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Pippa O'Connor on...A mother's love and loss

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Pippa O'Connor wears: Cardigan; dress, both American Apparel. Shoes, Cari's Closet. Rings throughout, Pippa's own. Photo Kip Carroll.

Pippa O'Connor wears: Cardigan; dress, both American Apparel. Shoes, Cari's Closet. Rings throughout, Pippa's own. Photo Kip Carroll.

Dress, Self Portrait, BT2. Shoes, Kurt Geiger London, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Caroll.

Dress, Self Portrait, BT2. Shoes, Kurt Geiger London, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Caroll.

Blouse, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Skirt, American Apparel. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Blouse, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Skirt, American Apparel. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; shoes, Topshop. Skirt, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; shoes, Topshop. Skirt, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll.

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Pippa O'Connor wears: Cardigan; dress, both American Apparel. Shoes, Cari's Closet. Rings throughout, Pippa's own. Photo Kip Carroll.

'I try to be like my own mum," says model and fashion and beauty blogger Pippa O'Connor, about the strange, fascinating business of becoming a mother - something she did nearly two years ago now, with husband Brian Ormond - to Ollie.

"My mum would have been very gentle and easy-going, very relaxed, not at all strict. She loved singing and cooking and books. And she was always trying to educate us, speaking French to us."

In fact, Pippa's mother, Louise Mullen sounds like a pretty remarkable lady. She was a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who lived in Paris for years and spoke excellent French. She breast-fed all three of her children - unusual now, very unusual back then - and brought them up in a way that was relaxed and fun, despite the fact that she was separated from the time Pippa was very small

"I'm the youngest, and my mum and dad separated when I was one," Pippa explains. "My dad was always around, and I'm very close to him to this day. He would take us at weekends and we saw him all the time."

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Dress, Self Portrait, BT2. Shoes, Kurt Geiger London, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Caroll.

Dress, Self Portrait, BT2. Shoes, Kurt Geiger London, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Caroll.

Dress, Self Portrait, BT2. Shoes, Kurt Geiger London, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Caroll.

As an adult, however, Pippa realises that it was different for her mother. "When you don't have somebody to bounce things off, and you are on your own every night," she ponders. "When I think back now, I think, 'How did she do so much of it on her own?' But I never heard her talk about that as a problem, there was never any hint of, 'God, look what I've had to do . . . ' I have no memories of it being a big deal."

That kind of attitude, full of love and joy, is what Pippa has tried to reproduce. "If you're a parent and you're very uptight all the time, you'll make them uptight and anxious," she reckons. "So I really try to not be like that with Ollie. My mum would have been very relaxed, and I think it shows in me, the kind of person I am now."

And, of course, having Ollie changed the way Pippa was with her mother. "Suddenly, you see how much your mum did for you," she says, with the same wonder that every woman feels when that revelation hits for the first time. "You start to appreciate it, because all of a sudden you realise what an important role you have. You nearly have more respect for your own mum. I could go to her for advice. She was a great help. My sister, Susannah, has two kids, and lives geographically in the middle of me and my mum, so we'd meet up there, and she was very much involved with the kids. My brother Cian has a son as well, almost Ollie's age."

Tragically though, Pippa had that source of strength and comfort close to her for just a year-and-a-half, before Louise died, very suddenly, last October.

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Pippa O'Connor & mother Louise Mullen

Pippa O'Connor & mother Louise Mullen

Pippa O'Connor & mother Louise Mullen

"It still seems, even when I talk about it, I think: 'What am I saying? What are these words?' It feels just not real," she says now. "It's only four months. Some weeks and days I feel very strong, I think, 'I'm actually OK.' Then, other days, it's, 'God, I'm not at all.'

"I think it's because I haven't let it sink in yet," Pippa says. "I have a young child, a lot going on with work. You can't lie in the bed anyway with a young child, you have to get up, and becauses I'm busy with my work and I love what I do, I've chosen to put that aside and get on with things. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I don't know," she says, "I'm not an expert, I'm not a psychologist, it's just what I have had to do, and it's helping me get through it. If I wasn't busy, doing things, with my website, organising my fashion events, I think I'd be depressed and crying all the time at home, and I can't go there." The desolation in her voice says plenty about what she's trying to hold back.

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The sheer suddenness of Louise's passing was perhaps the hardest thing. "It was a heart attack," Pippa says quietly. "Out of the blue. No intimation beforehand. I hadn't seen her in over a week, which was long, usually I'd see her more. I was on TV one night and she rang me afterwards and said, 'I loved your highlighter, what was that?' She wanted everything I had in terms of make-up and clothes and clearly thought she was my age!

"I was laughing, saying, 'I think you're too old for highlighter, you're 61.' But I said I'd find her one appropriate for her skin and age. She said, 'Thank you, Philippa.' She was the only one who called me that. Then she said, 'Can we go shopping in the next couple of days?' I said yes, and that was it. The last time I spoke to her."

Pippa is crying quietly now, but when I offer to change the subject, she shakes her head slightly.

"I'm having one of those days," she says. "Sometimes it just hits you. Your parents are most likely going to go before you, but I suppose you don't think it'll be that soon. No way is good to go. I know people who have had to see someone suffer and that's horrendous, but this way, you just feel completely robbed. It's a very hard thing to process. You're talking to someone and the next time you see them is in a morgue. It's that stark."

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Blouse, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Skirt, American Apparel. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Blouse, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Skirt, American Apparel. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Blouse, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Skirt, American Apparel. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Pippa knows however that she is blessed with close family "Thank God I have Cian, he's a great guy. He's really busy, he's out of the country now for three or four months, in Florida, competing, but he's a great help. And my sister Susannah is here. She has two young kids, and this has brought us even closer, because we know what the other one is going through. Thank God. I don't know how someone could go through this being an only child.

"Even a family of two seems too small for this," she says. "Three seems about right."

I'm more than lucky to be a mummy to this little man. So blessed to have him

A photo posted by Pippa O'Connor Ormond (@pipsy_pie) on

The lovely thing is that Ollie, even though he was just 18 months old when Louise died, clearly counts her as part of the family. "I have pictures of her all over the place, and he'd walk past and say, 'Bye-bye, Lulu,' or blow her a kiss. It would break your heart. I see bits of her in him, the way he looks sometimes in pictures."

Whether through upbringing or innate inclination, Pippa clearly took to motherhood with a kind of instinctual ease.

"I don't believe you can prepare for anything you don't know," she says, "so I was very 'yeah yeah' when people gave me little nuggets of advice. It was just in one ear and out the other. In the end I thought: 'Feck this!' It just wasn't for me. So I went in completely blind. I figured out everything for myself as we went along," she continues cheerfully. "I'm a very relaxed person in general. I wouldn't be very uptight or worried about things.

In terms of having a baby, I was like: 'Everyone does it, I can do it.'" As a piece of advice-to-self, this, I think, is pretty good, if pretty unexpected in the Age of Modern Motherhood, which is characterised far more by obsessive over-thinking than this kind of deliberate laid-back ignorance.

That attitude extended to birth itself. "I didn't know anything," she says with a laugh. "I just thought, 'It's going to have to happen, they will guide me, I'm in safe hands.' I ended up having a section two weeks early, not that I wanted to or planned to, but it happened. And you hear horror stories about that kind of thing, but, again, it was fine. A really good experience."

Partly this may have had to do with the location Pippa chose to give birth - Mount Carmel, where her grandfather, Karl Mullen, consultant gynaecologist and rugby legend (captain of the Irish team for their first Grand Slam in the 1948 Five Nations Championship, and the British Lions on their 1950 tour to Australia and New Zealand), worked for over 40 years. "My grandparents would have minded us a lot when we were kids," Pippa recalls. "In fact, we lived with them for six months after my mum was in a really bad car accident, and I remember him bringing me to Mount Carmel loads of times, so I kind of had a sense of security about it, which is silly because he wasn't even there.

"But the nurses and some of the nuns came in to speak about him, and they were saying, 'Oh, your grandad was one of the nicest, most gentlemanly men ever . . . ' You're really emotional anyway after having a baby, and I was crying any time anyone mentioned him to me," Pippa finishes, clearly still moved.

However, children have their own agenda, and not even the most relaxed attitude can dictate the kind of baby you have. Ollie, says Pippa with a rueful laugh, was "the hungriest child I ever met. I brought him back to Mount Carmel when he was three weeks old, practically crying, saying, 'There's something wrong with him,'" she recalls. "The paediatrician said, 'What?' and I said, 'He fed 20 times yesterday, during the daytime. Every half an hour. This is not normal.' The paediatrician said, 'He's just hungry.'"

She stuck with breast-feeding for nearly four months - good going, under the circumstances. And, despite the undoubted difficulties, there were upsides too. Pippa, as anyone who spotted her back modelling just months after having Ollie will know, snapped back into shape in a way that looked infuriatingly effortless.

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At her 2011 wedding, Pippa wore a Monique Lhuillier wedding gown.

At her 2011 wedding, Pippa wore a Monique Lhuillier wedding gown.

At her 2011 wedding, Pippa wore a Monique Lhuillier wedding gown.

Was it really that easy? "When he was feeding 20 times a day, I could literally feel my stomach contracting," she says, adding, "but I was so hungry all the time too. I would just sit and feed, and Brian would bring me in cups of tea and sandwiches and fruit. I ate all day. But I was young as well, and it literally just went back, I didn't do anything."

She doesn't want to make it all sound too effortless and easy, though. Having a baby, she readily admits, changed her relationship with husband Brian.

"Definitely it did," Pippa says. "It brings you closer together at the beginning, but I think you need a strong foundation before the baby comes along, because after the cuteness and the loveliness and the little tiny-ness of them, once that wears off, you really need a good support."

"Everything is different now, the whole dynamic is different since Ollie came along," she adds. "We were selfish before, we didn't have to worry about a little baby being in the middle of us, so we did what we wanted, when we wanted. Now, everything is planned. We're good in that we still go out with friends, but not till four in the morning to nightclubs. We go out to dinner and we're home by midnight! Luckily, Ollie is as much a daddy's boy. Because I work so much at the moment, he's with us both equally, maybe Brian even a little bit more, and he adores him."

And, of course, there were the days -familiar to all mothers of small babies - when nothing seemed right. "I definitely had a few teary days," Pippa admits. "There were days when Brian had to go to work, where I was on my own, and there were definitely a few moments of tears on the phone to my family. The weeks go by, everyone has stopped congratulating you, and your husband goes back to work, and you're like, 'Jesus, it's you and me, kid!' When you look back now, it's gone so fast, but at the time, when you're feeding and you're exhausted, you think, 'Oh my God, will this moment ever pass?'"

Pippa grew up in Johnstown, Co Kildare, and went to school in Newbridge College. "We grew up quite outdoorsy," she says. "Cian and I would walk up to the local stables, which took nearly an hour, or play out on our bikes with whoever was around." Cian, of course, went on to win an Olympic bronze medal for show-jumping and create a successful business. For Pippa, the interest in horse-riding didn't last, but a love of country life did. "It's all I'm used to," she says. "I like the idea of the country, and space, and no one right next door. Its what I was used to and what I gravitated back to."

It sounds an idyllic childhood in many ways. "Mum was an amazing cook," Pippa says, warmly. "I wish I had taken in more of what she told me, but when you're 12 or 13, you just don't really. I'd come home from school and have these incredible meals. Even if it was spaghetti Bolognese, it was the most incredible spaghetti Bolognese you've ever had in your life. I kind of just presumed that everyone had that."

It was an idyllic childhood, and glamorous, to boot. Tony O'Reilly was a close family friend and Cian's godfather. "My mum always laughed about how he came to the house one time - he was very close to my mum, they would have been very good friends - and I made him a cup of tea with the tea bag in it, and milk. He said nothing, just drank it. That's him - a very lovely, gracious, funny, normal man. He would have been around quite a bit, and we would have been to Castlemartin, to parties at their house. I've great memories of being there. I wish it was now, and I was the age I am now, to really appreciate it, rather than being a child, going into a playroom, having Cokes and watching TV, which was amazing, but not the full spirit!"

With what looks now like remarkable prescience, Pippa set up her website, pippa.ie, around 15 months ago. "I always had it in the back of my head that I really wanted to do something else before the modelling left me," she says. "Modelling suited me when I was younger. I could go and do a job at the drop of a hat, but as I got older, and after having Ollie, I realised, 'This doesn't really suit me anymore.'

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Top; shoes, Topshop. Skirt, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; shoes, Topshop. Skirt, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; shoes, Topshop. Skirt, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll.

When I was pregnant, I had a blog, and I put up lots of pictures of maternity clothes. So it started like that, and it grew and grew." The site is filled with fashion, beauty and lifestyle tips, and is now growing, she says, by 30pc a month; "I started with about 3,000 readers a week, now I'm getting 25,000 unique readers a day. It's unreal. I know it has serious potential. I have a lot of readers from the UK, Australia, and America. So I want to really push it internationally in the next few years."

Until recently the website was, Pippa merrily admits, "pretty much a one-man band," but she has recently taken on another pair of hands, Niamh Doherty. "I'm very hands-on, but if I'm going to keep building, I can't do everything myself. I'm passionate about this, I want people to know that what I'm saying is my word. And it took me ages to let go, but now, if Niamh has an idea for a post, I want her to do it."

Another side of Pippa's career that is fast developing are the fashion factories, live fashion and beauty events for women aged from 18 through to their 50s.

"I did one as a tester, only two weeks after my mum passed away," Pippa says. "I had all the tickets sold, and I didn't feel that even postponing it by a month was going to make me feel any better, so I kind of thought, 'Just bloody do it!' And it went really well, although I felt very emotional throughout. I did it on a Saturday, and on the Monday I got really sick. I just crashed." But that beginning gave her the belief in what could be, and there are now events planned across the country in the coming months.

Pippa is also collaborating with Donegal-based make-up-brush company Blank Canvas. "We're working on something together that will be out in May. I'm sworn to secrecy for now," she laughs, "but I can say that it's not brushes, although it is something in the beauty and make-up world."

For all that the last few months have been very sad, even traumatic, running alongside the grief in Pippa's life, there is also, clearly, great excitement and enthusiasm. For her son, her husband, her family, her career.

"People around me inspire me," Pippa says. "The people I have in my life, my family; all that inspires and drives me. And I'm so in love and obsessed with what I'm doing. I feel so lucky that it's working and I'm earning a living from it, that I just want to do more and more. I suppose I'm inspiring myself too. I don't know if that's the right way to put it, but I am."

www.pippa.ie


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