She completed three degrees by the age of 23, and then decided to enter Miss Ireland. She won — and now the former beauty queen is trying to make it in New York. Aoife Walsh tells Rowena Walsh about life in the Big Apple
She’s a self-confessed homebird who moved to New York for her career. She completed three degrees by the age of 23, and then decided to enter a beauty pageant. Aoife Walsh is certainly ambitious, but the former Miss Ireland is also an intriguing mix of contradictions.
If life had gone according to her plan, Aoife would be teaching a class of secondary-school children now. Instead she is settling into a hectic new life in New York, where she hopes to further her career as a model and influencer.
Moving to ultra-competitive New York to model at the age of 27 might be considered a risky proposition by some, but the Clonmel woman is blasé. “I felt like I had experience after modelling in Ireland for three years. I was old enough to take on the Big Apple.”
Before making the move, Aoife met with three different New York agencies. All of them offered her a place. She signed with MSA Models, which also boasts another former Miss Ireland — Emma Waldron — on its books. “I’m signed in under three different divisions: fashion, lifestyle which is the commercial end and their influencer division.”
Aoife is also continuing to work with her Irish agent, Andrea Roche. “I’ll be going back and forth to Ireland quite a bit as well, which is great.” In New York, a model has to attend casting calls for every job.
“You go round the city every day meeting clients,” says Aoife.
“Being Irish helps. Clients pick up on the accent a lot. Even my name is very different in America, and it’s a conversation opener. I chat to them about being Miss Ireland and having red hair and I think it gives me an edge over the other girls because they remember you for your story and you stand out from the crowd.”
Yet Aoife almost destroyed her modelling USP.
“I got a bit of grief about my red hair when I was younger. I wanted to dye my hair blonde and then my mum told me that because I was a red head, if I dyed my hair blonde, it would turn green. I look back and I think I was such an eejit, but I’m so glad that I didn’t touch it.
“Later in life, it really stood to me. In Miss Ireland, I was the only redhead. In Miss World, I was the only redhead. People in New York are always saying they love my red hair. I wouldn’t feel me without my red hair.”
The big American casting calls live up to their image in the movies. Models are lined up in a hallway waiting to be seen. When called in to meet the client, they do their walk.
“Some clients say give me cross or laughter or confused,” says Aoife. “When that happens, I think I could be on a TV show.
“I’m loving it here. The modelling industry in New York can be stereotyped as being very harsh and aggressive but, so far, I’ve met lots of new friends within my own agency and other agencies, just from going to castings. We all just want to get on and be successful.”
A typical day for Aoife begins with a trip to the gym. So far, so normal you might think for a model. But this is only one of the ways her life has changed since she moved Stateside.
“I’m one of those really lucky people who have a really high metabolism. I can eat whatever I want, and I’ve always been the same size. At home, the gym wasn’t on my radar.”
Living in New York made Aoife want to up her game. She does regular cardio now, working out three or four times a week on the bike or the crosstrainer. “I do a light bit of toning then, followed by some core exercises on a yoga mat, nothing too strenuous.
“I want to be fit enough to whizz around the city on my feet because castings could be uptown, downtown, over in Brooklyn, anywhere. You might have a couple very close to each other so you need to be moving pretty quickly.”
Most casting calls take place in the morning or early afternoon, so after her workout, Aoife does light hair and make-up and goes to her appointments. She’s also working on a blog at the moment about life in New York and her love of fashion.
“In the evening, I try to meet friends for coffee. If I haven’t got to the gym that day, I might go with a friend and make it a social thing. I have made friends with Irish girls here, and it’s good to get advice from them about how they’ve made the transition from home, and the little things like where do you get your chicken.
“I’ve started doing a lot of cooking. A lot of people here eat out or get takeout every night, but I’m very conscious of what I’m eating and what is in the food. I make my own food and eat the way I would at home. I make a lot of salads and soups in the evening. Even the bread here is so sugary and salty. I’ve just made my own loaf.”
Although Aoife admits to having a sweet tooth, with doughnuts being a serious guilty pleasure, she is very aware of all the temptations around her. “I have to restrain myself a little bit more than I would have previously. I brought over Barry’s Tea because I can’t cope without it. I would usually have chocolate or cookies with it at night, and that would be about it, treatwise.”
Aoife has always been focused. “By the age of 23, I had three degrees and I had won Miss Ireland, I was doing pretty well.” But it wasn’t always easy for her. She says that winning Miss Ireland in 2013 was one of the best moments of her life. However, when asked during that competition what was the worst thing that ever happened to her, her reply was failing to get into the HDip teacher training course when she first applied.
“I was extremely ambitious but I was being told no. Instead I did my masters in business. The second time I got told no, I did some work experience with disadvantaged students. In hindsight, it definitely wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me, but at the time it felt like it was.”
On her third attempt, she was accepted in the HDip course in Trinity and UCC. She chose to study in the capital.
Winning Miss Ireland changed Aoife’s life, but she almost didn’t enter.
She was working in Abercrombie & Fitch in Dublin’s Dundrum Town Centre at weekends while studying for her HDip.
“You are a sales assistant but you’re classified as a model because you wear the clothes and you had to sell them while you were wearing them. It definitely boosted my confidence even to go forward to [compete in] Miss Tipperary.
“I had really wanted to enter it. I wanted to look back in 10 years’ time and say that was an experience I had.” When she turned 22, she realised that she only had one chance left to take part in the competition because of the age cut-off.
“But at the last minute I was like I don’t know if I will. I was teaching in a school getting my work experience. I had a lot on that year. I was working two jobs and I was in college.”
Her mother asked her if she would regret not going for it and she admitted she would. “I hate sitting back. I like to go for it and take the opportunity. So what if it doesn’t work out, at least I went for it and I’ll have no regrets.
Competing in Miss Ireland was another bucket list item. Aoife was so sure that she wasn’t going to win that she had planned to go on holiday to Croatia the next morning. “I had brought my suitcase to the pageant so that I could go straight to the airport after it.”
Aoife was the third woman from Clonmel to win Miss Ireland after Andrea Roche and Roz Purcell. Like her model colleagues, she is determined to make the most of every opportunity life offers.
Moving to New York may be a leap of faith for her, but this ambitious redhead says she’s never really been one to have a massive game plan.
“After six years’ studying, I never thought I’d be in New York modelling. At the moment I’m very open to opportunities. I’m just loving life here and who knows where I’ll be in five years? But I know I can look back in 10 years’ time and say I modelled in New York and it was such a great period of time in my life.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved