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Samantha: The epitome of Glamour

Samantha Barry is editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine and the toast of New York. Barry Egan spoke to the Cork woman about fashion, Anna Wintour, having a gun held to her head in a robbery - and being single in NYC

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Fashion Queen: Samantha Barry

Fashion Queen: Samantha Barry

Getty Images for IMG

With Anna Wintour at the Glamour Woman of the Year Awards last year

With Anna Wintour at the Glamour Woman of the Year Awards last year

With Chralize Theron at the New York event

With Chralize Theron at the New York event

Getty Images for Glamour

Fashion Queen: Samantha Barry

Samantha Barry's earliest childhood memory is "a Christmas one" in Cork, where she grew up. "Our family were close in age," she says referring to her sister Davina, who is a year older, and her brother Brendan, a year younger. So, on Christmas Eve when Samantha was three or four years of age, her parents Mairead and David did something that most parents didn't do.

"I know why they did it now," she explains. "They just didn't want three kids waking them up on Christmas morning." To achieve this, the Barry family would go out on Christmas Eve for a drive. "Dad would always be really late getting into the car. We would come back from the drive on Christmas Eve and the presents were there for us."

Their parents told Samantha and her siblings that because they were the best children, Santa came to them first. Samantha Barry must wake up in her fancy apartment on the West Side of Manhattan now and wonder whether all her Christmases have come at once.

"An exuberant Irish woman who had suddenly been elevated to one of the most powerful perches in publishing," wrote the New York Times when Samantha was appointed editor-in-chief of the Glamour empire in January 2018. She was anointed by none other than Anna Wintour, the legendary editor-in-chief of American Vogue and artistic director of Conde Nast.

Samantha's media value soared, but her ego didn't.

Hugely likeable, she was bursting with charm when I spoke to her. Asked does she live a gilded life where every door in Manhattan is held open for her and where she is waited on hand and foot, Samantha laughs. It is inarguable that she has become a big shot in one of biggest cities in the world. (Which has a certain irony to it now that the Irish broadcaster RTE, who rejected Samantha Barry in her mid-20s, is broadcasting a major documentary - Fearless - on Monday on how great Samantha Barry is).

"Yes, people are nice," she says. She can remember Orla, a friend of hers, wanting to go to Legends, a very good Italian restaurant on West 33rd Street.

"It was Orla's anniversary with her boyfriend and she couldn't get a table. So I did get my assistant to book a table under my name. So they walked in and it was 'Oh Ms Barry, la la la.' They kept sending free s*** to the table. And by the end of the night, she had drank so much that as she was walking out the door and they said, 'Thank you so much, Ms Barry,' she was like, 'I'm Orla!'"

"So I think it is nice," Samantha says of her media goddess status in America, "and I like sharing that for my friends and family."

Still on the subject of food, Samantha says that she and her sister, who lives in Sweden, make lists of their favourite food back home in Ireland.

"Irish Chinese is top of the list. Laura Whitmore is a very good friend and we're obsessed with Spar hot chicken rolls," she laughs.

The 38-year-old lives by herself in an apartment in a brownstone in Chelsea. Samantha says that her family moved to the small town of Ballincollig in Cork when she was a year old. They had been in Mayfield, an area in Cork city, beforehand. "I think we lived about three doors down from Roy Keane when I was about six months old!"

During the 1990 World Cup, eight-year-old Samantha used to sit at home with her parents and "watch the matches with a pen and a piece of paper, and at the end of the game I would give a report about what had happened. I remember being fascinated by news and what was happening in the world. I wanted to work in news".

Samantha can remember being in primary school when Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister in late November, 1990, "and the principal came over the intercom and said that Thatcher had resigned. I remember thinking, 'This is a big moment'," she says.

Later she worked at Redz nightclub in Cork with her sister. "I remember a lot of Goldschlager schnapps and Blue WKD! I was in college, so I was 18, 19. I lived at home the whole time I was in UCC (University College Cork).

"The first time I felt freedom was when I was 22 and I went to Dublin and did my masters. I lived with a group of lads that were in DCU (Dublin City University) with me." Being away from her family home, Samantha felt "like I had grown up for the first time".

In the upcoming RTE documentary Fearless, the word vulnerability comes up a few times in relation to Samantha. Did that come out of living at home until her early 20s, with mum and dad?

"No. I think my vulnerability is that I'm not afraid to cry. I'm a crier. I love a good cry."

When was the last time she cried?

"I cried in the middle of the pandemic when my dishwasher broke down," she says. "Obviously, in the normal course of events, I'd be like 'I can get that fixed', but when the dishwater broke at that time, I was like, 'This is not a good situation!'

"I'm honest about things when they're working and when they're not working," she continues. "Especially with my friends and my family, I'm very open to 'This is a s*** day' or 'I'm really happy with this situation' or 'I'm not'. I think that's the vulnerability that they're talking about, not necessarily a sheltered childhood," says the woman who made her mark in the unsheltered environment of newsrooms around the world.

These include the newsroom of the BBC World News in London; she was poached from there in 2014 to run CNN's growing social media division in New York. The first time Samantha went to the White House was when she was at CNN, during the Obama administration. She had watched "so much West Wing in the house in Drumcondra that I was like living my West Wing dream!"

She interviewed Hillary Clinton several times when she was at CNN. Samantha also very proudly brought Hillary onstage for a Women Of The Year award for Glamour in 2018.

"Hillary is very personable, and I have always enjoyed spending time with her," says Samantha, who has also worked alongside Charlize Theron and Margaret Atwood at these Glamour events, about all things women and empowerment.

Samantha says in the documentary that she enjoys being uncomfortable and that fear drives her."I'd hate stagnating," she explains. "I'd hate to feel bored in a job. I'm always a little terrified. I like being a little bit out of my comfort zone."

Anna Wintour also described Samantha as a woman who always sees everything from "a global perspective". Asked what that means, Samantha says when she arrived at Glamour, she told a story that they mightn't have told before.

"Glamour is a big beauty and fashion brand as well, but I really wanted to tell the story of Capetown running out of water. I was like, how do I do this at Glamour? I know how I would have done it at CNN or the BBC. I got a photographer and a journalist in the area and we talked to women about how their beauty routine had changed when they can't wash their hair and can't have a shower every day. So, we still told the story of a lack of water in Capetown."

What other stories does she want to tell in Glamour about women's lives?

"Fertility is really important," she says, adding, "I have girlfriends. I'm in my 30s. I do think, especially in New York, and in London and Dublin, that decision to have kids, or IVF, or freezing your eggs, (that decision) is important to me. Finance is important to me. I come from a very modest background. I think owning your financial future is really important to me. And I think it is the ultimate feminist issue because women are paid less, we live longer."

I ask her how much she is paid.

"I'm paid enough!" she laughs.

"I'm a good negotiator. I always talk to women about negotiating, 'What are you bringing to the table? What is your vision for where you are taking it? What is your market value?'"

All in all, it has been an intoxicating two-and-a-half years at Glamour and Samantha has become one of the US media's brightest new stars.

Was Samantha scared when she first met Anna Wintour?

"No, I wasn't, actually. I don't know why I wasn't scared. I remember she did invite me to come down to Conde Nast - and I did plan my outfit."

(For the record: Samantha wore a beige silky jacket, a white shirt and "really good shoes - Manolo Blahniks - and a nice bag and black pants".)

"Here's the thing about Anna. She is really straightforward. And I know in the doc, she called me curious, but she is one of the most curious people I've ever met. She wants to know what's happening in the world. She is really interested in new talent. She lifts people up," she explains.

Did Anna do that with Samantha?

"Absolutely."

Samantha says she needed a bit of a lift in her mid-20s after a bad experience at home with the national broadcaster.

"I wasn't happy when I kept asking for jobs at RTE and they kept rejecting me. So I ended up doing what every good Irish 25-, 26-year-girl does - which is to go off travelling." In 2009, she got a job in Papua New Guinea with ABC, training young reporters. One evening she was car-jacked. Luckily, she had done some hostile-environment training. That said, the ordeal was "terrifying".

"They put a gun to my head," she says of the car-jacking. "It was the first time, and the only time, I've ever had therapy, and I had it for a good while afterwards," recalls Samantha, whose TED Talk in 2017 was called Being Fearless - Embracing Change & The Future.

"I was in the car on my own. I was doing a U-turn, leaving a friend's house, and I got locked in and they came and pulled me out of the car and put the gun to my head.

"You know, in a country that was so full of violence and rape, I was very lucky to get away super-unscathed. I remember I couldn't watch Bruce Willis movies for a while, or anything with a gun in it!" she says.

If that wasn't enough of a Papua New Guinea moment, she also got malaria and was "quite ill for a couple of months. I lost a s***load of weight!" she says.

"Then I left Papua New Guinea. That was the moment when I was trying to evaluate my future.

"It was just before my 30th birthday. I came back to Europe and my sister was getting married in Sweden. I think turning 30, I was like, 'What am I going to do with my life?' Then I went to London."

In London, Samantha worked for the BBC, then she landed a top job in CNN in the United States, before joining Glamour two years ago.

Samantha's aforementioned sister "did what my parents did: she just whacked three kids out in quick succession. A beautiful niece and nephews."

Would Samantha like to 'whack out' a few? "I'd like to have kids. Yeah, definitely. I'd like to do it with somebody; I wouldn't want to necessarily go into it solo."

Samantha works in the most look-ist, age-ist, weight-ist industry in the world. How does she cope with that professionally and personally? Does she hope to change it from within?

"I didn't grow up in the fashion world. Glamour is for all women across America. It is for everybody.

"One of the things that was really important to me is that we tell a lot of stories that are cross-generational. So, a lot of older women stories. Size-inclusiveness is really important to me.

"Our September cover last year was with size-inclusive models. Everything we do in terms of fashion and beauty, it is very important that they are diverse and inclusive and that includes everything - generational, size, height, whatever."

In terms of herself, Samantha says: "It doesn't bother me, to be fair, because I don't ever think I could be a size-zero, six-foot-two glamazon. You have got to be realistic about who you are as well, right?"

Was that a conversation Samantha had with her boss Anna Wintour when she landed the big job at Glamour - about inclusion?

"It was really important to me, the inclusiveness of the brand. It wasn't just size or age. Colour, as well."

There is no romance mentioned in her documentary. Is there an other half?

"That would be a whole other documentary! I'm single. I'm dating in New York. Dating is complicated in New York. You have to learn this new vocabulary for what's dating? What's hanging out? What's exclusive? When do you get to boyfriend-girlfriend? It is so different to Ireland.

"I mean, I'm very straightforward. I'd be like, 'Where's this going?' I like dates though. I like the ceremony of going to a restaurant and having a cocktail."

Is she the type of woman who does cartwheels down Fifth Avenue when she falls in love?

"Oh my God, yeah. I'm a massive romantic. I love loving. I love loving!"

Where does she see herself in five years' time? "That's a good question. Jesus! Doing a job that I love - which could be absolutely this one."

How has life been for her in lockdown New York?

"It is quite dystopian, actually. It is amazing to breathe in some outside air, because I have been in my apartment for 10 weeks," she explains, because when we talked last week, she had escaped to the Hamptons.

"I have no balcony. I have no outside. So that was hard. People are starting to go out now in Manhattan. Everyone is wearing face masks.

"It is so strange for a city that is so full of life. When you look at that documentary, I actually think New York is a big character in it. I was mourning the New York that was last November.

"My brother, a guard in Killarney - Garda Barry! - is obviously working every day during this," she adds. "I am really proud of him. He is amazing."

Samantha would love to have a place in Ireland - but she doesn't see herself living permanently back here, ever.

"I love New York. I love Downtown. I love strolling around the Village," smiles the ginger powerhouse. "I could see myself back in London again, but who knows? I never plan it out where I want to be, and it has done me okay so far!"

Fearless... Samantha Barry, produced by Debbie O'Donnell, airs on Monday at 9.35pm on RTE One

SAMANTHA

The epitome of Glamour

Samantha Barry is editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine and the toast of New York. Barry Egan spoke to the Cork woman about fashion, Anna Wintour, having a gun held to her head in a robbery - and being single in NYC

Belfast Telegraph