Friday 23 February 2018

Sarah Caden: Keeping mum has been Georgia's style from start

GEORGIA: She didn’t really do interviews and was never full of big talk. Photo: Kip Carroll
GEORGIA: She didn’t really do interviews and was never full of big talk. Photo: Kip Carroll

Sarah Caden

It's only a matter of half a decade since Georgia Salpa was at the top of the Irish modelling scene, but how innocent a time that seems now.

Were Georgia Penna to come along now, her career would be a very different creature than it was as it straddled the late 2000s and early 2010s. At the benign end of things, these days, she'd be expected to double-job as a model and fitness/nutrition/lifestyle guru. At the more difficult end of things, she'd be eaten alive by what we have come to know as the online 'haters'.

We, and she, got a tiny taste of the latter last week, as Georgia announced on Twitter the arrival of her baby twin boys with husband Joe Penna, whom she married in the summer. Instantly, the comments came that Georgia didn't look at all pregnant in recent months and, before the day of her announcement was out, she was asserting that her children were not adopted and she would like some privacy for her family.

The speculation continued, but Georgia, to her credit, kept quiet. All she had to say was: "They are not adopted. I won't be posting any photos of them on social media as I'd like to keep them private." And, given how Georgia Penna handles herself now and has always handled herself, you should believe her.

In her own way, Georgia has long been the Irish Kate Moss. Georgia, like Moss, never pretended or strove to be anything other than what she is. She poses, she smiles, she knows how she looks good and she knows her living is looking good; but, beyond that, Georgia hasn't gone. The dalliance with C-list reality TV was short-lived, the celeb romance was brief and, ultimately, Georgia has simply made a good life off the back of a moderate modelling career. And, let's face it, she has been lucky. So why spoil it by saying too much?

It was 2007 when Georgia became the face of Fas, in her bootleg jeans and with her curly hair, she was a striking combination of petite girl-next-door and curvaceous bombshell. Half-Greek and half-Irish, Georgia was refreshingly unlike a standard good-looking Irish girl.

Georgia was four when she moved to Ireland from her father's native Greece, after her parents separated. She grew up in comfortable Killiney, south county Dublin, with her mother, Marie, and her stepfather and stepsiblings. She didn't quite fit the SoCoDu Rosanna Davison bill, though. And we loved her. The ad ran for four years. By which time Georgia was the biggest model in Ireland.

There was a contradiction at play in Georgia. She was the ultimate girl in a bikini on Grafton Street, and her body was the subject of some cosmetic-surgery speculation, such was its juxtaposition of tiny and curvy.

There was something low key about her at the same time, though. She didn't really do interviews and when she did, Georgia wasn't full of big talk. She referred to her figure as the "family heirloom", adamant that all the women in her family were the same shape as she.

In a 2012 interview with Liadan Hynes in LIFE magazine, Georgia said she was "real confident. But, if I'm in a group of people I don't know, I'm really quiet". It was a contrast that worked well for her. There was a time, towards the end of the 2000s where she was overexposed, perhaps, such was the ubiquity of her image, but, at the same time, we knew little or nothing about her.

And this, in a time when everyone around her began making it clear, through social media in particular, that they were a lot more than they seemed. Boasting was never Georgia's thing, though there was a time when it all went what you might call a bit silly.

She was good fun and game for a laugh during her turns with Podge and Rodge and Republic of Telly, and then she made headlines for more than just her modelling.

It started with TV3's Celebrity Salon at the start of the decade. One of her co-celebs was Calum Best, then well known for his womanising and partying. Georgia had split with her steady boyfriend, DJ Barry O'Brien, and soon after she began what might or might not have been a relationship with Best. She said years later that they weren't really a "proper boyfriend and girlfriend"; but that was in response to a long-overdue admission on Best's part that he had flagrantly cheated on her.

The Best kerfuffle may have hurt Georgia's heart, but it won her headlines in the UK. She took a place on the 2012 run of Celebrity Big Brother, where she was exhorted by twin Playboy models to get a boob job, but was booted out third because she was seen as "boring". There it is again, the jarring Georgia contradiction.

She moved to the UK and, for a time, was snapped at openings and events with party-going celeb types. And then she sort of went quiet.

If you want to find her, these days, she's on Twitter and Instagram, but the latter is typically Georgia. She lets her image speak for itself and since she became engaged to super-rich hedge-fund manager Joe Penna at the end of 2013, most images are of her in beautiful places in beautiful clothes. And what need is there to say anything?

Georgia married Joe Penna, a divorced father of one, in Italy in the summer. Her Dublin friends were in prominent attendance, including models Daniella Moyles, Michele McGrath and Karena Graham.

The couple kept the wedding very quiet, but Georgia's Instagram captured the understated luxury of what is her life now. And it's a life she's guarding carefully.

So, when last week Georgia Penna announced she had become a mother, she focused on the joy and played down the sensation. "Delighted with the arrival of twin boys, the most special, perfect little babies and we are so in love", she wrote on Twitter, before refuting rumours they were adopted. "I won't be posting any photos of them on social media as I'd like to keep them private," she added. "We're very, very happy."

And that might be enough, as it has always been enough when it comes to Georgia. Her pictures speak a thousand words, but as for the rest of who she is and what she is, that's never been laid bare.

Silence worked for her at the beginning, and, really, it has never stopped.

Sunday Independent

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