Interviews
Joanne Salley

Perfectly poised Joanne Salley overcomes her media scandal with her head held high.


Former Miss Northern Ireland, Joanne Salley made national headlines in March when private photos taken of her posing topless were found and distributed throughout Harrow school where she is an art teacher. Despite her anguish, PR guru, Max Clifford, believes Joanne could make a new living in front of the cameras. He said at the time, “This is every schoolboy’s fantasy about the schoolmistress. If she wants to go down that route, which she probably won’t, she could make £1million in the next year. She is a modern day fantasy become a reality. She could have an amazing year.”

Joanne made headlines again in July, as rumours begin to circulate that she is now dating the Prime Minster, David Cameron’s brother-in-law, and half-brother of Samantha Cameron, Robert Sheffield. Mr Sheffield, the heir to a baronetcy and a 3,000-acre Lincolnshire estate, is reported to have brought Joanne to society magazine Tatler’s pyjama-themed party at Claridge’s in July and introduced her to his friends.

Since we last spoke with Joanne Salley after her separation from ex-England rugby international and “Question of Sport” captain, Matt Dawson, she was about to embark on a trip of Asia and Australia before a scheduled visit to work with children in Cambodia. 

Here we catch up with Joanne and ask her all about the headlines she has been attracting of late and whether she plans to follow the advice offered by Max Clifford or remain at Harrow.

Joanne, how did you feel when the topless pictures scandal hit the headlines?

When the whole scandal hit a few months ago I was totally devastated. The woman who took the pictures is a geography teacher at the school and a good friend of mine. I have modelled for her before and she had asked me again, so I agreed, but unfortunately out of the hundreds of images she took that day there were a couple when she had caught me topless and I don’t know why they weren’t deleted at the time. Unfortunately, a pupil got hold of them from her computer and they were all round the school in no time.

How did you react at the time?

It all kicked off just as the boys were sitting their GCSE exams and although my natural reaction is to run when things go wrong, I had to tough it out for the sake of the boys. I did get a few days at home in Dungannon to try and get away from it all, but I had a responsibility to my students and had to be there to help them through their exams no matter how exposed and uncomfortable I felt. While time passes and people forget, unfortunately the incident is a monster in my head. It is still hard for me to walk down the high street and see students and know they have seen those images. I consider myself to have a strong personality, but this has been really hard on me.

How did your work colleagues react?

The staff at Harrow have been incredibly supportive throughout and recognised that I had done nothing wrong. What I do in my private time is my own business - it was a mistake that it came into the classroom. When I first came to Harrow in 2001 it wasn’t long after winning Miss Northern Ireland and people can’t help but have preconceptions about the sort of person you are. I was one of five female teachers, blonde, bubbly and energetic - I was breaking the mould of the typical school teacher and had to spend quite a bit of time shaking off the beauty queen image and prove I was serious about teaching. Since the scandal I feel like I have to prove myself all over again. 

Do you think you might like to leave Harrow and follow the advice of Max Clifford?

At the moment I’m preparing to head back to Harrow in September, the school have been so supportive and I’m hoping I can feel happy and content in my job again. Yes, I could take a bit of a self-centred road and follow the glamorous route of modelling and television, but it’s not easy and while there’s one side of my personality that loves getting dressed up and going to parties, I’ve another tomboy side that loves nothing more than getting my hiking boots on and climbing up mountains, and indulging in extreme sports. For example, 

in September I’m off to Mongolia. I’ve been invited to play polo over there with the Genghis Khan Polo and Riding Club. They have set up a tented camp and invited a limited number of polo players from all over the world, so it’s a real honour to have been asked and I’m really looking forward to taking part. Also my family brought me up well and I wouldn’t want to make a choice that would disappoint them.

You’ve done a bit of TV work in the past, would you be tempted to do this again?    

Yes, I did some work on a poker channel and the other was a sports programme. I basically had to read the autocue and look pretty. Television is incredibly big and there are a few who make it to the top, with thousands at the bottom constantly trying to make it. There’s no stability and it’s a very insecure career choice. I love that I don’t think about my wage and know that I’ve earned my money thanks to my artistic talent and skills as a teacher. There’s something wrong in life that you can earn £5,000 for a quick 15 minute glamour modelling appearance and yet when you have a skilled, honest career the financial rewards aren’t always as great. I’m never going to be a millionaire, but hopefully through my art and hard work I will always be able to be financially independent.

You are rumoured to be dating Samantha Cameron’s half brother, is this true?  

I am revaluating this side of my life at the moment. I would like to meet someone and settle down. I’ve always had long-term relationships. I had a childhood sweetheart who I dated until going to university where I met a guy and then I was with Matt for six years. My biological clock is ticking and I consider children to be a real blessing and would love to meet the right man to marry and have a family with.

You are going to be walking down the aisle soon we hear?  

Yes, as a bridesmaid! My sister, Nicola, is getting married at the end of August. I’m one of her bridesmaids and I’m really looking forward to this. 

So, it’s back to teaching in the short-term then?

I do love my job and I’m going back with renewed energy and wanting to feel settled again. I’ve just painted my flat. I’m lucky enough to have a gorgeous Italian piazza style flat in the grounds of Harrow. I’ve always been drawn to Harrow and never severed ties even when I had left to support Matt in the past. It is a fascinating place steeped in history and tradition and the people I work with are great. However, I’m very inquisitive and open-minded person and it’s not that I wouldn’t think about other opportunities if they presented themselves. For example, I’ve been asked to take part in the new Menarys advertising campaign.

Interview: Margaret Connolly

Photography: Darren Kidd at Press Eye

T: (028) 9066 9229 W: presseye.com

Hair: Denise McCloskey at Michele International

T: (028) 9024 3231 W: michele-international.co.uk

Make-up: Ciara Daly 

T: 0759 8156112 W: ciaradalymakeup.com

Styling: Eve Brannon

T: 0781 7597067

Stockists: 

The Outlet, Banbridge

T: (028) 4062 5151 W: the-outlet.co.uk

Guess, Victoria Square, Belfast

T: (028) 9032 0551 W: guess.com


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