Johnny and Rachel: Oh yes they did
Every fairy-tale romance needs a baddie, and dancer Rachel Tracey has one of her very own in actor Johnny Ward
Dating a well-known baddie can be tricky, even if he's only playing the part, as Rachel Tracey knows all too well. When she's out and about with boyfriend Johnny Ward, fans of RTE drama Love/Hate are always thrilled to encounter the gangster Pauley, whose dramatic demise came about when his lover Siobhan pushed him off her balcony to his death. Meanwhile Fair City aficionados are equally keen for a selfie with psychopathic Ciaran Holloway, who kept Katy captive for over a year in a storyline that gripped the nation this year.
Luckily the beautiful Rachel takes it all in her stride, and as for Johnny himself, the gregarious 30-year-old actor is extremely affable and chatty in person. There isn't a hint of menace about him, which is just as well as he is also playing lovable rogue "Johnny B Goode" in Rapunzel, the panto at the Gaiety that has already won rave reviews. Rachel (28) is part of the dance ensemble, and the loved-up pair actually met during the 2012 panto Cinderella.
There was a frisson between them that first Christmas, and they both had an eye on one another. They hung out with a group of friends during breaks, and their respective pals let it be known that the attraction was mutual. Rachel got Johnny in Kris Kindle, and he was touched when she bought him Batman items, knowing he's a huge fan and memorabilia collector. They had two days off over Christmas and Johnny was so upset at the thought of not seeing Rachel, he phoned her on Christmas Eve and asked if she wanted to meet in town? "What a dope," he laughs, shaking his head at how keen he was to make an impression.
Rachel was at home in Cabinteely that day, and as she was based in London at the time, she declined meeting Johnny in favour of spending the precious time off with her mum Sharon, dad Paul and older brother and sister. However, the pair went on to share a kiss at a party in director Daryn Crosbie's house over the festive season. "Rachel is quiet and shy, but she's so steady," says Johnny. "She's beautiful and is so chilled out and sound."
Rachel returned to London after the panto run and that seemed to be the end of what they thought was a "showmance". Four months later, she spotted a Ferrari with Batman on it and sent Johnny a pic, and that started the interaction up again. They met up when she was home and dated long-distance for a year, visiting back and forth and even watching films together on Skype. "One night I mentioned I'd love pizza, and my doorbell rang an hour later with one that Johnny had ordered for me," Rachel recalls. "He's a big bundle of energy and so nice to be around, and he's so caring and thoughtful. He has great eyes too. A running joke we have is that he thinks that I look like a dachshund, which is kind of true, and I think he looks like a pitbull."
Rachel came home to Dublin after a year, and she and Johnny moved in together three months ago. While they go all coy when I ask them about the future, they say they'll see how they get on living together first and where it all goes. So far so good though, and while Rachel puts up with Johnny snoring, he puts up with her talking in her sleep and whacking him when he snores. "Rachel is incredible to live with and I feel very lucky," he says. "It's really fun and exciting so far, and I'm loving going out and buying things for the house. We don't see that much of each other at work, as we're only in one scene together and our dressing rooms are on opposite sides. The panto is fantastic this year, as always, and we're having great fun working on it together."
The Gaiety has hosted the annual Christmas panto since 1873, and it has built up a reputation for being magical, lavish and the perfect family treat. Popular actors Joe Conlan and Nicholas Grennell are in it again this year, and Ciara Lyons is playing Rapunzel. Johnny's role is a comic one while Rachel will be strutting her stuff in the dance ensemble.
Rachel graduated from the prestigious Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom with her National Diploma in Dance, and she worked as an entertainer on a P&O world cruise for 18 months. The talented dancer has also appeared in Gaiety Theatre and Cork Opera House pantos. Other roles include Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, Ripper Street and Penny Dreadful. She performs with XOD creative dance agency, and teaches dance at the Mel Ryan School. She is currently studying to become a ballet teacher.
Johnny, from Walkinstown, teaches at the Talented Kids Performing Arts School, which is run by his sister Maureen, who is also his agent. Maureen's daughter, Susie Power (14) plays Ellie in Fair City, and it was great fun for Johnny acting alongside his niece over the past year. His other sister Susan is a singer-songwriter. Johnny pays tribute to his parents, Kathy and music teacher John, who enrolled them all in speech and drama, Irish dancing and singing lessons from an early age.
Johnny has enjoyed great success in his career to date, even without the juicy Love/Hate and Fair City roles. Highlights include playing the male lead Broud in Fox TV's The Clan Of The Cave Bear. He lived in South Africa for several months while filming, and worked alongside Ron Howard. He had a leading role in This Must Be the Place, working alongside Hollywood star Sean Penn, and was lead in the short film Two Hearts, which won awards at festivals throughout Europe. His theatre roles include touring Ireland and the UK in Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
The fact that Rachel and Johnny work in the entertainment industry is a bonus, they say, especially as they're not in the very same areas. They understand the pressures and challenges of auditions, tours and unsteady pay, and it doesn't faze them when the other person gets up close and personal with someone else. People sometimes ask Rachel if she minds when Johnny has sex scenes with other actresses, but it doesn't take a feather out of her as she understands it's just work.
"Similarly, Rachel gets to do these sexy routines with lads with their tops off, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest," says Johnny. "I love to watch her dance as you can see how much she really loves it and is always in her element on stage. She's amazing."
Rapunzel runs at the Gaiety Theatre until January 21. Tickets from €19.50 from www.ticketmaster.ie and from the 24-hour phone line 0818 719 388. www.gaietytheatre.ie
Sunday Indo Living