Belfast Telegraph

Topless pictures scandal nearly ruined my life, says ex-Miss Northern Ireland Joanne Salley

By Rebecca Black

Ex-Miss Northern Ireland Joanne Salley has told how her career fell apart after topless pictures of her were spread by students.

The Dungannon woman, who had been a teacher at prestigious boys' school Harrow, said the emergence of the photographs devastated her.

"I was no better than a pin-up in their bedroom," she added. "I couldn't cope with that. It destroyed me. I couldn't walk down the high street. I drove the five-minute journey from my flat to my classroom and hid there."

After the episode Joanne quit as an art teacher at the school, which she described as "her life".

"I love Harrow - the boys are fantastic," she said. "What really angers me is this label that I've had. For the past four years, anything I do, they say: 'Topless teacher'. It is so derogatory.

"From being a respectable girl from a religious family in a small town in Northern Ireland, I worked really hard, went to Cambridge and got a job at one of the best schools in the country. Then this happens, and that is the label everyone pins on me."

Four years on from the episode the 39-year-old revealed the pictures had been taken by the school's head of photography - a personal friend - but were somehow found by pupils.

Ms Salley also revealed in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that her experience of being Miss Northern Ireland was not positive and said she felt "manipulated and controlled for a whole year".

"They put you in a box - you will wear high heels, have nails on and go to the hairdresser every day," she said. "That was the image, the expectation. I became that. I guess I didn't know how to react against it."

Ms Salley was crowned in 1998 and went on to study silversmithing at the University of Ulster before completing a postgraduate course at Cambridge that ended with her becoming a teacher.

Today she is interested in keeping fit and has ran marathons. One of the next challenges she plans to take on is cycling the length of Chile, the longest country in the world, for charity.

A few weeks ago Ms Salley fought and won a bout at Boodles Boxing Ball at Grosvenor House Hotel to raise money to fund research into neuroblastoma.

She trained 10 hours a week for four months and was not worried despite suffering a black eye, whiplash and a fractured foot.

"Fear holds you back," she said. "If I felt like that, there is no way I would step into a ring. If you don't train properly you will get injured. That's why I was 100% dedicated. It is so empowering - and a great stress release."

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