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Lucy has the look of love

By Audrey Watson

At just 23 Lucy Evangelista is a top model, has launched a new business and is planning her wedding to rugby star Matt McCullough. She tells Audrey Watson of her hectic life

Former Miss Northern Ireland and Miss UK Lucy Evangelista certainly knows a thing or two about model behaviour. At 15, the Ballymena girl was strutting the catwalks of London and now, at the grand old age of 23, she's passing on her valuable knowledge to other young women who dream of following in her footsteps.

Along with fashion photographer Ciaran O'Neill, Lucy has set up the Voodoo International Modelling School, which offers two-day courses providing everything a girl needs to try and forge a career in this highly-competitive industry.

“We only began in November and so far have had a fantastic response,” says Lucy. “When I first started modelling, I was thrown in at the deep end and hadn't a clue what to do. On the course, as well as advising about posture, posing, catwalk and make up etc, I also talk about my experiences and what I've done and offer advice.

“Plus participants get a professional portfolio that they can then take to modelling agencies.”

When Lucy says that she was thrown in at the deep end, she isn’t joking. As a pupil at Portglenone Primary School and then Ballymena Academy her early ambitions were far from glamorous.

“I had no aspirations to be a model at all,” she insists. “I wanted to be an air hostess because I love to travel. I was actually very shy and always stayed in the background.

“When I was 15, my mum entered me in a Specsavers competition and I won the NI and Dublin heats. I had to go to London for the UK final and was on my way home after coming third, when I met a guy from the L'Oreal Colour Trophy Awards who asked me to do some catwalk work.

“I spent a few days on my own in London, completely terrified at first. I remember watching the models walking up and down in six- and seven-inch heels and thinking that I would never be able to do it. But I picked it up.

“When I returned to Ballymena, I took lessons after school in beauty therapy, speech and drama and photography and although I continued modelling locally, I still wasn't considering it seriously as a career.

“Then a few years later, my sister entered me into the Miss NI competition. She had been pestering me for three years to do it and I always said no, but she went behind my back and entered me anyway.”

Lucy won the competition in 2005 and went on to win the 2005/2006 Miss UK title. She was also placed in the Top 10 of the 2005 Miss World Competition.

“That was a wonderful experience,” she says. “That year Miss World was held in Sanya, China and I was there for five weeks. I had a brilliant time and became very friendly with Miss Ireland and Miss Scotland — we still keep in touch.”

Beauty competition success propelled Lucy on to the international modelling map and she was soon mixing with celebrities such as Naomi Campbell and Liz Hurley and featuring in a TV show with Hollywood stars.

“The most amazing part of my career so far is probably last year's Grand Prix in Monte Carlo,” she recalls. “I was there with Red Bull and met Naomi Campbell (who was really nice), Liz Hurley (who was really gorgeous) and Elton John.

“It was one of the most bizarre moments of my life, being in a room with all these famous people.

“I also really enjoyed my time in Australia in 2006, where I was working for the Tamblyn and Boss model agencies. There was a pilot for a possible ABC mini-series being shot out there called Starter Wife, starring Debra Messing from Will & Grace, and I got a very small part, which was great. Sadly, I didn't make it into the subsequent series,” she laughs.

Lucy denies that modelling is a bitchy business — at least in Northern Ireland.

“It's not that way at all, I think that that's an image people like to create. At Miss NI all the girls became great friends and at things like Fashionweek, the craic backstage is brilliant.

“Northern Ireland is such a small place that you work with the same people all the time and become friends and socialise.”

When Lucy returned from Australia, she moved to Belfast and started dating another Ballymena native — Ulster Rugby star Matt McCullough.

“Matt went to Ballymena Academy as well. He was a few years above me, but I knew him to see.

“When I moved to Belfast I always saw him out and about and we bumped into each other one night in Apartment. We kept meeting each other that week and then Matt asked me out to dinner and that was that.

“We've been together for more than two years now and got engaged last summer.”

The couple have set a date for their wedding —June 25, next year — but Lucy reveals that she initially turned down Matt's very romantic proposal.

“I had my baggy jeans on, my Ugg boots and my hair was greasy,” she recalls. “Matt picked me up from work with our dog in the back of the car and said, ‘Let's go for a walk'.

“We drove to Crawfordsburn and as soon as we had parked, the dog jumped out of the boot and ran off up the beach with Matt running after him.

“It started to rain and I was left straggling behind. I got really cold and wet and very annoyed. When I caught up with them, Matt was down on one knee and had written ‘Lucy McCullough?' in the sand surrounded by my favourite candles.

“I said ‘No, you have to ask my dad first'. He said that he had, but I didn't believe him because I was sure dad would have told me.

“But he kept insisting that he had asked permission and so, I eventually said ‘Yes'.

“I don't know how he managed to hide all those candles up his top — he's a big softie.

“Matt's been a really positive influence on me in many ways. He encourages me to go out and do things like Voodoo. And being a sports star means he's really careful about what he eats, which has rubbed off on me. I had a terrible diet before.

“But his love of rugby hasn't rubbed off. I'm not a fan, though I am starting to understand it a bit more now.”

Matt (27) has been playing professional rugby since 2001, when a contract with the Ulster team cut short his studies at Trinity College Dublin and brought him back to Belfast where he continued his course in business, economics and social studies at Jordanstown.

And he reveals that although they don't share a love of rugby, the pair do have a pastime in common — houses.

When he's not on the pitch, Matt has a property development business and the couple have just finished their latest project in Belfast.

“I bought my first house at the end of 2002,” he says. “And I've renovated and rented out a few since then. It's something I'm keen to pursue even more after my rugby career is over."

“I take care of the interiors,” says Lucy. “I really enjoy bringing the look of a house together and it's something Matt and I can work on as a team.”

Lucy is dismissive of the term ‘wag' and laughs at the idea of that label on any of the Ulster wives or girlfriends.

“I'm definitely not a wag,” she says firmly. “And I don't see any of that going on in Belfast. The other girls are just like me — we go about our own business every day.

“We're all very independent and have our own careers.”

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