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Zen mistress: Alison Canavan on the big move to LA and finding peace in a time of crisis


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Belted dress; earrings, both Divine Boutique. Sandals, Hartford, Emporium Kalu. Photo: Dylan Townsend

Belted dress; earrings, both Divine Boutique. Sandals, Hartford, Emporium Kalu. Photo: Dylan Townsend

Alison with son James, who wears: all Marks and Spencer

Alison with son James, who wears: all Marks and Spencer

In LA, Alison has become a renowned motivational coach and author

In LA, Alison has become a renowned motivational coach and author

Actor Chris Hemsworth

Actor Chris Hemsworth

Alison wears:  Dress, Silvian Heach, Aria Boutique. Boots, Marks and Spencer. Earrings, Divine Boutique. Photo: Dylan Townsend

Alison wears: Dress, Silvian Heach, Aria Boutique. Boots, Marks and Spencer. Earrings, Divine Boutique. Photo: Dylan Townsend

Alison wears: Dress, Rue Femme, Divine Boutique. Earrings, Zara. Photo: Dylan Townsend

Alison wears: Dress, Rue Femme, Divine Boutique. Earrings, Zara. Photo: Dylan Townsend

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Belted dress; earrings, both Divine Boutique. Sandals, Hartford, Emporium Kalu. Photo: Dylan Townsend

It's been more than a decade since I last spoke to Alison Canavan. On that occasion, we were both living in New York and we flitted from bar to bar in Soho, glimpsing celebrities - Ray Liotta, Lindsay Lohan with her girlfriend - as I tried, by osmosis, to soak up some of the fabulousness of Alison's life in the Big Apple. Earning thousands of dollars a week, living the New York dream, she seemed a million miles from the huddled masses yearning to be free from an Irish recession. From across the candlelit table at hotspot restaurant Balthazar, her circumstances looked fairly idyllic - she was living on Central Park West and had her own Mr Big. She spent her days going to castings on both coasts - she was on three flights a week, she told me - and her nights at glamorous parties. "I was very, very different then," she recalls now. "I didn't really think I had problems compared to some people, but I just wasn't really aware of my own problems. There was a lot of work, and a lot of self-awareness still to come."

And, boy, has it come. Now, all these years later, she has undergone a radical transformation. She still looks amazing, but the good-time girl is dead. In her place is a New Age guru, who proselytises for mindfulness and personal growth. Instead of Bellinis at lunchtime, it's yoga and communing with the dawn. Instead of Lindsay Lohan, it's Byron Katie. And instead of modelling and music videos, Alison has established herself as one of the most compelling self-help voices around today, and has a brilliant new meditation video series, available on Aer Lingus flights. The whole effect is admirable, but it's difficult not to look back at the old Alison and wonder how one person could change quite so much. She has, to borrow EM Forster's phrase, put away the animal for a set of ideals and principles.

She had to, she explains. The glamorous vision of happiness that she had presented to me on that cold winter day in New York had been something of a front. In New York, she had been drinking heavily and sometimes could barely drag herself out of bed to go to castings. At times, she would take a Xanax just to handle the hustle and bustle of the subway crowds. When she was drinking, she once wrote, "was the only time I felt relief".


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