Were those X-rated photos a canny move to forge a media career or a sign she’s still struggling to move on from the split with her superstar boyfriend, asks Maureen Coleman
When Graeme McDowell announced his engagement to American girlfriend Kristin Stape last month, among the first to congratulate them was Caroline Wozniacki, the tennis star partner of his golfing compatriot Rory McIlroy.
McDowell playfully responded on Twitter: “Thanks Wozza, you're next”, fuelling speculation that the world's number one golfer might be about to pop the question to the Danish beauty he recently credited as being a ‘great influence’ on his game.
No doubt the gentle teasing was spotted by McIlroy's ex, local engineering student and model Holly Sweeney. The 22-year-old was left heart-broken when McIlroy dumped her last year to take up with Wozniacki. The couple had previously separated, blaming their young ages, but had decided to give the relationship another chance. Sweeney was naturally devastated when her beau told her he'd met Wozniacki in Germany and “wanted to give it a go with her”.
So did McDowell's comment to Wozniacki about the possibility of an engagement prompt Sweeney's timely publicity stunt? Or, as fashion photographer Gavin Millar claims, was she merely having “a bit of fun” to help a good friend's portfolio?
Sweeney was back in the headlines again last weekend after a topless snap taken by Millar appeared on page one and page three of our sister paper Sunday Life. The photograph shows Sweeney in nothing more than a pair of sunglasses, skimpy silk knickers and a pair of hold-ups, laughing while Millar pours baby oil over her breasts.
The newspaper protected Sweeney’s modesty by running a “censored” block across her bare breasts and pierced nipples.
Other pictures of the pretty model in designer lingerie were taken but subsequently removed from Millar's website. But while the fashion photographer defended the pictures as “artistic” and worthy of coverage in leading fashion magazines, it seems Sweeney's parents weren't too pleased about the raunchy snaps.
When asked by the Belfast Telegraph if Sweeney took part in the photoshoot to wind up McIlroy and Wozniacki, or, as some commentators have suggested, to show the golfer what he is missing, Millar replied: “It's nothing to do with Rory.”
Then he added: “He's made his choice, but Caroline should be worried. Holly's much hotter than her.”
It's hard to reconcile that last remark with Sweeney's claims that she is over the split and no longer cares about what her former boyfriend is up to.
Only this weekend Wozniacki took to Twitter to post a comment which was undoubtedly a dig at Sweeney.
She wrote: “It's amazing how some people can't move on from the past and get on with their lives”. The tweet followed the UK broadcast of Channel 4's Come Dine With Me: Ireland, in which Sweeney was seen hosting a Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes-themed dinner party. Wozniacki's comment was retweeted almost 100 times.
To be fair to the Northern Irish girl, the show was filmed just four months after her split from McIlroy and aired on TV3 earlier this year. When she faced renewed criticism over her chosen theme, she replied: “Learn to laugh at the past to move on. P.S. That's at least a year old.”
Wozniacki's very public swipe at her nemesis wasn't her finest hour, either. A dignified silence would have been much more effective. And maybe on some level, Sweeney's sexy photoshoot was her own way of moving on — shed her clothes, shed her past.
Fashion stylist and editor of Sugahfix.com Katrina Doran certainly thinks Sweeney is over McIlroy and was merely attempting to raise her profile in the cut-throat modelling industry.
“I've only seen two of the images and they're quite straightforward lingerie shots — nothing really to be offended or titillated by,” she says. “Holly has a fabulous figure but I don't think it's shown off to its best in the images that I've seen. If she's trying to boost her modelling career then these are great shots for her portfolio. She's known for being Rory's girlfriend so there'll always be that link as she can't erase her past.
“But I think she really couldn’t care less about him at this stage. She's a stunning girl and probably has men falling over themselves for her so I'd say she has her pick of the boys.”
Friends of Sweeney's claim that she has moved on from the golf superstar and that she is trying to forge a career for herself but finds it hard to escape the past.
One says: “The problem is that because Rory's so high profile and that she was first introduced in the public arena as his girlfriend, that people will always associate her with him. She might be a bit naive, but she is a lovely girl and just wants to get on with her life.”
Sweeney, who is also a trained dancer and gymnastics coach, had a brief stint as a columnist on the Sun's Sunday edition. The column gave readers an insight into what was going on in her life, but was dropped after a few months. A source said the decision to axe the column was ‘nothing personal’, just part of ‘re-jigging’ and freshening up the newspaper.
Her luxurious penthouse apartment — bought for her by McIlroy — is still on the market for £660,00 and Sweeney has said the sale would mark a ‘stepping stone’ to independence.
It is understood she moved out for several months, renting the 14th-floor dream pad in the iconic Boat building in Belfast, while she moved back in with her parents. But Sweeney has recently returned to the apartment, which has a glass staircase, three balconies and a rooftop garden. Those close to her say she is very sporty and love shorse-riding and the outdoors. They stress she is not a party girl, but prefers to have a few close friends round to her place for some food and a chat. Close friend Gemma Garrett, a model, television host and former beauty queen, says Sweeney is one the sweetest girls she had ever met and is always positive and smiling.
“Holly is old beyond her years,” she says. “Whenever I'm out with
her I always think she's the same age as me and I'm 31. She's mature and can hold her own. Nothing intimidates her. She's also very sweet and easy to talk to. And she's so upbeat and positive.
“She's very much the type of person who knows what she wants to do and goes out and does it and is very smart as well.
“To the people who criticise her, I'd say that it's not her fault she was thrust into the spotlight. When she was with Rory, the newspapers followed her around. She never asked for that.”
Sweeney herself was unavailable for interview.
Not everyone is so sympathetic towards Sweeney though. One mover and shaker on Belfast's social scene, who has met the model several times, says the column inches afforded to Sweeney belied her lack of talent. And she blames the media for continuing to make her a “celebrity”.
“What is she famous for?” she asks. “She's not a musician, a dancer, a writer, an actor or director. She's Rory McIlroy's ex. And now she is famous for getting her kit off. It's a sad reflection of society that so many people out there seem to think they can have their 15 minutes of fame, without actually having any particular talent.
“But I have to say, the newspapers are to blame for giving her so much attention. And if she's desperate to be in the papers, then she must accept that she's going to be judged. People who read newspapers make judgments about the Budget, Government reforms, anything that they read, and that is their right when they buy a newspaper.
“Not only do we know everything about Holly Sweeney's life, we now know what's under her clothes. Is nothing sacred any more?”
Snapper defends his ‘artistic’ pictures
Maureen Coleman talks to the photographer who’s now in focus
The photographer who took sexy snaps of Rory McIlroy's ex Holly Sweeney has said the “high-fashion” pictures are artistic enough to grace the covers of magazines like Vanity Fair.
The saucy snaps, taken by Belfast fashion photographer Gavin Millar, show sports student and model Holly flaunting her figure in a variety of poses.
One picture shows a topless Sweeney wearing sunglasses, a pair of skimpy knickers and hold-ups, while Millar pours baby oil over her. Her head is tilted backwards and she is laughing. In another picture, she is seen wearing underwear and a cardigan protecting her modesty, clutching her two pet dogs.
Sweeney (22), who dated golf superstar McIlroy for six years before their high public split last year, told Sunday Life she was delighted with the pictures, which she described as “art”.
However, the racy photoshoot has been described by critics as “laughable, if it wasn't so sad”, with one Belfast Telegraph reader commenting: “How long can she trade on being McIlroy's ex for a living?”.
It is also understood the photographs have upset her parents and have since been removed from Millar's website.
Branding the critics as “small-minded” Millar says: “Holly agreed to the photoshoot because we are friends and we thought it would be a bit of fun.
“She is a beautiful woman and I knew she'd look great in the pictures.
“There is no way you can equate these pictures with page three in The Sun or the type of photos you see in lads' mags like Nuts or FHM. These pictures are artistic. They are high fashion.
“I know she is not wearing much, but what she is wearing is top-of-the range, aspirational lingerie by Agent Provocateur.
“These pictures are the type of thing you would see in fashion magazines like French Vogue or Vanity Fair. The fashion world is a million miles away from mags like FHM. Anyone who doesn't think these pictures are artistic is just small-minded.”
When asked how he felt about Sweeney's parents being upset, Millar replies: “It's a child's duty to annoy their parents.”
The photographer denies the intention of the photoshoot was to court controversy but admits he was not surprised at the reaction to the pictures.
“Holly is not stupid, she is savvy,” he says. “She knew the pictures would look great. She's a beautiful girl with a great body and that is why she was photographed. She took the opportunity. Anyone in her position would have done the same.
“There are people in life who don't take opportunities when they come along because of fear of the consequences and because they worry about what people will say. Holly's not like that.”
Millar also points out that his model was in total control of the photoshoot.
“If you look at the pictures, you can see Holly is holding the remote control shutter release,” he says. “She is very much in control.
“Women's libbers say pictures like these are exploitative, but what they don't seem to realise is that a beautiful woman always has power.”
Romance that didn’t last course
- Rory and Holly met in 2005 when they were pupils at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood. He was 16 and she was 14
- Holly later revealed that in 2011, McIlroy told her that he “fancied” Caroline Wozniacki as they watched a tennis match together in the luxury home they shared in Co Down.
- Shortly afterwards he left her at home and flew to Germany to watch a boxing match where he met the tennis star.
- In July 2011 after six years together the couple called time on their relationship. Just days earlier TV viewers had watched a documentary about Rory winning the US Open, with shots of Holly welcoming home