Model, mentor and an ex-Miss Derry, just who is NI's latest hopeful in Big Brother house?
In an interview just days before she was unveiled as a BB housemate, Ashleigh Coyle tells Audrey Watson about her long-term boyfriend, being a vegetarian and her career plans
Published 09/06/2014 | 09:00
Londonderry's latest Big Brother hopeful, model and student Ashleigh Coyle, is no shrinking violet – but in a good way.
A former Miss Derry, the strict vegetarian and animal lover also runs modelling classes and workshops to help young women improve their confidence and self-esteem. The stunning 5ft 9ins blonde beauty is sure to be popular with male viewers (and housemates), but the 18-year-old has plenty of brain cells as well, and has spent the past year studying for A-Levels at the same time as organising the Miss Derry 2014 heats and last month's final, which saw her hand over the crown to Dearbhla Walsh (19).
Unlike a few other BB housemates, though, Ashleigh is not the sort of girl who wants to be famous for, well ... being famous. This young woman is determined to make the most of modelling opportunities and forge a career in event management.
"After I was crowned Miss Derry 2013, I offered to organise and run the competition to find Miss Derry 2014," she says, speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph just days before she went into the BB House.
"It's been a very busy year, but I've really enjoyed it. My ambition is to work in creative event management, so I wanted to do it because I knew it would be great experience for me and good for future job prospects. I've also just finishing sitting A-Levels in business studies and travel and tourism, as well as modelling part-time."
Ashleigh, a pupil at Oakgrove Integrated College, is a familiar face on the Northern Ireland modelling scene, having strutted the catwalk in this year's Belfast Fashionweek, featured in advertising campaigns and on magazine covers throughout Ireland.
"I had never thought about modelling until two years ago," she reveals. "I was watching a Miss Derry heat in Limavady in 2012 when I was approached by an agent and it started from there. I really do enjoy it. You get to work with different people on every job, so you get to meet lots of new people.
"I'm represented by Cathy Martin, who is a bit of a role model for me. I'm also on the books of the Assets Model Agency in Dublin. I've no plans to go to university at the moment. What I would really like to do is get an internship with a PR and events company like CMPR."
Ashleigh is the third person from Derry to try their luck as a BB contestant – Seany O'Kane was second to be booted out of the 2007 series and, in 2012, Conor McIntyre left the house without a public vote after winning £50,000 in a typically cruel BB game with another contestant.
But it's unlikely we'll see her getting up to any naughty antics on the show, as Ashleigh and boyfriend, Sean Hutton (19) have been together for more than two years.
"Sean is just finishing his first year studying English at Queen's University and as a lot of my modelling work is in Belfast, we actually get to spend a lot of time with each other," she says.
"He's not the jealous type at all and is very supportive and understands that this is what I want to do. We're really happy together, but we're way too young to be thinking about marriage or anything like that."
However, there is another love in Ashleigh's life – her miniature Yorkshire terrier, Gucci, who was a 16th birthday present from her mum.
"I just adore her," she says. "I'm a huge animal lover and during my year as Miss Derry, my nominated charity was the Rainbow Rehoming Centre.
"I can't stand any cruelty to animals at all and this charity does such great work I like to do anything I can to help them."
It was her passion for animals and animal welfare that convinced Ashleigh to become a vegetarian.
"I haven't eaten meat for a year now," she says. "After I got Gucci, I watched a lot of documentaries and looked into the way animals are treated and the food manufacturing process and just felt that it was right for me to give up meat.
"It's a personal choice and I wouldn't try and tell other people what to eat and what not to eat. Being a vegetarian is just the right choice for me."
Another huge supporter is her mum, Mary (39), and little brother, Auryn (11).
"My mum is very shy and timid, but she's incredibly glamorous and pretty. She's behind me in everything I do and has always encouraged me to be outgoing and confident.
"She didn't want me to be shy like she was growing up. The three of us are really close – even though Auryn is a bit of a handful," she laughs.
"It's really important to encourage confidence in young women and that's why I started to run modelling courses.
"The classes are mainly for girls who maybe don't have much confidence in themselves.
"I would work one-on-one with them to improve their self-esteem by helping them look their best. I believe that beauty is all about believing in yourself and learning to make the most of yourself. I'm really just passing on what my mum taught me.
"The classes have been on hold recently because I've been doing my exams, but I'll definitely be starting them up again in the future."
If rumours are to be believed, this series of BB is set to be the nastiest ever and Ashleigh is going to need every ounce of her confidence and lots of positive thinking.
Rebranded as Big Brother: Power Trip, contestants had to undergo an IQ test as part of the selection process and viewers will see them face a series of mind games to try to outwit, out-scheme and out-do each other in a bid to win the £100,000 prize.
It's also rumoured that housemates – who include Christopher Hall (23) from Fermanagh – will have access to technology and gadgets, and will be able to use social media via the diary room chair.
Gone are the lavish soft furnishings from Celebrity Big Brother at the beginning of the year. This BB house is uncomfortable, unsettling and futuristic – think IKEA meets the Starship Enterprise – with a gaudy and eye-aching, purple/green colour scheme.
Presenter Emma Willis says: "This series is about power: gaining power, keeping power and what you do with that power.
"All of this year's contestants are quite savvy and bright. But will they use the power for good? For bad? For manipulation? To win friends to stay in the house? To get out of the house?"
It's not going to be an easy ride for the bubbly Derry girl, who so far has experienced nothing but friendship in the sometimes bitchy world of modelling. "I can honestly say I have never encountered any nastiness at all," she says. "I would never be into that anyway.
"I've made some really good friends since I started. Former Miss Ireland, Rebecca Maguire, is a very good friend and Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model runner-up, Sarah Kennedy, is also a close friend.
"Certainly in Ireland, modelling is a really close community and we all know each other and try to help each other out. Everyone has been really nice.
"And with me, what you see is what you get."
- The new series of Big Brother continues tonight on Channel 5 at 9pm
Oh brother! was that a good move?
- The Big Brother reality series was initially created by Dutch television tycoon John de Mol and premiered in the Netherlands in 1999
- The first series started in the UK on July 18, 2000, and ended when housemate Craig Phillips was crowned the winner after 64 days
- Following his win, Phillips donated the £70,000 prize to his friend Joanne Harris, who had Down's Syndrome and required surgery
- Phillips went on to make numerous television appearances and set up his own joinery and DIY business. He is regarded as being the wealthiest former housemate with earnings of an estimated £15m
- Series One runner-up Tom McDermott, from Omagh, went on to have a romantic relationship with fellow housemate Claire Strutton. The couple had a child together, but later split
- Fellow contestant Anna Nolan, from Dublin, has since enjoyed a hugely successful career as a television producer and presenter in Ireland
- Numerous other housemates have gone on to moderate fame and success, most notably, the late Jade Goody. Alison Hammond and Brian Dowling have become popular television presenters, with Dowling actually hosting the show after it moved from C4 to Channel 5 in 2010, until he was replaced by Emma Willis in 2013. Meanwhile, former contestants such as Josie Gibson, Chantelle Hayes and Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace make regular appearances in the gossip columns