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'I'm scared - I don't know where we are going to go'

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Artist and former model Jennifer Fitzgerald has been given three months by a judge to leave her home on Sorrento Road, Dalkey and hand the keys back to a bank.
Picture By David Conachy.

Artist and former model Jennifer Fitzgerald has been given three months by a judge to leave her home on Sorrento Road, Dalkey and hand the keys back to a bank. Picture By David Conachy.

Artist and former model Jennifer Fitzgerald has been given three months by a judge to leave her home on Sorrento Road, Dalkey and hand the keys back to a bank. Picture By David Conachy.

IT is less than 24 hours since former model Jennifer Fitzgerald stood in court to hear the devastating ruling that she is going to be forced out of her beautiful Dalkey home.

She has three months to hand over the keys to her home, Xanadu. A mother to a teenage boy, both have been told they must leave just after Christmas.

There is a raw fear in her eyes as she surveys her living room, with its coffee mugs and books and family photos. Everything is so familiar, but for Jennifer, it feels as though she is staring into the abyss.

"I'm scared. I don't know where I am going to go. So I am going to have to . . . I don't know what I am going to do. I am just going to have to make a plan," Jennifer told the Sunday Independent.

Jennifer is living through the nightmare scenario dreaded by families across the country who find themselves struggling to meet their monthly mortgage repayments.

The image of a clearly shaken Jennifer leaving court shocked those who knew her from her modelling heyday.

Her steel-blue eyes are a striking reminder of the girl who started to make waves on the international modelling scene at the age of 18.

"I won The Look of the Year, I represented Ireland in Supermodel of the World, I did very well."

At the height of her career, Jennifer walked the catwalks of Japan, Milan and Paris.

Her tales of the night she danced with Mick Jagger while the crowd cleared the floor are wildly at odds with the reality of her life today.

She has had to reach out to the State for help with day-to-day living: "I remember having to go down to Dalkey's [social welfare office] on Christmas Eve, which is my son's birthday, and ask them for money. God I couldn't believe it. I was sitting there in my Henry White coat - I used to be their house model - saying: 'I can't believe this is happening to me.' I was so embarrassed because I had never asked the Government for help in my life."

Last Monday, Judge Jacqueline Linnane heard in the Circuit Civil Court that Jennifer's former husband, Colin Hayes, had recently signed an agreement allowing the bank to repossess Xanadu.

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The court heard there was an outstanding debt of €1.8m on the property, including €200,000 in arrears. The court heard nothing had been paid off the mortgage since 2010.

The property was originally held in Jennifer and her former husband's names. In September 2005 Xanadu was transferred into her then husband's name solely. In November 2007, Jennifer told the court, she came under "huge and intolerable pressure" from him to sign an agreement relating to the loans on the luxury home. She said she was totally dependent on him financially and that he had threatened her that she would have no money if she did not sign.

However, the judge rejected this and granted the bank possession of Xanadu. She also awarded costs against Jennifer, giving her three months to vacate the premises.

Despite living, albeit temporarily, in one of the country's most sought-after areas, Jennifer now finds herself on the bread line.

The former model says her one saving grace has been her gift for painting. Now in her forties, Jennifer took it up at 35 when modelling work became difficult to juggle with motherhood.

She became a mother at 30 after meeting her ex-husband walking through the revolving doors of the Shelbourne Hotel.

They were engaged three months later, and married in six. Within a year she gave birth to a baby boy, Jacob, who is now 14.

Looking back she admits: "It was all ridiculously fast."

She swapped modelling for home life and was entirely dependent on her husband to be the main breadwinner for the first five years of their marriage,

As the marriage faltered, she threw herself into her new passion. "Art became my love. I couldn't stop. I would paint through the night. It gave me self-esteem. I always knew there was something else I was born to do."

Nude drawing became her focus point: "My main prerogative was to always show a woman as something really beautiful in a very respectful way and maybe it is something I felt I probably didn't have in my life."

In recent years, when finances became difficult, an art gallery in Germany took notice of her work.

"I remember borrowing money from friends just to get the paintings framed. I flew them over by standard post and I sold my wedding ring to get the flight over. It was amazing. I sold eight paintings and I sent more."

But Jennifer says it has been more difficult to work nowadays "when you are out of your mind with stress".

She told the Sunday Independent: "It got to the stage where I was vomiting in the morning. Just the exhaustion of it all is the worst. We are looking at our last Christmas here. I don't even know if it has sunk in yet."

Jennifer is planning to lodge an appeal against the court decision. She believes she has no other choice.

"If I could just lift this mountain of stress from above me. If the constant fear of having my home taken from me was gone, I feel I could do really well," she says. "I have loads of friends who love me. I just want to be free.

"I have learned so much. I have learned to be strong. I have learned the importance of financial independence and to keep my own independence.

"That's the most important thing. I couldn't keep on my modelling because I had a baby, but it's so important to have something. Your own money. Learn something. Do a course. Have some form of skill. So at the end of the day you can always rely on yourself."


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