James Kavanagh and boyfriend William Murray: 'I'm quite shy and would be mortified if I did half the stuff James does, but he's totally himself'
They couldn't be more opposite, but William Murray and James Kavanagh have combined their talents to establish the hottest new food business in town
This year will be remembered as the one where we fell in love with Snapchat, and in particular, with James Kavanagh, its breakout star, and his boyfriend William Murray. The perception that the photo and video sharing app is just for kids got truly turned on its head, as A-List celebrities jumped onboard the microblogging train, giving us unparallelled access into their daily lives.
Snapchat overtook Twitter this year in terms of daily usage, and brands shifted from using celebs and bloggers to promote products. A slew of Snapchat "influencers" was born, and some were dreadful, others were mediocre and a few did a good job of being able to stay interesting while making a living from this new area of social media. The stand-out star was James, who packed in his PR job this year to become a full-time influencer, while launching Currabinny Food with William in spectacular style.
It's named after William's homeplace in Cork, and has already catered for all sorts of glam launches, dinners and markets. Earlier this month, Currabinny were runners-up on RTE's Taste of Success programme with their white chocolate and pecan banana bread, and were mentored by Domini Kemp. The prize was worth €100,000 and would have seen the product being sold in Lidl, but they were pipped at the post by Michele Kilkenny and her Irish beef brisket pie. "That final episode was like waiting for your Leaving Cert results, except 100 times worse," says James. "Initially, we were devastated to lose, but we quickly remembered that we have so much else going on and a thousand other avenues to explore."
They're right about that because, all going to plan, they will launch a cookbook and open a Currabinny cafe in Dublin in 2017. The speed at which the business has taken off is astounding, and it's a result of James's popularity and creative vision and Ballymaloe-trained William's wizardry with food. That aside, it would probably be hard to find two more opposite people, but the thing the enterprising duo have in common is food. From the spectacularly inventive meals that William whips up in the kitchen every day, to the coolest cafes and restaurants they frequent around Dublin, how they're not as fat as fools is beyond the rest of us.
While they're living what some might say is a charmed life, showered in freebies and glam invitations, the duo have had their share of difficulties in the past.
James (27) is from Churchtown in Dublin and jokes that he was his parents, Margaret and Alan's "nice little blunder" because his sister Ann and brother John are a decade above him. Ann is married to Damien, and they have two children, Sean (13) and Sarah (11). John is engaged to Orlagh and is better known as Coach Kavanagh, the MMA trainer who guided Conor McGregor to success.
James came out when he was 13 and always knew he was gay. His parents and siblings were supportive but he was badly bullied at school. "It was homophobic," he says. "Actually, Ann and John had been bullied when they were younger too. At one point, Ann went to the school and grabbed the bully by the neck and warned him to stop hassling me."
James's parents decided to send him off to board at Wilson's Hospital School in Westmeath, and it was much better there and he loved it. "I thought that as it was down the country, there would be farmers with pitchforks saying, 'Keep the gays away'," he says. "Instead it was a melting pot of cultures with people from all over the world."
By his own admission, James had too much fun. He changed schools again and didn't get a great Leaving Cert, being more creative than academic. He studied communications and began working in PR with Thinkhouse and Notorious PSG. "I chose PR because Ab Fab looked cool," he laughs. "It gave me the foundation for what I'm doing now, as it taught me how to tell the story of a brand and how to sell yourself."
James joined Snapchat 10 months ago, and soon had tens of thousands of followers tuning into his activities every day. He's become the guy everyone wants to promote their products, because unlike those whose repetitive shtick and blatant plugs rapidly become tiresome, the Dubliner has mastered the art of being entertaining, funny and real. So much so that brands started reaching out to him and he was able to leave his job. His heart wasn't in PR as the dream of having his own food business had grown too strong.
Like all influencers, he's always promoting products, services and events, but somehow his madcap zaniness tempered by his very likeable personality ensures it doesn't become irritating. Whether it's being carried into his birthday party on a gold litter dressed as a Moroccan prince, declaring emphatically that things are 'v. gorge' or 'vile', or dressing rather brilliantly as his idol Princess Diana for Halloween, the Dubliner never fails to entertain. Miriam O'Callaghan even took over his Snapchat for a day, and gave people a rare insight into her home life (and v. gorge Samoyed dog Chance). Even his very funny mum and dad have got in on the act, and have built up their own Snapchat following.
Like Kylie Jenner, who has launched a cosmetics range thanks to the millions of people following her daily exploits, James wanted to harness his popularity to build the Currabinny brand. Even though he has become so popular that hordes of girls chase him down the street and turn up wherever he goes, he's wise enough to realise that everyone who makes it on social media has a shelf life. James regularly appears in schools and colleges, where the teachers seem just as smitten as the students. And he has frozen Wispa bars coming out of his ears, as people lavish them upon him knowing they're his favourite treat.
And then there's William, his gentle, artistic and long-suffering boyfriend. While he admits that social media has brought immense benefits to them, the Corkman finds it hard that his boyfriend is constantly online. James is really naughty too and films William surreptitiously to entertain his followers. We've all seen glimpses of the 25-year-old naked after a shower or flaked out fast asleep in bed. James also enjoys jumping out and scaring him to capture his reaction, and the sight of William striding ahead in exasperation to get away from James's phone is a familiar one.
"It's honestly like living in the Big Brother house," he groans. "I'm used to it now but I found it very difficult at the start. I find it insane that people shout hello to me on the street, and I've had to learn to be more outgoing and mingle with strangers. The strangest things get delivered to our door for James daily - balloons and cakes and even a pumpkin with his head carved into it."
While William comes up with the recipes and does the cooking, James has the creative vision and styles the events they cater quite exquisitely. For their recent collaboration with the McElhenny Tabasco brand, one of the most iconic hot sauces on the market, William created some fabulous recipes that are available on www.currabinny.ie. These include a spicy halloumi burger, roast cauliflower and bacon soup, Bloody Mary prawns with a celeriac salad, and smoked mackerel with lime and Tabasco potato salad. "Spicy doesn't necessarily mean volcanic," James says. "You can easily add a nice depth of flavour with Tabasco to give certain dishes a delicious kick."
The creative duo are spending Christmas at William's family home in Currabinny, which overlooks the sea at the tip of a peninsula that juts into Cork Harbour. There's no bus, shop or pub there, so the quickest way to get to the nearest local shop in Crosshaven is by speedboat, which is pretty cool. William's dad Peter is a barrister with a love for boats, while his mum, Breda Lynch, is a former art college lecturer who has her own studio at the house.
In 2007 when William was 15, his beautiful older sister Jenny devastatingly passed away aged 19 from sudden adult death syndrome. She was in first year at college, and was academic and a great athlete, singer and actress. "Jenny was in bed studying for an art history exam and was surrounded by her books," William says. "She woke to phone her boyfriend to arrange to meet him and then fell back asleep. When Dad went to call her, she was gone."
Losing Jenny left William and his parents heartbroken. William also felt sad about the future that had been taken from them both. "Jenny was my only sibling and the one person who was bound to me, so we could have taken care of each other when our parents die," he says. "In a selfish way, I felt robbed of having nieces and nephews too."
William was artistic at school and, unlike James, he always dated girls. After his Leaving Cert, he studied sculpture and combined media in Limerick. The realisation he was gay came to him while in Chicago on a J1 for the summer aged 21. "I had broken up with my girlfriend and was distraught because I was madly in love," he says. "Everything was so free over there, so I started experimenting with who I was and it was a great place to do it. I came back and told my friends I was gay, and then, slowly, my parents. I was worried they would be upset that I mightn't have a family or they wouldn't be grandparents, especially as Jenny had passed away, but they were totally fine and very supportive."
William was shy about approaching other men, so used apps such as Grindr to try to meet people. He was in Dublin one weekend, and the location-based app suggested James as a potential match. "I found him interesting and he had good grammar," James recalls. "He sent me a picture and I saw he was a bit of a ride, so we exchanged numbers and chatted on WhatsApp for two months."
James invited William to a New Year's party he was hosting and the rest is history. "I thought he was going to be about six foot, but this little man came towards me," says James, of that first meeting. "He's 5 foot 8 and I'm an inch taller and he had stubble, really nice eyes and a stocky build. He was totally my type."
William thought James was very handsome and loved his outrageous and outgoing side. "James is totally himself," he smiles. "I'm quite shy and would be mortified if I did half the stuff he does, but he doesn't care. He can talk to absolutely anyone and we're completely opposite."
William graduated during the recession, when making a living from sculpture seemed impossible, so his parents paid for him to do the 12-week course at Ballymaloe. "I've always loved cooking and myself and my mum had a great bond in the kitchen and would pick ingredients from the garden," he says.
"Ballymaloe was amazing and I'm so grateful to my parents for giving me that opportunity. I tried out a few places after that, but working in a kitchen wasn't the environment for me to express my abilities. I love experimenting at home and creating my own dishes."
To his parents' confusion, William left cheffing and became a part-time barman at L'Gueuleton. He was living with James in Dublin by then, and ended up having an anxiety attack one day because he was frustrated that he wasn't doing anything creative."I was so jealous of friends who were doing amazing things," he confesses. "I applied to NCAD to do a master's in sculpture and finished it in June, just as Currabinny was taking off. I've always felt that art and food go hand-in-hand."
James had been in a series of steady relationships since he was 16, but this was William's first relationship with a man. The pair moved in to a stunning Georgian house in Phibsborough after a couple of months, and are now together four years. Followers will know that James likes everything to look perfect and beautiful, and the house, which they share with a friend, Kyle, is full of elaborate art deco furniture, candelabras that are always lighting, chaise longues, a gold drinks trolley and all sorts of gorgeous finds from James's vintage shop trawls. William is less neat and tidy because he grew up in a country house full of character and "bits and bobs". "William throws socks on the floor and leaves the shower door open so the water goes everywhere," sighs James, adding that marriage and children have neither been ruled out or in. "I couldn't not live with him though because I enjoy it so much. Working together is great although things can get heated when the pressure is on. A candelabra got thrown at William once, for example."
Top international influencers
* Kylie Jenner
The youngest of the Kardashian clan, 19-year-old Kylie's mega-selling Kylie Lip Kit business has grown as magically as her own voluptuous lips. Millions of young girls worldwide devour everything she endorses.
* Chiara Ferragni
Chiara (29), of The Blonde Salad website, is an LA-based Italian with more than 5.6m Instagram followers. She has a footwear range (the Chiara Ferragni Collection), and personal appearances and partnerships earned her $2m last year.
Zoe Elizabeth Sugg, known as Zoella (above), is a 26-year-old English fashion and beauty vlogger. She is the most popular British influencer with over 7m Twitter followers and 11m YouTube subscribers. Her debut novel, Girl Online, broke the record for highest first-week sales of a debut novelist.
* Chelsea Krost
Chelsea Krost (25), has been described by Forbes Magazine as one of the most sought-after millennial digital influencers and brand ambassadors in America. She works with major brands to help them connect with young people.
* Tanya Burr
Tanya Burr (27), is the second-most popular influencer in the UK (after Zoella). She has a make-up line, Tanya Burr Cosmetics, and has released a beauty guide/autobiography, as well as a baking book.
Top irish influencers
* Suzanne Jackson
Suzanne's influence enabled her to branch out to launch her own SOSU beauty products and a SOSUbySJ fashion line. The 32-year-old also holds masterclasses countrywide.
* Pippa O'Connor
Hugely popular blogger and influencer, Pippa (32), has channelled her enormous influence to publish a book, launch a make-up palette, host masterclasses and launch a new jeans range, POCO.
* James Butler
James Butler's witty online persona has made TV take notice. The 27-year-old will be RTE One Social's #GlitterGuru for Dancing With The Stars.
* Rosemary MacCabe
Journalist-turned-influencer Rosemary (31), has won plaudits for her work around mental health, feminism and fitness. She won Best Blogger at the 2016 Stellar Shine awards.
* Grace Mongey
Since she documented her pregnancy online, make-up artist Grace Mongey (28), has seen her popularity rocket. Thousands tune in daily to see her.
Sunday Indo Living