Lit­tle Mi Perfe ss ct

TV star Holly Wil­loughby and BFF sis­ter Kelly have writ­ten a book to­gether. So, Ju­dith Woods asks, what’s it like grow­ing up with a golden girl?

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - COVER STORY - School for Stars: First Term At L’Etoile by Holly and Kelly Wil­loughby is pub­lished by Orion Chil­dren’s Books

Holly Wil­loughby and her sis­ter Kelly are star­ing with wide- eyed in­ten­sity at one an­other, rack­ing their brains for some­thing, any­thing, they don’t agree on. Ap­pear­ance-wise they couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent; one svelte and blonde in over­sized sweater, skin­nies and boots, the other a cur­va­ceous brunette in an ul­tra-fem­i­nine polka dot dress. But no other dis­par­ity springs to mind.

Surely there must be some nig­gling point of con­flict caused, say, by younger sis­ter and ex-model Holly’s strato­spheric This Morn­ing ca­reer, Very cloth­ing line and re­ported sev­en­fig­ure salary? ‘Absolutely not!’ shrieks Kelly, 35. ‘If Holly can af­ford to treat me to lunch at Nobu, or a lovely trip some­where, great; she’s hugely gen­er­ous. She al­ready lends me de­signer bags on a ro­tat­ing ba­sis, and if only our feet were the same size, I would be the hap­pi­est sis­ter on earth.’

Ah, but what about you, Holly? Wasn’t there an oc­ca­sional touch of green- eyed mon­ster in child­hood? ‘I know you’re try­ing to find a chink in our ar­mour, but you won’t,’ laughs Holly, 32. ‘We are best friends. We talk six or seven times a day and be­cause we’ve never chased the same dream or wanted the same thing, there’s a com­plete lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness with each other.’

In truth, the two Wil­loughby sis­ters con­sti­tute a mu­tual ado­ra­tion so­ci­ety, which is as en­vi­ably sweet as it is un­usual. We’re all fa­mil­iar with the ex­pres­sion ‘sib­ling ri­valry’, but the fact that there isn’t even a term in the English lan­guage for its op­po­site speaks vol­umes about their stead­fast soror­ity.

Mem­ber­ship of this tight cir­cle ex­tends to just one other: their su­per-glamorous mother, Lynn, 65, who phones her daugh­ters 15 times a day. Each. She might be chat­ting or catch­ing up or shar­ing any news that may have popped up in the 20 min­utes since her last call. And, of course, co- or­di­nat­ing babysit­ting du­ties; Holly has a son, Harry, aged four, and a two-year- old daugh­ter, Belle. Kelly’s daugh­ter, Lola, is seven months (the sis­ters are god­moth­ers to each other’s chil­dren).

‘Mum is our best friend, too,’ de­clares Holly. ‘We spend ev­ery bank hol­i­day to­gether and Christ­mas, too. Oh, and we’ve got a big fam­ily hol­i­day booked for the sum­mer in Europe. Re­ally, we are so close that if you spend a day in our com­pany you feel sorry for any­body else com­ing into our gang.’ Irv­ing Ber­lin’s lyrics ‘Lord help the Mis­ter who comes be­tween me and my sis­ter’ spring to mind; how do the men who wed Wil­loughby women feel about the in­ces­sant phone calls, pop­ping in and out of each other’s houses and shared hol­i­days? Holly is mar­ried to TV ex­ec­u­tive Dan Bald­win (Kelly was chief brides­maid). Kelly’s hus­band, David, is a quan­tity sur­veyor (Holly was chief brides­maid). ‘Our hus­bands love our mad to­geth­er­ness be­cause we keep each other oc­cu­pied, plus there’s al­ways nice food and wine on the ta­ble... what man can com­plain about that?’ asks Holly.

Quite so. Of late, the pair have been even more in­sep­a­ra­ble, writ­ing a chil­dren’s novel: School for Stars: First Term at L’Etoile. Aimed at eight-year-olds and up, it’s set in the Etoile stage school and fol­lows the tri­umphs and tra­vails of twin sis­ters, dreamy Molly and clever clogs Maria ( hmm, I won­der who they were think­ing of?). Molly longs to be a singing star and ac­tress, Maria to be a jour­nal­ist, but first they must learn to find their feet at the school, with its idio­syn­cratic teach­ers and com­pet­i­tive friend­ships.

The book was planned as a one- off, but now a sec­ond book is due out this sum­mer. ‘You canno t phys­i­cal ly wri te a book to­gether,’ says Holly, ‘so Kelly does the writ­ing and sends me bits by email and phones me up; we dis­cuss what we want to hap­pen next, then we meet up and de­velop it.’

The book is very loosely based on their own school days. The pair grew up near Brighton on the south coast of Eng­land, where for­mer air stew­ardess Lynn stayed at home and their fa­ther Brian, 61, worked (and still does) as a man­ager in a dou­ble- glaz­ing com­pany. ‘ I look back and can hon­estly say that our child­hood was idyl­lic, which sounds a bit twee,’ shrugs Kelly with an apolo­getic smile. ‘We read lots of Enid Bly­ton and went to a lovely school, and I think it’s made us into the level-headed girls we are to­day.’ Holly adds, ‘As we’ve be­come mothers our­selves, we’ve re­alised how hard our mum worked to make our child­hood so won - d e rful, and we prob - ably feel un­der pres­sure to repli­cate that.’ At school, sporty, aca­dem­i­cally minded Kelly was head girl and creative Holly ex­celled at art. ‘ Kel ly was al­ways the high achiever, the one who stuck at things and reached grade seven on the pi­ano, while I would take up an in­stru­ment and then lose in­ter­est,’ says Holly. ‘ In ballet class I would float around like a fairy in my own lit­tle world, while Kelly knuck­led down and learned to do tap dance prop­erly, so this book is a mar­riage of both of our skills.’

From early on it was clear that the girls would take dif­fer­ent ca­reer paths. ‘Holly was con­tent play­ing qui­etly, while I was the bossy one who con­stantly pestered grownups about how and why things worked,’ says Kelly. ‘I’m the or­gan­iser; she was al­ways so messy, I would scold her for not tidy­ing her room, al­though she’s a lot bet­ter now.’ Holly nods wryly. ‘I have to be so much more or­dered to make my life work, al­though when Kelly comes round she will empty out my hand­bags and tidy them away.’

Kelly, stud­ied French and Ital­ian at univer­sity and went on to work at 19 En­ter­tain­ment, the com­pany be­hind pro­grammes such as Pop Idol, and later as a PA to TV pre­sen­ter Ea­monn Holmes. Holly, mean­while, was spot­ted by Storm Mod­els at The Clothes Show Live in 1995, at the ten­der age of 14. She went on to ap­pear in fash­ion shoots in mag­a­zines such as Just Seventeen be­fore en­ter­ing tele­vi­sion in 2000, when she went for an au­di­tion and was cast in the CITV show S Club TV, along­side the pop group S Club 7. But then her ca­reer jud­dered to a halt and she worked as a bar­maid to make ends meet. Again, fate played a cru­cial part, and a chance meet­ing with a cus­tomer who worked in TV saw her tri­umphant re­turn in 2002, this time to the BBC as pre­sen­ter of the se­ries CBBC at the Fame Acad­emy.

By then, Holly’s girl-next-door sun­ni­ness, com­bined with her ap­par­ently ef­fort­less skill at live broad­casts, had set her apart. Next came CD:UK and Holly & Stephen’s Satur­day Show­down, a chil­dren’s game show she presided over with Stephen Mulhern. By 2006, the same year she won a Bafta for chil­dren’s

TV work, Holly moved main­stream. Her star was soon in the as­cen­dant with shows such as Bri­tain’s Got More Tal­ent, The Xtra Fac­tor and Danc­ing on Ice, which she co-hosted with Phillip Schofield so suc­cess­fully that when Fern Brit­ton left This Morn­ing she landed the co-pre­sen­ter’s job along­side him. She also an­chors BBC1’s Satur­day night flag­ship, The Voice UK, which re­flects her pop­u­lar­ity and places her in the highly un­usual po­si­tion of be­ing on a ri­val chan­nel at prime time. Re­cently com­men­ta­tors have sug­gested that her an­nual take- home pay could be up to €6 mil­lion.

‘I think it’s very un­gra­cious to talk about wealth,’ says Holly. ‘What can I say other than that I work hard and I en­joy my life and I share it with those I love? I have a vast cup­board of gor­geous frocks from Danc­ing on Ice, so when friends have spe­cial oc­ca­sions they come round for a try­ing-on ses­sion.’

Kelly is san­guine about the fact that she isn’t the same size as her sis­ter. ‘I re­mem­ber when she used to bor­row my clothes; now I try in vain to squeeze into her stuff…’ she trails off the­atri­cally and Holly takes over. ‘I re­ally looked up to Kelly and I still do. I don’t know many teenagers who would be so tol­er­ant of their lit­tle sis­ter wear­ing their best top and tag­ging along to par­ties. I’m not sure I’d have been nearly as gen­er­ous. I mean, she used to let me come and stay for a week at uni with her, which was be­yond the call of duty.’

The big sis­ter/ lit­tle sis­ter bal­ance changed when Holly met Dan and had chil­dren. ‘When Holly got mar­ried, it sud­denly oc­curred to me that all I did was work,’ says Kelly. ‘I loved what I was do­ing, but I wanted a part­ner and a fam­ily, too, so I made a con­scious de­ci­sion to re­bal­ance my life by tak­ing a less pres­surised job. I went to work for Ea­monn, then I met my hus­band, and now we’ve got Lola.’

Both women want to have more chil­dren, but in Holly’s case she’s so busy she’s not sure when she can sched­ule it. ‘Ev­ery mo­ment of the day is ac­counted for,’ she says. ‘I’m pos­i­tively vi­cious about leav­ing on time! I never stay late, oth­er­wise I couldn’t main­tain the bal­ance I’ve achieved be­tween work and home.’ Mean­while, Kelly, who in­tends to make a ca­reer as a writer, tapes This Morn­ing ev­ery day and watches the first min­utes —

just to see how Holly is get­ting on and what she’s wear­ing. She might gen­tly point out a style faux pas her lit­tle sis­ter has made. Other crit­ics are harsher: Holly has been re­ferred to as eye candy ‘with­out a flicker of tal­ent’. ‘I lis­ten to the good stuff that’s said about me and I lis­ten to the bad stuff in equal mea­sure; oth­er­wise I’d just go around think­ing, “OMG! I love me!”’ says Holly. ‘When the me­dia goes on about my boobs, and whether my dress is too low or too tight, I’m ac­tu­ally too lazy to care. I get called Holly Wil­lough­booby on [com­edy panel show] Celebrity Juice, so I’m in on the joke and I play along; it’s all done in good hu­mour. But if my mum or my sis­ter said some of the things that other peo­ple have said about me, I’d be heart­bro­ken.’

As the in­ter­view draws to a close, fi­nally a point of con­flict be­tween the sis­ters emerges. ‘My per­fect day with Kelly would be spent on the couch watch­ing The Slip­per and the Rose with a bot­tle of wine — each, ob­vi­ously — and a huge bag of Min­strels,’ says Holly. Kelly de­murs, ‘Oh no! It would have to be Mal­te­sers.’ But quick as a flash, Holly re­stores har­mony. ‘Okay then: wine and some sort of choco­late-based snack.’ And the pair beam at each other with sis­terly de­vo­tion.

Good golly, Miss Holly! Main pic­ture: Holly in her glamorous TV guise. Top right: Holly (left)

and Kelly as school­child­ren. Op­po­site page:

The sis­ters as they look to­day

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