She was the first su­per­skinny model – and claims she ate like a horse. Here she tells David Wigg that bulging waist­lines are a mod­ern tragedy

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -


Twiggy perches her­self on an enor­mous sofa and con­sid­ers the dif­fer­ence be­tween to­day’s reed-thin mod­els and her own hey­day, when she was so skinny she was some­times called ‘Sticks’ which she hated. ‘Then Twiggy came out of that. It was af­fec­tion­ate, so I didn’t re­ally think about it. It was only when a news­pa­per called me “Twiggy, The Face Of ’66” that I re­alised I was stuck with it. But to be quite hon­est, it’s been rather good to me,’ she says.

‘I do think some of to­day’s mod­els get too thin for their own good be­cause they’re pres­sured into it, but mod­els are al­ways go­ing to be skinny. I even got blamed for anorexia back in the 60s, which was un­fair be­cause I ate like a horse. If I told you what I used to eat back then you’d laugh. I prob­a­bly eat a third of that now.

‘I was young, I was grow­ing and my metabolism and ap­petite were re­ally high. And a lot of the girls to­day are very tall. I’m tiny for a model – 5ft 6in. Most mod­els are 5ft 10in, 5ft llin, even 6ft. Lovely Erin O’Con­nor, who I worked with on the M&S ads, is 6ft. When you’re 6ft and 20 years old, you’re not go­ing to be fat. It’s got to stretch out. So I think a lot of them are just nat­u­rally skinny like I was. But one has to be aware and I do think the model agen­cies, and I hope the mag­a­zines, are be­ing a bit more re­spon­si­ble be­cause there’s been such an out­cry about it. Anorexia is a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble ill­ness. I’m lucky to be nat­u­rally slim. My dad was very slen­der and he was the same weight when he died as when he was 20.’

When, as 16-year- old London school­girl Les­ley Hornby, she was dis­cov­ered help­ing out at a hair­dress­ing salon she was thin and gawky but had an in­no­cent beauty with large ‘Bambi’ eyes. To­day, aged 65 and with her own cloth­ing col­lec­tion for M&S On­line, she’s sit­ting in the ex­pen­sively fur­nished man­sion flat she shares with her ac­tor hus­band Leigh Law­son. She’s still a size 10 and still blessed with good cheek­bones. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary to think she was just 16 in the Swing­ing Six­ties when drugs were tak­ing an even big­ger toll on the fash­ion and mu­sic scenes than they do to­day. Yet there were never any sto­ries of Twiggy fall­ing out of night­clubs.

‘I was pretty straight ac­tu­ally. That’s prob­a­bly why I’m still here. I was work­ing hard and I loved what I did. When I was grow­ing up we didn’t drink al­co­hol at all. At Christ­mas my dad had a beer and my mum had a sherry. We drank tea the rest of the year. I went to Paris aged 16½ , and I was shoot­ing for Amer­i­can Vogue with Richard Ave­don, who was one of the great pho­tog­ra­phers. Ev­ery­one on the shoot went out to a restau­rant and they or­dered wine for the meal. I said, “Can I have a Coca- Cola please?” and the French waiter looked at me down his nose and said, “What vin­tage, Madam?” and walked away. Very Parisian.

‘I love wine now but when I first tried it I thought it had an odd taste. Most work­ing-class fam­i­lies in the 50s like mine didn’t drink, un­less they had a prob­lem. So it wasn’t a part of my life. Now I love good wine, but I never liked spir­its and the drug scene scared me. My dad in­stilled in me from an early age the dan­gers of it.

‘When I was young, about six or seven, I used to have the oc­ca­sional dizzy spell. The doc­tor said I would grow out of it, which I did. We don’t know what it was, prob­a­bly just grow­ing up, but when I saw other peo­ple on drugs and it made them kind of spaced out and giddy, I knew I wouldn’t have liked that feel­ing. On the rare oc­ca­sions when I’ve drunk too much, which we’ve all done, I don’t like that feel­ing. I knew drugs did that be­cause I’d seen other peo­ple and they told me how they af­fected them. I thought, “Why would you want to do that?” I don’t like the feel­ing of be­ing out of con­trol. It’s not my cup of tea. And I saw what it

‘I saw what drugs did to peo­ple. What a waste’

did to peo­ple. There’s no happy end­ing, I’m afraid. Look how many we’ve lost. Most peo­ple in our pro­fes­sion have lost friends through it. And when they’re young, you just think, “Oh what a waste.” Well, we could name them all, couldn’t we? I’m not here to judge, though.’

What con­cerns Twiggy th­ese days is the obe­sity prob­lem. ‘I feel strongly that you are what you eat and I do think the obe­sity prob­lem is a tragedy. They say that what hap­pens in Amer­ica comes here ten years later, and it has. I think it’s a lot to do with fast food and how easy it is to buy it. I know peo­ple have fi­nan­cial prob­lems some­times but if one can buy good food and cook it they’ll find it doesn’t al­ways cost more. But it’s whether peo­ple have got the in­cli­na­tion or the time. It’s so much eas­ier to buy rub­bish. I find that re­ally up­set­ting ac­tu­ally. The worst thing is fizzy drinks. You see kids walk­ing along the street glug­ging them down. I watched a pro­gramme the other night and they were show­ing four-year- olds with their teeth fall­ing out. We didn’t grow up with that. I re­mem­ber ev­ery Satur­day the Corona de­liv­ery man came and we were al­lowed one fizzy drink. It was ei­ther dan­de­lion and bur­dock, cream soda or ginger beer. Maybe that’s why I’ve got re­ally good teeth, touch wood. ‘I was born in 1949 and I don’t re­mem­ber ra­tioning. We al­ways had ev­ery­thing. We ate well be­cause there weren’t the big su­per­mar­kets so my mum went shop­ping ev­ery other day to buy fresh from the green­gro­cer. We had fresh veg and fresh meat. We weren’t rich but we cer­tainly weren’t poor. My dad had a good job, he was a master car­pen­ter at the MGM stu­dios in Bore­ham­wood. We al­ways had a car, we had the first telly in the neigh­bour­hood.’ Twiggy’s ca­reer as a model took off like a shoot­ing star in the mid- 60s, with her be­com­ing fa­mous not only here but in the US as well in what seemed no time at all – and she was soon earn­ing top money for that time. But what does she think of the ex­tra­or­di­nary sums of money mod­els are paid to­day? Linda Evan­ge­lista was fa­mously quoted as say­ing she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $ l0,000 a day. What was Twiggy’s re­ac­tion to that? ‘Oh, i t made me laugh. I think it’s br il l iant . The big girls get a lot and good on t h em. T h ey wouldn’t hire the girls and pay them if they didn’t sell. The peo­ple who hire th­ese won­der­ful mod­els know their worth. You know that if you get Kate Moss in an ad or now Cara Delev­ingne, or me – we sell. So I think we’re worth what we’re worth.’

The first real su­per­model, by the time Twiggy ar­rived in New York in 1967 she was given a ticker- tape re­cep­tion as she was driven through the city. She was on the Amer­i­can and Bri­tish Vogue cov­ers and pic­tured by ev­ery fa­mous pho­tog­ra­pher around. At the time, pho­tog­ra­pher Ce­cil Beaton ob­served, ‘ The work­ing- class girl with money in her pocket can be as chic as the deb. That’s what Twiggy is all about.’

‘ I think we were very lucky to be young in the 60s,’ says Twiggy to­day. ‘Even though we didn’t re­alise it was any­thing spe­cial at the time. What hap­pened to me didn’t hap­pen to or­di­nary girls. Jean Shrimp­ton was my hero­ine – I had her pic­tures all over my walls – I thought she was the most beau­ti­ful creature I’d ever seen. Be­fore her they were very so­phis­ti­cated, grown-up women who mod­elled un­til they got mar­ried. They were breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful, but they wouldn’t look right in miniskirts. So I think be­ing in the right time and place had a lot to do with my pop­u­lar­ity. I didn’t look like any of them.’

Twiggy’s ca­reer changed di­rec­tion when she took the lead in Ken Rus­sell’s film of the mu­si­cal The Boy Friend in 1971. ‘The thrill of my ca­reer for me is that I’ve been given the op­por­tu­nity to do all kinds of other things so it’s never got bor­ing. After The Boy Friend I did My One And Only on Broad­way in 1983, which was ma­jor for me be­cause I didn’t think I could get up on stage. I thought I’d die of fright.

‘On the first night I came run­ning down the stairs af­ter­wards, be­cause I couldn’t be­lieve I’d got through it and lived. This per­son picked me up in the back­stage hall­way and said, “Honey, you were great,” kissed me and put me down. I looked up and it was Lau­ren Ba­call. I nearly fainted. She had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing scary, but she be­came a great friend.’

One of the stand-out mo­ments in her life was when she was asked who she’d like to meet when she was in Hol­ly­wood film­ing. With­out any hes­i­ta­tion she replied her idol Fred As­taire. To her amaze­ment, a few days later she re­ceived a mes­sage that Mr As­taire, who had re­tired, would like her to join him for tea. ‘Well, it’s lovely to meet your hero. And when he turns out to be this in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous, sweet, mod­est man, that makes it even more mem­o­rable. He was such an old-school gent.’

She was in­vited to his LA home, and when As­taire walked into the room she said she felt as if her heart had stopped. ‘That won­der­ful great walk he had. He still had it. Some­times you build he­roes up into some­thing they can never be, but he was just so charm­ing.’ A year later, she went to din­ner with him and his friend, chore­og­ra­pher Her­mes Pan. As they left the restau­rant As­taire went into a lit­tle tap dance. ‘To see those twin­kling feet in ac­tion was one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ences of my life. We didn’t dance, but we kind of sashayed up the road to­gether.’

She seems most happy about life to­day. ‘I am. I’ve got a gor­geous hus­band who I adore.’ They cel­e­brated their 26th wed­ding an­niver­sary this year, but in fact have been to­gether for 29 years. ‘Leigh’s lovely – so nice. He’s also a won­der­ful ac­tor. If somebody’s tal­ented it’s very at­trac­tive, and he still makes me laugh.’ She agrees that Leigh came into her life at the right time. Her hus­band Michael, an Amer­i­can ac­tor, died sud­denly in 1983 in a Man­hat­tan McDon­ald’s at the age of 52. His al­co­holism had de­stroyed their mar­riage and they’d split the pre­vi­ous year. ‘Ter­ri­ble things hap­pen, but hor­ri­ble as it was, you learn a lot from it. It makes you stronger.’

She in­her­ited a ready-made fam­ily when she met Leigh. He had two boys in his life, Ace, his son by Hay­ley Mills, and Crispian, the son Hay­ley had when mar­ried to film pro­ducer Roy Boult­ing. Then of course there was her own daugh­ter Carly. ‘When I met Ace he was eight. Carly was six. We did it grad­u­ally and they got on bril­liantly. They all get on as well as, if not bet­ter than brothers and sis­ters.’ She’s also friends with Hay­ley. ‘She’s a very nice lady. When I met Leigh they’d been sep­a­rated for two years. That makes a dif­fer­ence, you know, it was noth­ing to do with me.’

It’s clear she en­joys her new de­signer role, fo­cus­ing on all sizes from 8 to 22. ‘I’m 65, but I don’t feel how I thought I would. Women my age don’t want to be frumpy. I’ve pushed that out of the win­dow, and found things women can feel com­fort­able in. I tried to do a range to suit every­body. My daugh­ter’s 35 and she wears half the dresses and jack­ets. We just wear them dif­fer­ently.’

As she ap­proaches her half cen­tury as a model she says of her Cin­derella life, ‘I was as sur­prised at what hap­pened to me as ev­ery­one else was. I didn’t plan it by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion. I think when you’re in­cred­i­bly am­bi­tious it can some­times go wrong. I was for­tu­nate enough to meet – and I think this is re­ally im­por­tant – key peo­ple along the way who can change your life.’

Not all of them went out of their way to be help­ful though. At one din­ner party given by the Mar­quis of Duf­ferin and Ava, Twiggy was seated next to Princess Mar­garet, who ig­nored her for the first half of the meal. She even­tu­ally turned to Twiggy and asked what her name was. ‘At that time I must have had one of the most fa­mous names and most recog­nis­able faces on the planet,’ Twiggy re­calls. ‘“Well Ma’am,” I said, smil­ing sweetly, “my real name is Les­ley Hornby, but most peo­ple call me Twiggy.” Her Royal High­ness took a long drag on her cig­a­rette, puffed a long col­umn of smoke out and said, “How un­for­tu­nate” and turned away.’

‘When you’re 6ft and 20 you’re not go­ing to be fat’

Twiggy for M&S Col­lec­tion is avail­able ex­clu­sively on­line

Twiggy with her hus­band Leigh ear­lier this year

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