herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

It's the return of Ross

With Renards closed and foiegras at half price, the recession has finally kicked in for everyone's favourite D4 bloke Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, back on stage in a new play...

WHEN writer Paul Howard watched his character Ross O'Carroll-Kelly come to life on the stage, it wasn't the actors, but rather the audience, who intrigued him.

“I couldn't believe it. The audience was made up of Avoca-handweaver mums, golf club dads and the Ross brigade. It struck me that the people I'm parodying find it funny themselves,” says the author.

That was November 2007, when his first play, The Last Days of the Celtic Tiger, premiered at the Olympia theatre. By then, rugby player Ross had become a cult figure for a generation of Celtic Tiger cubs. It was a long way from the newspaper column where Howard first introduced the arrogant schools rugby star.

The scenario of the college jock adored by fawning girls is nothing new, appearing as the setting in countless American movies. Yet, to see it replicated in the schools of south Dublin was intriguing for the man who wanted to dissect the scene from an anthropological point of view.

“I wanted to do a serious piece of journalism where I would follow the successful team on the night of the final until some point the following morning, but that would have meant writing about a lot of things that were actionable.”

Instead, he focussed his efforts on a fictional character, a rugby supremo of average looks and inflated ego. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. The emergence of Ross coincided with the burgeoning popularity of rugby, thanks in part to the professional era and the consequent emergence of the game's first superstar in Ireland — Brian O'Driscoll.

“After BOD came along, a fascination with rugby developed that transcended sport and the traditional following.Rugby was always a niche sport, confined to affluent secondary schools, but all that began to change.”

Key to the character's popularity was the fact that he was so rooted in a certain social grouping that he has now become a byword for the sense of entitlement that prevails in particular areas of Dublin. But if Ross is the personification of the “D4 phenomenon”, he has also transcended his Dublin confines and has come to represent the monied classes all over Ireland.

The more the public came to know Ross, the more they became familiar with the women in his life. There was his long-suffering girlfriend Sorcha, who later became his wife, and later still, his ex. The perfect embodiment of the privileged Celtic Tigress, she illustrated the inherent snobbery towards people who live outside the so-called “desirable” postcodes.

Then there was Erika, she of the high-fashion clothes and temporary possessor of a much older, rich husband. Of course, these women paled in comparison to Ross's mother Fionnuala, founder of the campaign to move Funderland to the north side and a constant thorn in the side of low-brow businesses that might damage the ambience of the south side.

When he wasn't being hounded by the women in his life, Ross devoted his energies to the conquest of Dublin beauties. Everyone from author Cathy Kelly to Caroline Morahan has caught his eye. And with a home-grown Miss World in the form of Rosanna Davison, there was no limit to Ross's levels of appreciation.

Over the years, the model and Herald columnist has appeared in the columns and books on many occasions. Tall, blonde and gorgeous, she immediately became the object of desire for Ross. And while an appearance in one of Paul Howard's columns requires a healthy dose of humour, it's one which Rosanna happily takes on the chin.

“I've been mentioned a few times and I absolutely take it in the spirit in which it's meant,” she says.

The Ross phenomenon “is very well observed”, she says “Paul Howard created something more than a stereotype. It has become something more than the sum of its parts, because at this stage it's hard to tell which came first: did he create a character who reflects the stereotype or did the character inspire people to live up to a stereotype?”

No stranger to the city's more glamorous haunts, Rosanna readily admits: “I think we've all met the people he speaks about.”

It seems Ross's world and the situations Howard describes are not so far-fetched: “I remember a few occasions where I'd be sitting in a nightclub with my friends and someone would send over a bottle of champagne worth €400,” says Rosanne.

But with the economic downturn, many of the haunts favoured by Ross have closed their doors. Renards and Cocoon are no more, and Ross's father had his assets seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Yet, getting a mention in Ross's columns is seen by some as a badge of honour. As Howard hints: “There are some people, and I won't tell you their names, but they solicit for mentions in the column.”

Brian O'Driscoll appears frequently, exposing the vast gulf between his successful rugby career and Ross's failed dreams of stardom.

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“They both came to prominence at the same time, but I think Ross is finally realising that he's probably never going to get the call up to the international team,” says Howard. “Brian told me once that people keep buying my books for him, as if they're the first person to notice the similarities.”

As for Brian's new wife, Amy Huberman: “Amy is a fan, she reads the column. She's from Foxrock and she's a lovely girl and maybe a typical example of the audience that I didn't expect to laugh at it.”

The crisis has helped breathe new life into the character, adding a sense of vulnerability. His friends in middle-class professions are now struggling to deal with losing their businesses. And Ross's ex-wife Sorcha has dealt with the demise of her boutique.

Typically, Ross has managed to land on his feet while all around him flounder, getting a job with Andorra's national rugby team and starring in his own reality TV show in the US.

Now he's back on the stage at the Olympia, this time waiting to see how much he'll reap from the sale of his parents' house in Foxrock. Once the pad was worth €17m, but now the recession and the plans to have Foxrock rezoned as Sandyford East have taken a massive swipe out of Ross's inheritance. This is where his legion of fans will join the action in the brilliantly titled Between Foxrock and a Hard Place.

As for Paul Howard, he'll be keeping a close eye on the make-up of the audiences. “At the start, I set out to enrage these people,” he says, “I never thought I'd end up being their courtroom jester.

“I used to think they didn't see themselves in it, but now I'm not so sure.”

Between Foxrock and a Hard Place is at the Olympia until November 14. Tickets from €25-€49.50, including booking fee www.ticketmaster.ie

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