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?
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