Top Northern Ireland artist charged with stealing €150k yacht from exclusive Italian resort
A Northern Ireland artist has been arrested by police in Italy after allegedly attempting to steal a €150,000 yacht in one of the country's most exclusive resorts.
Award-winning painter Larissa Watson, who opened a boutique in Belfast's Commercial Court under her lifestyle and fashion brand Goddess and Swift in 2014, has been dubbed 'The Portofino Pirate' by the Italian media since the alleged incident on Monday.
"The double life of Larissa Watson seems to have come straight out of a film," newspaper La Rivieria said.
"In Britain she's an esteemed artist, in Italy a thief who's been under scrutiny by the police for some time."
The 50-year-old, who was born in Canterbury in England but has lived most of her life here, was charged with theft after allegedly "nonchalantly" climbing aboard the Sangermani Daycruiser yacht in Portofino - a playground of the rich and famous - The Daily Telegraph reported.
The designer apparently found the keys and started the engine, and was about to head out of port when she was spotted by a suspicious harbour worker.
He ran along the dock, leaped aboard and steered the vessel owned by a local boat rental company back to its mooring.
The worker then called the port authority and the local Carabinieri paramilitary police, who arrested her.
When asked by officers, who described her as "tall, blonde and refined", if she wanted to contact her family, Mrs Watson is reported to have declined the offer.
Mrs Watson, creative director of a fashion brand as well as a painter and textile designer, is believed to have been in Italy since February and has been reported to Italian authorities for a string of unpaid hotel and restaurant bills.
She allegedly left an unpaid hotel bill in Milan, fled a restaurant without paying in Ventimiglia on Italy's border with France, and ran off from a hotel in Reggio Calabria in the far south of the country. On at least two occasions police were called.
In another incident last Saturday, the Ulster University graduate reportedly went to a beauty salon in Santa Margherita Ligure, close to Portofino, and then allegedly refused to pay her bill of €150.
Police were informed and she was charged with fraud.
The mother-of-four is due in court in Genoa next month.
But The Daily Telegraph reported her whereabouts are unknown, prompting local police to warn they will issue an international warrant for her arrest if she fails to make her court appearance.
"Nothing like this has happened before in Portofino, it's very unusual," Captain Simone Clemente of the Carabinieri told The Daily Telegraph.
"By looking through her Facebook and Instagram accounts we found she had done navigation courses in the past and knew how to handle a boat. She nearly made it out of the harbour."
During her travels in Italy it is reported that Mrs Watson has posted numerous photos on her Facebook account, taken in Rome, Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and along the Italian Riviera.
In March she posted an apparently old photo of herself holding a silver trophy and wearing an elegant evening dress.
"Happy times when I had decent clothes to wear, a great car to drive, a home and a clean, comfortable bed every night - offshore racing - winning in style!" she wrote.
In another, she said she was thrown out of a party in Bologna featuring celebrity chef Jamie Oliver "by an officious little girl".
Following her graduation from Ulster University, Mrs Watson established a studio practice in fine art and textiles, exhibiting extensively in the UK, America, Japan and Europe, with her award-winning work garnering attention within the art world.
Some of her latest artworks are available to purchase from at least one Belfast gallery, which promotes two of her oil paintings depicting Eglantine Avenue in south Belfast on its website.
The artist, who completed an Masters in fine art in 2004, is believed to have received bursaries from the Crafts Council of Ireland and the Creative Industries Innovation Fund.
The Belfast Telegraph attempted to contact her Belfast boutique.
But it appeared to no longer be receiving phone calls.