TWIGGY’S SAY ON A FAT EPIDEMIC
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 ORIGINAL SUPERWAIF ON A BURGEONING OBESITY CRISIS
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