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Roses pose for pictures at the 2009 finals Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Q&A What’s it really like being a Rose of Tralee?

As Ireland (and the world) gears up for the 2011 Rose of Tralee finals, we talk to someone who really knows…

CLARE KAMBAMETTU WON the 2010 Rose of Tralee festival a year ago. She’s now coming to the end of her tenure as Rose, and will be handing her tiara to this year’s winner on Tuesday before heading off to do a PhD.

So asked this self-described “modern girl” for some background. What’s it really like being the toast of all Tralee?

Was it difficult to get into the competition?

The funny thing is, I was doing my PhD interviews at around the same time as the heat for London. There was a group interview for both of them. But as it turned out, the interview for the Rose of Tralee was actually tougher than the one for the PhD.

With the PhD, you go in with an idea of what they’re looking for. Whereas with the festival, they put it down to an ‘indefinable quality’, so you’ve no idea what they’re after.

What purpose do you think the contest serves?

I think it has two completely different functions within Ireland and outside of Ireland. Within Ireland – people say there’s all these negative connotations attached to it, but it consistently gets really high viewer ratings. So people feel like it’s a bit of craic.

But it plays a much more important role in Irish communities further afield. In somewhere like London, the Irish population is pretty well dispersed, and people who go to places like the Irish Club tend to be older. But when you go to Australia and the States, the people engaged with the Irish centres there are the same age as me. They’ve moved away from home; maybe they have families out there. And the Rose of Tralee is actually something that brings them together. I was surprised by how much it meant. It’s a connection to home.

Every place I went in the world, I was met by Rose of Tralee family members. By girls who had been Roses in the past; by their parents; by their sisters. There are these massive families of people who have been involved.

Do you ever get sick of the ‘Lovely Girls’ joke?

I kind of go along with it, to be honest.

Is there much kissing between Roses and escorts?

No. They kind of take on a ‘big brother’ role. Also the escort liaison crew are hardcore, and you do not want to mess with them. And the Roses are already pretty tired when they get down to Tralee.

My escort has actually turned into one of my best friends. When I move to Galway in September, I’m taking over his spare room for five weeks.

Clare meets one of her fans (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Did you do any training before the competition?

No. But last year on the Monday night, Celia Holman-Lee came down and treated us to a deportment class. Because there are things like posture, things like that, that do come across on camera. There were a couple of make-up tips as well, and learning to look out for each other. Being careful if some of the girls might use fake tan occasionally – that sort of thing.

Did you get any unpleasant attention as the Rose of Tralee?

Occasionally you get men going, sort of, ‘Aha, it’s the Rose of Tralee!’ But there’s never been anything aggressive or anything like that. It’s difficult in one respect, because your life does still go on. My uncle died during the year, and my long-term boyfriend and I split up. And you have to deal with those difficult things – but if you have a school to go to on those days, or an event to compere, you’re not going to go in teary and talk about it. So you just have to pull yourself together and deal with that stuff in your own private time. I haven’t found it too hard, because you know that there is a year’s limit on it. So even if today’s a day when I just want to go back to my old self in jeans and a t-shirt, you can tell yourself: ‘It’s just for a year.’

Is there life after the Rose of Tralee?

Absolutely. I can’t wait in one sense. But I’m going to miss it like crazy.

As told to Michael Freeman

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