'I'm not out looking for love or Mr Right' - Lisa Murphy expects 2017 to be her year
She is one of Ireland's most public survivors.
After the painful break-up of her third engagement, Lisa Murphy dusted herself down and found herself soul-searching. She confesses to Barry Egan that she often lost herself in her relationships, always putting partners' needs ahead of her own, but now she feels, after being single for the first time in many years, that she has found herself and 2017 is her year.
Love is a losing game
One I wish I never played
Oh, what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Played out by the band
Love is a losing hand
More than I could stand
Love is a losing hand
- Amy Winehouse,
Love Is A Losing Game, 2007
In 2017, Lisa Murphy doesn't see love as a losing game. She sees the affairs of the heart far more positively. This is despite three broken engagements (to Joe Egan, Michael Flatley, and Gerald Kean).
This is despite never getting to walk down the aisle, or even getting to try on the white dress. And having to endure every gory detail printed in the newspapers for the nation to read.
A true survivor - she had no choice but to be - Lisa's upbeat view of love is, perhaps, because she has always had a positive outlook on life. You could trace that need to appreciate life back to 1995, when her older brother, Paul, was killed in a car accident.
Or you could just accept, as Lisa says, that she was born "happy and content". She says: "I'm not out looking for love or Mr Right. I am just happy right now being me." She adds that being married was never the be-all and end-all in her life.
There is a sense that this is very much a new Lisa. Not that there was anything wrong with the old one. But, as we chat in Dublin's Westbury Hotel, she does seem different. Her pronunciation is not as cut-glass as before. Before, she appeared to talk in an accent - complete with a credibility-straining vocabulary - that suggested that she was born in Belgravia, not Ballinteer. She now speaks in a normal manner.
Another obvious difference in 2017 Lisa is her dress style. It is far less bling-related and showy than before. Her whole look is certainly not based, as it once seemed, around the showcasing of her ample charms. Wearing a black trouser suit, Lisa - who had her breasts surgically enhanced in 1994 - has upped her elegance level by de-emphasising her bust.
"Well . . . I don't think there is a new Lisa," the woman herself protests, initially. "I am the same person I have always been, which, I hope, is a good thing."
What does she think is the biggest misconception people have about her?
"I think people naturally base their opinion on appearances, and attain an idea of who they imagine the person is, rather than who they actually are," Lisa says. "It is probably a human trait, but can be very hurtful when they say hurtful things about you, and they don't actually know who you are. They are just basing it on what they see and read in the newspapers."
"I have always loved fashion," she adds. "My mum would have been my biggest influence, and she was always into fashion. I don't follow fashion trends per se, but I do know what I like and what I don't like.
"I hope I have a good sense of fashion, and I love going shopping with my girlfriends. My wardrobe is quite diverse - there is everything from tracksuits and jeans to ballgowns and suits. I am obsessing over Freddy Jeans at the moment."
Despite her firm denials, there is definitely a new glow about Ms Murphy. I say to her that she seems happy in her herself and seems to have come into herself; that she has found some sort of redemption from - or at least an answer to - all the pain of the split last year from solicitor Gerald Kean.
"I suppose you could say that I have found myself. I suppose that will happen when you are on your own, and it is only you. It's your time. Because being in relationships for so long - and really long ones - I tend to put them [the partner] first."
The implication of what Lisa is saying seems to be that she was consumed and taken over by the relationship to the extent that she lost her identity within it.
"I kind of lose myself in the relationship a little bit," she says, "because I do put them first. So having me-time for the first time in a while has been fantastic."
I ask her what she learned about herself in that me-time since the final break-up with Gerald last year.
"I have learned discipline. I go to the gym five times a week. I have lost weight. I have learned to push myself to the limit. The feeling of accomplishment I get after a workout is just so wonderful, and it carries me through the rest of the day. I work out a lot. But I am definitely not bulky. I'm not really into the weights. I'm more into the high-intensity training like spinning and boxing."
Did she learn boxing from her ex - boxer Joe Egan?
"No, actually," she laughs. "This is my first time to box."
"I would have been very, very shy growing up. Kyra, my sister, had about 30 friends. I had about two," Lisa says, looking back on her childhood.
"I was very, very shy. This was to the point where mum had to go and ask the principal in secondary school to not ask me to read because I would start hyperventilating. I was so shy and so nervous." This same nervousness was echoed many years later when she went on her first date with Michael Flatley in 1999. They went to Lillie's Bordello nightclub and she took a Valium to calm her nerves.
She says she is still shy today. Were the make-up and the clothes a way of keeping people away?
"A persona kind of thing?" she muses. "I am not as bad as I used to be. I have kind of come out of myself a little bit."
Did she enjoy people knowing so much about her private life through her relationships with Flatley and Kean? Did she feel almost vulnerable being that exposed emotionally?
"Oh, very much so, because I was such a private, quiet person, and then to be thrown into the limelight was very daunting for me, I can tell you. My break-ups were public. It was very difficult on me, and very difficult on my family. Because my parents and my family would be very quiet as well, and they certainly didn't like the publicity that came with it."
Did her mother ever say to her that she needed to step back from all this for a while? "No. My parents accepted my choices in life."
And did Lisa accept her choices in life, too? "Well, I did, obviously," she half-laughs. "Despite what people might think, I've always been a private person."
There is always a slight element of exaggeration to writing about Lisa, because she has long appeared like an exaggerated figure - Those dresses! Those heels! That decolletage!
But what is certain is this: Lisa has lived more of her love life in the glare of media than she ever wanted to. Did she really want to read, after one of her and Kean's more memorable splits in 2011, that they were reconciled by Christmas of that year, with Gerald breathlessly announcing: "Within two hours, Lisa was in Drayton Manor with me, and within six hours, we were trying for a baby"?
Even more exposing for Lisa was the carnal complexities of her relationship with Flatley, made so public by his 2006 book, Lord of the Dance.
In 2017, Lisa remains loyal to her past lovers. She won't go into what ruptured the intimate bond between Flatley and her, or what actually finally ended her engagement with Kean (whom she still speaks to; she doesn't have that kind of relationship with the former Lord of the Dance.) She won't do the whys and wherefores of the famous break-ups. Loyal to the last, Lisa keeps mum.
Would she like to be a mother one day?
"I was a step-mum for 10 years and loved every moment with her like she was my own daughter," Lisa says, referring to Gerald Kean's teenage daughter, Kirsten. "I love all children, including my nieces and nephews. Of course, I would love to be a mum, always have and always will."
Lisa's romances seemed to follow a toxic relationship pattern of on-off, stop-start intensity. They seemed to the outside world as destructive as they were dramatic. Looking back on her time with Flatley and Kean, didn't Lisa seem to be putting her hand into the fire, only to do it again and again?
"No. I don't have any regrets. I had successful relationships. I don't regret any of that. And you can't change the past, anyway," she adds. "So, what's the point? And I would be a very positive person. So, I don't look back and regret."
Having stepped into the public spotlight when she started dating Flatley in 1999, Lisa has never sought the spotlight since. It was more lasting love and the right man she was seeking. Her relationship history would say that Lisa never found Mr Right. She says she is firmly of the Non, je ne regrette rien philosophy.
"Some people may say they have regrets, but do you see them as regrets, mistakes or lessons learned? The most positive thing you can learn from life is to see when you are going down the wrong path. Make a decision to change your destiny, learn and steer yourself into a positive path," she says. "I think everything happens for a reason. I have learned that I am the person I am today because of my past relationships. Do you know what I mean? When I look back, I believe I am the person I am today because of those relationships."
I ask her does she also think that, yes, she could have been married three times, but they could have turned out to be unhappy marriages, and she is happy now on her own.
"Absolutely. Getting married doesn't necessarily make you any happier. You can't buy happiness and you can't buy love. It's as simple as that. I have learned through my relationships that that is the case. You can't buy love. I love the simple things in life. I enjoyed all my relationships. I had great times with them. I had great fun. There were no real low points, to be honest."
There must have been pain in the break-ups?
"Well, of course, there's hurt. But I can't disclose any of that. I have had low times, but look where I am now. I've come through them, stronger than ever I hoped."
How long did it take her to drag herself out of the wreckage of her break-up with Gerald? The break-up seemed to drag on for ages - they would get back together before, just as quickly, breaking up again.
"Of course a break-up is difficult, because you are going from being with somebody 24/7 and living with them, and sharing your life, and your passions. . . of course it is difficult when they are not there any more. You do go through a grieving process. You are so used to them - and next of all, you are on your own. But, as I said, then I went out and found myself. Everyone has their ups and downs. But you move on from them. There is no such thing as the perfect relationship."
She is back home living with her parents, in her old room. It is, of course, a far cry from Drayton Manor in Wicklow - where she lived in with Kean - or indeed from Castlehyde, the mansion in Co Cork once owned by her former beau, Michael.
She says she never craved the glamorous life. However, it's difficult to get the image out of your head of Lisa's engagement party to Flatley at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco. There were fireworks in Monaco Bay before Flatley presented gifts to his bride-to-be, which included a £250,000 diamond engagement ring and, legend has it, a copy of Le Coeur de la Mer, the sapphire-and-diamond necklace worn by Kate Winslet in the film Titanic.
"Lisa is rock-solid and very encouraging," Flatley said. "She's highly intelligent and very beautiful. She's a wonderful, wonderful, classy girl."
In 2002, when the sweet-natured blonde, who once attended Our Lady's Secondary School, got engaged to Flatley, neighbours said that she "has always been a nice girl. She's the apple of her parents' eye. They have always been very proud of her".
"I am still that girl," Lisa says now. "I would still, deep down, be that shy girl from my childhood.
"The simple things in life make me happy. The outdoors. Walking. Interacting with nature. Reading a book. Watching Netflix." Lisa's free time since the break-up with Gerald Kean last year has meant she has been able to watch everything from Breaking Bad to House Of Cards to Orange Is The New Black in their entirety on Netflix. She also has had time to do a lot of reading of late. She's just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
In terms of work, Lisa has a big project in the pipeline, but she is keeping schtum for the moment. "It is to do with my three passions - beauty, health and fitness - but I can't discuss the details of it now." She makes it sound like a dream come true.
Lisa says she still has nightmares about being robbed by four masked raiders in May, 2011, at Drayton Manor. Whenever a stranger on the street walks up behind her, she gets nervous for a second and is right back to that moment when the robbery happened. Asked what makes her most sad about life, Lisa says: "When you see the news every day, and you see the murders, abuse, pain and heartache that other people have to endure, it breaks my heart every time. It is impossible to understand."
I change tack and ask Lisa to name the happiest moments in her life. It is a revelatory list. There is no mention of Flatley or, directly, of Kean . . .
"My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer years ago," she begins. "I am so happy she is still with us today. It was such a distressing time for all our family, so when my mum got the all-clear after surgery and treatment, it was such a relief for all of us. It was truly one of the happiest moments of my life. I cherish my mum even more every day as result of this.
"I love her so much," Lisa says of Eileen, before turning to the next providers of joy in her life: her nieces and nephews. "They are so precious and dear to my heart. They have all such individual personalities, they are actually hilarious. My favourite time is having them over for a sleepover, watching a movie and eating lots of crap. The parents go mental, but what can I do? I am their favourite Auntie Lisa.
"We had family holidays to Mayo when I was younger with all my family with all our special family friends, Mick and Bridget O'Hara. It reminds me of good times with dear family and friends.
"I had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. It was the most memorable experience of my life. It was an honour to meet a man who campaigned and fought so much for human rights.
"I had my first girlie holiday in Marbella with my two best friends. We arrived at the airport and the flight was delayed. We got slightly drunk in the airport, and by the time we got to Marbella - I was the driver, by the way - my navigator in the car was so intoxicated, we took three hours to get to the place which should have taken us 20 minutes to get to. We passed every toll bridge and ran out of money. We ended up getting a taxi to bring us to the place. It still makes me laugh to this day.
"Meeting my best friend, Rachael Glennon, in school was such a happy memory, too," she adds. "We have shared so many experiences and memories over the years. We are so fortunate to have each other as true friends. I am so lucky to have so many amazing friends around me."
The end of her high-profile engagement to Kean possibly prompted a re-evaluation of her life. Be that as it may, she is more grounded than ever before. And yet now that she has her independence, she is free to fly as high as she wants in life.
Lisa in the sky with diamonds.
Photography by Kip Carroll.
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Sunday Indo Life Magazine