Thursday 2 October 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.

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.

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