“There is a beauty in maturing”
A dramatic childhood, family tragedies and the glare of the spotlight may have challenged Deborah Hutton – but, as she tells Stellar’s Jordan Baker, at 56, life has never seemed easier
She weathered a challenging childhood, family tragedies and a sobering health scare. But model and brand ambassador Deborah Hutton, who is once again teaming with Myer, says she has never felt more grateful for the life she has led.
On the day man landed on the moon in 1969, Deborah Hutton felt a little like she was on the moon herself. She was seven years old and living in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where civic leaders had erected a huge screen in a public square so people could watch. “We didn’t have television at that stage,” Hutton tells Stellar. “No-one there had ever seen moving images, let alone [astronauts]. We were all watching this thing play out on this massive screen.” Hutton’s family had moved to Papua New Guinea a year earlier to follow her stepfather’s real estate dream – but that never worked out. She would live there for four years, attracting stares wherever she went because Westerners were rare, and little blonde girls even more so. Her main companion was a cuscus, a possum-like creature. But even he wasn’t great company, given he was nocturnal.
“It would run around and crawl around the curtains at night, and keep everyone awake,” she recalls. “Then it would sleep during the day. I was like, ‘ Wake up, come and play with me,’ during the day, and he would be snoring and go, ‘No, leave me alone.’ I remember thinking, what kind of stupid pet is this?”
The contours of Deborah Hutton’s life have been anything but conventional – from the unusual childhood detour to Papua New Guinea to an accident that left one of her brothers brain damaged, her personal history has been touched by trials and tragedy. But publicly, it’s a different story: she has been a household name in Australia for more than 40 years, and the glamorous-yet-accessible face of some of our most established brands. So, as she tells Stellar, her life has also been quite fortunate. The girl with the nomadic, tumultuous childhood who left home at 16 went on to achieve things she’d never imagined. And now, more than 30 years after her first ambassadorship with Myer began, she is working with the store again, this time as an example of how beauty can transcend age.
THE GIRL ONCE known as Deborah Haylock was two years old when her parents separated. It was acrimonious, and both parents wanted full custody. The court would decide that Hutton would stay with her mother, while her two older brothers would live with her father. And so the three siblings were wrenched apart, destined to see each other only a few times a year. “That was really hard,” she recalls. “Then you would see them and it was wonderful and, as siblings are, within a week you’d be screaming at each other, then in tears when they had to go, or I had to go.”
Hutton watched her mother struggle, not only with missing her sons, but also to provide for her daughter as a single woman with a tiny endowment cheque and no government support. “It was a very unpleasant time,” she says. They moved around Queensland and, when her mother remarried, packed their tea chests onto a container ship and left for Port Moresby, where they lived in what Hutton describes as a “tiny shack place” and opened a small cinema after the real estate dream died. “I remember going to school and was the only white girl there,” she says. “I can’t say I had a great time. It was very primitive. I kept thinking, ‘ Why did we come here?’ ”
After a stint on a stone fruit farm in Stanthorpe, Hutton and her mother moved to Sydney. When Hutton was 16, she moved out with a 26-year-old boyfriend – much to her mother’s horror – who introduced her to modelling. She was told, she remembers, “My smile would make millions… but that name [Haylock] is never going to work.” So the agent looked through the phone book and settled on Hutton. This October marks the 40th anniversary of her first magazine cover: the October 1978 edition of Cosmopolitan.
“In those days, you did everything yourself,” she says. “Your hair, your make-up, you took all your shoes, your underwear. I was like a cub, and the older women would look after me, and say, ‘ You
all right, darling?’ I learnt to model by watching these extraordinary women.” Hutton is often described as a model, but it was actually only a tiny part of her career. Besides which, modelling was never going to be enough for her. She did well in the Australian industry and worked in Europe. But, she says, “Because I was never 100 per cent passionate about modelling, I didn’t give it my all. When you are sitting there smoking a pack of cigarettes, knitting, crocheting, waiting for that one shot, chatting to other women about – what, curling your eyelashes 20 times a day because you are so bored? – you are counting the dollars. Literally, that is all you are doing. Therefore it has a time limit: get in, make your money, go and do something else. Unless you are Kate Moss. I wasn’t. I had a really good run, and loved it, and got out.”
Hutton has fond memories of those years, not only because of the women she met through modelling, but because it was a brief window in time when the three Haylock children were able to spend time together before tragedy struck.
In the late 1980s, her brother Rod, then 27, was living with his mother in Sydney. “It was all about him really getting to know his mum,” Hutton says. But one night, he and a mate were crossing a railway bridge when they lost their footing and fell through an unsecured fence, dropping 30 metres onto the track. Rod landed first, and his mate fell on top of him. “Rod was in intensive care for seven or eight weeks; we didn’t think he was going to make it,” Hutton says. “He didn’t break a bone in his body, but [there was] massive brain damage.”
He needed full-time care, so the family sued the State Rail Authority and won. The victory gave them enough money to take Rod out of nursing homes and set him up in a home with his own 24-hour carer. “He got to the point where he was pretty good, he could get on a train – Mum was living in the Blue Mountains, he could go and see her,” says Hutton. “What was left [after the accident] was this beautiful spirit – he was a beautiful boy.”
“Modelling has a time limit; get in, make your money, go”
In 2007, Rod Haylock died from an epileptic fit. Within a year, Hutton’s other brother David had died, too, from sudden, aggressive liver cancer. For the second time, her mother, Dell, had lost a son. “Mum has had a very tough life,” says Hutton. “And she’s tough, very tough. She does wear a suit of armour. She is extraordinary, she is an absolute survivor. And she is as strong as you will get.”
HUTTON’S strength comes from her mother. So, too, do her cheekbones and her extraordinary mane of hair, which bounces jauntily as she arrives at Wylie’s Baths in Sydney for her Stellar cover shoot.
Hutton’s genetic hand-me-downs were her ticket to the world of modelling, which was a mixed blessing. The industry is based on perfection, so she spent her 20s worried about being judged for her imperfections. The fear faded as she grew older. “In my 40s, I felt much more beautiful than I did when I was younger. I looked at myself, and I thought, ‘I like the woman I am growing into.’”
She also credits not having children with being able to retain a “child-like sense… You are responsible for yourself and what you do, but there is a thing where you do have a child-like view on life.”
Hutton has no intention of getting a facelift, or stuffing her face with filler. “Age is a really beautiful thing,” she declares. “There is a beauty in maturing, watching all the lines develop. To me it’s the essence of who you are.
“People can do little bits and pieces – I don’t mind a bit of Botox for a bit of correction – but to turn it into something else, to turn your face into something that it’s not, is not me. And I think it happens to a lot of people, and they lose sight of the person within.”
When it comes to her face, Hutton has more to worry about than lines. She has had many skin cancers removed, including a particularly dangerous one that became so serious doctors had to cut from the tip of her nose down to her chin to find the tumour. She went into surgery not knowing how it would affect one of her key professional assets, her face.
“I might not have had a nose, or I might have had half a lip. It was terrifying.” In the end, they took out a thumb-sized tumour, but left little scarring. The threat is ongoing, though. I know [skin cancer] is my future,” she says. “We grew up in Queensland, we didn’t have skin protection then. My family is riddled with them. You have to continue being really strident with protection, layering, putting a hat on.”
When Hutton left modelling in the early 1980s, she pioneered a career path in brand ambassadorship for department store Grace Bros, which later became Myer. “It ended up being one year that turned to three that turned into 14 years,” says Hutton. She hosted fashion parades, lunches and workshops. She fronted advertisements. “I loved it,” she says. “That’s where I did all my training, where I learnt how to get up on stage and talk to people.”
This year, the partnership is being reignited. Hutton will feature in Myer’s 2018 Beauty Book, which also includes model Elyse Knowles and tattooed AFL star Moana Hope. She jokes she’s the “old chick” of the campaign.
She looks after herself – clean diet, plenty of exercise, lots of water, ample moisturising – then embraces what she sees in the mirror and gets on with her life.
She still visits Harry M Miller, her one-time manager and, despite their 28-year age difference, one of the great loves of her life, who is 84 and suffering dementia. She credits Miller with transforming her career from model and company spokeswoman to editor, television presenter and brand ambassador. “For such a brilliant man, brilliant brain, such a life, to be suffering dementia is incredibly sad,” she says.
Hutton has another romantic partner these days, whose privacy she is careful to protect. All she will reveal to Stellar is that his name is Rob, he works in the area of finance, he has young children, and they have been together for five years. They are building a house together.
“He is a really lovely man,” she says. “He is my balance, he is very grounded. He is the yin to my yang.”
And if life has at times tried Hutton, it also seems to be getting better with every passing year.
“Everything is so much easier, because you are not fighting yourself. You are not second-guessing half the time. You are more at ease, more accepting. There is a freedom. You never know where life takes you. You take it on and do your best, and somehow the universe delivers.”
DEBORAH Peter myer.com.au; Pilotto WEARS top, Asilio pants, asilio.com.au; Ferragamo earrings (worn throughout), ferragamo.com; Najo earrings (sold as a set, worn throughout), najo. com.au; Tony Bianco shoes, tonybianco.com
DEBORAH WEARS Victoria Beckham shirt; myer.com.au; Scanlan Theodore skirt, scanlan theodore.com; Ferragamo earrings, as before; Najo earrings, as before.
ROLE MODEL (clockwise from right) Deborah Hutton (second from left) and friends in Papua New Guinea; with Harry M Miller; Hutton (centre), in Myer’s 2018 Beauty Book, with (clockwise) Elyse Knowles, Stefania a Ferrario, Moana Hope and Tina Yong; modelling in 1991.
DEBORAH WEARS Victoria Beckham coat, myer.com.au; Anna Quan shirt, myer.com. au; Sportmax pants, sportmax.com; Ferragamo earrings, as before; Najo earrings, as before