Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin has mastered the art of privacy - and you have to respect her for it
Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin has never been your average Irish celebrity.
Unlike others who seek out the spotlight, keen to promote commercial endorsements and push their money-making gig by whatever means necessary, Aoibhinn has consciously pulled away from most aspects of public life, making it clear from the get-go she had no interest in becoming famous.
During her much publicised former relationship with Ryan Tubridy, who was yesterday named RTE’s highest paid star, she was regularly scrutinised, whether it was through her style, her presenting gigs or her career in academia. She became public fodder during their five year romance which eventually ended in 2014; during which time, she always seemed visibly uncomfortable with the focus on her personal life.
I’ve only interviewed her once back in 2011 while she was promoting her hosting duties at the BT Young Scientist of the Year exhibition. I was still pretty new to the job and the only thing I knew was that I had to “come back with a line” about Tubridy.
She was happy to speak about her professional projects, but the second I asked about her boyfriend, she went into shutdown mode. When I tried it a second time a few minutes later, she laughed and said, “Nice try”, which is the politest way possible of telling someone to shut up.
Because of the unique and rather bizarre celebrity culture in Ireland which is comprised nearly exclusively of tv presenters, models and now, ‘Snapchat stars’, her connection to the king of chat show television was enough to capture the public’s fascination for years to come, exacerbated only by her obvious talents (she recently graduated with a PhD in Mathematics from Trinity and is lecturing in Mathematics & Statistics at UCD), her burgeoning presenting career on RTE and the fact that she’s classically beautiful, or as one of my colleagues recently put it, “an academic scientist, with Disney princess eyes and dimples.”
As their relationship progressed, so did her television career – Aoibhinn was appearing on Celebrity Bainisteoir, travel show Getaways and hosting a Sunday radio show on RTE Radio One Aoibhinn & Company.
Soon, there was a change in her career trajectory – from around 2013 onwards, she presented more niche programmes such as The Science Squad and The Big Bang Query. These days, she hosts Fleadh Ceoil alongside John Creedon and her public engagements are largely limited to events in her field or lucrative MC gigs.
Her main focus seems to be more on encouraging young girls’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and less on maximising a mainstream presenting career. She has all but fully removed herself from the world of fame, mastering the near impossible art of maintaining her privacy.
It’s hard to keep a secret when you’re a celebrity, at any level, especially in Ireland when your hairdresser could probably tell you everything you wanted to know about someone “they definitely shouldn’t be telling you about”; but you never hear a peep about Aoibhinn. Ever.
Rumours of her engagement had been swirling for months and a diamond ring was visible on her ring finger back in March. News of her impending wedding was broken by a Sunday newspaper in May, who managed the scoop – she was getting married this summer; it was just expected that we wouldn’t know where, when or to whom.
Since winning the Rose of Tralee in 2005, a title which first projected her to public life, she has appeared on only a handful of magazine covers and she still remains one of the most sought after interviews.
What I respect most about her is, not only her ability to pull off a top secret wedding in the most heavily populated part of the country, but her consistency.
Unlike a number of other, arguably less well known, “celebs”, she doesn’t share her life on social media, she promotes professional projects and personal passions but you wouldn’t even know she was in a long-term relationship, let alone a newlywed, by her public accounts.
Her husband has been simply referred to as a “mystery man” and if the web traffic on her wedding story on this website is anything to go by, the fascination into her relationship certainly hasn’t waned.
Her wedding was a huge money-making opportunity – she could have sold the pictures for a princely sum to a glossy magazine and exchanged freebies for social media posts. Instead, she enjoyed a day out with less than 100 family and friends in a city centre venue and shared photos her guests had taken on their phones instead of “debuting” the marriage with a strategically chosen professional shot of the couple gazing into each other’s eyes.
But that would be against her natural instincts – a notoriously private woman who has never been flashy in any form of her life, despite having the means, the opportunity and quite frankly, the looks, to do so.
She makes for a refreshing change from the seemingly endless array of models, influencers and C-list actors who enjoy the perks of celebrity these days thanks to their Insta-famous status; a crop of people who share literally what they eat morning, noon and night, but cite privacy during interviews, whom the concept of hypocrisy eludes.
You have to admire someone who cares so much for their personal space that they will say “Nice try” to anyone who enquires about something they deem over the line. And we’ll still continue to wonder if we’ll find out her husband’s name by the end of the year.