Why I chose to be Ireland's first Page 3 girl - by the brainiest topless model ever

'I want to make it easier for other Irish girls to get into the industry,' says Lucan-born Claire Tully

It's been a bumpy couple of weeks for Ireland's first Page 3 model Claire Tully. After signing up for RTE's forthcoming celebrity reality show Failte Towers, the 24-year-old Dubliner discovered that not one, not two, but three breast cancer charities were refusing to accept any money she raised on the show.

The Marie Keating Foundation, Breast Cancer Ireland and the National Breast Cancer Research Institute in Galway all politely turned down her potential donation of up to €5,000, claiming that her topless modelling might offend women battling the disease. Finally, Mayo-based breast cancer group, Rock Chick, announced on Wednesday that it would gladly be the recipient of Tully's proceeds.

It's a blow-up that caught the Lucan-born beauty totally by surprise. "I didn't expect it to be honest," she admits. "It's a cause that's very important to me because my grandmother and mother both had mastectomies.

"I don't see it as a personal rejection. I guess it's uncharted territory for everyone because there's never been an Irish topless model before."

However, Tully is not just this country's first glamour model: she is, to quote her red-top employer, "the world's brainiest Page 3 girl" (qualifying her to appear on The Irish Sun's front page calling for a No vote the day before the Lisbon Treaty poll). After getting 600 points in her Leaving Cert, Tully graduated with a first class degree in Biochemistry and Immunology from Trinity College, and was initially accepted to study for a PhD in HIV research at Oxford before a funding snafu temporarily nipped that dream in the bud.

Topless model is not the expected career trajectory for such an educated woman, so just why did Claire Tully become a Page 3 girl? "I decided to accept the job for two reasons: to raise awareness of breast cancer, and to make it easier for other Irish girls to get into the industry," she explains.

"I know there are other girls who dream of getting into this line of work, but are afraid of what their parents and family might say. I thought it might make it a bit easier because I'm not a stereotype."

As the charity hullabaloo shows, the Page 3 phenomenon still rankles with some sectors of society. German model Stefanie Rahn became the first girl to pose topless in The Sun in 1970, and it has since launched the (admittedly mixed) careers of glamour models like Samantha Fox, Katie Price, Debee Ashby and Keeley Hazell.

Many observers expected The Sun's first female editor, Rebekah Wade, to axe Page 3 when she took over in 2003, but instead, Wade not only kept the feature, but wrote an editorial in her first edition championing the Page 3 ethos.

Tully appears to adopt a similar line to Wade. "It's easy for me to defend being a Page 3 model because I personally don't think there's anything wrong with it. If people say it's horrible or demeaning, then what does that say about their views on women and their bodies in general?

"I don't think it objectifies women because that implies that the girls are helpless and have no control over it, like they're victims of the industry. Most Page 3 girls have consciously decided to go into that line of work. I accept that other women might not approve, but if it's not their picture, then I don't know why it would bother them so much."

In that spirit, it's worth noting that the Page 3 production team is composed entirely of women. "Not many people realise that," says Tully. "There are no sleazy male photographers taking your picture and drooling all over you as some people might imagine it. For instance, Zoe McConnell is the longest running Page 3 girl, and she still does it exclusively, but she's also a photographer.

"Zoe's great because she's been around for a while, and knows the industry from behind the lens and in front of it. She took my picture for my recent Zoo magazine shoot."

Tully dismisses any suggestion that her topless pictures will come back to haunt her later in life when she returns to her academic career. "People have said that to me, but I don't worry about it," she says. "The fact is that employers would find themselves in an awful lot of trouble if they discriminated against me on that basis.

"There's also the example of Polly Matzinger, of whom I'm a big fan. She was a Playboy bunny when she was younger, but is now probably the top female immunologist in the world.

"She was a college dropout who later went back to study, and formulated the groundbreaking "danger theory" of immunity. She's very impressive [and] defied that modelling stereotype."

Failte Towers starts on RTE 1 next Saturday (August 2)

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