London catwalk model who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment
Obituary: Nikki Sievwright enlisted when her husband was posted to the North in 1977
Nikki Sievwright was always full of surprises, but her decision to enlist in the Ulster Defence Regiment caught even those closest to her unawares
Born: 28 January 28th, 1943
Died: March 12th, 2018
By day she was a queen of the catwalk, a picture of 1970s chic whose face graced magazine covers and ad campaigns.
But by night, during two remarkable years spent in Northern Ireland, Nikki Sievwright swapped high heels and haute couture for army boots and combat fatigues as she patrolled country roads around Co Tyrone.
The English-born model was always full of surprises, but her decision to enlist in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) caught even those closest to her unawares.
She came to Ireland in 1977 with her husband David, a cavalry officer, but refused to be confined to barracks.
While he commanded a squadron based in Omagh, she found herself providing support on the ground and joked that she saw more action than him during his tour – while all the time continuing her modelling career.
Allan Mallinson, then a captain in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, said it was almost unprecedented for the wife of an officer – and one from such a prestigious regiment at that – to sign up as a squaddie.
“She was very much a free spirit but I think there was also a sense of ‘what’s the point of being here if I’m not involved’,” he said.
“In spite of the sometimes rather bohemian world she had occupied, there was a strong underlying traditional and patriotic streak in her.”
The UDR, despised by many nationalists, was the first regiment of the British army to fully incorporate women and the “Greenfinches” were particularly useful for searching for women and children.
One night in 1978, Nikki was part of a patrol which stopped a car near the Border. A second vehicle suddenly approached, and in the confusion shots were fired.
While the occupants were able to satisfy the patrol commander with their bona fides, Nikki was not convinced and insisted on searching a female passenger.
She duly discovered the driver’s passport in the woman’s underwear, revealing that he was on a wanted list.
It was a long way from the glamorous photo shoots of London and Paris which had seen the then Nikki Ross become a favourite muse of photographers in the Swinging Sixties.
The daughter of a colonial officer who had sent his pregnant wife home to safety from Sierra Leone during the second World War, she signed as a model for French fashion house Chloé at the age of 18.
In 1965 she was one of the “girls with the million dollar look” who took part in a huge fashion show in New York under the direction of Michael Whittaker, designer of Honor Blackman’s costumes in The Avengers.
Three years later Nikki married property speculator John Venning, but they divorced in 1974.
Turned heads everywhere
She met David Sievwright around the same time and followed him over the next two decades on military intelligence assignments to trouble spots around the world.
Heads would turn wherever she went, with the British ambassador in Beirut once having to stop her forays on horseback into Hezbollah territory.
Brigadier Mallinson said she was vivacious, exuberant and very active, right into older age when she continued to enjoy horses and tennis at her home in Wiltshire.
“The consistent theme of the various tributes at her funeral emphasised her loyalty to family and friends, which was intense. It was a very singular characteristic.”
Her family also described her as “beautiful, kind, generous, loyal, lovingly outrageous, with a vibrant spark and gift for friendship which lit all who knew her”.
Nikki Sievwright is survived by her husband David, children Chloé and David and grandchildren.