| 19.6°C Dublin

'Vivacious, cunning -- and great company'

FROM the moment she first broke on to the Dublin social scene in the 1990s, the young Gayle Killilea exuded a sense of privilege.

Even when she studied journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology in 1993, she was not your typical student, preferring designer clothes to tattered denims.

A native of the wealthy Dublin suburb of Killiney, the future Mrs Dunne always preferred the company of older men -- at 35, she is 20 years younger than her husband, Sean.

Before meeting Mr Dunne, she dated a number of high-profile men, including artist Graham Knuttel. She referred to him as "filthy" in her 'Sunday Independent' gossip column because, the artist later explained: "I was filthy rich."

A first cousin once removed of former MEP and TD Mark Killilea, she is Fianna Fail to the core, and it was in the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races in 2002 where she first met her future husband.

Soon after leaving DIT, she replaced Terry Keane as the 'Sunday Independent' diarist -- a job that brought with it a constant round of parties and Dublin high society social events.

Trevor White, who has written a book on that period entitled 'The Dubliner Diaries', was quoted in this newspaper recently as saying: "The world is full of dull people. Gayle isn't dull. She's vivacious and cunning -- in other words, great company."

Once she met Mr Dunne, however, Mrs Dunne scaled back her partying, although the pair's wedding in 2003 was, perhaps, the Irish party of the Celtic Tiger era.

The couple celebrated their marriage off the Italian coast on Aristotle Onassis's former yacht, the Christina O, hired at a reported cost of €1.5m.

Both Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy made speeches at the wedding, via speaker phone, while guests included the former chief executive of Irish Nationwide, Michael Fingleton, rugby player Ronan O'Gara and clothes designer Karen Millen.

They had been invited to Italy on the pretext that it was Mr Dunne's 50th birthday bash, when in fact the couple had already married in Thailand.

The party lasted 14 days.

The couple subsequently moved into a palatial house on Dublin's richest street, Shrewsbury Road, staffed by a butler and -- when children Harrison and Bobby Luke came along -- an au-pair and live-in nanny.

Friends also say Mrs Dunne is "very much her own woman" who takes a keen interest in her husband's business dealings.

PJ Gibbons, editor of 'Social and Personal' magazine, described her as "one very smart lady".

"She was a major part of the Dublin party scene a decade ago. She was very driven, but I liked her. She's straight up -- you knew exactly where you stood."


Another associate said: "She really did epitomise the Celtic Tiger. The spending was lavish. Anything she wanted, she got. Hired help, whatever. It all feels very unseemly now."

Mrs Dunne also showed herself to be resourceful when she opened a discount grocery shop at the end of August, 2009, at the former Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge -- Sean Dunne made Irish property history by paying €379m for the Jurys/Berkeley Court site in 2005. On the opening day at her grocery store, she said: "A lot of people in Ballsbridge have been wiped out financially. There's no Aldi or Lidl here, but people want value for money in Ballsbridge as much as they do anywhere."

"She's not afraid of hard work," PJ Gibbons says. "When she opened D4 Stores she really got stuck into it. She doesn't mind getting her hands dirty."

It remains to be seen, however, just how successful she can become in the cut and thrust of the American real estate world.

Irish Independent