“THERE is a sea of really stunning, single women out there, and I have to tell you, I don't see any stunning single men out there. So no, thank you very much. I have no interest in dating, because I still love Denis, and that's the hard part.”
Caroline and her husband Denis Desmond run the juggernaut that is Gaiety Investments, and their diverse business interests include MCD and the Gaiety Theatre, of which Caroline is MD.
For the past 32 years the attractive pair have been one of the most influential and high-profile couples in the country, but what most people don't know, and why we're discussing the likelihood of her dating again, is that Caroline and Denis have been separated for the past year-and-a-half.
It was a good marriage, she says, until she discovered an event had occurred that changed things irrevocably.
“Denis had an affair, and one of the terms and conditions of my marriage is that you didn't step outside of it,” she says, sadly.
“So that was it. The affair was over by the time I found out about it, but I was crushed. I still love him and I have no desire to date again.
“So we work together and go to things together and we've remained best friends. We built the company for the children if they want it.”
Being betrayed is one of the deepest wounds a person can experience, so how did she manage to come through the hurt?
“You just do,” she says. “You have kids and a business and good friends, so you just throw yourself in and get on with it. I have a very busy life and so does Denis.
“Sometimes something can be over when you don't realise it.
“I thought that I was more resilient that I am, and that I was tougher than I am, but I've realised that I'm not.
“Denis is my children's father and they love him. He's a really, really, really good father, and everything he does has always been for them, and actually for me too.
“Everything he worked toward has been for me and the three kids, and that will never alter. Denis is a good person – he just made a bad choice.”
While they are now living separately, would Caroline go back to him, I wonder?
“It's impossible to say,” she shrugs. “I always thought that women who took straying husbands back were weak – I genuinely did. And now I see that it's easier to walk away than to stay.
“I would never have understood that before, because to stay, you've got to go into a really deep place to forgive and to trust again.
“I can't generalise, because there are women who are beaten to a pulp and have nowhere to go, or husbands who won't leave the family home and give the women nothing, so I'm talking about people who have a choice.
“Cheryl Cole is a classic example of someone who very publicly stayed, and that must have been very hard, because she was condemned for it.
“And then Ashley did it again to her, and you want to go up to him and say, ‘You idiot. You have this beautiful, beautiful woman who forgave you when everyone was telling her that you didn't deserve her’.”
Born in Ireland, as the eldest of Elizabeth and Patrick Downey's five children, her dad was a carpenter and her mother was a secretary. When she was five, they left Ireland to live in Australia.
Over the next few years, Caroline's family moved several times between Adelaide in Australia, Durban in South Africa, and Ireland, meaning that she attended seven different schools.
While she is clearly highly intelligent and articulate, she says that she wasn't academic and left school at 16. She was diagnosed with dyslexia 10 years ago, when one of her children was being tested for the same condition. She waitressed for a year, and then became a model, which she loved.
Having to constantly deal with new people and different situations is probably what has enhanced Caroline's people skills.
As a very fair person, her natural sense of justice and willingness to fight for the underdog was heightened by her time living in South Africa at the height of apartheid.
“White people went on white buses and black people on black buses, and the nanny that looked after you wasn't allowed to go on the beach with you,” she recalls.
“I was very conscious of that. It was a bad time to be living in the country, as it was backward in that way, but fortunately that has all changed and it's a very different country now.
“Having said that, the people there had impeccable timekeeping, which the Irish didn't have at that time.
“I learned a lot growing up from all of the different experiences I had, but I made sure my own children stayed in the same school from Montessori right up. They have had the same friends since childhood, which is something I don't have.”
Caroline’s parents separated when she was 19, and her father moved to the Middle East, while her mother and four younger siblings went to live in Australia again.
“She stayed here, as she had met Denis by then. She says it was a relief when her parents finally split up, because their marriage was in trouble from the time she was 10, and “it wasn't a nice way to be brought up”.
“I think when you're the eldest and there are issues in the home, you take on looking after your younger siblings,” she says. “I'm very close to my father, but I have no relationship with my mother, and haven't had for many years.”
It was while modelling that Caroline met Denis at a nightclub on Adelaide Road, when she was 19 and he was 28.
“He was charming,” she smiles.
“His opening line was something like, ‘Did anyone ever tell you that you're the most beautiful woman in the world?’ To which my friend's husband James said, ‘You're going to have to come up with a better line than that, man.'
“Denis asked me out and was supposed to collect me at 2pm on the day, but when he hadn't turned up by 4pm, myself and my flatmate went off to the movies and a nightclub.
“I got home at 3am to find a note saying, ‘I did turn up, admittedly two hours late, but there was a problem with Slane.'
“So I thought, well to hell with him if he can't be on time, but now I understand of course, because of the business that we're in.
“He wanted another date and I didn't want to go, but Louis Walsh, who is my best friend, said that I had to go and get us passes to Slane, because he wanted to see Hazel O'Connor.
“So I went on the date on that condition, and when we were at Slane, Louis left me there, so I had to get a lift home with Denis. Louis always maintains that he played Cupid!”
Caroline and Denis lived together almost straight away, and although she thought she would never get married or have children, she had done both by her mid-20s.
She and Denis are proud parents of son Zach (26), daughter Storm, who will be 23 in October, and youngest son Jett, whose star-studded 21st birthday party earlier this month was attended by the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Amy Huberman, Yvonne Keating and Amanda Byram.
“My children are amazing and they're the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Caroline.
“Zach is the image of my father, who was a very handsome man. He works in the business, and is very good, very loyal and driven. Storm is the spit of me, and she's very intelligent.
“She has just finished her degree in history and politics and has taken a year out, and has no interest in the business. I think she'd like to go down the psychology route.
“Jett is a mixture of Denis and I and he's very laid-back. He's studying business and economics, and has known since he was 15 that he wants to work with us in the business.”
Is it hard working with your children, I wonder, because sometimes it's difficult to grow up as the children of very successful and high-profile parents.
“It's good because they understand you and know where you're coming from, and it's hard because they have to be pulled up like everyone else, sometimes in front of other people,” she replies.
“Having said that, you cannot treat them like everyone else, because they're not like everyone else. They're going to inherit your business.
“I often wonder which is harder – making your own money, or inheriting a company and keeping it going to the same standard that your parents did? Because, of course, Denis's shoes are big ones to fill!”
Caroline is an unbelievably busy person, and is heavily involved with the ISPCC, Childline, and the Christina Noble foundation, for whom she tirelessly fundraises. She has raised an incredible €39m for charity to date.
She is currently organising the Brian O'Driscoll charity testimonial in the Convention Centre, the 15th Cheerios Childline concert, and the ISPCC Blue Shield anti-bullying campaign, and is also producing the Christmas panto, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, at the Gaiety.
Caroline says that she doesn't generally do interviews about herself, which is just as well as she is always too honest and doesn't like to lie.
“I have no filter,” she laughs. She has been propelled into the spotlight lately as she is shortly to appear on our TV screens in TV3's Celebrity Apprentice, which features a cast of famous faces.
“I hadn't seen Apprentice before, but watched before we started filming and thought, ‘Aaaah, what have I let myself in for?’”she says.
“In the Irish version, our celebrities are raising money for their charities. It was harder than I imagined, longer hours than I thought and I don't think any of us had a clue what we were getting ourselves into.”
“It was very difficult because when it came to them justifying not being fired, the celebrities would all explain what it would mean to their charity, so it was like a knife went into me and it was turn, turn, turn.
“I had to go strictly by the tasks, because if I allowed myself to be driven by the charities, they would all have won.
“I have no great desire to watch myself on television, but Liz O'Donnell and John McGuire would come back every day and tell me some of the things that happened.
“There were times when they and the cameramen actually had tears of laughter pouring down their faces, so I'm dying to see those incidents.
“The celebrities will definitely be the stars of the show, as they gave it their all!”
*Celebrity Apprentice begins on TV3 on Monday, September 23