Wednesday 17 July 2019

Royally connected: meet the Irish people mixing in the most exclusive social circles in the world

James Middleton, Vogue Williams and Spencer Matthews during ladies day of the 2018 Investec Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
James Middleton, Vogue Williams and Spencer Matthews during ladies day of the 2018 Investec Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Spencer Matthews and Vogue Williams in St Barth's. Picture: IMP features/Eliotpress/MEGA
Spencer Matthews and Vogue Williams in St Barth's. Picture: IMP features/Eliotpress/MEGA
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall speaks to Phillip Treacy during a function at the Irish Embassy on November 9, 2010 in London. (Photo by Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The bride Camilla Campion-Awwad arriving with her sister Aysha Campion-Awwad who was a bridesmaid at the Sacred Heart Chuch in Glengarriff where the wedding took place. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Vogue Williams and Spencer Matthews attend the Paul Costelloe presentation during London Fashion Week February 2019 at the Simpsons in the Strand on February 18, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Eamonn McCormack/BFC/Getty Images)
Lucy Lanigan-O'Keeffe. PIC: Facebook
James Middleton, Vogue Williams and Spencer Matthews during ladies day of the 2018 Investec Derby Festival at Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom
Princess Diana in Paul Costelloe
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

Social climbing may be a dirty phrase, implying some hellbent on chasing fame, fortune and influence.

But for others, they stumble across an extraordinary lifestyle through their talent or personality. Take for instance Lucy Lanigan-O’Keeffe, the primary school assistant head teacherl who works at Prince George’s primary school in Battersea, London and is now set to marry Prince William’s best friend Thomas van Straubenzee .

As most teachers tend to, she has virtually no traceable digital footprint and is prudent with her existing social media accounts; standard fare for teachers who want to avoid outside attention from their students, but a practice all the more convenient when she made headlines around the world with news of her engagement.

Mr van Straubenzee is not a royal-by-association, but a bonafide best friend to the future King of England, enjoying a decades long friendship with William since meeting him at Ludgrove School as children. In 2015, William and Kate announced he would be godfather to Princess Charlotte and his younger brother Charlie is expected to be named little Archie Mountbatten-Windsor's godfathers.

Lucy Lanigan-O'Keeffe. PIC: Facebook
Lucy Lanigan-O'Keeffe. PIC: Facebook

Thomas, who was previously married to  Lady Melissa Percy, is as connected as it gets. His first wedding saw Prince Harry, Pippa Middleton and Chesly Davy on the guestlist and commentators are convinced that George and Charlotte will once again don their pageboy and flowergirl attire to serve in the small bridal party at the impending nuptials.

Ms Lanigan-O'Keeffe is originally from Thomastown, Co Kilkenny and is a sister of Olympic pentathlete Arther Lanigan-O'Keeffe and daughter of barrister Stephen Lanigan-O'Keeffe.

She is assistant head teacher at Thomas's Clapham school and the Sunday Times reports that she also teaches outdoor learning and mindfulness.

Since royal regulations were loosened in recent years and William and Harry were encouraged to pursue their own independent friendships and relationships, the inner circle around the Sussexes and Cambridges has widened ever so slightly.

But it’s Pippa Middleton, future queen consort Kate’s younger sister, that is seemingly the glue that connects much of the upper crust social set together. Last year, she was pictured in Glengarriff, Co Cork, with husband James Matthews, just weeks after their own wedding, to attend the nuptials of Camilla Campion-Awwad.

Camilla and Pippa’s friendship dates back to their student days at the University of Edinburgh, where they both read literature.

The bride Camilla Campion-Awwad arriving with her sister Aysha Campion-Awwad who was a bridesmaid at the Sacred Heart Chuch in Glengarriff where the wedding took place. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The bride Camilla Campion-Awwad arriving with her sister Aysha Campion-Awwad who was a bridesmaid at the Sacred Heart Chuch in Glengarriff where the wedding took place. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Ms Campion-Awwad’s mother Constance hails from west Cork and the Camilla was reportedly keen to pay tribute to the spot where she’s enjoyed so many summers when she wed Oliver Jenkenson in July 2017.

She is the daughter of Jordanian-born plastic surgeon Awwad M Awwad. Her mother is a leading expert in medical beauty treatments and together with her husband runs a plastic surgery practice in London, where Camilla now works after packing in a career in finance.

Pippa’s marriage to James has also introduced an unlikely royal-adjacent member of the family: model and reality tv star Vogue Williams. Williams (34) from Howth, county Dublin, is married to former Made in Chelsea star Spencer, who is James’ younger brother.

Although Vogue wasn’t present at the couple’s 2017 wedding, reportedly due to a ‘no ring no bring’ rule, it looks like their friendship is booming as the Matthews and Middletons were spotted looking the picture of happiness in St Barth’s in January.

Pippa’s parents Carole and Michael, and brother James, and Vogue, Spencer and their baby son Theodore enjoyed a stay at the Matthews’ family’s hotel Eden Roc before it was opened to the public after extensive refurbishment.

And in May, Vogue announced that the Duchess of Cambridge’s brother James would be godfather to her 10-month-old son, a sentiment confirmed at his christening last week.

Spencer Matthews and Vogue Williams in St Barth's. Picture: IMP features/Eliotpress/MEGA
Spencer Matthews and Vogue Williams in St Barth's. Picture: IMP features/Eliotpress/MEGA

It’s an even more extraordinary association when you remember that Vogue made her name in Ireland as a photocall model and a starring role on ‘RTE’s answer to The Hills’ Fade Street before her ill-fated marriage to Brian McFadden. The fact that she’s just a heartbeat away from the British throne is a testament to her ambition.

From a fashion perspective, Sarah Price, the Dublin-born stylist is credited with transforming Princess Eugenie from a walking fashion faux pas to a woman topping best dressed lists.

"For me, the job is go in and make their aesthetic their own, and then exit stage left.  Nobody ever needs to know you were ever there," she said last year.

"How I work is to simply get under the hood of the woman’s personal style, draw that out of her, work on the best compositions for her look and then let her have all the credit and let the moment be hers."

Professionally, Irish designers have a long-established relationship with royals around the world, but in particular in the UK. Paul Costelloe, from Dublin, became an overnight sensation in the ‘90s when he began dressing Princess Diana, and his frequent visits to Kensington Palace makes for colourful storytelling nearly 30 years later.

Don O’Neill, who is creative director of THEIA, enjoyed the benefits of the ‘Meghan effect’ when Meghan Markle wore one of his pieces (off the rack, gasp!) for a state dinner in Tonga, just days after announcing she was expecting her first child with Harry.

But few creatives have transcended to the levels of influence that Philip Treacy has. The 52-year-old, from Ahascragh, Co Galway, rarely gives interviews, has become the definitive hat designer for the royal family at all levels.

In fact, his work is so expected to adorn the heads of the most photographed women in the world that an association with Kate, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall or even Queen Elizabeth, is considered newsworthy these days.

In the rare interviews he does give, he only touches slightly on his work with the royals and it’s this type of discretion that makes his work so appealing. In the last year alone, every British female royal has worn his work to a high profile event like Meghan and Harry’s wedding, Princess Eugenie’s wedding, Royal Ascot or Christmas Day service.

When asked in an interview about what was so special about the Irish, he said: “Romance. I love the romance of what I do.”

The jury is still out, but he makes a convincing case.

Online Editors

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