Nadia Forde: 'The last year has been beyond my wildest dreams. I am living the dream, there's no doubt about it'
It has been an unbelievable year for Nadia Forde, who is still pinching herself at the enormity of her success. But, she says she is all too aware of the vicious rumours circulating among bitchy models back home who have cast their own twisted narrative on how she climbed her way to the top. The model/singer/TV star also talks lonely nights, how she makes herself unavailable to guys and - although they once danced cheek-to-cheek for charity - why she is no longer in touch with FAI boss John Delaney.
How the hell has she done it? Models on the Dublin scene have watched Nadia Forde's spectacular career trajectory over the past 12 months and wondered aloud to each other.
I've heard it, Nadia has heard it, and in fairness, they kind of have a point.
Every time I chat to the model-turned- singer, she is in a different city. New York, Miami, Ibiza. At this stage, her head has been on more five-star pillows than a complimentary mint. But this morning, as we catch up, she's lying on a couch in an apartment in central London.
This is her temporary home. Though most of the time she is plane-hopping, in order to promote her music or film her new television show.
Where is the apartment exactly, I ask. Describe it - what's it like?
"Em, well, it has a couple of bedrooms," she says coyly. "It's nice, with lots of windows and soft colours."
Come on, Nadia - where is it?
Ah, come off it, I laugh. I press some more and wrestle from her the name of the apartment complex. It turns out it is a stone's throw from Harrods department store, in one of the most coveted addresses in London. I say 'coveted' rather than 'sought after' because most people can't afford to live here. One-bedroom apartments in the area start at £1.2m.
Before this, her pad was an apartment with panoramic views of Chelsea harbour.
And so I ask what so many people have pondered before: How are you doing this, Nadia? You know, people are asking who are you sleeping with?
She cracks up at the other end of the phone: "Don't worry, I've heard it all before. I hear the tales from home. You're just the only one that has the balls to say it straight to me."
She lets out an irritated groan: "Urghhhhh. People have no idea of the amount of hard work that has gone into this. It's literally been non-stop work for the past year. If it were down to sleeping your way to the top, then there would be 50 girls in the jungle," she says. "Do they have any idea of the process? It's not that simple, it's not that easy . . . if only it was," she laughs.
And then she gets serious. "Why do they say these things? I never hear any other model come up against this."
Well, maybe that's because they are not doing as well as you, I offer.
"Well, I never experience this in the UK," she replies, "It's an Irish mentality for sure. Maybe that's where they are going wrong in the first place. They think that's what it takes. To be honest, I try not to think about it too much. My friends will sometimes tip me off about it. I can kind of tell through little things they will say. They know who I really am, though, how I don't even go on dates anymore, so they get frustrated on my behalf when it's said to them."
So how does a Dublin girl go from modelling a bikini on Grafton Street to lounging on yachts in Dubai, partying at the Baftas and gracing the cover of FHM?
"A mixture of hard work and luck," she says.
It all started a year ago when she was working in London, modelling on the set of a music video, when she decided to meet up with a group of friends that she had worked with on TV3's reality show Celebrity Salon.
It was on this particular night that she crossed paths with the man who was going to change her life. A man called Jonathan Shalit.
This is the guy with the Midas touch in British entertainment circles, who, if he walked down the street in Dublin, would go unrecognised. An OBE ends his name, while clients at his company, Roar Global, include Joan Collins, Myleene Klass, Kelly Brook, Tulisa and Mel B.
He burst on to the scene 18 years ago when he discovered the talents of an 11-year-old girl called Charlotte Church, and his dinner-party guests include the likes of Elton John and Kate Bush.
And so, he spotted a wide-eyed Nadia across the room and was duly introduced to her by a mutual friend, Irish producer Stephen McCormack. They started chatting, he asked her about her background and said that he would be in touch.
It's not the first time Nadia's life has changed by catching someone's eye across a bar. In an incredibly similar story, she turned the head of Rory McIlroy on a night out with friends in Dublin. A mutual friend also did the honours of an introduction, and, within weeks, she was seeing the world's number-one golfer; with her name across every front page in Ireland.
In show business, good-looking girls are ten a penny. So what makes Nadia different? She has a warmth and vulnerability that makes you feel like she almost needs looking after. Within minutes of meeting, during our first interview last year, she was pouring her heart out over cups of tea and creating a bond of trust with me that I usually reserve for lifelong friends.
In this hard-nosed world of up-turned noses and cool-as-ice beauty queens, Nadia's refreshing frankness and openness makes her stand out from the crowd. And the "but she's just the average girl-next-door" comments I hear when someone picks up yet another newspaper front page to gawk over a Nadia shoot, is actually the thing she has going for her.
It can endear the most high-powered people to her. I witnessed it with football boss John Delaney. Within hours of meeting, I saw her bonding with him over drinks, sharing her dreams and aspirations and securing a gig singing the national anthem in front of tens of thousands of football fans.
Do you still talk to John? I ask. There's silence on the end of the phone.
"No," she says. "Honestly? I don't understand it."
"I'm telling you, I don't know. I haven't really spoken to him since he started dating his girlfriend. He got with her and that was that. I thought we were friends. So it's a bit strange, if not hurtful. But I'm always at the end of the phone if he wants to chat, like I always was before. It's hard to understand."
So back to her knight-in-showbiz-armour then, Mr Shalit.
"Yeah, so in my head I was like, 'sure whatever, nothing is ever going to come of this'," she recalls, "but sure enough, two weeks later, I received an email and he asked me to come and meet him in person, and I flew over to see him in his London office."
When she arrived, she recalls, there were six or seven music executives sitting around a boardroom table. They asked her about her background and she explained that she was just finished a stint in a pantomime in Dublin.
They asked her to sing them a couple of bars and - with a song that seems like an ode to her career ambitions - she took a deep breath and belted out Take That's Rule the World.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"He took me under his wing," she says of Shalit.
He set her up with a manager - Essex boy Alex Segal - and secured her a recording contract, her own reality show and a coveted spot on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! He also gave her the opportunity to perform in concerts around the world with a make-up artist, a troupe of backing dancers, a voice coach and a choreographer; and a life going from five-star hotels to chauffeur-driven cars, attending the hottest parties in town.
The night after we talk, she is due to attend the Brit Awards. A few days later I hear she was partying with Paloma Faith, Little Mix and Rita Ora, while Mark Ronson got up and DJ-ed.
She tells me she was in bed at 1am.
What a waste, I berate her. Why?
"I don't know. I don't really go out that much. You know that person you see in newspapers and on TV? That's not me. I can't even relate to her."
Twenty-five-year-old Nadia hasn't properly dated anyone in over two years. I ask her if she is closing herself off - from men, from life?
"Yes. Yeah, I have made myself unbelievably closed off. I make myself completely unavailable to guys. I make excuses. I keep them at arm's length. I put them straight into the 'friend' category. Anything but take it further."
It is completely at odds with the open, bubbly personality that has helped her carve out her dream career.
In fact, I can vouch for the stark contrast in her life. Every time I text her late at night, at weekends, she's in. Be it in a hotel or her temporary abode in London. She has her pyjamas on, her hair up and she's preparing to get up for work the next day. Anything but go out and socialise, let her hair down and meet guys.
Why are you doing this? I ask.
There's another long silence. "The only way I can describe it is that I have had my heart broken and I have never really been the same since. It wasn't a guy. It was just circumstances. And I guess now I just close myself off to people and situations where I want to let anyone get close to me."
We have spoken a lot about the parties and the cool locations and the high-profile mates. But at the centre of it all, something seems amiss.
Are you unhappy? I ask.
"I don't want to sound like I am not grateful. I am. More than you can imagine. When I look back at the last year, it's gone by at such a speed, I can't believe all that has happened, all the places that I've been and people that I've met. If you told me beforehand, I would have just laughed - it's been beyond my wildest dreams. I am living the dream, there's no doubt about it."
I ask her the question again.
"Look, right now I am staring at three suitcases that I haven't opened. I won't open them. Because I know there's no point. I know I'll be on the move again in a day or two, so I'm only living out of one suitcase for the time being.
"I am not really settled anywhere. There's nowhere really to call home right now, except when I go between London and Dublin, and I only get home to my Nana for a couple of days at a time. It can get lonely. When I go to hotels at night, there's a lot of time on my own. I go with three people from my management team, we arrive and we check in, and they go off to their rooms to call their wives or their girlfriends or their partners or whatever, and that's when I feel it."
"When it comes down to it, I'm the same girl I was at school. I put my hair up when I get home, make-up off, and I want some company. The other night I spent hours on to a friend over Skype - we ordered food, we chatted and chatted, watched TV without talking to each other sometimes, and it was just like she was in the room beside me," she laughs.
"When I was in Dubai, I called up another old school friend who was in town and invited her to basically move into my hotel room for the week. We laughed and gossiped about the old days and drank hot chocolate, and that's what I really love. That's who I am. I guess it's the same for everyone in this business. The real me is not the person you will find at the parties."
Her new show, a documentary-style diary called Nadia: Chasing the Dream will broadcast on 3e next Friday.
In the first episode, we see Nadia arrive in London to begin her radio tour for her brand-new single BPM, then she walks us through the launch of her new calendar, before touching down in Ibiza, where she gets to live the high life on a yacht before the hard work begins. There are countless rehearsals as well as bouts of sickness before she performs at her biggest night yet - the Ibiza Rocks Bar.
Off screen, it's all go for Nadia too. She is set to make guest appearances in a West End show called West End Men, a sharp and sexy show celebrating theatreland's leading men, which will be on at venues around the UK and at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin.
In the meantime, you can catch her looking as beautiful as ever on the cover of lads' mag FHM.
The girl that you can pluck off the shelf, pore over in her lingerie, seems so open and attainable, but in reality she has locked herself away and remains just out of reach. So forget sleeping around, this is what really makes her every man's fantasy girl.
'Nadia: Chasing the Dream' starts on Friday, April 10 at 8pm on 3e and will be repeated on Saturday, April 11, at 3.30pm on TV3
Photography by Kip Carroll. Styling by Liadan Hynes
Sunday Indo Life Magazine