In Aisling Greally's stylish Parisian apartment, there is a wall of photos - the gallery, as she calls it - which tells the story of her life.
It's mainly photos of her family and friends, her handsome husband, Jason; and their gorgeous daughter, nine-month-old Lily; but one photo stands out - Aisling with Pierce Brosnan. She was in her 20s when she met the star, on a J-1 in the States - she was working on the gala dinner served after the premiere of The Thomas Crown Affair. It's always a thrill to meet a star, but for Aisling this one was extra special, because, like her, Brosnan is from Navan. It was by making reference to Navan in the brief moment that she got to chat to him - when she was serving dessert, to be precise - that he agreed to be photographed with her. "I said something very cheesy like, 'That's a lovely Navan accent you've got there'. He became really friendly then, and I got the photo," Aisling laughs.
Funnily enough, Aisling has little trace of a Navan accent now herself - probably because she chose to study in England, and continued to live abroad, apart from one year spent back at home in the last 20. In 2009, she moved to France.
Parisian life really suits her, both personally and from a work point of view; she's now a photographer and digital brand consultant, helping niche French companies with their digital branding, and she has a successful blog called TresorParisien - but she took a very unconventional route to this career, even spending some years as a medical rep. "I wanted a career based in business and communications. My parents are both medics; my dad is a GP and my mum a nurse, but I felt I was more creative than scientific," Aisling notes.
After her Leaving Cert, the elegant 30-something studied communications, opting to do a degree in the University of East London (UEL),"I did look at courses in DCU, but I preferred one in UEL. I loved it there; it really opened my eyes. I was studying with people from all over the world," she enthuses. Her eyes were opened further when she went on to do a master's in transnational communications and global media in the prestigious Goldsmiths, University of London. "Initially, I felt totally out of my league [because of] the variety of people there; the other students were older, more qualified, more experienced. In my year, there were students from every nationality. It really helped to shape my understanding of the world," Aisling asserts.
Despite feeling she was out of her depth, she got a first in her MA thesis. "Looking back, I used to wonder did I miss out by not studying in Ireland, by choosing to study abroad, but I don't think so. I still managed to keep up with my Irish friends, and my experience shaped me, and prepared me for living overseas," she concludes.
Aisling did return to Ireland for a year in 2001. "It was just after 9/11, and my dad was like, 'Come home', so I got a job in Ashfield Healthcare, and while there, I started applying for jobs back in London," she explains.
That led to a job as an account executive in Roundhouse Advertising Agency, in St Albans, outside London, which specialised in the pharmaceutical industry, so accounts included Schering, Pfizers, etc. "I was two-and-a-half years there and I was doing campaigns from start to finish. It was tough, but I was lucky, the MD took me under her wing and mentored me," she notes.
She moved from there to an agency in London, then after two years there, she took a different direction and moved into sales, though still in the same field. Aisling comes across as very gentle and softly spoken, and it's hard to imagine her having the steeliness required for the job of medical rep, but she says she developed a tough side. "I was dealing with GPs and hospitals. It was the hardest job; you had to constantly meet sales targets. You often had two minutes to knock on a door and give your spiel; that really gave you balls," she notes with a laugh.
She surprised herself by actually liking the job, and even more when she started winning awards for exceeding her targets. However, the greatest benefit of the job was meeting Jason, who has a PhD in cell biology, and who also worked for the company. "He was working in the science side. Initially, I had a thing for him from afar," she notes with a giggle, adding that her opportunity to get to know him came when the company held a conference in Malaga. "I saw him going for a run one day and asked could I run with him. After that, he asked me for my number. Our first date was on the London Eye!"
At that point, both Aisling and Jason were keen to get experience elsewhere. But it was 2007, the economic crisis was hitting and and there were no opportunities abroad, so they agreed to put a move on hold. Then fate intervened. "My sister Laura was doing a ski season in Meribel. I decided to visit her, and Jason and I agreed to meet afterwards for a weekend in Paris. We loved it," Aisling says. "I remember saying to Jason, 'Could you just imagine living here?' Two months later, Jason got a call out of the blue offering him a job in Paris in oncology, his speciality. It was the chance of a lifetime."
Aisling, who joined him in March 2009, didn't have any doubts about leaving sales - she didn't feel she was using all her talents in the job - but she did wonder what she'd do. Jason came up with the answer. "When I came over first, I did a course in the Sorbonne in French and French culture. After class, I used to cycle around, losing myself in Paris, taking photographs. One day, chatting to Jason about what I'd seen, he said, 'You should start your own blog'," she explains.
"I started to get interest from magazines. I'm not a bad writer, but I think it's my photos and drawings that really triggered the interest. That led to brands asking me to collaborate with them, and I love that. These include Sonia Rykiel, which I love, but it's mainly young dynamic brands here like Type Hype Berlin and Yse lingerie, so I guess I have created my own job," she says.
The blog and her website are very chic, elegant affairs and are a real reflection of Aisling and her own lifestyle.
As is the apartment she shares with Jason and Lily in the city's seventh arrondissment. "We both love running, and we run around the Champ-de-Mars, by the Tour Eiffel. We love cooking, and the marche on Avenue de Breteuil is amazing; there's also a great market on Boulevard Raspail," Aisling enthuses.
The apartment, which is very typical of Paris, dates from the mid 19th Century, and has high ceilings, parquet floors and black railings on the windows. She's decorated it beautifully with her simple, striking furniture, highlighting the period features.
These days, while she's still on maternity leave with Lily, when they're not in the apartment, they're out enjoying the arrondissement. "We're so happy here," she says. "The Tour Eiffel around the corner; the Palais Royale 20 minutes away; the famous Lenotre patisserie on our street; an amazing cheese shop, where we're friends with the owner. To walk down the back streets of St Germain - it's a privilege to live here."
She's made for Paris, and it for her.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin