Lifestyle

Friday 22 August 2014

The reluctant celebrity

Contrary to public perception, Michelle Doherty has never gone out with Eddie Irvine. She tells Julia Molony the imaginary romance between them was just another example of the press making stuff up about this resolutely down-to-earth girl who, while she loves her job, steers clear of the intrusive world of Irish minor celebrity. Though, she admits under pressure, she has dated a few well-known Irish hunks. Photography by Sarah Doyle. Styling by Liadan Hynes

Stunning model Michelle Doherty

Michelle Doherty looks wide-eyed and amused when reminded of the biggest news story that still surrounds her public image. "No!" she says emphatically, before creasing at the waist with laughter. Despite the endless reporting and speculation, she insists that she has never gone out with Eddie Irvine.

"That was the longest make-believe relationship I ever had."

They were never a genuine item?

"No, never!"

Apparently, the endless speculation reproduced as fact became a bit of a runing joke between Michelle and Eddie.

"Sure, he used to ring me up and go: 'I can't believe you've dumped me again! Are we back together again? Oh, I didn't even know that --right, OK. And where was I last night pet?'

The two have a longstanding friendship, but it seems that all it takes is for the press and public to see a playboy Formula 1 driver and a beautiful TV presenter in the same room and we allow our imaginations to get the better of us.

"We are friends, he's really good to me and stuff like that," she explains, but the rest is fiction -- "even when I was seeing other guys, I'd be like: 'How do you feel about me seeing Eddie at the same time?'"

The Eddie Irvine myth, which began almost immediately after Michelle hit our screens two years ago as the presenter of Channel 6's alternative-music show, Night Shift, has persisted to this day. For Michelle, it was an abrupt introduction to life in the public eye.

"It was my first taste of that. I had to learn. I was hanging out with Eddie a lot, and they'd be saying: 'Oh, you were here or there with him', or, 'you were swanning around on the Cote d'Azur'. And I'd be like: 'Was I?'" she says, those perfect eyebrows disappearing into her thick, black, indie-chic fringe.

If nothing else, the fuss allowed her to "get an insight into how it works".

She laughs now at the way in which journalists have repeatedly made things up about her: she claims that at times journalists have resorted to staging situations -- manoeuvring her to stand beside various eligible, headline-friendly men at parties -- in order to manufacture a flirtation which might help them fill their word count. When asked if she's noticed a change in the way in which the media report on showbiz since she's risen to attention, Michelle's answer rattles out like a reflex.

"What? The way that if they can't find a story then they make one up about you? Yeah. I've learnt the hard way. It's happened before that people have totally made up a story because I was talking to somebody. It was a set up. It's really funny."

That Michelle has remained, relatively speaking, under the radar of full-on celebrity is a result only of her desire to keep her life to herself.

She's more of a breathtaking beauty than almost all other Irish Models, and yet Michelle turned her back on a fledgling catwalk career in favour of TV presenting. Her late-night music show on Channel 6 is a bit niche, enjoying cult rather than mainstream popularity, and yet she bagged herself a nomination for TV Personality of the Year alongside Kathryn Thomas and Lorraine Keane earlier this year. And then there is the fact that, despite the public's haste to have her follow the media-dolly precedent and hook up with a well-off entrepreneur before devoting herself to showing up at launches, she remains resolutely independent. She's happily single, and, despite being one of the country's most popular personalities, still manages to find the time to keep up her role as a cabin manager with Aer Lingus.

But perhaps it's exactly this kind of no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude that makes Michelle so popular.

"I kind of take it in my stride," she says, "Nothing has changed for me, as far as I'm concerned. I would never look at myself as a celebrity. I do keep a very low profile, I'm not out there all the time, I love going to my gigs and I love going home to Donegal and they're my main priorities. But don't get me wrong, I love a night out as well," she adds in that soft, gravelly tone with its short northern vowels that seems so well suited to late-night air space.

She's anxious not to seem at all ungrateful, stresses that she feels incredibly lucky and loves her job, and yet her experience so far of fame is that it's "not all it's cracked up to be. It's a big intrusion in your life sometimes. Some people are well equipped to deal with it, but I'm kinda like: 'Oh my God, why are they talking about me like that?'"

True, Michelle may not have dated Eddie Irvine, but she has been linked to a couple of social scene stalwarts, including "modeliser" Dave Murphy and fellow social-scene man-candy Denis Hickey. "OK, I'll give you them two," she concedes when I, rather uncharitably, produce a list of some of her past conquests and then ask her to confirm or deny.

Declaring oneself completely normal is the showbiz catch-cry. From those lurking on the Z-list all the way up to Keira Knightley, it's now celebrity orthodoxy to make a big show of one's down-to-earth side, while disappearing into sports cars and private jets. But talking to Michelle Doherty, you genuinely get the feeling that she wouldn't be happy in the company of anyone who couldn't blend in sitting around her dinner table back home. By instinct, she shies away from people who know her by reputation before they've even met her.

"If somebody knows too much about you, hmm, that's a bit suspicious," she says, before admitting that having a public profile "does have an affect on your relationships. It does." With her every-girl sharp banter, daunting beauty and hipster credibility, Michelle is quickly carving out an image that is more Alexa Chung than Naomi Campbell. Personally, I could see her dating an up-and-coming rock star sooner than a Krystle Ken doll.

Michelle's Donegal background couldn't be more grounded. Her mother is a housewife and her dad works for the local council. She is, she admits, a bit of an anomaly back home, having disappeared off to Dublin and into the limelight.

"They probably think I'm barking mad. They probably wonder every day, where does this one come from. I just came out of nowhere. Even when I was modelling, the neighbours would be asking about it and my mum would be like, 'yeah, yeah, but how are your children?' And I love that, she doesn't make a fuss and she doesn't treat me any differently."

She's especially close to her granny, who she names as a major fixture in her life.

"I'm from Malin and growing up I was always very happy-go-lucky, used to being a country girl. I used to love going out on the farm and getting mucked up to the eyeballs and just having a laugh," she says.

Perhaps it's partly her desire to keep a firm grip on the ordinary and the day-to-day that prompted her to keep up the day job with Aer Lingus. When she's not interviewing the cream of Irish and international music talent, she's attending to customers and taking responsibility for all those on board as a cabin manager.

"Everyone laughs -- first of all how do you do it, and second of all, why do you do it?" she says, but her reasons are simple enough. She likes the security the flying job offers, and since she is able to juggle her schedule to fit it in -- she does five days on with the airline and then nine days off -- she can't see any reason not to.

As well as that, there seems to be a part of Michelle that is wilfully determined to stay at a remove from the artificial worlds defined by glamour and social glitter, despite having had plenty of opportunities to become completely absorbed by those things.

"I could have," she says. "I've been in situations where, afterwards, people would be like: 'What? You were hanging around with that person?' And I'd be like: 'Yeah, I didn't even know who they were.' And then I'd go home and tell my mum and she'd be like: 'Oh, would you give over,' and I'm like: 'OK, that was wasted on us.' But I was never impressed, I'm like, take me as you get me and I'll do the same to you."

Not long ago, she was in Monaco with Eddie and, at a party, surrounded by A-listers. "And I got off the plane and I got into my car and I drove straight home to Donegal, because I just needed to go home to normality. I could go home and be as happy with myself in my own wee world."

She has quite a bit of drive in approach to her media career, and is increasingly getting involved in the production side of her show in Channel 6. Does she consider herself ambitious?

"I wouldn't be one of these go-getters going: 'I'll do anything'," she says.

"Obviously, I want to be successful as well. I'd like to think of myself as hardworking."

She turned 31 this year, and thinks that entering into her 30s has taken the pressure off, rather than piled it on, especially, as she points out, given that she's achieved her main goal, bagging a job she adores.

"I love being in my 30s," she says. "I feel like a 25-year-old. Thirty never intimidated me at all. I'm so happy in myself and you don't care anymore. What should happen?"

She would, however, eventually like to build on her presenting career, perhaps expanding into a more mainstream show, "I'd like to do a chat show, maybe because I love talking so much," or, if the opportunity arose, move to another country. But at the moment, she's busy counting her blessings. "I always think to myself, y'know, you are a lucky wee girl. I never take it for granted."

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