Home Features Spotlight On: Naval officer turned model Jill Hamilton

Spotlight On: Naval officer turned model Jill Hamilton

Each week we're putting the spotlight on an inspiring woman in Ireland.


For this week’s Spotlight On feature we’re focusing on Irish Navy officer turned model Jill Hamilton.

Jill was selected as the winner of Cocoa Brown’s recent ambassador search, open to women across Ireland.

Jill has had an exciting and esteemed career as the longest serving female Navy official, working on humanitarian missions and in maritime defence.

Winning Cocoa Brown’s competition was her first foray into modelling – and she hopes to inspire women and girls and empower them to love the skin they’re in.

1. Had you ever considered modelling before winning the Cocoa Brown competition? 
Absolutely not, it never ever entered my head. I’m 5ft 5in, which isn’t too short really. I’ve always been heavier than “normal” but I was firm, so I could carry it. (not so firm now!) I played basketball and trained my entire life, I was always active. I was a
tomboy in school where most of my friends were lads and entered the Navy at 18 for nearly 23years which is male dominated so modelling would have been the furthest thing from my mind.

2. How did you feel when you found out you had won? 
I got the phone call and I was told I won. The first thing I said was “you do know what size I am?” I had made sure to put that in the entry. She said “yes you are our model.” That was the first time I’d heard the word “model” being mentioned and I panicked a bit, I‘m the furthest thing from a model. After I’d got off the phone I was like ‘did that just happen’ It was a bit surreal. After it sunk in I thought, ‘I’d sent in unedited photos, and a little paragraph about myself and they loved what they saw, this really could be something’, especially with the society we’re in where the quest for the perfect image is everything. Young girls growing up need to love who they are and see “real people” in my opinion. Bring it back to basics!

3. You previously had a career in the navy, can you tell us about it? 

I joined the Navy in 1997 at 18, making me the longest serving female and most decorated up to when I left in June. I was one of the first females to join where there was about 1000 men. My father and two brothers were there so it was only natural
that I join, plus I was a tomboy too! Makeup wasn’t disallowed but it was a time when the only time I wore makeup was going out at weekends, so carried on my career makeup free everyday with the rare exception of a ceremony or if I had a breakout, I’d cover it up.

I was in communications and spent a lot of time at sea carrying out  and security operations, search and rescues, exercises and more. I had four tours overseas. There were two tours to Lebanon and two to the Mediterranean Sea, on missions Operation Pontus and Operation Sophia. Operation Pontus was a humanitarian mission where we rescued migrants fleeing through Libya. We had many rescues where there were approx. 130 people per rubber boat which was about 20ft long. They were packed in there, it was surreal. You would have to see it to believe it. These people travelled for months to try flee war torn countries. Some had as little as a t-shirt to their name, nothing else. We would give them food and water until we brought them to a designated port in Italy where they were then processed. They took the gamble that they may not survive the crossing, which many didn’t, so you can imagine what like was like for them. Being in the Navy has been such a positive influence on me and I got to sail to so many amazing places around the world.

4. Do you plan to continue down the career path of modelling? 

I don’t know what the craic is there to be honest. I’m very open to it. I don’t take life too seriously, I love to laugh and I had great fun with it. Obviously I had reservations about doing it as it was totally alien to me and I was thinking “oh lord my thighs will
be on show” and by god they were, they made the cover!! But, you know what, the swimsuit part of the shoot is where I felt most comfortable which I found a little strange.

5. What motivated you to enter the competition? 
I was at home, supposed to be studying! but I was scrolling through Instagram stories and on Cocoa Browns story it said “How would you like to become Cocoa Browns new Brand Ambassador.” I thought, I use this tan religiously, and it looks
good on me (I have sallow skin) so why not. To enter I had to send two unedited photographs and a paragraph about ourselves. I had seen Marissa talking on her stories about advertising the new products unedited and unfiltered, so I said ok I’ll
enter and see what happens. See how it never mentioned the word ‘model’ If it had, I would have probably skipped on through. Time passed and I kind of thought to myself that I’m not what they wanted, and then I got the call!!

6. What has been the best part of the experience? 

I just think the overall experience has been amazing. It was like a whirlwind. The crew were amazing, they made me feel so comfortable throughout, I felt I was doing it years. I am a confident person, I know what works for me and makes me look good but coming closer to the date of publication I was a bag of nerves, especially when I’d been told I was making the cover. When I saw it, it was like I was looking in from the outside, I thought “that is me, actually me and I looked great.” The Irish Examiner then published an article. I got great feedback from people all over the country which is amazing but I realised the most touching was my best friends daughter Ellie who’s 14. She has seen me in person and knows my size, sees me in a tracksuit etc and to see that a brand chose me over the typical perfect model (not that there is anything wrong with them) is amazing and the pressure to look like perfection just isn’t reality. It took seeing her reaction to realise that this goes way beyond a standard photoshoot and its after sending such a positive message.

7. Do you have any advice for women who aren’t feeling body confident?
No matter what size we are, there is always something we’re not happy with, we always self criticize. I got to a size 10…for a very short time mind, but I looked awful and felt even worse. The grass wasn’t greener! I will put on an outfit to go out, think I
look terrible, and then just not go out and feel like crap. The next week I’ll wear the outfit and feel great. It’s all in our head, we need to tell ourselves cop on more often!

I am at my heaviest right now, (I blame the boyfriend) but I am also at my happiest. I have started Slimming World recently and the scales is going in the right direction so far. Clothes wise, I know what works for me and my figure so I work it to my
advantage. I also know what doesn’t work so I avoid! Learn your body shape, show off your curves, they are your magic. Work with your body instead of against it. Body image is individual and what one of us dislikes, another one of us craves. Our bodies
will change a lot, having children, styles of exercise etc. Whether you’re carrying extra pounds or have washboard abs, you are still the same person. It’s your decision if you want to allow yourself to get bogged down with “getting the perfect body” that’s up to you. But what is the ‘perfect body’? Its you, its me, we are all individuals, just love yourself. We become more attractive to others when we are happy in our own skin. Life is too short be sweating the small stuff. Just think, when you’re gone, you will be remembered for you as a person, not your size or what you had or didn’t have.

8. What’s next for you?
I’ve been tied to the navy the last while where my life revolved around it and could never make my own life plans so now that I’ve left, I’ve made myself the priority. I’ve gone back to college studying for a diploma in Social Media for Business, and I’m
also adding to my beauty therapist qualification. I have a lot of free time now so who knows what’s around the corner, because I certainly didn’t see the cover of a magazine coming!