Tuesday 19 November 2019

Holly Carpenter on giving up modelling - I said to myself: 'f**k this'


Holly Carpenter wears: Dress, Penneys. Body, Marks & Spencer. Shoes, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Holly Carpenter wears: Dress, Penneys. Body, Marks & Spencer. Shoes, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll

Holly Carpenter lives at home in Raheny with her parents, Karl and Jane, younger brother, Benjamin, and her three rescue dogs, Toby, Gus and Juno. "I was living with Richie," she says, referring to RTE soccer pundit Richie Sadlier, from whom she split earlier this year. "I moved back home as I didn't want to live alone.

"And," she adds, "I haven't found the right room-mate or property to rent yet."

The former Miss Ireland has, however, found the right balance to her life. This is not as glib as it sounds.

"A year or so ago," she begins, "I went through a rough patch, as many people do, where I just had little to no sense of self-worth or self-belief."

Worse, she says, she "lost all sense of who I was and I got pretty low. 2016 was a tough year, but I learnt a lot."

Holly knew it wasn't "the right time" for her to start a new business venture - she has just launched her new jewellery collection, LoveLift - because "at that time I just wasn't capable of handling change".

Her anxiety was pretty bad, Holly says. "So it was then that I just started turning down modelling jobs, as it wasn't making me happy any more."

Holly was still getting work and she could have kept going, but she says, "my heart just wasn't in it any more.By the end, I was fed up, and I just wanted to be myself. I was getting really anxious before shoots and started dreading them."

Her parents and friends asked Holly why she was doing something that made her feel so bad. "Towards the end," she says, "I think the words I said to myself were, 'Fuck this'."

She says, "Not everyone who models necessarily suffers the same struggles I did, but there just came a point where I said, 'This isn't for me'."

Be that as it may, she does say that there was a time when she enjoyed modelling. "When I won Miss Ireland at 19, the whole modelling scene seemed so fresh and exciting to me. Filming Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model [in 2013] was probably a highlight in my modelling career, but I think I enjoyed the TV side of that more than the modelling aspect. As much as I enjoyed Miss World and BINTM, they had a lasting effect on how critical I became towards myself."

Holly is keen to point out that she will "still, happily, do photo shoots for projects I'm working on, because I feel like I have more creative control that way, and I can just be myself".

The 25-year-old also points out that her modelling career served a purpose: working with some of the best designers, photographers and make-up artists in the country led to Holly making great connections - which are really helpful now, as she builds a brand.

Love yourself first

Holly's anxiety lifted when she started to create something that had been inside her for years: her new jewellery collection, LoveLift. Holly felt ready for the world again.

"Shoots like the one I've done today with LoveLift are totally different [to other modelling shoots I have done in the past]," Holly says. "I feel proud to be here in front of the camera wearing my designs, and I promise you this smile is not for show - I'm happy."

The main reason for her hard-won happiness is a lot to do with the creative fulfillment that comes with her new jewellery range. The personal messages written in jewels on the LoveLift packaging give clues as to where Holly is in 2017: "Own who you are"; "Love yourself first".

Holly says the name LoveLift comes from the idea of "loving yourself and uplifting others... rising above negativity. Having said that, there was no real thought process behind it," she adds.

"The whole theme of LoveLift overall is positive energy. I feel like I'm on a journey of self-discovery. I just want to feel good in my own skin and make others feel good about themselves, too."

The logo of LoveLift is the hot-air-balloon tattoo Holly has on her left wrist. Holly explains that when she was in Berlin for a day last year, she decided to get the post-break-up love-heart tattoo, which she got when she was 23, turned into a hot air balloon. "I remember it irritated me seeing so many other girls with similar basic heart tattoos," she says. "So, I wanted to change it into something random. I cried on the flight home and couldn't even look at it, because it turned out a bit wonky. Now it's just a part of me. It reminds me of how much change I've gone through."

She was in a relationship with Ireland rugby international Cian Healy from December 2011 to the summer of 2013; then with Danny O'Reilly of the Coronas from October 2015 to October 2016 ("Danny's a really nice guy; my parents liked him a lot..."); and with Richie Sadlier from December 2016 to April 2017.

"It was a short relationship," she says of the last one.

And yet you moved in together?

"Yeah, he asked me to move in very early on. I won't be doing that again!"

What happened with Richie?

"He was too old for me. Thirteen years is a big gap, I guess. I'd like to be in a relationship with someone young at heart and full of life."

Asked how the high-profile break-ups helped shape her need to be empowered, Holly answers, "To be honest, I don't find break-ups that difficult in most cases. Usually, when it comes to the point of separation, it's become quite clear to me that it's just not working out, and life is too short to flog a dead horse.

"I suppose it was hard with Cian because I was young, and that was, and still is, my longest-standing relationship. We were like best friends, and I think that's rare these days. I tend to feel really suffocated when I'm in a tricky relationship, and if someone acts needy or possessive - that's usually my cue to run for the hills. I'm quite independent, and I like to have my own space. I'm not into it when people refer to their partner as their 'other half'. Everyone needs to feel whole when they stand alone. The notion that you need a partner to feel complete sends the wrong message, and I think it's why so many people end up settling - the fear of being alone."

What did you learn from those break-ups?

"I learnt that I need to get better at having boundaries," she says. "I totally trust the timing of my life though, and I'm sure I'll meet the right person at the right time. Someone tall and funny, with the correct balance of being rugged and gentlemanly, ideally."

Holly says that for now she is focusing on LoveLift and on herself. The designer has barely got the sentence out before she adds that she doesn't like it when people trot out the 'I don't have time for a boyfriend' cliche.

"If Beyonce can make time for Jay-Z, then anyone can free up a few hours of their day for the right person. I believe in love, and no amount of break-ups could turn me into a cynic."

There is more to it than romances that didn't - for various reasons - work out. A year ago, Holly made the decision to start looking after herself and to focus on figuring out who she was and where she wanted to be.

"I had just lost myself." She says she can remember "feeling totally numb and not really knowing why". Holly knew if she wanted to feel better, she had some changes to make.

Stopping drinking, she admits, was one of the changes.

Personal choice

"Some people might think I'm very open with my personal life because I share a lot online, and my relationships get written about," she says. "But there's a lot about me that people don't know. I've seen other people post lengthy Facebook statuses and do emotional interviews when they've been off drink for a few months, and while I think 'each to their own', I just decided to keep it to myself for the past year and a half.

"I like to have time to process things in private before I get inundated with questions that only make me feel uncomfortable. People can be really nosey. It's a personal choice, and I'm a lot happier in my mind, body and soul without it." Holly says she won't budge on answering any further questions on alcohol or why she stopped.

Holly is a big fan of the American life-coach Tony Robbins. In one of his audio tapes, Holly explains he speaks about the different human needs we all have at varying levels, She says that 'certainty' and 'contribution' were two needs that Robbins outlined.

"I realised I was lacking both of these in my life. With modelling, work would come last-minute, and you would go through extremely hectic busy periods, followed by quiet periods. That lack of certainty or routine began to make me really anxious. I also had an urge to create and contribute. I wanted to be a part of something that made people happy, and I just wanted to feel like I was putting something out there," she says.

The limited-edition hot-air balloon LoveLift necklace is one of her favourite pieces in the collection. "It's a unique piece to symbolise the brand and the positive message we want to achieve. Although my goal was to create an affordable range, it was also important for me that we used the best quality cubic zirconia stones and high-quality plating on the jewellery. There's plenty of choice too, as the products will come in both silver plating and rose-gold plating."

Holly wants to stress that the jewellery line was created by her and "it's not just something I put my name to".

"Ever since my early college days [National College of Art and Design, 2011] I have always said I wanted to have my own jewellery line some day. For me it wasn't a question of 'if', it was a question of 'when'," she says.

Part of Holly's strength is surely inherited from two women in her life: her mother, Jane, and her late grandmother, and grand dame of the Sunday Independent once upon a time, Terry Keane.

"I feel lucky to have grown up in the presence of strong women like Terry and my mum," Holly says. "Neither of them was afraid of speaking their mind or sticking up for themselves. I knew Terry would always have my back and stick up for me, too. She was so proud of all of her grandchildren. She would tell me my paintings were beautiful and that I was so smart and talented. She just made me feel special. That's what grandparents should make their grandchildren feel like, I think."

Holly has a few pieces of Terry's jewellery, which she treasures. A particular bracelet is worth "a lot of money"; and a ring is worth €10. "Terry was great at mixing high-end, luxurious pieces with beautiful finds from the high streets and markets," she says. "Although there's a big jump in price, the pieces have the same amount of sentimental value to me, and I would be equally heartbroken if I lost either."

Holly wore Terry's ring during her Leaving Cert, the Miss Ireland and Miss World finals and both times she went skydiving. "When I wear those pieces, I feel close to Terry. To me, they represent love and empowerment. I want my jewellery to give people that same feeling of strength and happiness."

Extraordinary story

Holly was 11 or 12 years old and at primary school in Bayside when her mother, Jane, told her the extraordinary story of her life. Jane was born to a 21-year-old Terry O'Donnell after Terry became pregnant in 1961 - the result of an affair. Terry travelled to England to have the baby. She named her Wendy, and then gave her up for adoption. The baby's adoptive family renamed the baby Jane, and, three months after the birth, on September 23, 1962, Terry married Ronan Keane. Voila, Terry Keane.

The couple had three children - Madeleine, Timothy and Justine - who apparently knew nothing of their elder half-sister until 1985, when Jane managed to trace Terry to Dublin. It was then that mother and daughter were reunited in Ireland, and Jane became a very welcome part of the Keane family.

"My mum's story taught me to be strong," Holly says, who was born on October 9, 1991. She adds that she was brought up to never take things for granted. "I was encouraged to talk about my feelings and worries from a young age, which helped me to form a strong sense of self-awareness."

When Holly was younger, she told her mum that she would know that she had truly become an adult when she reached the stage where she liked the taste of olives and carried an expensive hand cream in her handbag.

"And for some reason," Holly says a good many years later, "that was my idea of sophistication, and these days I adore olives and carry my Elizabeth Arden hand cream with me everywhere I go."

More than that, Holly doesn't put herself under pressure when it comes to things like finding a husband and having babies, though. "I believe that will happen when the time is right. However, I have a different outlook on relationships now than I did in my early 20s. If I'm not head over heels, then I don't see the point, really. I'd rather watch EastEnders with my mum and my dogs than be coasting along in a lukewarm romance."

"My mum has been my rock," she continues. "I have always felt like I can tell her anything."

Would you like to be a mother yourself one day?

"One day I would like to have kids. I'm not broody at all yet, though."

Holly Carpenter's new LoveLift jewellery collection starts from €15.95, and is available now from, and will be stocked in selected pharmacies, boutiques and department stores nationwide

Photography by Kip Carroll   

Styling by Liadan Hynes

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