Winning Rose already on call as Tralee clean-up begins


THE MORNING after the pageant before. By 9am yesterday the great post-Rose of Tralee clean-up was under way. The foyer of the Carlton Hotel just outside the town smelt of stale beer and toast. Industrial quantities of cigarette butts were being swept from the steps. Time for a few words with Dublin-born Queensland Rose Tara Talbot who on Tuesday night was named the Rose of Tralee.

Like last year’s winner, Clare Kambamettu – fondly christened Clare Can-of-Tomatoes by some locals who found her name a bit tricky to pronounce – the secondary school teacher is of mixed parentage. Her Filipino mother, Carmencita, met her Dubliner father, Ronnie, in Ireland and when Tara was five they emigrated to Australia.

It is not exactly a shock to hear she is “proud” and “humbled” and “stunned” and “overwhelmed” and “really excited”. She is wide-eyed and beautiful. She has had two hours’ sleep. She was heading to bed as the other Roses were heading out to party. “I thought I should be sensible,” she says.

Everyone she knows from “every corner of the globe” has been “so supportive and wonderful”. Text messages and phone calls were arriving all night. Her boyfriend, Fionan Henry, an Irish sports therapist back in Australia who couldn’t get time off work to join her, watched the show on the internet.

The hot favourite to win since the weekend, Talbot has an apology for one Irish bookie who stands to pay out upwards of €50,000 to those who backed her. Some members of her family won a couple of thousand euro on her.

Her mother is “very proud and very excited”. She has a “very close” family. Her grandfather is a Dub called Jack Talbot. “He is 92 and an absolute legend,” she says. “A wonderful man . . . he recorded a CD of himself singing for his 90th birthday. He would live his life through a song if he could.” She hopes to go back to the Philippines as Rose of Tralee and bring her passion for human rights to the role. She works with the St Vincent de Paul Society tutoring a Burmese family who are newly arrived in Australia. “The family I work with spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, so you can imagine how vastly different our world is.”

Talbot (27) has known about the Rose of Tralee for as long as she can remember. “It’s been on my radar since I was a child – it just seemed an opportune time for me to enter this year. I am actually the oldest now that you can be when you enter the contest and I thought if I didn’t do it, I would have regretted it.”

Her prize includes designer dresses, jewellery, a €25,000 world-travel prize fund, the use of a brand new car and free accommodation for a year in any of 10 Carlton hotels. She will move to Ireland for the year.

What would she say to people who don’t understand why a woman would want to walk around wearing a sash and a crown waving at people? “The Rose of Tralee is remarkable. It’s far from a Lovely Girls contest. It’s not about being a celebrity: it’s about representing yourself, your family and Kerry and Ireland around the world and connecting the Irish community around the world. There are glamorous elements but that’s not why I entered.”

She adjusts her sash, shakes hands. And then she is gone in the official Rose car to her next appointment, in Tralee’s Rose Garden. Tara Talbot. Rose of Tralee. Former Wallabies jersey wearer. Given her change in circumstances, she says she is now backing Ireland in the Rugby World Cup.

* RTÉ said yesterday that the television audience for the pageant peaked at 943,000 at 11:19pm when Tara Talbot was crowned the winner. An average of 824,000 viewers watched the show after the 9 o’clock news. The share of 54.3 per cent was the highest in four years.