Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Brand Bramy - not

For the weekend that was in it, an' all... (oh yes, that obviously isn't Amy on the bike in the picture to the left...)

Building brand Bramy
The Irish Posh and Becks? Unlikely, says Susan Daly, who looks at the country's favourite celebrity couple and why you won't find this down-to-earth pair sitting on thrones at their wedding or selling the pictures to the press

Saturday February 06 2010

Waiting in line at the credit union is rarely a glamorous gig. Unless, of course, one is lucky enough to be in the mystery branch that has Brian O'Driscoll as a member.

The current TV ad campaign for the League of Credit Unions shows the Ireland rugby captain rocking up to this unnamed branch to do a bit of business. Perhaps he's got a regular saver account. For the summer wedding to Amy, like.

He's relaxed, he's smiling. Everyone greets him by name as he makes his way to the counter. "Hi Brian! Hi Brian! Hi Brian!" A pat on the shoulder here, a mock-salute there. A baby in a buggy wears a T-shirt that reads 'Yo Brian!'

Then the flirty cashier makes a joke as he presents her with his credit union book.

"Hello Ronan," she smirks, by the way mistaking him for his Ireland team-mate Ronan O'Gara. He shoots back with his own famous smirk. He knows that she knows who he is. Everyone knows Brand BoD.

Has life ever been better for Brian O'Driscoll? Ireland's Six Nations test against Italy in Croke Park today is a year removed from their Grand Slam victory but, for the fans, it might as well have been yesterday. In BoD we still trust.

On a personal level, the best is yet to come for O'Driscoll -- he and actress Amy Huberman will hold their wedding celebration in Lough Rynn Castle, Co Leitrim, in July.

This past year has been the couple's most high-profile ever. He, at the zenith of sporting heroism, his selling power -- he has endorsed major brands such as Gillette, Lexus, O2 and Adidas -- increasing incrementally; she, the actress-turned-chick-lit-author who scored three weeks at the top of the Irish bestseller list with her debut novel Hello, Heartbreak.

Huberman's power to be a publicity magnet has grown -- notwithstanding the news that The Clinic has been axed from RTE schedules, and with it her most famous acting role so far as Daisy O'Callaghan.

Her part in the RTE2 comedy sketch show Your Bad Self, for instance, was greatly talked up in the run-up promotion for the series, although she doesn't feature as prominently as the publicity would suggest. The same was true of her role in A Film With Me In It, in which her character dies early on in the plot. She does, however, have a lead role in a new low-budget Irish film called Redux.

So, while she might not be world-famous, Huberman is clearly in orbit in Ireland's miniature galaxy of household names. If she fetched up at your local credit union, you'd definitely twig who she was.

Is this enough to make O'Driscoll and Huberman a very Irish version of Posh and Becks? Clearly, the comparison is ludicrous in terms of cash and global influence. David Beckham might not be the world's best soccer player, but he may well be the most recognisable. Conversely, Brian O'Driscoll may be the best rugby centre in the world, but Japanese schoolgirls aren't covering their pencil cases with photographs of his rippling torso (much to BoD's relief, no doubt).

The Beckhams are worth just under €150m. According to accounts filed at the Companies' Office, O'Driscoll raked in around €400,000 in endorsements in 2008. Even taking into account his increased earnings in the wake of the Grand Slam win, and Amy's tax-free royalties from the sales of Hello, Heartbreak, there's a way to go before they are in La La Lolly Land with the Beckhams.

Their credibility as a couple to admire, and a relationship to aspire to, is a different matter. With Posh and Becks, there seems to be a trade-off of power. Victoria stands by David during reports of an affair and sextexts with his PA; David's global reputation continues to give Victoria the profile she craves. Whatever happens behind closed doors, their public persona as a couple has the whiff of greenbacks about it.

There isn't that cynicism in Brian and Amy's union. There is a sense of mutual support that isn't just staged for the cameras. Amy's book launch last year was a case in point. No one is pretending that her link to Captain Fantastic hasn't boosted her marketability.

As Amy has admitted, before she met Brian, "I didn't have his profile. Apart from people who would watch The Clinic, people wouldn't know who you are or particularly care. As soon as I started going out with Brian, there were people suddenly saying, 'Oh, we would like to invite you'."

The launch itself though, in the Sycamore Club in Temple Bar, was relatively modest. Friends and family far outnumbered Z-list personalities and hangers-on. Brian, although he posed for a few snaps early on in the night, faded carefully back to a table in the corner to drink bottles of beer and hold on to Amy's black clutch bag as she gave quotes to a few showbiz diarists.

By the time I left the place later that night, the couple were sitting together in the corner laughing with a few friends. If they have plans for world domination by milking public interest in their relationship, they're going to have to do better than that. Stage a few rows on the street. Arrange a photospread with VIP: Brian and Amy in Their Lovely Clonskeagh Home. Be less normal.

As it is, they have sworn not to be pictured on matching thrones to pay for their summer nuptials. "We've been asked about OK! magazine," said Amy, "and we're like, 'Nobody knows us over there, why would they care?'"

It's a pretty typical comment from straight-talking Amy. When she was nominated for a best supporting actress award at last year's IFTAs, she attended the Valentine's Day bash on her dad's arm because Brian was away playing for Ireland in Rome. Amy's cheerful reaction was: "I'm sure he'll make it up to me when he comes back."

Their wedding plans follow the same unobtrusive lines as their engagement. Brian apparently spelled out the proposal in rose petals at their home the day after they had Amy's 30th birthday party there. The only bit of bling about the affair was her €30,000 engagement ring.

Brian told me in an interview for Weekend that he wouldn't tell exactly how he proposed because "in a world where I don't have many secrets any more, there has to be something sacred. That's between myself and Amy". They did, however, pose for photographers on the street, and were then left alone.

This new relaxed approach to being in the public eye is the key to their positive image. Give a little and keep the rest private.

It works better than the modus operandi they employed at the beginning of the relationship in 2006. The couple seemed to go to farcical lengths to avoid being photographed together. Amy later claimed it wasn't meant to turn into a game of cat-and-mouse with the paparazzi. "Brian's way of being really uncomfortable is to go 'Let's get out of here', and he usually marches so fast and I'm usually laughing behind him or looking incredibly uncomfortable," she said last year.

You could interpret Brian's discomfort as a hangover from the heady days of his relationship with model Glenda Gilson. He admitted in our interview that he was mortified by his acceptance of an Ireland's Sexiest Man award -- presented by Glenda. "Cringey" was the word he used. He got "involved in pictures I didn't want to be involved in ... going to an event maybe I shouldn't have".

Being "sucked into" the social pages wasn't good for his athlete's image -- but then this was his 20s, a time of rebellion expressed by his constantly changing hairdos, and yes, perhaps, the model girlfriend.

But it would be disingenuous of him to suggest that it was just his choice of girlfriend which shone the spotlight on him. It had been switched on for some time. In 2000, when he scored his stunning hat-trick for Ireland in the Six Nations in Paris, he made an obtuse signal to the TV cameras. It was interpreted as a secret sign to his long-term girlfriend at home, Suzanne Meenan.

The resulting fuss in the papers was silly and short-lived, but it showed that Brian O'Driscoll was no longer a guy from Clontarf going out with Suzanne, a girl from Donnybrook. He was being touted as the future of Irish rugby and it was his first lesson in what happens when you draw attention to your life off the pitch.

It's taken him 10 years to get to a point where he doesn't care what people think. Amy might have come along at the right time, but she's also the right one.

She's also in her 30s and has lived a little. She visited Auschwitz with her Jewish father a few years back -- knowing that her paternal grandfather was lucky to have left Poland for England in the early 20th century must have afforded her a greater perspective on the business of life than most of us are lucky to have.

She went to Loreto college in Foxrock, but "she's not one of those inane, orange-skinned girls who inhabit that world of minor celebrity", said A Film With Me In It director Ian Fitzgibbon, "she's a smart actress with her head screwed on. She knows exactly what she's at."

If her raised profile brings her a few perks -- such as a free Fiat 500 for being their girl-about-town ambassador or West Coast Cooler Rosé providing free gargle for her book launch -- well, it's not like she's asking Prada to dress her for the IFTAs.

It's unlikely we'll see them producing his 'n' hers perfume in the style of Posh and Becks. Nice and Nicer eau de parfum, anyone? And, let's face it, that 'Bramy' tag never really took off.

But perhaps the Irish League of Credit Unions could get added value by writing a new ad to feature them both. Brian is sauntering to the counter when Amy rushes in and rugby tackles him to the ground. "So glad I caught you," she'll gasp, handing him a blue plastic wallet, "You forgot your lodgement book, babes."

Brian and Amy might be in the running for Ireland's golden couple, but these twosomes have already marked their territory in the power couple stakes:

The newbies: Katy Perry kissed a girl and liked it, but she likes her brazen English funnyman Russell Brand more. Brand's been fired from MTV and the BBC, but keeps bouncing back. Now they are getting married after a whirlwind romance -- expect a saucy vicar at the ceremony and the bride's suspenders to be entirely visible.

The hip-hop royalty: Jay-Z and Beyoncé were already two of the biggest names in the music biz. When they came together in 2008, it was a match made in branding heaven.

The first couple: US Presidential pair Barack and Michelle are frequently caught embracing in the corridors of the White House and go on 'date' nights to keep their marriage healthy under extremely stressful circumstances. When they danced to Beyoncé's version of At Last at his inauguration, TV viewers around the globe felt as if they were guests at a wedding.

The bold and beautiful: Hollywood's finest set of his 'n' hers square jaws came together as many movie couples do -- after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt fell in love on set. They may have split up, but they were the most talked-about couple in the world.

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