Friday 23 February 2018

Gearing up for catwalk challenge

The daughter of the 1983 Rose of Tralee is following in her mum's footsteps on 'Britain's Next Top Model'

Ready for her close-up: Alannah Beirne models a Maticeski gown at the Brown Thomas spring-summer 2017 fashion show
Ready for her close-up: Alannah Beirne models a Maticeski gown at the Brown Thomas spring-summer 2017 fashion show
Alannah Beirne in Britain's Next Top Model
Brenda Hyland winning the 1983 Rose of Tralee title
Strong bond: Alannah and her mother Brenda

Meadhbh McGrath

She's been compared to models of the moment Gigi Hadid and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, but 23-year-old Alannah Beirne may look familiar to Irish readers for another reason - she's the daughter of Brenda Hyland, the trainee Garda who won the Rose of Tralee contest in 1983.

After her win, Brenda went on to become something of a poster girl during the 1980s. She booked plenty of modelling work before pursuing careers as a beauty therapist, air hostess and now as head of the Irish School of Etiquette.

Nearly 35 years later, her daughter Alannah is following in her mum's modelling footsteps, landing a spot on the hit TV series, Britain's Next Top Model. The contest casts 12 aspiring models who compete in a series of gruelling challenges in the hopes of winning a lucrative modelling contract with Models 1, the agency that looks after the likes of Amber le Bon, Dree Hemingway and Linda Evangelista.

The show, which launches on Lifetime on March 16, is hosted by Abbey Clancy, who is joined on the judging panel by model Paul Sculfor, fashion journalist Hilary Alexander and photographer Nicky Johnston.

Alannah, from Naas, Co Kildare, is set to wow the judges with her smouldering gaze, strong brows and athletic figure - not to mention her striking catwalk strut.

"I'm known as the 'catwalk queen'," she laughs. "Mum taught me how to walk from a very young age, and I definitely have a lot of confidence in my walk."

However, this wasn't always the case. Alannah says she had to overcome nerves that plagued the early years of her career.

"I entered the Ford Supermodel Search when I was 15, and I was one of the finalists, but I was very, very shy - I didn't have confidence at all," she explains. "I really wanted to be a model, but I wasn't ready to be a model."

Her mum helped boost Alannah's self-esteem by signing her up for public speaking lessons.

"Those classes challenged me a bit. But it worked," she says, adding: "Before, even going to castings, I didn't open my mouth, so I didn't get much work. The work that I did get was shopping centre fashion shows and standing on podiums at wedding fairs."

So it was quite a dramatic change to find herself swapping the local shopping centre for the stage at Cosmopolitan's fashion festival, where Alannah and her fellow contestants took to the runway in front of an audience of 1,000 for their very first challenge.

Talk about being plunged in the deep end - she then had to strike a pose underwater for one of their first photoshoots. Her editorial work has also seen her dressed up as a 95-year-old woman covered in jewels, but Alannah says her dream job would be landing the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine's Swimsuit Issue.

"Gigi Hadid started off doing that, and because I have more of an athletic figure, I think I'm suited for that kind of work," she says.

Last year, Hadid spoke out in response to online trolls who criticised her for not adhering to a size-zero shape. It may seem unbelievable that someone with Hadid's enviable figure could be subject to such comments, but Alannah says she has suffered similar criticisms in the past.

"When I was in college, I put on a bit of weight, and I was very insecure," she recalls. "But now I just eat healthy. I'm not starving myself before a photoshoot. Nowadays, strong is the new skinny," she says, attributing her own toned figure to plenty of mountain hikes, swims and walks with her dog.

"I love my body for what it is," she adds. "As a model you just have to love yourself. As bad as it sounds, it's true. You have to be confident in who you are."

Despite initial nerves, Alannah also became very confident in front of the cameras on the show.

"I didn't mind the cameras. At first I was very tense and shy; it was quite unnatural, I didn't know what to do or say so I was quite stiff, but after a while you just forget about them and you're completely yourself. I've been asked if I would go into more reality TV work and I definitely would, I found it fun."

One aspect that was substantially less fun, however, was the judges' critique. The American edition of the series, hosted by Tyra Banks, became known for its often-harsh scrutiny of the young women, and the British version has followed suit - as Alannah discovered when she came in for heavy criticism after the second challenge. "Because I'm a bit older, I'm well able for the criticism, I'm quite strong. But I did get a bollocking in that episode. Nicky (Johnston) gave out stink to me, but I needed it. It wasn't a case where I got upset, I was thankful for what he said, because it made realise how much I wanted it," she says.

Nevertheless, she struggled with having to be separated from her family and friends, as the show maintains strict guidelines which forbid use of mobile phones or internet during the competition.

"I found it really hard being away from my family. Normally, we have a WhatsApp group and we're so close. I'm always calling my mum for support or advice. Going through really tough times and really happy times (on the show), it was so difficult not being able to share it with my family," she says.

"My mum taught me everything. (Going into the competition), she told me to be myself: support the girls, and don't get too competitive, because I can get quite competitive. She never said anything like 'you have to win', it was just about being a nice person and being friendly."

After two weeks hemmed in the house with the other girls, Alannah was delighted to be offered a five-minute call with her mother.

"I couldn't even talk to her on the phone because I was crying so much," she recalls fondly. "She was like, 'You'd never guess what? The team are having a rematch in Mayo and Dad's at it.' She didn't even want to know how I was getting on! It was that five-minute call that I needed to put a smile on my face and get me in the game again. She's such a great support and I definitely look up to her."

Irish Independent

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