I could have been Jamie's girl
Sarah Rainey recalls her days in school with ever so dreamy Jamie Dornan
A tuneless chorus rang out from the assembly hall. Inside, lines of navy-uniformed pupils mumbled their way through the Latin verses of the school song. "Situs in monticulo, callide delectus?/ Omnibus rivalibus, invide conspectus," we warbled. He was sitting in the back row of the upper level, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. His brown hair was mussed; his lips pursed. Though shoulder to shoulder with the other boys, somehow he stood apart; his dark eyes staring far beyond that grey Wednesday morning. "Pile of beauty, fitly placed, on a site commanding?/ On whom thy rivals gaze, envious of thy standing." The words, I remember thinking, could have been written about him.
The bell rang and the students clambered to their feet. From my perch on the ground floor, I watched him sling his bag over his shoulder, straighten his blazer and line up to leave. His face caught the light; there was a hint of designer stubble even then, artfully shading those sculpted cheekbones.
A friend clapped a hand on his shoulder and they shoved each other down the stairs, talking animatedly. As he neared the door, he turned his head and scanned the hall behind him, as if looking for something - or someone. I willed him to look my way - and suddenly, for one brief, fiery moment, our eyes met. And then he was gone into the playground.
I'll admit it: "met" is a slight exaggeration. As is "fiery". For the object of my assembly affections was none other than Jamie Dornan, model extraordinaire, hunk of the small screen and star of the upcoming film version of Fifty Shades of Grey, released this weekend.
The year was 1999 and the place was Methodist College Belfast, a red-brick grammar school on Belfast's well-heeled Malone Road. Dornan, then 17, was in sixth form, and I, a pimply first-former, was one of umpteen teenage girls drooling over him from afar. That final glance back into the assembly hall probably "met" all of our gazes, and has no doubt been remembered into adulthood as a corny chick-lit fantasy not dissimilar to mine.
As I tell anyone who will listen, Dornan and I grew up together in Belfast.
He started at "Methody", as the school is known to its pupils, in 1993; I in 1998. During our two, delicious years of overlapping education, I didn't actually know him - but, boy, did I know of him. Dornan was on the 3rd XV rugby team, possessing, even then, an enviable physique (which he attributed to Big Macs and press-ups), and a drama whizz, starring in countless plays.
Though he wasn't tall for his age, girls - particularly friends of his sister, Liesa - thought he was "cute". His first kiss, he has admitted, was behind the bike sheds, aged 12, a good five years before I and my moony friends arrived on the scene.
He's come a long way since then. Few celebrities can claim to have shot to fame quite so suddenly: first, as the famous "Golden Torso" of the Calvin Klein underwear adverts and other half of the actress Keira Knightley; latterly as the rugged serial killer in Northern Ireland-based TV thriller The Fall; and most recently as the S&M-obsessed Christian Grey in EL James's erotic thriller.
Fewer still can claim the dubious accolade of having not one but three unauthorised biographies about them with almost identical titles (Jamie Dornan: Shades of Desire; Shades of Jamie Dornan; and Fifty Shades of Jamie Dornan: The Biography) released within a matter of months of each other. Last week, Glamour magazine crowned him Sexiest Man of the Year, while advance ticket sales for the upcoming Fifty Shades film number in the millions.
His first print appearance was in our school magazine. But in the 1999 edition, Dornan was far from the centre of attention he is today. He is briefly mentioned in the sports write-ups, for athletics, cricket and "assisting well at half-back" in a hotly contested rugby match against rivals Coleraine. But he gets no special mention in school prize-giving, nor as a member of the drama society.
"He was very modest and one of his best subjects was drama," recalls former vice-principal Norma Gallagher. "I remember him making a very good milkman in Blood Brothers and Baby Face in Bugsy Malone."
That face - striking even then - peers out from the back row of the sixth-form committee photo, the boys' tennis club shot, and again in the 3rd XV rugby team picture, where Dornan wears a navy-and-white-collared shirt, shorts and knee-high socks.
Though few beyond his close friendship group knew at the time - and none of his admirers realised what pain lay behind that brooding exterior - his time at school was beset by tragedy. Aged 15, he learnt that his mother, Lorna, a nurse, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - she died 18 months later. Then, a year after his mother's death, four of his classmates were killed in a car crash. It was a horrific blow, and I remember our headmaster, Dr Wilfred Mulryne, breaking the news in assembly. "It's unbelievable to imagine four boys losing their lives in this way," he said.
Dornan, a skilled guitar player, threw himself into music as therapy, eventually forming a band with another Methody boy, David Alexander, called Sons of Jim. They played folksy, acoustic sets, inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly, and recorded their own music.
It was the stuff of teenage daydreams, schmaltzy tracks entitled Fairytale and Don't Throw Your Love Away. I remember hearing them play once at Auntie Annie's, a now-defunct ramshackle pub in the city centre, with a dark, grubby-floored room upstairs for up-and-coming bands. They were good, but not that good.
He was, as ever, beautiful beyond belief.
In 2000, Dornan left school with three A levels, in classics, English and history of art. He went off to Teesside University to study marketing, and our paths never crossed again. As I progressed through the awkward teenage years, Dornan's star rose and rose: his band went on tour with the singer KT Tunstall; he signed with Select models; low-key gigs in TV and film eventually got him noticed . . . and the rest is history. But memories of our time together - and thoughts of what could have been - remain.
When I get together with old classmates, we still talk about that time the Jamie Dornan passed us in the corridor; how good he looked in his Methody rugby kit; that fabled look in assembly (sigh). And, still, every time I hear the school song, I think of him.