Katy: The final interview
On the day after her 24th birthday party in Krystle and the day before she went out to Kieron Ducie's house for the visit that would cause her death, Katy French sat down with Brendan O'Connor to reflect on her life and an extraordinary year. Since her break-up with Marcus Sweeney and the publication of abusive texts he sent her in this newspaper, Katy French had become a cause celebre, leading to 2007 being dubbed the year of the French. In this final interview she talked about drugs, her love life, her family and her hopes for the future
When I met her on Friday, Katy was in great form.
Whereas I was visibly hungover from the night before, Katy looked immaculate. And she was doing one of the things she loved to do: playing house. I thought I wasn't hungry but she insisted on making spaghetti carbonara. She horsed it into her. I realised I was hungry, and did too. Then, I didn't want tea, but she made tea in a proper pot with the good Marks and Spencer's biscuits.
Spending the afternoon with the notorious Katy French was more like having afternoon tea with the Queen Mother. We had a great old afternoon, the two of us, with pasta and tea the only stimulants. I didn't know then it was an afternoon that I would never forget.
I asked her if, in her career, she was really not just looking for attention she maybe felt she never got from daddy, or something.
"Yeah, maybe I'm looking for some kind of validation or maybe I'm just trying to prove it to myself."
Do you have low self-esteem?
"Yeah, yeah, I do yeah. Everyone says to me: 'Jesus you must be tough to take all that.' But I don't think I am. I think I'm probably really actually more sensitive than most people. But that's why I am tough. It's like a balance thing."
Have you enjoyed the year?
"Immensely. It was tough. It was hard work and a lot of it was a real struggle but I thrived on it."
If you have low self-esteem, it must be tough to put yourself out there like that?
"Yes, but maybe I'm trying to look for some kind of validation, not necessarily from other people but to put me in a position where I really have to believe in myself. Sort of testing myself."
So, you're forcing yourself to do things that kind of scare you?
"Yeah. Not forcing myself. Choosing."
But you're obviously not just looking for this validation from yourself. You seem to need it from other people too?
"Obviously I'm not just doing it for myself. Because I'm extrovert and doing the job I do. If I just wanted internal validation, I'd just write a novel, which I will do someday. I get more pleasure out of my writing than I do from the modelling."
Are you glad the thing happened with Marcus? (The infamous incident when he walked in on her shooting a LIFE cover, they fought and subsequently broke up. Many people think of it as the beginning of Katy's fame going stratospheric.)
"Yeah. It was a silver lining. It was a good silver lining. It did give me something. I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. After that, it's what you make of it."
At the beginning of the year you were in one way very secure, engaged to be married.
"Falsely secure. I have constantly built a life on different cases of false security. Relationships are a huge way I do that. I've always gone from one long relationship to the next, and kind of – even knowing they're not right – you kind of build the world around them and maybe that stems back to childhood and having the perfect family. And we did. I had a great childhood and I'm never going to say any different but . . . what it was, it wasn't perfect. And then it was totally shattered.
"I didn't grow up in an abusive household or with an alcoholic parent. I grew up living the dream as a kid. Great family, great holidays, great school. I was blessed. But it kind of just, bit by bit, broke away. It was like a big lie. It was because of what was actually going on behind the scenes.
"It was a blessing in one way because I didn't grow up with obvious problems. I didn't grow up aware of things because it seemed perfect so it was perfect to me. And then, all of a sudden, one day you open your eyes and it's like, 'Jesus, it wasn't.'
"I first started noticing things when I was 13, when I started not being at home as much. I was always out with friends. And I realised then that something wasn't right. My parents actually separated about seven years ago when I was about 17, but it was going on longer than that. But that was when what was going on with my parents became too obvious to hide anymore."
The reason people doubt Katy French's age is not just because she is mature for her age but because she has been around so long. Though she is mature. I remember when she and I and Andrea (Roche) went to Kinsale recently, for a gig. Katy was acting like the mother. Myself and Andrea, the older ones, were laughing at her precocity, telling her she was actually 50 in her head. But then, she was always precocious.
How old were you when you started going out in town?
Where would you go?
"Out and about. Not too much drinking. My friends were always much older, so they had apartments and stuff and we'd hang out there. I was very young when I first walked into a nightclub in town."
Were you very pretty?
"I don't know. I suppose I was. I had my own look. But I presented well enough."
But then, by the age of 16 Katy had finished school. Why?
"I was finished. I started school when I was three. Every year my parents would go in and say should we keep her back a year, but they never did. My grades never slacked, I never fell behind. If anything, I was ahead. Got on like a house on fire with all my teachers. I was always in the popular group in school. But I was still the one who would talk to the so-called uncool people. I never fell out with anyone. I've never been in a fight. People tried to start fights but I've never been in a fight. I loved school. I loved learning."
She went on to study business for a year while she repeated Leaving Cert maths and worked for her dad's company. Once she had got her maths exam, she studied psychology for two years. And then she met Sasha, her first fiance.
She'd had boyfriends before but only one serious one. And so it was, aged 18, that Katy French became engaged for the first time.
"Yep," she says. "Eighteen and engaged."
"Well, I didn't ask the question, did I?"
It's a bit mental to be engaged to be married at 18.
"I know it is. It's in the family [Sasha's family]. When I'd be around at the house – when I was 18, remember – the mother and the daughter would rub my belly and say: 'No baby yet?' The mother was Yugoslavian. I think it was just a different culture."
Did you actually think you were going to get married?
So what were you at?
"It was kind of funny when it happened. It was actually Sasha's birthday and we were all in town, 40 or 50 people, friends. So we were all there and the cake came out and, you know, Happy Birthday and all that, and I was kind of there having a laugh and then his mother stands up and says: 'Shh! Sasha has a wish, Sasha has a wish, Sasha has a wish.' And I was going: 'What the hell is this about?' The next thing is, he gets down on his knee and pops the question, and when you're with someone and you love them and you care about them, you're not going to say no, especially in front of 50 people.
"It was the mother had given him the ring. Funny thing, though, the ring irritated me. I remember looking at the ring and one of the diamonds had fallen out of it and was replaced and was kind of wonky and that used to freak me out.
"The two times I've been engaged, I've had funny superstitions about the rings. There was that one that used to irritate me and I used to try to take it off. And when I got engaged to Marcus, the ring that he got, the original ring – it cost about €1,000, not even – it was the prettiest little ring you've ever seen, a real engagement ring. Set up high, really high. He always used to say to me: 'I'm going to get you another one,' and I was always: 'I don't want one.' I think it was because the people we hung around with, a couple of friends, the girls had fallen out because one ring was bigger than the other. I think it was a guy thing. I didn't want a bigger ring because that was the ring he proposed with, that was the special moment. You remember that. It was only small but to me it was huge.
"I remember he got me the other ring for Christmas, the so-called 40-grand ring. I gave it back to him anyway."
How long were you engaged to Sasha?
"About a year. It wasn't going to work and we both knew it. It ended on Stephen's Day. But it was fine, I was home with my family. We were actually on the phone. Would you believe that?"
Who broke up with whom?
"I suppose it was a mutual thing."
So he broke up with you?
"Yeah. He initiated it and I was heartbroken but I was happy. I get to the point in a relationship where I would be unhappy, but I couldn't let go. Like, I don't cut out."
Because you're afraid to?
"This is what I'm talking about, my little false-sense-of-security world."
You'd rather live in that?
"Sometimes, yeah. Like, I'd get very involved, I suppose. His family were very much like family to me. Even though the parents weren't together or whatever.
"I tend to build a world around the men I'm with. Not smother them, but I give up everything I do and I have and really give it all to them and that's part of that reason why I can't walk away. In my head, I've got this idea it could get better – it could be all nice and it could be all lovely. And – I don't know whether it's done subconsciously or intentionally – I let go of my world to be with this person, which makes it very difficult and very scary to walk away from someone, because you've kind of left yourself with nothing."
So when Sasha broke up with you, did all your social network collapse?
"I have two or three very close friends who will always be that way, who have been with me through everything from the start. Friends who know everything about me and who don't judge me.
"With the relationships, I was building up little cushions around me in my outside world. Building little nests – even though the tree was going to break anyway – instead of trying to find a nice tree. But I really want to make clear that I did not have a bad family background. My mother did everything. She's the best mother you could ever have in the world. She's just my idol. I adore her. She'd work hard and she'd still come home and make dinner.
"For my mother, everything was about her family and her husband and her children. She did everything for us. We never had a ready-meal. Even when she was working, she'd still come home and read a story or whatever. My dad was away a lot."
Are you looking for your dad?
"I think I'm looking for what my mum looked for, which is just the perfect home and the perfect family. But perfect, what's perfect? Dysfunctional is perfect. Because we're all solid and we all love each other and that's the bottom line."
Solid isn't the word I'd use to describe you. You're pretty flaky.
You're flakier than most people. In a good way, like.
"I'm not really. Why?"
You know you are. What does your mother think of all this carry-on?
"My mother never advises me. She does what you would want. She asks questions that I might want to be asked, in order for me to make a proper decision. I'd never do anything without running it by my mother."
Did you tell her last week you were going to talk about coke? (Katy had given an interview to a tabloid in which she admitted to using cocaine.)
"Yeah. She said: 'Yeah, that's the right thing to do.' She asked me when I did that Hot Press interview and it was all very honest. She said: 'Why did you lie about the drugs?' Obviously she totally disapproved of me ever taking drugs, but she felt it was best to be honest about things."
Are you dying to have kids?
You're only young yet.
"I know. I don't want them yet."
How did you start modelling?
"I just walked into the agency, Assets."
And did you think: 'Yeah. I'm pretty hot. I could be a model'?
"No. I'd been asked before when I was younger and I thought the whole idea of wanting to be a model was a joke. I always liked being academic. I always liked learning. Coming from a business family, I liked business, I liked working. I thought modelling was very two-dimensional or even one-dimensional. And it is.
"I battle with being a model. Massively. I have a huge chip about it because it's seen as really shallow. But I got into it and I did well at it and I kept going and I suppose that's the path I took. And I kind of liked the path I took and I like my job.
"I actually like the industry I work in. But it is really fucked up at the best of times.
"I don't know. You know, my best friend is a doctor and her husband is a surgeon and the stories they tell. Another friend who's a lawyer and he goes on about it. I suppose every job has its ups and downs. But I find mine really curious because I get to work with people in a really shallow, superficial industry. There's a lot of low self-esteem."
"The whole industry. The whole media industry is full of low self-esteem. Anyone in entertainment or showbusiness, you know? It's based on really superficial values that really there's not much behind."
So are you neurotic about your looks?
Do you think you're good looking?
"I don't think I'm ugly."
Is it nice being a beautiful woman?
Are you kind of always consciously aware of the power that gives you?
"Yeah. I'm also aware of the negatives it gives you. You get pre-judged very quickly."
As a bimbo?
"By everybody. Women don't like you. Men treat you like . . ."
Do women not like you?
"Some women don't, yeah. I'd say a lot of women don't."
Because you're a model or because you're good looking?
"Probably both. And then men look on me as a piece of meat."
"But you're different. But when you talk to me about shoots, it's all about being sexy, isn't it? In another way, that's the category I got put into. Because I'm not high fashion. And I'm glad. One, because there's no money in it – in this country you don't make money from being high fashion. You'd be eating jam sandwiches for the rest of your life. And two, because, like, I suppose, I'm not skinny. I have boobs. I have an arse, you know?"
Have you had your boobs done? Someone who was on a shoot with you recently thought you maybe had.
"I haven't. My mum has good boobs, though."
So, will you have your boobs done at some stage?
"Maybe. I'd have no qualms about whatever needs to be done. Liposuction, boobs. I don't think I'd get my face done, though. I'd be a bit worried about that. I always think there's other ways of doing things. Like work out, eat healthy. I always eat well. That's another reason people call me fat sometimes in the paper. I like my fucking food.
"And I don't care. I'm not gonna be skinny. I'm not gonna be decrepit in 10 years. I'm not going to have osteoporosis and women's problems because I mistreated my body when I was young. I've been through that. I went to an all-girls private school. I went to schools where girls would have a half a Ryvita and a bottle of Diet Coke for lunch and then puke up in the bin.
"When I was young, I ate whatever I wanted. I'd have a bag of crisps or whatever when I wanted. But I was a very active youngster. I never sat in watching telly. I was always out in the park on my bike playing. I had my horses. I was always out and about. We never did the package holiday going to a hotel and sitting on the beach. We went off cattle ranching and went white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon, on safari. We used to go hiking in the Alps from when I was 10 or 11. Skiing.
"We were always doing active stuff. I was really blessed.
"I'd never knock my childhood in a million years. I had more things than most kids had. I really did. I never wanted for anything."
So are you in a relationship?
"I'm seeing someone, yeah."
Is it a good relationship?
"Yeah, I'm enjoying it."
How long is it going on for?
"A few months."
A few months? Three months?
"No. A bit longer than that."
"No, it's been over six months."
Do you think it's going anywhere?
"I hope it is."
You have characterised the relationship with Marcus as a very unhealthy, controlling kind of relationship?
"It was. But I allowed it to happen."
I know that you would get back with Marcus in the morning.
"I wouldn't, Brendan, I wouldn't. You like to think that. There's an element of me would love to think it could change but I know it won't."