Lives Remembered

Nikki Sievwright: International model and unlikely UDR soldier

Nikki Ross photographed by Peter Lumley in 1969. Picture from www.modelscomposites.com

SHE was an international model, a queen of the catwalk whose face graced countless magazines.

But for two years during her remarkable life, Nikki Sievwright was also one of the most unlikely recruits to the Ulster Defence Regiment.

She came to Northern Ireland in 1977 with her husband David, a cavalry officer who commanded a squadron based in Omagh.

As an 18-year-old she had signed as a model for French fashion house Chloé, before finding herself at the centre of the fashion industry in swinging sixties London.

But while she had always been independently minded, even those closest to her were taken by surprise by her decision to swap high heels for combat fatigues as a 'Greenfinch'.

The UDR had been formed seven years earlier in response to the Troubles and the controversial regiment was the first in the British army to fully incorporate women - who could perform a valuable role searching women and children.

Nikki recalled one night in 1978 when her 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, she 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.

Allan Mallinson, author of The Making of the British Army and a captain in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars at the time, said it was almost unprecedented for the wife of an officer - let alone one still enjoying a successful modelling career - 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.

After her husband's tour ended she followed him over the next two decades on military intelligence assignments to trouble spots around the world before retiring to Wiltshire.

Her family 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 (née Ross) died aged 75 on March 12. She is survived by her husband David, children Chloé and David and grandchildren.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Lives Remembered