Monday 10 December 2018

All about Amy Huberman . . . and Brian too

She's the girl of the moment. Ever since she fell into the arms of iconic rugby star Brian O'Driscoll in 2007, La Huberman has handled herself with dignity and humour. But she's more than just the First Fiancee: now The Clinic actress can add author to her list of accomplishments. Barry Egan met her

Brian O'Driscoll's fiancee Amy Huberman
Brian O'Driscoll's fiancee Amy Huberman
Amy with her fiance, rugby star Brian O'Driscoll
Amy Huberman says that her fiance Brian O'Driscoll 'can read people so well'. Photo: Tony Gavin
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

'How to deal with love," Virginia Woolf once asked, "so that we're not all blushing?" Ever since she fell into the arms of Brian O'Driscoll in 2007, Amy Huberman has handled herself -- and the affairs of her heart -- with sufficient dignity to spare our blushes. She is tantalisingly more a mystery than most girls with even half her profile in Ireland.

It is admirable that she chooses not to spill to the media every last forensic detail of her life. Amy wants, she says, to keep a bit back for herself. And she has been true to her word.

When the blue-eyed actress and the iconic rugby star announced their engagement in May, the nation seemed to lift up its voices in delight. If there was, as a result, any extra psychological pressure on Brian and Amy to succeed in their relationship -- and in their marriage -- then it didn't appear to be showing when Ireland's First Girlfriend sat down in the Fitzwilliam Hotel last Saturday morning.

The five-foot-four blonde looked every inch the low-key high-street style queen in bluey grey waterfall cardigan made by Religion over a white Topshop T-shirt, jeans from Urban Outfitters and the shoes that are, she says, a cast-off from her character Daisy O'Callaghan's wardrobe in The Clinic (she is on the seventh series of the RTE soap).

When I say to her that the whole of Ireland is expecting a lot of you two and that must be a strain at times, she shakes her perfectly coiffed head.

"Not really, because when I see myself and Brian's world it is our little world. Other people's opinion on it -- and the papers stuff -- is so unimportant. There are little layers and that is like the peripheral. Sometimes that doesn't even come into it.... Our world is our friends and our family and we can handle it," Amy smiles, adding that Brian, currently away on rugby business with the Lions in South Africa, "is very protective of me. I think at the beginning he was kind of going: 'I'm so sorry for the photographers and everything' -- which wasn't, of course, his fault."

The Foxrock Loreto convent girl turned supernova is honest enough to admit that she did find it difficult in the beginning of her relationship with the Ireland rugby captain. "Even though I had been acting for years I never subscribed to that kind of life, but everything that comes with Brian being who he is, I did find that particularly unnerving," she says.

"I didn't have his profile. Apart from people who would watch The Clinic, people wouldn't know who you are or particularly care. As soon as I started going out with Brian, there were people suddenly saying, 'Oh, we would like to invite you'. I could see through that for what it was. People suddenly having an opinion on me, that did unnerve. But you don't want to look too precious either if you say, 'Well, hang on a second, I'm a woman in my own right.'"

Amy Huberman is implacably grounded, almost earthy. She is not one to give herself away. She found it hilarious, she says, "all the stuff in the press about the engagement where he had made me this dinner and brought me to the window to show me the flowers. There were flowers. There was no dinner. There was no bringing me to the window. Those things are just too special and too private," she adds.

Ask her who she looks like, and she laughs and says her late granny, May Morris, from Wexford, who passed away when Amy was 14. Hard as it might be to imagine, the icon of Irish glamour says she was a bit of a tomboy growing up. She can remember her mother trying to wrestle her into dresses. "No! The boys don't have to wear them! Why do I?" she would scream, in reference to her two brothers, Mark and younger sibling Paul. She remarks that her godfather Michael Fitzsimons videoed her Communion Day in Foxrock Church in 1986 "because it was the first time he had seen me in a skirt".

She recalls that when her dad, designer Harold, would try to coax his young daughter into his glamorous Audrey Hepburn-ish coats, her reaction was one of horror. "I'd be like: 'Oh, no, I want to wear a denim jacket!' she laughs. "As well, what would I be doing in this unbelievable cashmere coat at 15 when all my friends are wearing bomber jackets?"

She is here to talk up her debut novel, Hello Heartbreak, which is a spirited and sisterly tale of Izzy Keegan and her Britney-like public humiliations and ultimate redemption (she meets the love of her life whom she knew all along).

Amy writes well, with real flair, like Jane Austen on ecstasy. She confesses that she is on edge about the book's reception when it hits the shops next week. Honest to a fault, Amy says she is especially nervous about anal-retentive The View-types "with the fine-tooth comb, looking to pick holes in it".

"Not everybody is going to like it," she adds, philosophically. "Not everybody is going to like me. Not everybody is going to like everything I do."

And if they did, she laughs, it would be kind of uncomfortable. "At the end of the day I am so proud of it. I'm not claiming it is Booker Prize material. I hope people like it and that's all I can hope for. All the literary critics may not but if Mary on the 47 bus does ... ."

Unlike Izzy with Cian in Hello Heartbreak, Amy has never stalked a guy she broke up with. She does reflect on past break ups, however, in the sense that "at the time it is the worst thing in the world and how are you ever going to get over it, blah blah blah."

Nor has Amy, unlike Izzy, had a meltdown and had it subsequently posted on YouTube. "The whole Facebook thing is a bit weird," she muses. "You hear of pictures getting into the wrong hands. And the fact that you can't police it, because everyone has access to a phone. And this whole 'frenemies' idea that some people who pretend to be your friend and then do horrible stuff and then post minging photos of you. I haven't had that happen to me but I have seen photos up there that are not flattering."

At one point, the book's anti-heroine Izzy rings her boyfriend Cian to tell him the good news that they are going to be parents: the rabbit Dermot has babies.

"It is a pastiche of loads of stuff I have come across," Amy explains. "At that age, most guys are terrified because you don't think of being with this person for the rest of your life and suddenly we've got this responsibility."

Is that what girls do, I gasp? They road-test guys with pets first to see if they will make good dads?

"No! No! That makes us sound like that's all we want! I think they just want a fluffy fun thing in her life. Cian is not the right guy. He is a selfish f***er. It was kind of like the first love thing. He's not a bad person. He is a selfish guy who is involved with his own stuff at the moment and hasn't really grown up yet."

She says that she knew guys like that when she was growing up.

"Of course, but it is not sex-specific. It is not only guys. Izzy is too sensitive for him; I guess because he is this kind of social-climbing guy as well." She says those were the kind of guys she "would have run from -- I would find it hard not to hold my tongue".

"I hope I'd be a bit moreself-contained than Izzy," she laughs. "I have yet to publicly humiliate myself like she has done but of course everybody makes a tit of themselves at some stage."

Still only 30, Amy has several careers -- TV and screen actress and now novelist -- and appears to be always moving forward, pushing towards the centre of things, unfailingly ambitious. "I guess my ambition comes from the thrill you get from succeeding in something you want to do and love doing," she says. "I'm very appreciative of the opportunities I've been given to allow me to do what I love. And Hello Heartbreak came from keeping the brain active in between jobs and a love of storytelling and my love for the type of entertainment that this kind of comedy embraces."

I have to admit that in the early days of Brian and Amy's relationship there was a fair bit of comedy, albeit unintended. I am referring to the sight of her appearing to walk 10 steps behind him at events, with paparazzi in Marx Brothers-esque pursuit. Ireland's First Girlfriend laughs like a drain at it all.

"Mum used to ring me and say: 'You look so uncomfortable in photographs!' You know what it was?" she asks rhetorically. "I can never stand and just go like this (mimes dorky permanent rictus grin with hand on the hip).

"So I either burst out laughing or look unbelievably uncomfortable. Neither of us want to stop and kind of snog in the middle of the street for photographers! Brian's way of being really uncomfortable is to go 'Let's get out of here' and he usually marches so fast and I'm usually laughing behind him or looking incredibly uncomfortable.

"I think we've got better at it," she says, inaccurately.

Be that as it may, Amy says she experienced a sudden sense of perspective when Brian's best friend, Barry Twomey, tragically took his own life in May 2008. "Last year was a very difficult year for Brian," she says. "It makes you hold on to the people in your life a huge amount. And that is so important," she says. "We just all love him and miss him so much. That is so hard. It was his anniversary a couple of weeks ago. It is hard to think that it's a year. That broke a lot of people's hearts when that happened."

You suspect Barry's death put into proper context the other stuff around Brian and Amy. Like articles about them embodying the Irish zeitgeist and suchlike. "It is really flattering but if I took this on board I would be a twit," she says. "I'm saving the country from recession with my style? You take it with a pinch of salt as much as you take the lovely compliment from it. Myself and Brian are both really chilled-out people and, unless something is really slanderous or untrue, we have really good laughs about some of the stuff about us," she smiles.

Needless to say Amy wasn't smiling in 2006 when the People newspaper published a ridiculous article concerning Huberman and her role in a film called Hell's Gate/Bad Karma. They alleged that Ireland's First Fiancee had participated in an "XXX-rated movie shocker", and had a "role in sex, bondage and torture B-movie".

She says now that she wants to frame the offending article and put it up in the toilet of the south Dublin home she shares with Brian. "It is funny in hindsight. First I laughed then I cried," she recalls, revealing the headline: RTE Star In S&M Movie shocker.

"It was completely mistaken identity. They literally had this girl who is like a Page 3 ... whatever ... pornstar in. It was this film I did years ago. It was my very first film. It wasn't, shall we say, a good film. It wouldn't be in anyone's top five unless you were mental," Amy says, adding that Patsy Kensit was in it, reincarnated as Jack The Ripper. "The film was a stupid horror film with people running around screaming and I die! So then they brought it back to America and decided they wanted to sex it up a bit. They filmed this five-minute scene at the beginning with this random chick taking her clothes off. It is still on the internet because it is so hard to get those things off. 'Amy Huberman blah blah blah.' There is a picture of me looking more than angelic at the reception at The Clinic and there is one tied to a bed and stuff."

There is a pause here while she stops and breaks into laughter. "Sued them for libel. So, open and shut case ... "

After our tete-a-tete, she is off to the local pub to watch her beau play in the first game in South Africa. Amy says she had no interest in sport whatsoever until she took up with the Irish sporting legend. "I think ignorance is bliss in a way," she laughs. "If I had known about all Brian's plaudits and everything that he'd done, it would probably have intimidated me a little bit."

It also meant that there wasn't anything remotely Machiavellian about her meeting up with Ireland's most famous sportsman. "I had been living in London for two years and I was all in the world of the arts and I was like, 'Oh that's what he does. Good for him.'"

Good for them, even. Today, two years on, they share a house with a goldfish. What goes on outside the window is of relatively little interest to them. (Although Amy did stop her car on the road into town to check on a stray dog.)

"Brian is so chilled, so relaxed. He can read people so well." Asked how he read her, Amy replies with a chuckle: "Hopefully well, that's why we are engaged. It kind of took off for us when we met. He is incredibly funny. Very low-key. Very chilled. Rational. When I met him, of course I believed the stereotypes of these rugby players and he is just this incredibly low-key guy -- not a shout-y, scream-y, look-at-me person. He is humorous and very smart."

So is she. They are a good mix. A bit like Amy -- who is a mix of Catholic and Jewish heritage. Her father Harold Huberman, who designed coats with Henry White, came to Dublin in his 30s as a Jewish emigre from London. Her mother Sandra was from Wexford.

There were problems when they first tried to get married in mid-Seventies Ireland, says Amy: "They'd spoken to a good few priests but most didn't want to bend the rules to suit a marriage service that respected both their religions. I don't think it was anti-semitism, I think it was just Irish xenophobia. It was not out of any elective racism. It was more just that we were just a tiny, little, isolated island; culturally, I don't think you can blame people for thinking like that. That's all they know. We were so interlinked with church and State then. It shows, I guess, how introspective Ireland was."

In the end, Sandra Morris and Harold Huberman were married in the nuptial chapel at St Andrews Church on Westland Row in 1975 by a chaplain that Sandra met in UCD and "who was far more amenable than any other priest she had spoken to". As for Ireland's First Fiancee's own wedding, she says: "We plan to get married next summer and we're definitely looking forward to kids one day. Please God, we're blessed with them but that won't be for a few years yet."

Hello Heartbreak by Amy Huberman is published by Penguin Ireland on July 4, priced €14.99

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