Thrills, spills & Heather Mills

My mar­riage to Paul McCart­ney, be­ing banned from the Olympics and why I can have any man I de­sire…

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - By Louise Gannon

Ac­cord­ing to popular myth, there is only one Heather Mills. A mad, very bad, wild-eyed harpy who mar­ried and di­vorced the univer­sal ly beloved Paul McCart­ney, turn­ing her – for a sub­stan­tial chunk of the Noughties – into ‘Lady Mucca’.

But from an up­side- down per­spec­tive in the blind­ing white glare of the morn­ing sun­light on the icy slopes of Kuh­tai, Aus­tria, Mills is noth­ing short of an Alpine god­dess as (for the tenth time in 80 min­utes) she hauls all 8st 2oz of my dead-weight body back onto my skis, tells me I’m ‘do­ing great’ and lines me up (‘Get very tight be­tween my legs’) for another at­tempted hill turn.

Mills, who is ranked 28th in world slalom by the In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee, has of­fered to teach me to ski. It’s a clever move in turn­ing the ta­bles. But in an at­tempt to pro­long my breathers in be­tween fall­ing, we talk about, well, ev­ery­thing: her mar­riage to the ex-Bea­tle (‘I was com­pletely in love with him; he was like a cross be­tween Peter Pan and Cap­tain Hook’), the daugh­ter she shares with McCart­ney, Beatrice (‘She’s very smart, very loyal... I can’t deny she’s priv­i­leged but she’s def­i­nitely not spoilt’); her sex ap­peal (‘I’m very sexy, there isn’t a part of my body I’m not happy with’), her leg (she lost the lower half of her left leg when she was knocked down by a po­lice motorcycle in 1993 but re­veals that los­ing a limb was eas­ier to deal with than the fall­out from her di­vorce – ‘I be­came poi­son, I felt I lost ev­ery­thing’) as well as her con­tro­ver­sial de­par­ture from last year’s Bri­tish Par­a­lympic ski­ing team.

Mills is noth­ing if not frank. And funny. ‘First time I got back to ski­ing after my ac­ci­dent, I got on a ski lift. I was talk­ing to my friend when I felt this “whoosh” from my trousers. Then there was a scream from be­hind with a kid shout­ing, “Her leg has dropped off!” I was hop­ping around at the top of the lift and a snow­boarder emerged car­ry­ing my leg shout­ing, “Whoa! Is this yours? That is so cool!” ’

But first, there is the ques­tion of why on earth she has agreed to take part in the Chan­nel 4 show, The Jump, along­side a slew of celebri­ties in­clud­ing for­mer crick­eter Phil Tufnell, rugby star Mike Tin­dall, TOWIE’s Joey Es­sex, Dom Parker from Gog­gle­box, hep­tath­lete Louise Hazel, Jodie Kidd, Chloe Made­ley and Par­a­lympian Jon-Al­lan But­ter­worth.

‘ I haven’t done TV in four years,’ she says with a lyri­cal Ge­ordie lilt. ‘And I de­cided I wanted to do somet h i ng I ’d en­joy, some­thing that shows other peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties you can get out there and do stuff. I also wanted to do some­thing th a t wou ld chal­lenge me, some­thing I could push my­sel f with and some­thing I’d get to learn from.’

It is a show so riven with dan­ger (con­tes­tants have to bob­sled, skele­ton, slalom and snow­board as well as jump) that al­ready two of this year’s con­tes­tants – Sally Ber­cow and Strictly dancer Ola Jor- dan – have limped out of the run­ning. ‘That doesn’t scare me,’ grins Mills rue­fully. ‘I’ve been through a lot, lot worse. Bro­ken bones al­ways mend.’ Did she have to ask McCart­ney’s per­mis­sion? She raises her eye­brows. ‘No. Why would I? I can do what I want.’

And view­ers love to see celebri­ties face a hellish or­deal – iron­i­cally it is through do­ing this that Mills hopes for re­demp­tion, for peo­ple to see her as she re­ally is.

The train­ing is full- on. The pre­vi­ous day she set a record as the first lower-leg am­putee to at­tempt a ski jump. It turned out to be a prob­lem­atic af­fair as she was un­able to sit on the jump chair (‘It was too low for my leg, it stuck out, I couldn’t move it back’) but she still man­aged to com­plete the jump.

‘I bloody loved it,’ she says. She is un­be­liev­ably com­pet­i­tive. In the skele­ton, the bob­sled and the jump it­self her dis­abil­ity puts her at a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tage. Un­de­terred, Mills is out to win.

But then this is a woman who threw a jug of wa­ter over McCart­ney’s di­vorce lawyer, Fiona Shack­le­ton, in the midst of the mul­ti­mil­lion-pound court case in 2008.

Later we pre­pare to move to another moun­tain, the omi­nously named Mut ters. This in­volves me tak­ing off my snow gear, Mills tak­ing off her leg and me mas­sag­ing her stump be­cause the spe­cially de­signed pros­thetic leg she uses to ski cuts off her cir­cu­la­tion and can cause reg­u­lar hae­matomas. I carry it to the car. It is un­be­liev­ably heavy, about 13lb in weight.

Mills is re­mark­ably easy about her leg. She looks shocked when I ask her if she thinks los­ing a leg af­fected her sex ap­peal. ‘Not for a minute,’ she says. ‘I think I am very sexy. I’m very con­fi­dent as a woman and there isn’t a part of my body I’m not happy with.

‘I never saw that by los­ing a leg I was in any way los­ing my fem­i­nin­ity. Even now, I’m 47 and if I see a hot man I know I can have him. I might not want him but I can have him. I’m not em­bar­rassed about my leg – in fact a good chat-up line from me is: “How do you fancy mas­sag­ing my stump?” Sex ap­peal is about con­fi­dence. Con­fi­dence is about know­ing who you are and be­ing happy with that. Thank God I have my con­fi­dence.’

But back to the be­gin­ning. Even be­fore Mills met McCart­ney (at an awards cer­e­mony in 1999) her life story read like some­thing from a Dick­en­sian novel. Her fa­ther, John, was a hand­some para­trooper who, Mills claims, was vi­o­lently abu­sive to his wife Beatrice and three chil­dren Shane, Heather and Fiona. Beatrice left home when Mills was nine years old and the three chil­dren reg­u­larly stole food, she says, to evade more thrash­ings from their fa­ther.

At school in Wash­ing­ton, Tyne and Wear, Mills was told she would never amount to any­thing. This still ran­kles. She says: ‘I think it’s part of the rea­son I’ve al­ways been so driven. I’d fall asleep in class, as my fa­ther would make me and my sib­lings work all night. My home­work wasn’t done, I was in­cred­i­bly skinny. I dis­played all the signs of a child who had se­vere prob­lems at home, yet my teacher never picked up on that and I got at­tacked again. It made me al­ways want to fight back, fight for peo­ple with no voice.

Even then I thought some­thing spe­cial would hap­pen to me. Years later I saw that teacher when I’d in­vited all my old mates to the best ho­tel in town. I told her right to her face how wrong she was.’

By 15, she came to London to live with her mother. Rather in­ex­pli­ca­bly, she never stopped loving the woman who aban­doned her ( Mills named her only child after her) and di­rects her anger only at her fa­ther. Both her par­ents are now dead. ‘I un­der­stand why my mother left, I al­ways did. I was happy she got away from him,’ she says. She can only re­mem­ber her mother hug­ging her once. ‘She just wasn’t a very emo­tional woman.’

Yet she looks close to tears as she tells how she missed be­ing with her mother when she died be­cause she had ran out to buy the red py­ja­mas she’d asked for in hos­pi­tal.

She was just 46, Mills has just turned 47. ‘I’m now older than my mother was when she died – that is surreal.’

So much of her life has been surreal. After mov­ing to London, there fol­lowed a wild pe­riod: run­ning away to join a fun­fair, liv­ing un­der the arches in Water­loo and more shoplift­ing and mod­el­ling. She drove across land­mine-rid­den ar­eas of Croa­tia to de­liver do­na­tions, all of which was de­tailed in a book she wrote soon after los­ing her leg called Out On A Limb.

The book was a best­seller when it was pub­lished in 1995 (all the pro­ceeds went to fund limb pros­thet­ics in Croa­tia) and Mills be­came the dar­ling of the me­dia, com­mand­ing £50,000 an hour for in­spi­ra­tional speak­ing and set­ting up char­i­ties to sup­ply pros­thetic legs to war zones.

After she mar­ried McCart­ney, her rev­e­la­tions came back to haunt her. Many of her sto­ries were said to have been fab­ri­ca­tions. She nods at this. ‘My step­fa­ther [Charles Sta­p­ley, a some­time Cross­roads ac­tor] said I was a fan­ta­sist. He was an emo­tional bully but that stuck and that was it. I never un­der­stood it be­cause one minute I had a great re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia and the next I was just vil­i­fied. My mis­take was not de­fend­ing my­self at the time. I didn’t say any­thing be­cause I was ad­vised [by McCart­ney] to say noth­ing.’

Per­haps the big­gest mis­take of all, how­ever, was mar­ry­ing McCart­ney. Yoko Ono once said, ‘Mar­ry­ing a Bea­tle turns the whole world against you.’ Mills nods: ‘I like Yoko. She’s a very wise, very lovely woman. And yes, for some rea­son it’s very hard to be mar­ried to a Bea­tle. Linda had it tough, Yoko had it tough and what hap­pened to me after the di­vorce… los­ing my leg was eas­ier to cope with.’

Does she re­gret it? She shakes her head. ‘I mar­ried Paul be­cause I was com­pletely in love with him. He had so much en­ergy – he was a cross be­tween Peter Pan and Cap­tain Hook. I wasn’t even a Bea­tles fan. I barely even knew any of the songs. I liked one song by Wings but that was it. He loved that.

‘But any­one who thinks mar­ry­ing a rock legend is go­ing to be par­adise… it just isn’t.’ She can­not – for le­gal rea­sons – say much about McCart­ney. In their di­vorce set­tle­ment, Mills, the mother of his 11-year-old daugh­ter Beatrice, re­ceived a lump sum of £16.5 mil­lion and as­sets of £7.8 mil­lion, which in­cluded the prop­er­ties she owned be­fore she met

him. She was, as she points out, in­de­pen­dently very wealthy when they met. It was her, she says, who in­sisted they keep the re­la­tion­ship se­cret for six months.

Ask her why she thinks it went wrong and she says: ‘I say what I think. If I think some­thing is wrong I’ll say it. If I wasn’t that type of per­son we’d still be mar­ried now. But for years I was at­tracted to th­ese very strong, pow­er­ful men who think they want a strong woman but ac­tu­ally they want some­one who does what they want.

‘The men who seem the strong­est are usu­ally the most in­se­cure. But I’ve fi­nally bro­ken that cy­cle. My last boyfriend, Jamie Walker [a hol­i­day rep], was the op­po­site, but he is the most lovely, se­cure, hon­ourable man.’ They split two years ago after six years to­gether.

Mills has been mar­ried twice; first to busi­ness­man Al­fie Kar­mal in 1989 (they di­vorced two years later). Her mar­riage to McCart­ney – who she met in 1999 and mar­ried in 2002 – lasted four years be­fore they sep­a­rated and then fi­nally di­vorced in 2008.

Be­fore McCart­ney she was en­gaged three times (doc­u­men­tary film-maker Chris Ter­rill, me­dia ex­ec­u­tive Mar­cus Sta­ple­ton, and bond dealer Raf­faele Min­cione).

‘Ev­ery man, bar two, I’ve been out with, has asked me to marry him,’ she says.

There is no ques­tion, in her mind, about whether she will marry again. ‘Never, never, never,’ she says firmly. ‘I’m sin­gle, I want to have fun but I don’t want to be mar­ried. It’s one thing I’m ab­so­lutely sure about.’

Dur­ing her ac­ri­mo­nious split from McCart­ney, Mills was held in the eye of a me­dia storm. Some of his chil­dren made no se­cret of their dis­like. She was branded a liar, a gold dig­ger, a porn star in the press. She fa­mously broke down on tele­vi­sion in 2007. To­day, it makes un­com­fort­able view­ing.

Sit­ting be­side her in the car is her friend of 25 years, Ruth Matthews. Like her sis­ter Fiona, 45, brother Shane, 49 and half-sis­ter Claire, 31, Matthews is part of Mills’s ring of sup­port­ers. ‘I don’t think many peo­ple could have gone through what she did. The only time I wor­ried was when she went quiet after the di­vorce. I was re­ally wor­ried be­cause that’s not her. She’s a fighter. She al­ways fights.’

Iask whether at any point she felt she had lost the plot. She says: ‘I felt I lost ev­ery­thing. I spent my whole life rais­ing money for char­i­ties and

was asked to leave ev­ery char­ity [from PETA to Adopt a Mine­field] be­cause be­came poi­son. That was who I was – when I met Paul the money I earned from do­ing talks all went to char­ity, I was of­fered a job with Larry King in Amer­ica but couldn’t take it. Ev­ery­thing I was was taken away.’ But her di­vorce set­tle­ment left her an ex­traor­di­nar­ily wealthy woman. ‘You know what,’ she says, ‘I’ve given 80 per cent of it away. I haven’t stopped do­ing work with land mines in war zones, ex­cept now I pay for my own mine sweep­ers, I take in pros­thetic limbs, I pay for things my­self.

‘I’m not in­ter­ested in money. I fly easyJet, Ryanair, Bri­tish Air­ways – al­ways econ­omy. I do my own hair and make-up, I buy clothes from Top­Shop and H&M. My life is pretty sim­ple. I have my restau­rant VBites [a ve­gan restau­rant in Brighton – Mills is a com­mit­ted ve­gan], I do a lot of ski­ing and when I’m ski­ing I live out of a camper­van. I don’t have se­cu­rity, I don’t live a celebrity life­style.

‘I’m not in­ter­ested. When I was mar­ried to Paul we toured the world after I had Beatrice. I hated it. I went on pri­vate planes and then I went through the restau­rant of a ho­tel up to a pri­vate suite which I couldn’t leave be­cause of all the fans. I just wanted a sim­ple life with my daugh­ter.’

But still she re­tains her flair for con­tro­versy. I have to ad­mit this is part of her ap­peal. A lot of the time you spend with Mills your mouth is left more than ever so slightly agape. The down­fall of the celebrity pub­li­cist, Max Clif­ford, was sparked, she says, in part by her. ‘When I mar­ried Paul I got a call on my mo­bile phone from Max Clif­ford. I never gave him my num­ber, no one did. But he was on the phone telling me I needed him to rep­re­sent me. I told him no. He then told me he was go­ing to make sure I was ru­ined.

‘When any­thing hap­pened, he would go on tele­vi­sion and talk about me, say­ing a lot of neg­a­tive things. At one point dur­ing the di­vorce, he went on tele­vi­sion and blasted me. The same day I got two mes­sages on my web­site, both from women, both in­de­pen­dent of each other, telling me how sorry they felt for me and how much they hated him be­cause he had abused them when they were teenagers.

‘I put them in touch with Scot­land Yard and that was the start of the in­quiry into Max Clif­ford. In the end, karma comes around.’

She says part of the rea­son for do­ing The Jump was for her daugh­ter. She shares cus­tody of Beatrice with McCart­ney (it is their only source of con­tact) but it was Beatrice she asked about do­ing the show. ‘She wanted me to do it be­cause she’s re­ally proud of me. She’s al­ways telling me I’m won­der­ful, which is amaz­ing for me. I never thought I could have chil­dren – I had so many mis­car­riages and in the end I had her. We are in­cred­i­bly close. She’s very smart, very loyal and she wants to be a marine bi­ol­o­gist. We spent two weeks in the Arc­tic re­cently look­ing for Nar­whals [rare tusked whales]. She’d asked to go two years ago and I told her she could go when she was ten but only if she worked re­ally hard in sci­ence at school. She said noth­ing for two years then came up and said: “I’m ten and I got straight As in school – can we go and see the Nar­whals?”

‘She is the most in­cred­i­ble kid. I can’t say she isn’t priv­i­leged but she is def­i­nitely not spoilt. Ev­ery morn­ing she makes her own break­fast, she makes me tea, she sorts out her things for school. She’s a re­ally spe­cial girl and de­spite ev­ery­thing I wouldn’t have had her with­out her dad.’

As she talks we ar­rive at Mut­ters and she pre­pares to strap on the pros­thetic leg and boot she has had made for ski­ing. It was this boot that was be­hind her dra­matic with­drawal from the Par­a­lympic team. She be­gan train­ing four years ago and won four gold medals at the Adap­tive Alpine Ski­ing Na­tional Cham­pi­onships World Cup de­spite a bro­ken shoul­der and arm. The fol­low­ing year she won sil­ver at the 2013 Win­ter Games.

‘I love ski­ing and I wanted to show that any­one with a dis­abil­ity can be bloody good,’ she says. ‘It’s my ab­so­lute pas­sion to put it out there to peo­ple who think “my life is over” and I want them to know you can get up and fight and turn your life around. I worked in­cred­i­bly hard. I broke ev­ery bone in my body and I went through is­sue after is­sue with my stump with hae­matomas, blis­ters, swelling and a lot of pain. I had a boot spe­cially made to fit ex­actly my re­quire­ments. The dream was com­pet­ing at Sochi [for the 2014 Par­a­lympics] but it was wrenched away. I was a team player, I helped a lot of the other com­peti­tors, as a lot of the or­gan­i­sa­tion was ter­ri­ble.

‘Then there was this is­sue about my boot.’ Mills says she was dis­qual­i­fied at the last minute from the Bri­tish Par­a­lympic team by of­fi­cial Syl­vana Mestre for wear­ing the ‘wrong boot’, one not ap­proved for com­peti- tion. The In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee dis­putes Mills’s ver­sion of events, in­sist­ing she was never for­mally dis­qual­i­fied and in fact re­signed her place on the team.

The com­plex con­tro­versy re­volved around the spe­cial cut- down ski boot Mills wears which en­ables her pros­thetic to be ejected.

‘On the day we were sup­posed to be leav­ing with the team I was called in by Syl­vana and told I was dis­qual­i­fied. She told me, “The rules are the rules.” It’s in­sane to say ev­ery­one has to wear a spe­cific boot when each am­putee is in­di­vid­ual. I was com­pletely dev­as­tated. No one stuck up for me be­cause they feared they’d be off the team if they did.’

She tells me a story about be­ing hit on by a

guy in New York. ‘I was with a group of my friends and he came over and I knew all the time he was talk­ing to them he wanted to talk to me. He fi­nally made his way round but th­ese days I’m a very good judge of character and I knew what he was all about. I told him I liked a man who could suck my toes.

‘I was wear­ing open-toed heels. He looked de­lighted and said he would do it right there. I of­fered him my left leg and he started suck­ing my toes and within a cou­ple of min­utes he was look­ing very con­fused. My friends were roar­ing with laugh­ter and I said to him: “Have you never sucked pros­thetic toes be­fore?” That was the end of him.

So far Mills is prov­ing a hit with her fel­low con­tes­tants on the show. Th­ese are sto­ries that go down well in the ho­tel bar in Inns­bruck where they gather most evenings. That night she has or­gan­ised a ve­gan feast to cel­e­brate their birth­day, and all to a man are go­ing.

Does she ever miss Paul McCart­ney? She shakes her head. ‘When I got mar­ried I thought I’d be pro­tected but I wasn’t, I was hung out to dry. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever gone through and now I’m over it.

‘Peo­ple I meet in the streets have al­ways been lovely, peo­ple in Aus­tria don’t even know me be­cause of Paul, they know me be­cause of ski­ing. I’ve got a life I love, I’ve got an in­cred­i­ble daugh­ter and I’m happy.’

The Jump starts on C4 on Fe­bru­ary 1

Above: Mills on the slopes. Op­po­site: with McCart­ney in 2004

Mills gears up to hit the slopes and, right, from top: McCart­ney and lawyer Fiona Shack­le­ton ar­rive at the High Court in 2008; an artist’s im­pres­sion of Mills throw­ing wa­ter over Shack­le­ton; Mills on GM-TV in 2007; her late fa­ther

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