Saturday 25 February 2017

Late Nights, Early Mornings: Irish Model, Rockstar. Whatever

You'll never see her in her bikini on Grafton Street, but mysterious Australian Martha Christie has quietly carved out one of the most successful careers in Irish Modelling. But really, she tells Ciara Dwyer, she's just killing time until she becomes a rock star. Photography by Gerry Mooney

'I think if you were sitting by the phone waiting for modelling jobs, you'd go crazy," says 31-year-old model Martha Christie. "In Ireland, it's the type of career that you need something else -- a second job, a hobby, just some passion."

Not that the phone has ever stopped ringing for Martha. Ever since the Melbourne-born beauty started modelling here 12 years ago, she has been in great demand. Judging by Gerry Mooney's stunning photos of her, it's easy to see why.

She gets her dark looks from her parents. Her mother was born in Athens and her father is Greek-Cypriot. Being Greek meant that Martha had a European passport and so, like many Australians, she put a knapsack on her back and decided to travel the world for a year. Up until then she had been studying music at the University of Melbourne's Conservatorium, but she deferred her place for a year so that she could see the world. As Jane Austen said, "If adventures do not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad." So Martha put down her viola, which was her main instrument of choice, along with the piano, and headed off in search of fun.

Martha's mother told her to go to Ireland. The scenery was gorgeous and she had to see it. Being a good girl, she obeyed and ended up on our shores. She was here for just one week, and during that time she had a ball. She fell in love with an Irishman, but she was also smitten by the scene in Dublin. "It was amazing, so rich in music and the arts," she says. She won't talk much about the Irishman -- they are no longer together -- apart from saying that she headed off after her week here and carried on backpacking around the world. Occasionally she'd hook up with him during her travels. But get her talking about her big love -- music -- and she is bursting with passion. That's why she decided to make Dublin her home. "I'd made contacts in the music industry," she says.

So she came to live in Dublin with a plan -- well, sort of a plan. She knew that she wanted to pursue a career in music and she had spoken to some people, but there were no definite promises. Record companies weren't clamouring to give her a deal. It was all a little vague and yet this young woman knew that she had to go with her gut and follow her dreams. Dublin was going to be the place where she would make them happen. And, in the meantime, Irish men must have thought that all their dreams had come true when they saw this tall, Grecian goddess wafting around our dreary streets.

These days people often mistake her for Cheryl Cole, but Martha has a more refined beauty. Like a rare, exotic flower you'd find in the jungle, she radiates life and colour. I meet her on a grey winter's day, a day when most Irish women are struggling with the harshness of the elements on their complexions. Martha walks into the room and everything looks brighter. Hers is an effortless beauty. Her thick mane is combed and she wears a little make-up, but she doesn't need it. Why gild the lily?

Her manner is gentle. She laughs a lot. I'm not sure if it's an Australian thing, but she sounds incredibly laid-back. I ask her if she worries about modelling being a career with a short lifespan. Aren't there always younger kids on the block? Isn't she like an athlete, in that her career, by the nature of the job, will only last a short time? After 12 years, does she worry that modelling work will dry up?

"I'm not really too stressed," she tells me. And it shows. There isn't so much as a furrow on her brow. She takes life as it comes. "I'm just really enjoying the process. The music is something I've always done. I did it before the modelling, and it's something I'll continue to do."

This attitude is the secret to Martha's success. While she is happy that modelling helps pay her bills, she is not solely reliant on it. This carefree stance is the reason she is in much demand. In ways, she's like a woman who has decided to go off men for a while. When you're not looking for one, the disinterested air proves highly attractive. But modelling is also an accidental profession for Martha.

When she first arrived in Ireland, intent on concentrating on her music, a friend took her photo and sent it into a modelling agency. The agent asked to meet her and told her that she could work as a model, if she wanted to. This was not part of the plan, but in Martha's easy-come, easy-go world, she decided to go with the flow and take the opportunity. She was shy, and in some ways she approached the work with trepidation.

"Modelling was very unfamiliar to me. I'd never thought of doing it before. I just fell into it."

Although she confesses that she was the timid type, there was something of the performer in her. Ever since she was 10 she had been on stage in school plays and musicals such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Soon she was shining in the spotlight, be it on the ramps or in the photographers' studios.

"It was very full-on from day one. I was very busy, so that was great. Modelling has been very good for me, and I appreciate what it's done for me. I've met a lot of people through it and it has opened doors and other aspects of my life. For example, I've met people in the music business and I've done a bit of acting too. I've been in some short films, and I have an acting agent. Modelling is like acting in many ways."

She learnt the modelling game as she went along, but some things puzzled her, in particular the catwalk. "Before I started modelling, I'd never seen a catwalk before. I had no idea what it was like. I spent the majority of my time smiling as I walked down the ramp. For me, this was normal. I was used to engaging with an audience, especially when I had been on stage in musicals as a kid. I was always performing and singing, so I brought that to my modelling. I couldn't understand why girls would scowl on the catwalk. I don't think it was as bad back then, but it's got worse. Now I've tamed down my smile on the ramp, but that's only because none of the other girls are smiling."

For all her easygoing ways, Martha is a woman who knows her own mind. It was always so. In the early days of her modelling career, she set down her boundaries. "From day one I decided that I didn't want to do bikinis or lingerie. The agency and clients would ask me to do those shots, but I refused. Once it was established, that was that and they respected my wish. I was quite shy. I'm sure people still think badly of me, but I'm quite a private person; but also, I was doing the music and I wanted to keep my integrity.

"Back in the day when I was more in the press, doing press calls, you felt like you reached a saturation point. It seemed like there were photos of me in the paper every day, and that can attract negative attention, so that put me off, but also, it didn't sit well with who I am. It's in my personality to be private. I decided that if I wasn't comfortable with something I wouldn't do it."

But before you think that she is po-faced and worthy, Martha is as human as the next girl. She may be jaw-droppingly beautiful but as she talks she is devoid of vanity, or even an awareness of the power of her beauty. Yes, she learned her trade of modelling by simply getting out there and doing it, but still, after all these years, she admits that praise helps her perform.

"A great photographer will get the best out of you by encouraging you. They will say, 'you look beautiful'. If there's a good chemistry you can feed off each other's energy. In a way, it's like acting."

As the years went on, Martha tells me that she turned down many modelling jobs, so that she could devote herself to her music -- writing songs and recording in the studio. It has been a long road, but all her hard work has paid off. Last summer she performed at Electric Picnic with a five-piece band, Dandelion, although she tells me that they may change their name soon.

"We're kind of contemporary rock. I'm working towards doing music full-time. But it's one step at a time. I'm being well looked after. I'm just writing, putting the tracks down, and playing. I performed in the Pod last year. It was a huge buzz performing my own material, seeing it come to life. It was amazing. In a way, you're giving a lot more of yourself than you would for modelling."

But don't the late nights in the music business clash with early starts for her modelling work? "Absolutely," she says. "I'm not that conscientious about early nights before a shoot. My schedule is more creative in the evenings with my music. If I'm not in the studio recording, I'm at a gig. My evenings are quite late. Usually I don't get to bed until one or two."

It's not that she doesn't take her modelling seriously, but it's not the be-all and end-all of her life. "Modelling is a great stepping-stone, and I've always thought of it as that. It's been a great experience in many ways and it's been very good to me, but it was never my passion. Music is my passion," she says excitedly as she tells me she's looking forward to performing a few concerts later this year.

Every year Martha goes back to Melbourne to see her family. From the very beginning, her parents were supportive of her doing the modelling, but they don't usually talk about it. After a day's work, perhaps on a fashion shoot in Dublin, she might go talk to her family on Skype. "How was work?" they ask, and she says, "Great." That is the extent of their interest and the time taken up with the fantasy of the fashion world. Instead, they are caught up in the simple things in life. Friends, family and music are the main components to Martha's life. And Charlie, her beloved little dog. "I bring her for a short walk every day. I've tried joining gyms down through the years, but it never works."

She tells me that it's no accident that I haven't spotted her in the pages of social diaries with details of Bacchanalian nights. Painting the town red is not her thing. You'd be more likely to catch her at home at an easel with a paint brush in her hand.

"I'm a real homebird. I enjoy the simple things in life. I love cooking and painting and gardening. I love being creative. I love being with my close friends and family. I'm not in Krystle every weekend. I'm not really into the party scene. If I do go out, it'll be to a gig or else dinner with friends, and then it's straight home."

Martha knows what she wants and where she is going. Her passion is strong and she will follow it. She plans to set the music world on fire. Watch this space.

L

Shot in The Morgan Hotel, 10 Fleet St, D2, tel: (01) 643-7000, or see www.themorgan.com

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