Katie Larmour: The Honey Trap
She is officially Britain and Ireland's sexiest girl next door, having won 'FHM' magazine's infamous High Street Honeys. But Irish Model Katie Larmour is ambivalent. Although her parents liked the 'FHM' shoot, she certainly won't be getting into glamour modelling, preferring instead to carve out a career in television.
Emily Hourican meets a very determined young woman who doesn't take kindly to feminist concerns for her welfare. Photography by Kip Carroll
Small towns generally make for nice folk. It's something to do with not being allowed to get above yourself. Not shaming your family, because everybody knows your family. Not behaving badly because Mrs Brown from down the road is at the next table. It's that sense of community and your place in it that David Cameron is trying so hard to instil over in Britain, and Belfast model Katie Larmour has it in spades. Healthy, happy and hard-working as well as beautiful, Katie is visibly keen to do jolly well at everything she undertakes, and I can see why she's in such demand in Northern Ireland. Having promoted everything from Red Bull Racing to Northern Ireland tourism, via a stint as Natalie Portman's body double in Your Highness, she has worked consistently in what she herself describes as a "small market". Now however, she looks set to expand her appeal, having just won FHM magazine's High Street Honey of the Year 2011, somewhat to her surprise.
Fresh from her LIFE magazine photo shoot, Katie is wearing skinny jeans and a white lacy top that looks vintage but is, she promptly assures me, from Topshop. Her nails for the shoot are fake, and they're bothering her -- "I'm not used to wearing fake nails," she says, waving her hands around. "I feel really weird, I'm just not into that sort of thing; I'm really conscious of them. I love being feminine and stuff, but I'm not into fake hair and eyelashes and nails and stuff." Other than the nails, every bit of Katie is real, even her hair colour, which is a kind of mid-brown, and makes me realise how unusual it is to meet anyone, let alone a model, who hasn't streaked, dyed, highlighted or somehow enhanced their hair. Not that she's boasting. "It's not that I think my hair is beautiful," she rushes to tell me. "I'm just so used to it I wouldn't know how to change it." Like I say, she's a nice girl.
In fact, she's so nice that I find myself becoming, in response, quite mumsy: trying to persuade her to eat something (she skipped lunch because of the photo shoot); worrying that she may be taking a wrong turn with the FHM thing (she assures me she does know what's she's doing); and hoping she has a plan B to fall back on if the modelling doesn't work out (she does -- having helped build a well in Uganda as part of an aid programme, "technically I've got bricklaying if everything else goes wrong," she laughs).
"I talk soooo much when I'm nervous," she emails me, shortly after we meet in the Radisson Blu St Helen's Hotel, "so sorry if you didn't get a word in edgeways." Which I didn't really, but it didn't much matter, because her artless prattle is very charming, and as revealing about her as responding to any amount of searching questions would be. The first thing that becomes apparent is that, far from being smug about winning High Street Honey of the Year, she is actually pretty ambivalent about it, well aware that dubious things can sometimes come in bright packages.
"I'm slightly embarrassed about the whole thing," she says as if she actually means it. "It is exposing myself a lot. I wouldn't really flirt with the media. I would be careful about throwing myself into the limelight as well. This mightn't be the best way . . ." she trails off, then produces a copy of the magazine (she brought along a copy because she didn't want me to have to spend money on it). "I hope you're not shocked," she says, showing me the photos. "It's not too bad, but I was very worried about it, to be honest."
The pictures are fairly standard lad-mag territory -- there's the prowling-on-hands-and-knees shot, the over-the-shoulder shot, and a sort of front-on, three-quarters-length shot. In each picture, Katie, although undeniably beautiful, has the kind of deliberately bland facial expression that girls in these shoots usually have. But no, I'm not shocked. Luckily, neither were Katie's parents, because that's important to her.
Her father is an architectural historian, her mother teaches English and history, and both are happy with the shoot. "My parents like it," she insists. "I'd know straight away if they were not happy. I'd feel the vibes. They're 100 per cent fine about it. And they know I'm not going into the world of glamour modelling. I hope this will open doors and lead to other things." She's keen to lay that one to rest as soon as possible -- this is not a gateway to something raunchier. "Glamour modelling isn't an option, no matter what money would be offered," she says firmly. "I wouldn't shame my parents." Even so, she's not about to slag anyone else off for choices they might make. "I know girls who have done glamour modelling and have had boob jobs, and I'm not going to diss them, but it's just not for me. I don't think this is setting me on the path to it. I think I might get more modelling work from it, but it doesn't have to be taking off more clothes."
But let's go back a bit. Just how did this 27-year-old from Belfast get to be FHM's High Street Honey? It's a long, slightly complicated story, as Katie warns me. And indeed, it is both those things, and along the way I lose the thread a couple of times, but in a nutshell, this is what happened. Katie played a prank on her older sister by sending the sister's wedding photographs into a local magazine, where they were published. In return, her sister entered Katie into the FHM competition, sending off bikini shots without Katie's knowledge. She insists, by the way, that both sisters were motivated by kindly intentions as well as mischief: "She knew that it was along the lines of things I'm interested in -- I love trying new things, doing modelling, TV presenting, and the prize was supposed to be one day presenting on Kiss TV."
Almost two years went by, during which time Katie got on with other things, busily building her portfolio and experience, while FHM went through several changes of heart. First the competition was renamed, then dropped altogether, then reinstated. Somewhere along the line, Katie found out she was in the top 100, and then the top 10. She toyed with the idea of backing away, but ultimately decided to throw herself into it, mobilising a Facebook campaign to secure the votes she needed.
She won and went to London for a photo shoot, which, in keeping with the magazine's direction of the time, was sort of cute and girlie. "I came away thinking I'd got off lightly because I was wearing dresses and cardigans, all pale blues and peach colours." However, another change of style direction meant that shoot was quickly scrapped, and back Katie went for another go. "So that time I was petrified, because I thought, if it was too girlie last time, are they going to go too far the other way now?" She says she felt sick going over, "But the day was fine. It was a female photographer, and I felt really comfortable with her."
On top of having to reshoot, she was then told that the bit of the prize she was really keen on -- the day presenting for Kiss TV -- had been dropped. Which was gutting -- "it was my one wee bit of substance to the whole thing that I was clinging on to!" -- because, insofar as she has a plan, that is definitely where Katie would like to see herself: presenting a travel show, or maybe kids' TV. No wonder, after all that, that she was a bit ambivalent about the possible results. But, typically for her, she has decided this is a good thing, and is throwing herself into the excitement of it all.
"Zoe Salmon was in FHM," she says, name-checking one of the North's more famous exports, "and she was a Blue Peter presenter, and that's all fine." This is in response to me wondering whether too much lingerie modelling is likely to interfere with her TV ambitions -- like I say, she brings out the mum in me. "I'm lucky," she concludes with conviction. "I would never have got a chance to be in a magazine like this. To have the opportunity to do this was incredible. Most people have to be Keira Knightley or Zoe Salmon before they get asked to do a shoot of this kind. I'm really chuffed."
The ostensible point of the competition -- as Katie readily acknowledges -- is that the High Street Honeys are the girls next door: pretty but accessible. They aren't Kim Kardashian, for example, or Jordan, existing in some rarefied stratosphere of superstardom. They are girls you might just meet on a night out, or down at the local supermarket. "This is more approachable," confirms Katie, "more attainable." However, the reality, of course, is that most young women don't look anything like Katie, and most young men won't really get a chance to date girls who look like her. Sounding both starchy and incredibly out of touch, I ask if this bothers her. Does she worry about being objectified? Or about providing an impossible example, held up as something normal? It's a question she struggles with, so that I end up feeling mean for asking it.
"I think it's nice if women can celebrate their bodies," she says after a pause. "If girls do look at my photo and feel bad about themselves -- I don't think that would be my fault." And, of course, she's perfectly right there. Later, she emails me, to "clarify" her answer. "In this day and age, young kids are looking up to everybody in the public eye and that goes from Jordan to Queen Rania of Jordan. At the end of the day, I didn't enter myself, but I'm proud to be in it. I get up to more than just modelling and always promote a healthy and happy way of living in everything else that I do and that's how I hope I come across. FHM is a publication that has featured global idols from top tennis stars to actresses and singers so I'm flattered to be joining them, even if it is a one-off. Growing up, I was encouraged to be an all-rounded person, and eventually you'll find what's for you. It's important for girls to be strong, independent and make their own choices." Bravo, Katie!
Although 27, Katie can seem younger. In her own words, she's "a bit naive", something that comes across clearly in her response to my query about whether, in such a looks-based industry, she fears getting older. "That's exactly why TV presenting is perfect. You would definitely mature as you got older. In TV presenting, there's a slot for everyone," she responds, making me wonder just how well she understands the pressures of that world. But she insists that "some of the jobs I've gone for, I've been too young. For example, an arts show on BBC Northern Ireland -- they were really keen on using me, but they felt I looked too young."
And if her destiny isn't to be in front of the cameras, Katie claims she is actually perfectly happy to work behind them. "I may find my place is behind the screen, in production somewhere," she says. "I'm really interested in every aspect of it. I wouldn't want to have to panic. I knew I wasn't going to be a supermodel years ago, because of my height, and I didn't let it limit me or restrict me. I thought, 'Well, what can I do with myself?'"
Clearly, bricklaying isn't her only plan B. "I do lots of different things. I set up a small production company in Belfast, me and two boys. We did a couple of pilots, pitched them to people, and some of them have worked. So now we do In! magazine TV online. We came up with the idea ourselves, and they loved it. We shoot, present and edit it ourselves. It's not broadcast quality, but we have fun doing it, and we get paid for it."
It's the same kind of self-starting, hard-work ethic that Katie has consistently demonstrated -- she started modelling to make money during university; she did a degree in Fine Art at the University of Ulster -- laced with a healthy dose of reality. There is very little that's self-delusional about this girl. "I'm small, I'm 5ft 4in. I know I'm no supermodel, and I know if I went to another country I mightn't get anywhere. Back home, I happen to have found a nice little spot for myself and I've gotten a lot of work because I'm suitable for the type of modelling and type of market there," is her assessment of her career so far.
It's not all commercial endeavour with Katie. She is also an ambassador for the Unite Against Hate campaign, set up by the PSNI to combat prejudice and hate crimes, as well as supporting victims. Katie has been involved from the start, and regularly does press calls and public speaking. In fact, a billboard campaign she did for them has just been launched throughout the North. And she will shortly be the arts and culture correspondent for a local paper, writing a column about local exhibitions, films and events. "I'd have done it for free," she confides, "but now they have sponsorship for it, so I don't have to."
Such is her enthusiasm for most of what crosses her path, that she is all too inclined not to look for payment. She has done stints with community TV, gaining experience if not a salary, and credits her parents with making this open-handed approach possible. "They are very supportive. They have always encouraged me, and didn't tell me to go out and get a proper job. They've always been like, 'Do what you want. We don't want you doing something and then being miserable.'"
Maybe this is where the slight naivety springs from -- the kind of charmed life in which someone is beautiful, well-loved and generously supported by a solid family as well. For Katie it has meant the luxury of being able to look around and take her time about deciding on a set path. "I don't have a plan. I don't have the future mapped out. I'm always busy, always proactive, working on things, but I go off on tangents, things pop up, out of the blue. Nothing's really very planned." That said, she's no fool. "It's luck," she says of her career so far, adding sagely, "but luck happens to people who try really, really hard, again and again."
The one other opinion on her photo shoot Katie worried about, was that of her boyfriend, Harry Diamond, whose family own the Diamond Group of hotels, cafes and bars, including Tatu, around Belfast. Not every man would relish their girlfriend posing in lingerie for a lads' mag, but Harry, a keen amateur golfer and close friend of pro Rory McIlroy, seems pretty cool about the whole thing. "He said, 'It's nice, but I only like picture number two. You've got really bad hair in the first one and in the third one you've got a moustache, so I only like the one in the middle.' As long as he likes one of them, that's OK," Katie laughs.
The couple have been dating for just over a year, and living together for much of that. "I haven't dated loads of people," Katie says, "but I've dated enough to know that Harry is definitely treating me right, and he's special." One person she has dated, as anyone who reads celebrity magazines or websites will know, is actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers, about two years ago. But, consistent with the code of personal morality that won't allow her to "diss" others within her industry, Katie won't say a word about it. "The thing is, I didn't talk about it back then," she says politely, "so I'm not going to start blabbing about it now. I want to be dignified about it. There were a lot of people pushing me to talk about it back then, and I was able to keep a dignified silence. We left it on good terms and I do wish him all the best. I've absolutely nothing to say bad about him because he was an absolute gentleman. Anyway, if there is any attention," she finishes, "I'd rather it was because of things I've achieved myself, and not because I'm using someone to get promoted." Which is a rather neat way of giving two fingers to my questions about feminism and the objectification of women, although I'm not certain how aware Katie is of what she's doing.
Before she goes, I ask Katie what does she think cinched the win for her. I mean, she can't be the only girl with access to a network of Facebook voters. With typical modesty, she claims not to know, but says that one question she was asked was, "What would you do if you won?" Her response was "visit the troops", in the grand tradition of Marilyn Monroe and Lindsay Lohan. "And I'd absolutely love to," she says now. "But I'm too shy to instigate it myself. I don't know how to organise it, but if someone else would like to, I'd absolutely love it." Something tells me the troops would love it even more.
Susan Hunter, Westbury Mall, D2, tel: (01) 679-1271, or see www.susanhunterlingerie.ie
Rebecca Davis, Westbury Mall, D2, tel: (01) 764-5694, or see www.rebeccadavis.com
Katie is at the Andrea Roche Model Agency
Photography by Kip Carroll
Assisted by Jennifer O'Dywer
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Assisted by Maeve Woods and Aisling Wright-Goff
Make-up by Kate Synnott at Dylan Bradshaw, 56 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 671-9353
Nails by Leanne Mooney at Dylan Bradshaw
Hair by Ross King, Hair Design @ 28 Lower Ormond Quay, D1, tel: (01) 874-8520 or see www.hairdesign.ie
Shot in The Westin, 35-39 Westmoreland St, D2, tel: (01) 645-1000, or see www.facebook.com/thewestindublin or www.thewestindublin.com for details of St Patrick's Day and Easter weekend special offers
Sunday Indo Life Magazine