IN HER SHOES
Camille O’Sullivan’s home is tastefully decorated with the paraphernalia of her stage career, but her background and education informed the choice of the actual house. Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
These pictures show the home in Dublin 8 of Camille O’Sullivan. As can be seen, it’s a home that is full of romance, sensuality, femininity and drama. These are qualities that you don’t normally find in the home of an architect; architects, as regular readers of My Favourite Room will know, tend to favour restraint, straight lines and monochrome.
Yet, not only is Camille a fully qualified architect, she’s also won awards for her work in the field and has lectured to architectural students.
However, as many will know, the raven-haired beauty is now more celebrated the world over for her outstanding abilities as a singer and interpreter of the songs of Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Nick Cave and David Bowie, and she brings those very qualities that are obvious in her home to her performances; she’s by turns sensual — to the point of raunchy — romantic, dramatic and always feminine.
Camille commands the stage and the screen so completely that it’s hard to believe that she ever did anything else apart from sing, yet it took a lifechanging event for her to summon the courage to give up architecture, at which she excelled, and give her singing talent a chance to shine.
Throughout her teenage years and even in college, Camille — whose mother is French, while her father is Irish — had always performed in school dramas in her home town of Cork and in dramsoc in UCD, but even though many people told her she should go professional, she balked. “I didn’t have the balls, because I wasn’t too sure I could stand in front of an audience all the time. It took forever to go on stage. I was setting up obstacles for myself, ‘I didn’t train for it’, ‘My parents are going to kill me’. Endless excuses,” Camille says with a laugh, adding, “There’s never a right moment. I don’t think it would have happened unless something pretty big happened in my life. I definitely would have stayed on the safer side of life.”
That big thing was a car accident, though initially it was more about survival. “The car accident was so mental,” she says. “It was learning to walk again, use your hands again, ‘Can I paint again?’ ‘Can I draw again?,’ all those loves, and yet you’re out of it on morphine and you’re like, ‘Look at the lovely flowers’.”
However, the year-long convalescence enabled Camille to take stock of her life. “I’ve read recently that the closest you get to knowing what you want to do with your life is when you’re closest to death. And I suppose it was a bit like that. I was forced to look at myself in a really different way,” she says.
Taking the first steps to a stage career weren’t so easy, but Camille says she had a lot of support, including from her only sister Vicky, a property banker, and her anxious parents, who introduced her in her childhood to the kind of music she now performs. “My mum, I suppose it’s her Frenchness, she was like, ‘We love you as parents and we think you’re good, but maybe we’re wrong and if they don’t come, we’ll still be there’,” Camille relates with a fond laugh, knowing that they would of course have been there no matter what happened, not only because they love her, but also because they were risk-takers in their day. “My dad had done a year of architecture, but gave it up to become a racing driver. They met in Monte Carlo and then he became a professional sailor. He’s a property developer too, so he did end up going back to houses. They travel the world and are quite bohemian,” she explains.
She also had Feargal Murray, who has been her creative partner since the beginning. “Feargal just said, ‘Choose a date, choose a venue’ and that’s how we started,” she says.
That was at the beginning of the millennium. It was a hard slog initially, however, Camille has gradually made her name. In conversation, she constantly questions her ability, but it’s obvious from her CV that she’s considered a major talent. She has appeared in films with Judi Dench and the late Bob Hoskins, is a regular on Later . . . With Jools Holland and at the Edinburgh Festival, and has toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company in The Rape of Lucrece, based on Shakespeare’s poem, devised by herself and Feargal.
Looking back, she realises that while she loved her studies, the real world of architecture was not for her. “Talking to engineers, going on site, that wasn’t me,” she says. However, her architectural background did come in handy when she selected the house she’d like to live in; she bought it — with her dad — in 2004. A Victorian red-brick terraced
‘I was seeing only obstacles. “I didn’t train for it.” “My parents will kill me.” There‘s never a right time’