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Our beautiful relationship: Beauty queen Sacha and her mum Pauline

Published 19/09/2015

Miss Ireland Sacha Livingstone and her mother Pauline
Miss Ireland Sacha Livingstone and her mother Pauline
Sacha Livingstone and mum Pauline
Miss Ireland Sacha Livingstone

Newly crowned Miss Ireland Sacha Livingstone and her mum Pauline talk to Una Brankin about their special bond and they reveal how they became even closer after Pauline suffered a life-threatening stroke.

Surprisingly, nobody takes a blind bit of notice when Miss Ireland and her mother walk into Thornleigh's restaurant in Lisburn on a busy week-day lunch hour. It could be the timing; Sacha won the title at the end of August - still silly season, in media terms - and her face hasn't yet registered on the public's consciousness. But for the casual onlooker, the tall duo is hard to ignore, one as dark as the other is fair.

I've been keeping a table on the bustling ground floor, hoping I'll be able to hear them above the clatter and din. Sacha has other ideas, and leads the way upstairs to a roof garden, which saves us traipsing across town to Wallace Park for the photo-shoot. Pauline has only one hour for her lunch break from a nearby funeral home, where she arranges the final goodbye for grieving families, day in and day out.

"Only one photo of mum," Sacha asserts, with an authority belying her years. She's only 20 but very protective of her mother, and bristles when she feels I'm directing too many questions to Pauline, an empathetic and pleasant person, with a slight hint of fragility.

Sacha's concern is understandable, given that she could have lost her mother less than a year ago. Pauline hadn't yet turned 50 when she suffered a stroke, completely out of the blue.

"I was in work and I recognised the symptoms from the Act Fast stroke-awareness campaign - the face, arms, speech, time factors," Pauline explains quietly, over coffee. "I didn't feel too good and knew I had to get straight to the hospital. Medical staff at the Lagan Valley Hospital did scans and told me my blood pressure was very high and it was possibly a stroke."

Uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation, Sacha shifts in her seat at the quiet table we've found upstairs, a frown marring her smooth forehead. She sank into a depression when her mother was ill, and reliving it is difficult for her, but Pauline continues, albeit a little hesitantly.

"I had a three-hour window to get to get surgery so they sent me straight to the Royal," she recalls. "There's a new suite there and they were fantastic; there was a whole team waiting on me. They were able to stop it getting worse. I was in for a while; I don't want to say how long."

Pauline has no idea what caused her to have a stroke at the relatively young age of 49, but points out that Chris Henry, the Ireland rugby flanker, suffered a mini one at 30. Endearingly, she takes out a note she has made for me of his name, and of the stroke symptoms outlined by Act Fast, but her daughter smarts.

"There's no need for that, mum," tuts Sacha, rolling her beautiful eyes, and I feel bad for Pauline, and guilty, at the same time, for having been similarly dismissive once upon a time. "I think that's enough about that," she adds.

Despite her reticence at the initial interview, Sacha did open up eventually as she is keen to support Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke and the various depression charities. "I'm really passionate about reaching out to people, especially younger people, to get across the message that it [stroke] can happen to anyone. Mum was at work when she had the stroke but if she had it in front of me, I don't know what I would have done."

Pauline seems to have made a full recovery. She was in good health when the stroke hit her, and there were no hereditary factors involved. She agrees that stress is a factor, especially with people in their forties. A former secretarial assistant, her job as a funeral director can be challenging but she's now back at work full-time.

"I don't do post-mortems; I arrange funerals and teach," she says. "I'm dealing with families at a very vulnerable time, especially when they've lost children. I was trained for it and it's very rewarding to do the job well. You become friends with the families for the duration and they often express their appreciation afterwards."

Pauline's role requires sombre clothing; today she's in a smart black trouser suit and a white blouse. She's tall, but Sacha, at five foot nine - and elevated to over six feet in high heels - towers over her. As there isn't an immediate resemblance between them, I wonder if Sacha is more like her father.

"I'd rather leave him out of this," says Sasha, exchanging a quick glance with her mother. "I'm naturally blonde and mum's very dark, and I've mixed eye colours - one blue and one green.

"And I'm definitely more into fashion than mum, although we like going shopping together."

Currently single, Sacha still lives at home with her mother and her older brother Lee (22), and has no plans to move out yet.

"She's not going anywhere," smiles Pauline, playfully grasping her daughter's slender arm. "We've always been close. Sacha was a beautiful child - she had a blonde afro out to here," she adds, extending her hands.

"These days, we're both very busy and don't have much spare time but we meet regularly for lunch. This place is handy for work and the food's great - the chef is the owner, so you can rely on it being good."

According to the slender Sacha, a CMPR model, Pauline's a dab hand in the kitchen herself.

"Mum makes a very good dinner so it's a challenge, but I work it off in the gym," she smiles. "I try to eat as healthy as possible, even on the go. I eat lots of salads and vegetables. I also keep fit - we have a forest park at my back door so I go running in there. It's very therapeutic, as is sketching, which I love."

A former vegetarian, Sacha allows herself fish nowadays and describes herself as a 'pescetarian'.

There follows a lightbulb moment - I can suddenly see Sacha as the new Rosanna Davison, with her own pescetarian cook book. As a student of English literature, she has the articulacy to do for it.

"Possibly," she muses. "I am starting a blog … "

"She has always been a reader and always had a flair for English," Pauline interjects, proudly. "Our house is coming down with books - the fireplace is full of them. I prefer the feel of a real book - I love the smell of them. Kindle's all right for holidays, but you can't beat a real book."

It meant everything to Sacha for her mother to see her win the Miss Ireland title in Dublin's Crowne Plaza hotel last month: "She was so excited; she was loving it - she was running around telling everyone I was her daughter.

My brother didn't come - his friends have taken an interest though. It's not his thing but my cousin, Jill, came with Mum. I didn't tell Mum I was entering until the last minute. It was just for fun - I never thought I'd win."

The trio weren't able to party late after the event, as Sacha had to be in the TV3 studios on the far side of Dublin at 7.30am, for the breakfast show Ireland AM.

"I wasn't nervous at all on the night; meeting the judges was more daunting, the day before. Mum and Jill backed me all the way - they're my two biggest supporters. They dearly love to see me doing well for myself, independently. They all believe this is an outstanding opportunity and they're so proud of me. That's really special to me. I love hearing their advice and seeing them get excited with me on this journey."

Pictures taken, it's time to leave the beauty queen and her mother in peace to have their lunch, before Pauline has to go back to work. The importance of earning a living, independently of a partner, is something she has ingrained in her daughter.

"She's a woman in what's very much a man's world, with her job," Sacha concludes, agreeing Pauline has been a good role model for her. "Feminism is also something I've picked up from studying English literature - everything from Virginia Woolf to Bridget Jones. I've always been fairly independent and now the world's my oyster. I will focus on Miss Ireland and take it as it comes."

What mum means to me

Sacha says:

My mum's health scare made me retract into myself. I hid at home for months and was in a really low place that I never wish to go back to, hence why I've supported charities dealing with depression. It affects everyone at some point in their lives, directly or indirectly. When I began to model and push myself further, such as competing in Miss Belfast and then Miss Ireland, these things gave me the opportunity to come out of my shell and make me the person I am today.

I helped Mum in as many ways as possible. I'm very independent, so she doesn't have to stress about me. I can handle myself. I mainly tried to be a strong support system for her; I believed if I stayed strong for her, consequently she would get stronger.

I believe you will forever see your mum as the nurturer. But I began to see her come into her own light after she had a stroke. One of the causes of it was stress. Since then, there is less stress in her life and she is happier and more self-satisfied. Seeing her have her own career and begin a new life after the stroke has made me happier as I become more independent.

My earliest memories of my mum were of having so much admiration of her. I would sit and watch her do her make-up and think 'will I be able to do that when I grow up?' I would follow her about and try on all her high heels - I probably pestered her. Although I was a tomboy as a child, I would watch in awe at this glamorous lifestyle. I was inquisitive, as any child is.

My mum has always been a chilled-out person, as am I. So her parenting style was extremely nurturing and helpful, rather than rigid. She was strict to a certain extent; for example, I was brought up to help others and develop a mindset to work hard. I would do chores and had a dedicated amount of time to study from an early age.

Being a teenage girl was a struggle but my mum was always supportive. If I was having a hard time in school, she would talk with me calmly. I've always been the 'suffer in silence type'; I'm private. My mum knew not to prod at me. We have an unspoken understanding that if I want help from her, I will ask. I know she's always there if I need her.

We are two strong characters living in the same house, so we've tested each other. However, we both know how to act accordingly, so we create as much of a zen-like atmosphere at home as possible.

"I could honestly tell my mum anything. She's really cool in that way. She doesn't judge people and she is compassionate. She's a friend as well as mum. Her best qualities are her compassion, her strength and independence - she is someone I can look up to. It's comforting to know that she'll always have my back, no matter what.

It meant everything to have my mum at the Miss Ireland final. I spotted her in the crowd when I first came onto the stage and immediately felt at ease. My goal is to make her proud.

What Sacha means to me

Pauline says:

Sacha was so supportive during my health scare. I was uncomfortable driving after, so she learnt how to drive and saved money for her car insurance, so she could drive me around. I appreciate everything she does for me - sometimes I feel like she's the parent.

We have a strong mother-daughter bond and we always try to understand each other. The crisis [my stroke] brought us closer together if anything; it was very difficult for the both of us.

As a newborn Sacha was a chilled baby who slept a lot and never cried. As a baby and toddler, we went through the milestones - I had so much fun with her. Strangely, she never cried and was always laughing.

Even as a young child she had opinions and strong morals; she was a vegetarian from the age of seven and I had to stop her from running in front of a fox hunt one day. She then wrote a letter to the Government about stopping fox hunting. A strong-willed child.

Sacha was brought up in a similar way to me. I grew up in a farm, so she was brought up with country values, to respect the countryside and the animals in it. I was taught if you do good, good will happen to you.

Of course, there were the teenage years conflicts - when you have a child who is so intelligent - they have their own opinions and, as adults, we need to accept that.

I am 100% behind Sacha and she knows she can talk to me about anything, anytime. She loves fashion and the glamorous life. When I was a little girl, I was fascinated with pageants and Sacha seems to have carried this on. I really want to encourage my daughter to follow something she loves to do.

In a nutshell, Sacha is intelligent, helpful, giving, sociable, talented and gives her best in every situation.

I was proud beyond words when she won Miss Ireland. Every mother wants their child to do well and she is certainly doing that. Seeing her prepare for Miss World makes me feel almost honoured.

Famous beauties and their mothers ...

Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson

Goldie Hawn's daughter Kate Hudson, who received an Oscar nomination for 2000's Almost Famous, was once asked if she could see the uncanny resemblance between herself and her mother. "We stood in front of the mirror one time and we were both smiling," says Kate. "We just caught that little moment when we looked alike."

Brooke and Teri Shields

Teri Shields was the ultimate 'momager' when it came to her model/actress daughter Brooke. In her memoir, There Was A Little Girl, Brooke said she doesn't regret her mother's decision to place her in a controversial role as a child prostitute at age 11, which involved her in her first nude scene.

"I think it's a beautiful film, to this day," she says of Pretty Baby, adding, "I think it was the most beautiful film I've been in."

Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow

Blythe Danner and her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow played the tragic poet Sylvia Plath and her mother, Aurelia, in the 2003 film Sylvia. In a shoot for Vanity Fair magazine, in which they had to embrace, Blythe teared up. "I really haven't held Gwyneth for this long since she was a baby," she told the photographer, Annie Leibowitz.

Ingrid Bergman and Isabella Rossellini

Ingrid Bergman's daughter Isabella exceeded even her beautiful mother with her exotic looks. "When I was a little girl, I thought my parents were famous because they were parents," the Blue Velvet actress once remarked. "As a child, you have no context, and I assumed everyone was famous if they were a mother or a father."

Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson

Vanessa Redgrave's late daughter Natasha often accompanied her onto film sets as a child. Married to our own Liam Neeson, Natasha died in 2009 following a skiing accident.

"When you've lost people you absolutely love and adore, you're both glorying and you're grieving," says Vanessa. "You're grieving because you haven't got them anymore and you're glorying because you're taking in what a gift each of them was."

Belfast Telegraph

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