit of both. Modelling might have a bad name, but there's no denying that she's an intelligent and savvy businesswoman who knows exactly what she wants and how to get there. Her move from modelling into the nutrition business comes from the heart and the head - a combination many of us would love.
Rosanna has been lucky enough to have a great family behind her and smart enough to keep them close. Her positivity, whether exaggerated or not, displays a lot of self-awareness. But I'm pretty certain I barely scratched the surface of her personality. And that's a compliment to her. She might live in the public eye but knows where the boundaries lie. So in one word? Respect. In another word? Quinoa. Whatever it is, I've got to give it a try.
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