independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Native New Yorkers

From Daryl K and Eileen Shields, who have both found international fashion success in the Big Apple, to Jane Wogan, Terry's niece, who married the restaurateur famous for popping out of Bianca Jagger's birthday cake at Studio 54 in a loincloth, the Irish take well to bohemian New York. Britt Collins meets some of our more colourful exports. Photography by Tiziano Niero

Terry Wogan's neice Jane

There's more to New York than Manolos and cosmopolitans. Seduced by the creative vitality, urban edginess and mystique, seekers, strivers and dreamers from around the globe have flocked here for decades where so many movies have been made, so many lives transformed. This all-night, rock 'n' roll city that has inspired generations of artists also offers the vicarious thrill of living in close proximity to David Bowie, Lou Reed and its other grand achievers and exquisite ghosts, however humble a Manhattan dweller's existence. Crossing the ocean in search of this picture-perfect slice of Manhattan life is a well-trodden journey for young Dubliners.

Jane Wogan

Jane Wogan's life resembles the glimmering, rarefied world of a bi-coastal Hollywood starlet. The Dublin native-turned-New Yorker lives like any well-heeled young urbanite who summers in the Hamptons, wears designer threads and whizzes off on exotic travels. Fresh off the plane from St Tropez, where she went to celebrate her wedding anniversary, she is breathless and chatty.

"I came here for love," says the 30-year-old journalist over dinner and espresso martinis at Nobu, her husband's ultra-fashionable downtown restaurant. But, she says, she had been infatuated with the romance of New York since she was a child.

"Before I met Richie, I'd planned to move here. I'm not a homebird by any means," she says.

'Richie' is Richie Notar, the slick, perma-tanned, 49-year-old legendary restaurateur and former player on the Studio 54 scene.

An entertainment reporter for CNN and TV Guide, Jane works the red carpet between New York and LA, with invitations to the hippest parties in town. Equally at home at the glitziest Hollywood dos and on the most desolate Indian beaches, she looks like a flower child, whimsical and dreamy, with long hair, shimmery make-up and a sheer, clinging minidress that shows off the taut curves of her skinny body.

Coming from a showbiz dynasty -- Terry Wogan is her uncle -- she is used to leading a nomadic existence. She left Dublin at 17 to study at Bristol University, where she "had a blast for three years". Moving to London, she dabbled in modelling and worked as a television presenter. While her friends settled down, acquired houses, possessions and debts, she fled. "I've always had the wind beneath my feet."

Since arriving in Manhattan her career skyrocketed after a rough start. She was sent back to Ireland by Homeland Security and her husband enlisted his starry friend Hillary Clinton to sort out her visa.

"It was a nightmare," she says coyly, "I couldn't work for months, so Richie got me two puppies, Elo and Lily. Before long we had five dogs in a small apartment. I spent my days wandering the streets with them and everyone thought I was a dogwalker.

"New York humbles you because you're the tiniest tadpole in a big river. It's true, if you make it here, you can make it anywhere. I quickly realised that there's always someone prettier, funnier and smarter than me. I used to be incredibly insecure but since living here, I've become more accepting of myself and my flaws."

Wogan is happiest when telling stories about her husband, whom she met in LA while working as a presenter.

"He pursued me. He was brash and cocky, those bastard qualities that women love. Our life together is like the city itself, chaotic and crazy, and it's wonderful. Not a day goes by when I'm unhappy with him," she says of Richie Notar.

Richie is notorious for many things, not least because he once popped out of Bianca Jagger's birthday cake in a loincloth at Studio 54. He partied with regulars such as Debbie Harry and Andy Warhol, took fistfuls of Quaaludes and slept with hundreds of rich, beautiful women.

"It was a time in America that will never happen again, because people were allowed to be free," she says of Notar's eventful past. "The decadence and stories of Warhol, Truman Capote and Halston are fabulous. Richie's like Jack Kerouac, he documents his life, his travels. Maybe one day he'll write a book for our daughter," she says.

Wogan says with her warm, wide smile that they are having a marvellous time. They were engaged in Venice, married on the Amalfi Coast and their two-year-old daughter, Harlow, through family connections, was christened at the Vatican because they "wanted to give her a story". They count Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and the Clintons among their intimate circle.

Despite her glam existence in the city that never sleeps, she has often thought about moving to Rome.

"Having a toddler, I realised New York's not a city made for kids. But, at the same time, I think it's great that she gets to grow up surrounded by so much colour and culture. The Natural History Museum, MoMA and Central Park are down the road from me," she says.

But this occasional party girl finds New York is not what it used to be. In the seven short years since she arrived, everything has become sanitised and samey. Not that she is bothered about going out as much as she used to, she laments, there's just no place to go. Now, she says, the clubs are tawdry and lonely, filled with poseurs and tourists. She would rather "stay in, with friends, chatting into the morning hours or being among interesting people who don't care whether you're a billionaire or a pauper".

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