It is tuesday lunchtime in Liffey Valley and I am meeting Claire Tully, Ireland’s only Page 3 model. She enters the “Arc” bar – tiny – and apologises for not wearing make-up. I am not sure if people recognise her: the transients of shoppingland keep their thoughts to themselves, though I detect occasional celebrity half-murmurings. We make our way to an upstairs table. She orders a hot lemon.
Originally from Hartstown near Blanchardstown, everything was fine for the young Claire until her family moved to Lucan when she was ten. In Lucan she was “bullied because I have a relatively strong Dublin accent”; because she was quite quiet and very good at school; and because of a maternal régime that ignominiously forbade such teenage norms as the wearing of high heels: her mother always had a thing about wearing proper shoes.
She was taunted so much at school and in her area, including amazingly by adults, that she couldn’t walk through her estate. This throws me: she thinks she was an outsider. She doesn’t really get on with Mammy. She was always Daddy’s girl. Her mother was non-confrontational – little help to Claire – and perhaps as a reaction she’s not like that, she’s outspoken. Her parents split when she was twelve and she didn’t really speak to her father for five years, despite the fact he was and is “solid as a rock”.
She learnt that it’s important for parents not to say anything against the other if a relationship breaks up. She’s sick of people who have split up, talking about themselves. She feels that, “you had children and they should be your life”, though she’s not a goo-gaaing maternal person.
During our interview she mostly focuses on her own experience to which she typically diverts any general or political questions. When pushed, she is articulate and she is not deliberately avoiding questions. Still, she does avoid them.
She regrets the “because I’m worth it” mentality and thinks there’s been too much emphasis on materialism. She’s always given time to the homeless. Her mother wanted material things from her father, who owned Tullys’ tiles on Dublin’s Smithfield. He in turn advised Claire against over-estimating the importance of money, but she nevertheless feels you need it to go places – nothing remarkable there. When I suggest that the media portray her as materialistic, (isn’t that the whole point of her?) she’s slightly taken aback and she wants to know specifics. Eventually she laughs easily… it must be the car comment. She’s been reported on several occasions saying if a man is a sponger or doesn’t have a car at thirty she wouldn’t want to have a relationship with him. And now there she is across from me regurgitating what she said on a horrible TV show I saw recently (while a female psychologist shook her head, appalled), with the same pursed face.
The source of her preference is that, because of her own family background, she envisions herself eventually at home with her kids provided for by a man (not let down by a bike-riding sponger). I’m warming to Claire Tully who’s genuinely bright and sharp but I can’t help thinking this might mean she has regressive personal views on the roles of women and men. Why am I here? Oh yes!
Claire Tully is most famous for her Janus-like coupling of Page 3, with a perfect score of 600 points in her Leaving Cert, a first-class honours degree in Science from Trinity College and an offer to pursue a doctorate in Immunology on HIV in Oxford. When she didn’t get the funding for Oxford she was short on cash and had nowhere to live in Dublin. The Sun newspaper liked what it had seen of her in FHM lads’ magazine. She had appeared there after finding their top 100 honeys unimpressive; and her boyfriend, who was reading it, suggested she go for it. And so she finished up on Page 3.
In politics, she likes to take the side of the little person and doesn’t like to see rich people getting away with things. She is against private education and not unhappy to be described as “socialist”. She’s disillusioned with the “corruption of society by money”. What she’s learned from knowing people like footballers – ordinary middle-class people like her – and things she’s been told, would shock you. I ask her if she lives her life to reflect this. She says that she’s frugal (“I drive a 00 Yaris with a dint”) and that there’s a difference between appearance and reality. “It’s difficult to know – if people see the real you – if that will sell”. What could she mean? Earlier she has noted that she was not popular in Trinity and can be difficult, though, somewhat improbably, she puts a lot of it down to bad luck.
Does she think it’s a man’s world? She can see both sides. There’s only one immunologist in Trinity. But she can see employers would be nervous about women in their thirties who might get pregnant. “There are obvious differences between men and women. Men can do more physical jobs. It’s not fair”. But she’s “not a feminist”. I go on and on that maybe she could or should be, but she’s not biting. She admits she can be quite old-fashioned and notes that women are designed to be nurturers. Feminism has a connotation of being anti-man, she feels. Feminists “wouldn’t agree with the Page 3 job but they’re not seeing – and sometimes this comes down to esteem issues – since men look at other women and that drives women insane. They don’t realise that the men aren’t saying they’d rather be with the girl”. She doesn’t think glamour modeling is objectification of women for male gratification. She is confident there is no link between Page 3 and women being consigned to nurturing, or anything in particular else. I can see that some of these male-centred and homebirdish views would appeal more to most men than most women. I wonder if her personality would do the same, but I can’t see it.
She thinks women are more physically attractive than men, though she’s not sure why and she stresses she’s not gay. I ask if women are more attractive at all ages and she thinks that’s a can of worms. “Men can get better with age”. Maybe in ten years she’ll have a different attitude, she suggests. I’m beginning to think that’s the key to her and I ask if it’s possible she’ll regret what she’s doing, that she might later reflect that it was politically dodgy. She accepts that she’s 25 and naive. She’s not static. Her opinions and life experiences may change her. I ask if she’s suspended reflectiveness. She says that if she thought it was wrong she wouldn’t do it.
A British survey recorded that a staggering 63% of girls would rather be glamour models than professionals. Jordan and Abbie Titmuss were seen as role models by more 15 to 19-year-old girls than JK Rowling and Germaine Greer, who was favoured by just four percent. Claire Tully helps other girls to get into Page 3 and I wonder if she is not concerned she could be a figurehead for a trade which is exploitative. She accepts the risk of exploitation for people who don’t have their heads screwed on like she does, but she will give advice about the pitfalls; and she thinks she can provide a useful service to them. But she agrees it’s dangerous that so many young women have no interest in the brains of their role models.
She respects the women who’re at the top of the game in Science more than women at the top in glamour-modelling. I worry that might mean she has less respect for herself than she needs to ensure she has, but she brushes it off. She misses Science. She wanted to do her PhD a few years ago but she’s not in the right place now to do it. She’s waiting to settle down – by which she means with a boyfriend when she is in her thirties. She thinks “what I’ve done” will count against her – if she is googled.
Above all, Claire Tully wants to explain Science which, she is aware, most people don’t like…now she’s getting passionate. She worked in a Lab in Trinity on cellular biology. Experiments were the bane of her life. She’s fascinated by viruses and ”cell-signalling”. She’s laughing: the body’s fight with viruses is a cat and mouse game. Even Maths exam questions aren’t hard – there are only four things you can do – add, subtract, divide, multiply”. People need to have the relevance of science conveyed to them. In immunology people don’t know how difficult it is to get cancer. Doctors don’t tell people what’s wrong with them. That annoys her. A lot of things can be described through Immunology.
She’s working on a TV science documentary – probably Discovery or Channel 4 – to teach people about diseases. She wants to use what she has to her advantage. She says the fact she’s easy on the eye will keep people’s attention.
For all that, beyond her bubbly personality, the most attractive things about Claire Tully is her passion for Science, I reflect, as I head across the damp car-parks and slip-roads of retail South Dublin, for the bus home.
www.claire-tully.com, if you must.