Last September, I stood in a queue in Dublin airport for a package-holiday flight to Agadir, Morocco. A few feet in front of me I spotted a girl dressed all in black.
She wore black leggings and a black T-shirt and high-heeled shoe-boots. She was with her boyfriend.
He was part chunky, part muscular. In a baseball cap, jeans and T-shirt, he reminded me of an American rapper. Unlike that breed of Irish tourist who put their best foot forward for the plane journey, this girl was decidedly dressed down. She was very petite. I remember looking at her tiny, pert bottom thinking, "Now there's a girl who didn't have to diet to get into a bikini."
When she turned around, I recognised her. It was Georgia Salpa, the 26-year-old, Greek-born Irish model who for the past two years has set the Irish male pulse soaring with her sensational photos. She mostly models in bikinis or her bra and knickers. As Georgia says: "Everyone finds what they are good at, and that's my niche." One of her first modelling jobs was wearing a tight jumper for a poster for a Fas ad. Such was its popularity that hordes demanded to see more of her, in less clothing. The public got what they wanted, eventually. One bikini shoot in Brown Thomas later and soon this was how she earned her crust. Ever since, she has been Ireland's favourite pin-up.
At the airport that day, my first thought was utterly selfish -- I hoped that she wasn't staying in my hotel. I didn't think I could cope with looking at such bikini perfection on a daily basis for a week. But then something else stopped me in my tracks. It mustn't be easy being a model famous for scantily clad photos who then tries to head off on a quiet holiday. Wouldn't everyone be gawking at you? As it turned out, no heads turned as Georgia left the check-in desk. And it was no wonder. She was wearing little or no make-up. Nor did she need it. Instead, she looked like an ordinary girl heading off on her holidays. She was so pretty, with her chocolate-brown eyes and sallow complexion, that there was no need to gild the lily. There was something very refreshing about this girl who didn't feel the pressure to be in full model mode with a face painted on. She was off duty. It was nice to see that she had the guts to be herself.
Georgia was staying in a much swankier hotel than my place, so I didn't get to see her by the pool. Not that it mattered. Hadn't I and almost every other Irish person already seen her in bikinis in the papers for the numerous press calls? I spotted her around Agadir. One night, she walked along the promenade in a floral dress and flat shoes. She sauntered along arm-in-arm with her boyfriend, who I later discovered was Irish DJ Barry O'Brien. After a two-year relationship, they are no longer together. They broke up recently.
"He's the best guy in the world," Georgia tells me when we meet. "I don't want to say a bad word against him. He was probably the best person in my life that I ever met. He was my best friend. That was my only serious relationship. But it was a mutual break-up. It was kind of time."
They met one night in a disco, where Barry had been DJ-ing. They lived together in a house near Camden Street, which they shared with two others. Barry moved out and now Irish Model Daniella Moyles lives there.
Georgia was recently on holidays with Calum Best in Italy. Days after I meet her, it is reported that she and Calum are about to be flown to Mauritius by Hello! magazine for an exclusive photo shoot where they will talk about their newfound love for each other. "I haven't said anything about him," she says, when I ask her about Calum. She tells me that she doesn't want this piece to be about her going out with Calum and I agree with her. I tell her that, like any woman, she is so much more than the sum total of the men she's been with. Such is her sweet nature that you can't help feeling protective towards her. In the past year, Calum also did one of those holiday shoots with another girlfriend. Much like his famous footballer father, George Best, Calum is not known for monogamous long-term relationships.
In Morocco, on her simple package holiday, Georgia looked very happy with Barry, smiling and laughing. I thought it odd that she wasn't stopping Moroccan men in their tracks with her good looks but she probably wasn't hefty enough for their liking. Also, she was dressed in an understated way. I watched her as she went into McDonald's with her boyfriend and I smiled to myself. She was human after all. By the time we all queued for the plane home, most of the Irish holidaymakers had copped on to who she was and they were all sneaking not-so-subtle glimpses at her. She wore a simple black dress to her ankles and orange Converse runners and her hair in a bun. Without even trying, she was stunning.
I didn't notice her boyfriend carrying her case, or fussing over her every second. Maybe that's why they seemed to get along so well. Rather than spoiling her like a princess and the woman that most men lust after, he seemed to treat her as an equal. Afterwards, I didn't see any photos from this holiday in the newspapers. It was good to see that she was allowed some privacy and that she was normal, like the rest of us.
What a difference nine months makes.
Right now, Georgia Salpa is a superstar of Irish Modelling. If anything, it's got to the stage where some people are complaining of over-saturation. There is always a girl of the moment. Once upon a time we had Glenda with her arched eyebrows, Pippa with her Bardot gap-toothed grin, Andrea with her rosy-cheeked beauty. And then there was the late Katy French, a bright, articulate girl who knew how to manipulate the media with her sexy poses and teasing talk. Right now, it's Georgia Salpa's turn. From Lotto ads to The Republic of Telly to daily press calls, she is everywhere, happily making money during her moment in the sun.
Irish Models are like athletes. By the nature of the job, their careers have very short windows. Nobody can blame them for making as much loot as they can, when they can. It's the only way. After all, what happens when they get older? Either they retrain or they set up a PR or modelling agency, like Sonia Reynolds or Andrea Roche. They can branch out into television, like the highly successful Amanda Byram, or they can choose to marry, preferably to a rich man, and have babies.
Whatever about the future, the most important thing about an Irish Model is that she has to be opportunistic. Don't forget, they are self-employed. If they don't work, they don't get paid and they won't be asked to work for ever, so of course they will work flat out. And why not? The money is good and the hours are short. It beats a nine-to-five any day.
So, why do all the companies doing press calls have Georgia Salpa at the top of their list? Well, spend even a few seconds in her company and you will understand. Quite simply, Georgia has the gift of great beauty. With her perfect skin, rosebud lips, brilliant dark mane and fantastic figure, including those incredible breasts -- size DD cup, she tells me -- she is perfection itself. She happily poses for photographs in her bikinis and she laughs as some of the press calls require the most outlandish poses.
"Some of them are hilarious, but I don't mind," she tells me. "I enjoy them. I have fun. I don't take myself too seriously."
These press calls pay very well and most models will tell you that they are very convenient. Sometimes they have to wear silly outfits, or pose on Grafton Street or in Stephen's Green in a swimsuit on a winter's day, but they are over in an hour and then the Irish Model is free to do as she pleases. Usually when you see Georgia smiling out of the paper, she is working. Spot her at an opening of a nightclub or a launch, and most of the time it's because she is paid handsomely for simply appearing and smiling. But of late, her already high profile has orbited to another sphere. She has just had two holidays and both have been well publicised. One was with the girls from her modelling agency and the other was with Calum, whom she met recently when she did the TV3 reality show Celebrity Salon.
Apart from some modelling and a little acting, Calum mainly makes a living from his participation in numerous reality-TV shows which emphasise his playboy lifestyle. Initially Georgia was reticent to talk about him, telling me that she didn't have a boyfriend and that she was "single and having fun".
This was very odd considering there were photos in the press of her cavorting with him and kissing him on holidays in Italy and smiling coyly as they both walked out of the ocean. But even when I put this to her, she preferred to tell me that she was "single".
But first, let's deal with the less complicated holiday. She decided to go to Marbella for a week with her fellow models from Assets modelling agency -- Karena Graham, Michele McGrath, Nadia Forde, Leah O'Reilly, Emily McKeogh and Daniella Moyles. "I've never hung around with any models," says Georgia. "I've always hung around with my friends from school and kept myself to myself. I'd never been to Krystle nightclub until recently. My first time was a few weeks ago. The holiday in Marbella was my first experience of hanging around with the girls. You'd think models would be stuck-up but they were the nicest, down-to-earth girls with no airs and graces. We did lots of drinking that week and we just went out and had fun, dancing in nightclubs. Our villa was cheap and we got loads of free drink. We always got champagne. I think they like to have girls in their clubs."
Was there no falling out or bitchiness between the girls? "No, that's bullshit," she answers. "We had the best time. We had so much fun. It was a great girlie holiday."
Georgia Salpa is a very busy girl. Trying to find a time to meet her was tricky. She is much in demand. When she arrives, she is very apologetic for being late and it is immediately obvious that she is a nice girl.
As she tucks into her calamari and salad, she happily talks about her early life. Her mother, Marie Butler, who is now an artist, was on holidays in Athens as a young girl and fell in love with a Greek man. She stayed on and married him. Georgia was their only child. The couple divorced when Georgia was four. Marie came back to Ireland, where she later remarried. She had three other children. While Georgia is proud of her Greek heritage -- she can read and write in Greek -- she grew up in Killiney and refers to her mother's second husband, Paddy, as her father. As a little girl, she loved Barbie and My Little Pony. From an early age Georgia was interested in fashion and art. Her mother would buy her Vogue magazine every month. Georgia laughs as she thinks back to some of the clothes she wore when younger. In hot pants and short tops, she and her friends would go to Wesley Disco.
"I was so shy," she recalls. "I wouldn't kiss anyone. My little sister goes to Wesley now and I bring her and pick her up. When you look in and see these little children in there, they look so young." She remembers being petrified having her first kiss.
"It was with a boy on my road. His name was Stephen Murphy. I was only 14 and I was so nervous. I was still dying for about two weeks afterwards."
Like a lot of beautiful girls, it took a while for Georgia to blossom.
"I used to have really bad skin and when I was younger, I had a lazy eye. I had to wear a patch and pink-rimmed glasses."
She tells me that, like her mother, she is large breasted. She says that she is sick of denying that she has had a boob job. "No. I didn't get anything done. They're real." She doesn't sound cranky as she says this. Instead she laughs it off.
Far from a self-obsessed diva, she keeps turning the conversation back on to me. She told me that she used to have curls like mine but that her hair has been straightened so much, that it now remains straight. Also, she was happy to share her beauty secrets. She has permanent hair extensions that are glued in, and she swears by the 12-week blow dry. Just as I admire her lashes and was about to ask for the name of her mascara, she tells me that she's wearing lash extensions, that they were individually applied and they have lasted a month, without causing any problems when she takes off her eye make-up. Far from claiming to be a natural beauty, I find her endearing in the way that she was willing to admit to all the help she got. And, yes, she has had laser hair removal too. It takes a lot of work to look that good, but having said that, it is plain to see that Georgia is a natural beauty anyway. She wears a hoodie and jeans and, dressed down, she is still stunning.
Before this modelling lark, Georgia lived a normal life. As a teenager, she had a part-time job in the bedlinen section of Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt and she worked in the clothes shop, Vera Moda, on Grafton Street. Scenes from Georgia's life can often sound surreal. Take when she was in secondary school in Pembroke School in Ballsbridge, she was forever in trouble for using her mobile phone during class time and her it was often confiscated and left in the principal's office. One time, FHM magazine phoned while she was in class, and asked if she would go to London and do a shoot for their High Street Honeys campaign. A boyfriend had taken a photo from her holiday album and sent it in to the magazine. She knew nothing of it until she got the call.
Another day, the pretty world of modelling was at odds with the painful reality. Painted in gold like an Oscar statue for a press call for Lidl, Georgia hurried home to her heartbroken family when she heard that her grandmother had died. There she was, standing in the room with her family, mourning in gold.
Travel is one of her great passions and after leaving school, she and two other school friends went on a round-the-world trip for two years and covered 35 countries. "We went to India, Jamaica, Australia and LA but my favourite place was Malaysia. We did everything off the beaten track but we were careful. Not one thing happened to us."
Eventually, when she came home, she tried her hand at modelling. She tells me that she has become more confident in the past year and she enjoys meeting new people. An Irish Model's life can be hectic.
"Sometimes modelling is very stressful, when you've loads of stuff on and you have to do it," Georgia says. "But I enjoy it and I'm really happy at the moment.
"I take each day as it comes and I'm quite a spontaneous person."
If she had a famous boyfriend would she consider doing a big Hello! magazine-style shoot? "I wouldn't mind doing a photo shoot like that," she says. What does she make of Jordan, otherwise known as Katie Price, who makes a living from selling her lifestyle?
"I think Katie Price is a really good businesswoman," Georgia answers. "She has made so much money."
In the time I spend with Georgia, her diamante-covered mobile phone frequently flashed with messages. Some she ignored and then she responded to others.
When I first asked her about Calum, she told me she was single. Then she went out for a smoke. When she came back, I questioned the sense of her saying that she was single. What with photos of her kissing him in Italy, it would make her sound like a wild, non-committing playgirl, matching his womanising image. Surely it would be better to say something, however slight? Any woman would understand a hesitancy to call a man her boyfriend in the early stages of a relationship, when it's not fully up and running.
As I put this to her, tears began to stream down her face. I asked her if she was OK and why she was upset. "I'm not upset, I'm not upset," she says, wiping her tears with my tissues. Apparently, there is no way that she is talking about Calum Best. I respected her wish but eventually she said, "He's a really nice guy and we get on really well. We've gotten on really well since the show and we're getting to know each other since the two months doing the show."
And then there were more tears.
I turn off the tape recorder and ask if she is OK. Our time is up anyway. "I've got a lot on," she says. Later, she had another job and she had to write her column for The Star. It sounded like the stress of overwork. I shook her hand and told her to mind herself.
We all have days where we over-extend ourselves and end up tired and tearful. It is utterly understandable and part of life, even for this beautiful model, whose life isn't always as perfect as her looks. I hope she finds happiness.
But, from what I can see, Georgia Salpa has no reason to be sad. She is a warm, friendly girl who isn't afraid to hide her light, or anything else, under a bushel. For that alone she brings much joy to many men. In a competitive world, she wins with her professional ways. She loves her job, makes big money, and because everybody loves her, she is in huge demand. She is a stunning young woman in her prime. Let us sit back and watch the girl with the sweet smile set the world on fire.
Source: Irish Independent