The reinvention of Nadia Forde: what happened next for Ireland's photocall queen
Nadia Forde seemed to drop off the radar at the height of her career. But the model-turned-actress tells Katie Byrne it just a case of shifting priorities after becoming a mother
There was a time, not so long ago, when Nadia Forde was everywhere. The doe-eyed beauty was the photocall model of the moment. Then she was the queen of the reality TV circuit. And then, all of a sudden, she seemed to disappear.
The face that launched a thousand Irish ad campaigns was no longer popping up in reality TV shows, pantomimes and shopping centre openings, and while the casual observer might have assumed that she was bowing out of the limelight, it turns out that she was just biding her time. The former model hasn't written off reality TV entirely, but her priorities have shifted in recent years. These days she's an actress first and foremost - even if the real-life role she's most interested in playing is that of mother to her daughter, Wyatt Winnie.
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Nadia (29) and her fiancé, Welsh rugby player Dominic (Dom) Day (33), became parents to their first child in October of last year, and Nadia has been floating in what she calls the "mum bubble" ever since.
"It's been such a lovely time for us," she says, when we catch up after her shoot in Dublin's Westbury Hotel. "There's been no negativity at all through the whole thing. And she's just so… we are both madly in love with her. The energy in the house feels great with her there."
Wyatt is an "old soul", she continues. "She's been here before I think. She looked at me really alert when she was born. She is discovering things for the first time but then, other times, it's as if she knows the world. It's very strange. I don't know how to describe it. I sometimes feel like she teaches me more than I'm teaching her.
"She talks through her eyes all the time - you know exactly how she's feeling just by a look. She's got these really expressive eyes. And she's-" She stops mid-sentence. "Look, I could gush about her all day. She's been just such a joy."
New mums can feel pressure to have their bodies zip back to their pre-pregnancy form, did Nadia focus on this in the months after giving birth? She says she continued her Bikram yoga practice (in a modified version) throughout her pregnancy and up until two days before she gave birth. Six months later and Nadia is back in the yoga studio and back working out with her personal trainer who comes to the house a couple of times a week. As for going back to work - it's been on her mind.
"I've been toying with when am I going to go back to work," she says. "For the first few months I was not interested in doing anything outside of our family and now that a little time has passed, I want her to see me be me and my own person, and not just mummy. I want her to see me have my own passions and my own thing - that's important to me because she gets to see that with Dad.
"I think the mum bubble is amazing and it's the best, but I also want her to grow up seeing me being more than just Mum and having that other aspect to my life. It's a balance - and balance doesn't come straight away."
The couple's ever-changing location is another balancing act - especially now that baby makes three.
Nadia first met Dom in London in 2015 when the Wales lock was playing for Bath Rugby. A year later they were packing their bags after Dominic signed a season-long contract with Japanese side Toyota Verblitz. The couple loved Japanese culture - "Ohayo gozaimasu!" ("good morning") says Nadia with a laugh - but another adventure soon beckoned. Dominic signed to play with Melbourne Rebels at the start of 2017 and they were on the move once more.
Nadia didn't go to Melbourne immediately. She had just landed the role of bride-to-be Linda in a Dublin run of The Wedding Singer - a musical based on the Adam Sandler film - so she stayed on one side of the equator while Dominic set up base on the other.
The city made an impression on her when she eventually got there, but it wasn't her first time in Australia. She is after all the first Irishwoman to appear on reality TV juggernaut, I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, which is filmed in Springbrook National Park, near New South Wales.
The show was the first job Nadia got after moving to London in 2014 and, even today, she can't believe she got lucky. "It was madness," she says. "Me and my agent Alex were both like, 'This is amazing! This is so much fun!'"
Nadia lasted 18 days in the jungle, where her trials included being buried alive in a tomb full of rats and cockroaches.
"The cockroaches are actually the worst part because they stink," she recalls. "They let off this awful smell and you can't concentrate on anything else."
Her other trial involved getting trolled by columnist Katie Hopkins, who made mean-spirited comments about her weight while she was in the jungle. Nadia says she tends to avoid reading what is written about her in the press, but when she was asked to respond to Hopkins' comment, she delivered a masterclass in dignified riposte. "I am not going to let my body become a battleground for people to fight about what a woman should look like," she said, years before the phrase 'body-shaming' entered the common vernacular.
After braving the jungle, appearing on TV3's Celebrity MasterChef and starring in two fly-on-the-wall documentaries (Nadia Goes to Hollywood and Nadia: Chasing the Dream), the actress certainly knows her way around the reality TV circuit. It's an industry that has come under the spotlight in recent months after two former Love Island contestants died. The makers of Love Island have pledged better support, including therapy, to future contestants, but these tragedies have opened up a timely conversation about the ethics of reality TV.
Did Nadia ever feel like the producers of the shows in which she took part put good TV ahead of their duty of care? "Well, you're isolated from real life when you're in there and when you come out again into the 'real world' you can think, 'oh yeah, I forgot'. But when I did the jungle they had psychologists before you go in, during and after," she adds. "You're assessed the whole way through. Obviously in the jungle they're putting you into situations that are stressful but I felt very supported."
Still, while the producers did everything they could to make her experience a positive one, Nadia says her time in the jungle was overshadowed by a profound sadness. Her estranged mother, Bernice Paolozzi, was terminally ill when she travelled to Australia and despite the big smile, the situation was weighing heavily on her. "The jungle gave me a lot of opportunities," she says, "but I think I was a different girl - completely - in every way.
"I was just about to lose my mum. So there was a lot going on at the time. Going into something like that and carrying that with you… in ways I absolutely loved the experience but I was a little bit heartbroken in there."
Do you think you were vulnerable? "Definitely - and maybe… yeah, I think so. I just think I was in a very different place. Everyone has times in their lives when they're not that happy with themselves or what's going on. And I definitely think that was that year for me, even though incredible things were happening for me."
Nadia was at her mother's bedside when she died in June 2015, but they didn't always see eye-to-eye. Nadia and her younger brother Stephen were brought up by their grandmother, Bernie, after her parents separated when she was eight. She prefers not to share the whys and wherefores of the arrangement only to say that her father left and her mother was going through things that caused other family members to step in.
Nadia is happy that she got to reconnect with her mother during her final months but the experience affected her deeply. "I had a whole new way of looking at life. The fragility of it - you don't get to pick your time to go, and I think that was the biggest lesson for me. And I started to think about what really makes me happy - what do I enjoy every single day?"
The answer was acting. A few months later Nadia told her agent that she wanted to prioritise acting work. To show people that she was serious, she signed up for a six-month course in screen acting in Bow Street.
Nadia has always been a performer. She went to the Billie Barrie Stage School when she was a child and later proved that she could hit the high notes when she sang the national anthem ahead of the Ireland v Sweden game in the Aviva Stadium in 2013. This led to pantomime work, musicals and a couple of appearances on Republic of Telly. The trouble is that she wasn't entirely confident in her abilities. "I felt like I was auditioning and because I had come back in from a modelling aspect, I just didn't know enough. And I think I was doubting myself in auditions when you need to be going in and backing yourself no matter what. So Bow Street for me really gave me a whole tool kit. And actually, since then I started booking jobs."
If the death of Nadia's mother marked a turning point in her career, it also marked a shift in her dating mindset.
Nadia didn't want to get involved in anything heavy when she moved to London. She had been in relationships for the best part of her early 20s (FM104's Mark Noble and rugby player Luke Fitzgerald) so she just wanted some space. Her best friend Debbie Stringer (wife of rugby ace Peter Stringer) had other ideas though. "She kept saying to me, 'there is this guy I want you to meet and I think you'd be great with him', and I was just not interested - really not interested in men in general. I had just moved to London, living my life, don't like men, that's just the way it was."
But Debbie wasn't giving up. She orchestrated a night out, invited her friends Dom and Nadia along and sat back to watch the magic unfold. Nadia was initially standoffish, but over the next few weeks the pair built up a relationship by phone before arranging their first date in a restaurant in Chelsea. "That dinner was different and I remember thinking it was different at the time," she says. "It was a couple of months before my Mum passed away. I think my view was focused on what was going on at home and he was really incredible through the whole thing."
Was it strange to feel like she was falling for someone at the same time that she was losing someone?
"Yeah - they say people leave your life and people come in at the same time so I think I was sent him for a reason. I really do think that. There was never a conversation about where we were or where we stood or 'are you seeing other people?' It was just always us. Always. From the start. And I think that's really unusual in this day and age. And I think it should be like that. Why not be that one for each other?"
After years of globetrotting and long-distance romance, the loved-up couple are now back in Britain. Dominic has signed a contract with Saracens and launched a cannabis oil company - fourfive CBD - with his teammate George Kruis.
Things are also happening for Nadia as her first major film role in Once Upon A Time In London hits the silver screen. Set in London in the late 1930s and directed by Simon Rumley, it tells the story of notorious real-life English gangster Jack 'Spot' Comer. Nadia plays Jack's Dublin-born wife Rita and she says the on-set experience with actors such as Terry Stone and Geoff Bell was priceless.
Nadia wasn't planning on carving out a career as an actress when she first arrived in London, nor was she planning on travelling to Australia and Japan. Now, seven years later, she's right back where she started. And it feels like she's exactly where she's meant to be.
Once Upon a Time in London is in cinemas April 19