Andrea Roche: Born again

Jacket McQ Brown Thomas. Bodice, La Perla, Susan Hundter. Shorts, Topshop. Shoes YSL, Brown Thomas. Photo: Sarah Doyle

Managing her local football team and helping her mother battle cancer have had a curious effect on Andrea Roche. As she poses for her sexiest shoot ever, Barry Egan finds that Ireland’s greatest beauty is weary of the superficial, has reconnected with her culchie roots and is facing up to her own mortality.

Andrea Roche, Vivienne Connolly and a few other of the Irish Models, Cocoon Bar, Duke Lane, Dublin, May 30, 2003: drinks in Eddie Irvine's celeb watering hole. Supermodel Rochey's opening gambit in earshot of everyone at the table is: "I thought you were going to be a right arsehole, but you're alright."

To which I only think it mannerly to reply: "I thought you were going to be a right bitch, but you're all right."

"The first time I met you was when we were going to Slane and you didn't even say hello to me," she laughs, through finely flared nostrils.

Andrea Roche and Gail Kaneswaran, the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy, July 1, 2005: enlivened earlier by large quantities of drink in Harry's Bar, we have decided on a whim to take a gondola around the Grand Canal. Andrea and Gail clap their hands together and sing schoolyard nursery rhymes as our gondolier plots a choppy course through the dark waters of Venice. As we go under the Bridge of Sighs, Andrea is, naturally, singing the loudest. She hasn't a note in her head. That doesn't appear to concern her unduly.

Back on terra firma, Andrea is now making barking noises in the middle of St Mark's Square. Under moonlight, we walk past the Doge's Palace.

Suitably inspired, Rochey roars at sufficient volume that the ghosts of Byron and Casanova probably hear her: "This week, only in Ireland's Sunday Independent, Gail Kaneswaran reveals whether she has a Brazilian or not."

Much later, back on the boat we are all staying on, Andrea leads the Irish Models in a risque but light debate about the deeper mysteries of the female orgasm, dry-grinding, and, of course, being on top.

Almost four years on, Andrea Roche is still on top: she is still the most famous of the Irish Models, whether or not she retired from the catwalk last year. In fact, the 32- year-old has struck out ambitiously into other areas, becoming something of an identifiable brand, a Renaissance woman with a thick Clonmel accent.

She is managing Tipp team Rockwell Rovers for RTE's Celebrity Bainisteoir, which starts on March 22, and their first match is against John Waters's team, St Michael's of Roscommon. "We're the underdogs and it is an away game," she harrumphs. She has a regular slot on Ireland AM on TV3 and is beauty editor of VIP magazine. Rochey, as her friends call her, won the Peter Mark VIP Style Award last year. She is planning Miss Universe Ireland 2009.

She had had thoughts of opening up a model agency, but that idea has been put on the back burner for the time being because of the current economic crisis worldwide. I don't doubt when she eventually gets the agency off the ground, it will be a massive success. Fact: Andrea has an eagle eye for girls who have the potential to be huge in modelling. Indeed, she is generally credited with discovering and developing the likes of Pippa O'Connor, Jenny Lee Masterson, Sarah Morrissey, Rosanna Davison et al. One day, she would love to do something in fashion, such as her own range of clothes.

However, sitting at a table in the private members club, Residence, in St Stephen's Green in Dublin, Andrea Roche is more than just a career woman in Prada with ideas of world domination. If anything, being asked by RTE to be the celebrity boss of a GAA team in Tipperary has helped her push against the celebrity norm. It has helped Andrea "reconnect" with her country roots and her family in Clonmel. "I have become a culchie again, probably," she laughs.

But she never stopped being a culchie. She never lost or dropped her bogger accent for a D4 bray, as others have.

"No, I didn't," she says in that heavy bog brogue of hers. "Although, when I am down home they think I have a bit of a Dublin accent, which is ridiculous because I don't. I am not pretentious enough to change like that. I don't know why anyone would want to lose anything that is part of them."

More seriously, Andrea says that going home three times a week every week for the past month has made her examine and appreciate life more.

Yet, there is more to it than that. There always is with Andrea Roche -- such a great heart is not a characteristic that bubbles up often in the Irish Model gene pool. Her mother Marion's battle with, and defeat of, cancer was doubtless the biggest factor that made Andrea examine and appreciate life more.

Since her mother got ill, she says, there are fewer things in life to get truly angry about. "It puts everything into perspective. You are appreciating everything more. People should appreciate the smaller things in their lives. People should appreciate health, appreciate their family, appreciate their good friends."

Mercifully, Marion, who in the past few months has gone through chemotherapy, finished, says Andrea, "her last lot of chemo a few weeks ago. She has the all clear now. She is just getting her radiotherapy. It has been great being able to spend a lot of time with her. She has inspired me a lot because she is so mentally positive through the whole thing."

Do you think positivity is key?

"I really do think your mind being healthy is very important," she says. "But it is different for everybody, but my mother is just, like, she has laughed through it which I'm sure is hard to do. She has cried as well but on the whole she hasn't gotten angry with the world and everything. She just got it and wanted to know what she had to go through to come out the other end. And she has done that. I see a lot of kind of strength in her," she says.

Where does your mother's courage come from?

"She is a very strong person. I don't know. I kind of knew that she would have had strength. But I suppose years ago women had a lot of children and managed; whereas nowadays people complain about not having a nanny or a cleaner. Back then, maybe people just had a load of kids and got on with it."

What she is going through must be terrifying for your mother, I say.

"Yeah, it is, but she hasn't said: 'Why me?' She hasn't felt sorry for herself at all through the whole thing. I'm sure there's times when she was scared and, of course, cancer is shocking for the whole family when it comes. But I think people out there hear so many of the bad stories and it is good to know that you can come out of it the other end."

When discussing her mother's cancer, she asks me to be "very sensitive" and to perhaps "just say how important early detection is. That, in a subtle way, is what I'm trying to create: some bit of awareness."

There is another awareness, of course: the one within Andrea Roche. She says she "probably floated through life but I'm much more aware now of things." When pressed, she explains: "Of people. Of personalities. Of life. I'm more aware of death. The older you get, and when you experience losing someone or sickness in a family -- I lost relatives and a couple of friends -- the more you appreciate life and living.

"You realise how short life is through experiences. It is something you don't think of when you are in your early 20s or when you are a teenager. Mostly, unless you have been touched by someone very closed to you [dying], you are not aware of the short life span we have on the planet," she says in what some might take to be a veiled reference to the death of Katy French.

She adds that the Marie Keating Foundation was a great help when Marion first suspected she had cancer. "I had always supported them in their balls anyway and helped out Linda Keating," Andrea says. "They are really fantastic, the lives they save all around the country. It is great for Ireland as well; going through a recession and people still supporting charities which just shows the way we are, as a very generous race of people. We are a very generous nationality."

Filming the Celebrity Bainisteoir series brought that realisation into sharper focus for Andrea. Talking about her mother earlier, she mentioned how "it is amazing to see community spirit and when the chips are down in any way how people kind of rally round and help out in any way that they can." Then she pauses and, intriguingly, says this: "And the same can be said with me and the GAA: you see all the locals coming out with soup and sandwiches."

Until now, she says, she "never had any appreciation for the GAA and the passion among people who don't get paid to do it for a living, and go out in the wet two or three nights a week just for the pure love of something.

"And obviously my career in beauty and fashion is the opposite end of the spectrum," she says, adding that she didn't know what the players thought or expected of her. But, she says, she had to prove herself to them and earn their respect. "That's what I love about Tipperary people. They are very straight. They tell you as it is. They are not pretentious."

To know more, she swotted up on GAA and read Gerald Kean's Kean to Succeed, A Trip Into the World of GAA, the solicitor's book about his experience managing Mayfield last summer for the programme. "I found it very interesting," she says. "I really got stuck into it, which I never thought I would."

She is honest enough to admit that when RTE first approached her about managing a team for the programme, she didn't realise how hard it would be. "Like, literally, at the beginning, I didn't know how many players were on a team. I have gone three times a week without the cameras because I wanted to put the work in and I wanted to gain the respect from the lads," she says.

"I wanted to know about the game. I had to learn everything from scratch. I am very ambitious like that. If I put my heart in something I want to achieve something out of it. I don't mind saying that I am entering this to win."

It was hard for the team to have a camera in their faces -- "and someone who is female probably didn't help matters," the great beauty of Ireland laughs. This in itself proved initially problematic. Almost everything she'd say to them could have a Carry On film double entendre, it turned out. "Like when I said to them: 'If you win, I'll give you something,'" she explains with a titter. "But I won their respect in the end. They saw that I came up not having a clue about it; and there is no way of winging it with GAA. I learned as much as I could about the game. It was a great challenge."

Another challenge, perhaps, was the attire and lack of cosmetics.

"Since I got involved with the team, it has been, literally, make-up and clothes out the window. I am wearing jeans and wearing mucky wellies. I am freezing. There is not anything remotely glamorous doing Celebrity Bainisteoir. But there is a sense of freedom about the whole thing."

She says that her favourite quote is from Gandhi: "Freedom is not worth having if it doesn't include the freedom to make mistakes." "Because," she explains, "I think people beat themselves up too much when they make mistakes: we are human, after all."

In truth, Andrea Roche was born with that idea of freedom. She grew up outside Clonmel. "I wouldn't take back being brought up in the country because I think you get the chance to be a child longer in the country than you do when you're in the city. Now teenagers grow up way too fast. They are mad to be 21 when they are 13."

That wasn't you at all?

"No, I was so innocent. I was a child until I was 17 or 18. And I think that is nice, because it is a fantastic time in somebody's life."

The moment she pinpoints as losing a little bit of that innocence was when, at 18, she moved to Carlow to do Business Studies at the Regional Technical College. She had to fend for herself, she says.

"It was a good stepping stone for me because I don't know at that age if I would have been able to move up to a big city like Dublin. I remember at the time coming up to visit a friend of mine and just thinking: 'Oh my God, how would you find your way around the city? It is so big.' And obviously now that you're living in it, it is like a village."

The coquettish Clonmel woman has certainly left her impression on the jackeens in this village called Dublin. She is the first name on most PR lists of hot people to invite. And eggs being eggs, you will undoubtedly find Rochey in Residence or the Shelbourne bar on a Friday night with pals Tara O'Connor or Elaine Roddy. Partly inspired by her mother's illness last year, you imagine, Andrea's priorities in life appear to have changed.

"Superficial, fickle things are things you don't think about as much as you get older," she says. "It is not all about always looking good," she says, breaking off. "Looks are not everything. Material things are certainly not everything. That's what I was saying to you about being more appreciative of health and living and good family and good friends and your circle of friends."

She is "very close" to her mother and indeed to her mother-in-law, Anne -- "She is an absolute lady" -- and Andrea, the eldest of her family, adds that she thinks she has become a lot closer to her siblings Kelly, Charlene, Colin and Steven as she has got older. "Childish, little silly arguments never really happen now," she says. Her 22-year-old brother, Steven, "the baby of the family", has just moved to Australia for a year. Andrea plans to visit him when he settles in.

Ask her who the real Andrea Roche is and she will stare at you like you have two heads. But she is more philosophical than she thinks. "I still feel like a child inside," she says like a character in a poem by William Blake or a song by Van Morrison. "But I was never wild. I was always sensible. I always had long-term relationships. I have had a boyfriend since I was 18. I was never really single for too long." She has had two four-year relationships, with Jim Corr and a fella from home, and then she met PJ Mansfield, the son of zillionaire and Citywest owner Jim.

She describes her husband as "sincere and down to earth and genuine and hard working, a lovely guy, basically. You've met him. You know. I think people expected him to be spoilt but he is the complete opposite to that. He has worked from the age of 14 really, really hard when they were starting and they had no money. He has worked hard all his life and he still works six days a week. It is a good trait in somebody." She ought to know.

Having married into the Mansfield family when she wed PJ in the summer of 2006 -- I was at the wedding in Palmerstown House in Johnstown -- Andrea is rich. But, crucially, she does not exhibit the characteristics of a spoilt, rich bitch in a bubble, unlike others I could name but won't.

"I have always been a really hard worker," she says. "A lot of people would have assumed when I married PJ that I would have given up work," she says. "On the contrary, I have worked harder than ever when I don't need to -- and it is because of that strength I got from my mother. I am a very independent person -- I have been since I was a child -- and that independence drives me on to be my own person and stand on my own two feet, work really hard and earn good money."

If anything, rather than any spoilt, rich-bitch bubble, Rochey will always inhabit her own bogger bubble: from inside which the gobby culchie who doesn't know her place thinks nothing of putting certain international A-list celebrities in their places. Sound the roll-call . . .

Mick Jagger : "He was really smarmy and he gave it a fair try at chatting me up," she told me in 2006 of an encounter with the Rolling Stones frontman at the MTV Music Awards in Dublin in 1999. Donald Trump: "I am still getting counselling," she told me in 2006 in reference to Trump and his toupee at the Miss Universe contest in Hawaii in 1998.

And of course Eddie Irvine: there was a typically hilarious Rochey comment on a Channel 4 documentary in 2000 about the alleged size of Mr Irvine's manhood, according to talk in the ladies' room. (Very small, apparently, she laughed to the Channel 4 interviewer.)

The reality is, you never know what Andrea Roche is going to come out with. That's what is great about her, even admirable: she doesn't believe in self-censorship, otherwise known in D4 as bullshitting.

She doesn't hold back and will invariably tell you exactly what is on her mind, whether you want to hear it or not. This is probably why I have rows with Andrea every six months or so and fall out with her for months thereafter.

On the way to Venice in 2005, Andrea and I had a desperate row in Dublin Airport, before we even left for Italy. I ended up telling her not to bother getting on the plane. Then we had another row on the plane; she ended up telling me to jump out the window at 30,000 feet.

Whatever about Trump or the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, the lead singer of U2 is safe from Rochey's tongue, it seems.

"I have met Bono quite a few times and he is the only man on the planet who leaves me tongue-tied. I can only ever muster up: 'Hello!'" she laughs. "I love all of U2's songs, old and new, I have gone to see them in concert many times and they are out of this world live!"

Speaking of meeting spiritual superstars, she met Deepak Chopra in Citywest last summer. "Unrelated to my mum, he said your mind and people's mind is so powerful that sometimes your mind can keep you younger. He told me that when it's his birthday he thinks of himself as a year younger and it actually keeps him younger. He believes in the power of the mind, obviously."

So do you try the Deepak trick on your birthday?

"I try not to think about age not too much. I don't worry about getting older," she says, adding that she hasn't had any surgical jobs done. She says she loves lines on people's faces. "Whatever makes someone happy but, for me, I don't think there is anything wrong with having a few laughter lines. Look, I can move! So I obviously don't have any work done!"

She furiously prods her forehead and grabs some flesh to prove it.

Honestly, Rochey, there was no need.

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