Medicine and modelling, how it’s in their genes
As teenager Naoise Tan follows in her aunt’s footsteps onto the catwalk, Stephanie Bell reports on their love of two very differing professions
Brains and beauty seem to be in the blood of the Tan family from Belfast. Taking the runway at next week’s West Coast Cooler Belfast Fashion Week is teenage stunner Naoise Tan, niece of former Miss Northern Ireland Susan Tan.
At 16 and already signed up with top Dublin Model Agency, First Option, Naoise is not only following in the footsteps of her famous aunt but also her dad Michael (47) and mum Denise (48) who were local catwalk regulars in their teens.
But it is not just modelling which has become something of a Tan tradition — the family is making its mark in the medical world in Northern Ireland.
Miss Northern Ireland 1984 winner Susan (46) runs her own alternative private health care centre, The Synergy Clinic on the Cregagh Road, while Michael is a GP like his dad Kee Sun and Naoise has hopes to become a plastic surgeon.
Two of Susan’s daughters, Jade (23) and Zoe (18), have also dabbled in modelling.
It was all so different over 30 years ago when Susan was 16, the same age as her niece, Naoise, and approached by a model agency while trying on bikinis in Top Shop.
She recalls: “An agency called Fridays approached me in Top Shop and asked if I would be interested in joining them.
“My dad wouldn’t hear tell of it. He thought it was all very shady. Then my brother Michael, Naoise’s dad was going out with Denise and the agency approached her and also asked Michael to do a bit of modelling.
“A year later they told me to invite dad and mum along to see for themselves how it worked.
“So on my very first modelling job, I had dad and mum sitting in,” she laughs.
It was the agency which finally persuaded Susan to enter the Miss Northern Ireland contest when she was 19 and studying medicine at Queen’s.
She recalls: “Fridays ran the competition at the time and they kept asking me to enter but I thought it really wasn’t my thing.
“I think it was the final heat in Londonderry when they had badgered me so much I gave in.
“A lot of people thought because I was half Malaysian that I had no chance and so it was a shock when I won. I was delighted; it was a real ego boost.”
Susan’s dad Kee Sun Tan (74), a retired GP, is from Malaysia and came to Northern Ireland to study medicine at Queen’s where he met and married Eleanor (66).
Their beautiful daughter was the toast of the province when she won Miss Northern Ireland in 1984.
She remembers: “It is a long time ago but in many ways it feels like yesterday. The photo calls and openings I attended were very varied and interesting. I was very young and one thing it teaches you is not to be shy which was great.”
Susan didn’t finish her medicine degree but went on to set up Synergy Health Care, a private integrated medical centre offering environmental nutritional and comple
mentary medicine. She is separated and has four children, Jade (23), a student of St Martin’s Art College in London, Adam (21) an accountancy student at Canterbury University, Zoe (18) who is studying marketing and human behaviour at Reading and Tulla (14).
A proud aunt to Naoise, she is thrilled that her young niece is enjoying such a high level of success in the modelling world: “She is gorgeous and is doing great. I will certainly try to get to Fashion Week to see her on the catwalk.”
Naoise was just 14 when she got her first taste of the glamorous world of fashion modelling and since then her feet haven’t touched the ground.
Weekends are usually spent in Dublin modelling for top fashion houses like Harvey Nichols and Brown Thomas.
She juggles her high-profile part-time job with studying for her A-levels at Methody College.
“I absolutely love it and I’ve made so many friends. School has been very good to give me time off when I need it and it is hard work doing both. I usually spend the train journeys to Dublin studying and school does come first.”
One of five children, she has three sisters, Cara (9), Phoebe (12), Niamh (22) a dance teacher, and one brother, Ryan (19), who is studying anatomical science at university.
She loves the fact that her mum and dad both modelled in their teens: “I think because they did it too, it has become second nature to me. But even though I love it, I do want to go to university and study medicine and hopefully become a plastic surgeon.”
West Coast Cooler Fashion Week takes place at a number of venues across the city next week, showcasing the key new season High Street and designer trends.
Cooler fashions on show
Naoise Tan will be modelling at West Coast Cooler FASHIONWEEK from October 13-16. The full show schedule is available online at www.facebook.com/belfastfw at www.belfastfashionweek.com along with details of this season’s trends plus links to all participant retailers and sponsors.
Catwalk tickets, which cost £15 (or £20 for a limited number of exclusive front row seats) are available from the Belfast Welcome Centre on 02890246609 or via the website.
Style Sunday and the Afternoon Teas at the Culloden events are now sold out.