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Jungle Belle

Fashion guru and presenter Susannah Constantine enjoys a bit of straight talking. So her stint in the Australian outback on TV show I'm A Celebrity should suit her down to the ground

By Andrew Johnston

Published 28/11/2015

Susannah Constantine
Susannah Constantine

Ant and Dec's latest jungle stooge Susannah Constantine might have more cause than most to scream, "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me out of Here!" Not because she is a bigger celebrity than this year's other contestants, but as it's highly unlikely the millionairess fashion guru has ever had to contend with waterfalls, rope bridges or giant insects when teaching the nation how to dress.

But what does make Constantine an ideal candidate, at least as far as the viewing public are concerned, is her loud and forthright manner, and the fact she doesn't care who she offends - a seeming constant throughout her life.

Susannah Caroline Constantine was born on June 3, 1962, in Hammersmith, London, and grew up in the Leicestershire village of Knipton. Her late father, Joseph, was an Old Etonian and ex-Coldstream Guard who had enjoyed enormous financial success in property and shipping, and the privileged family were keen on hunting and art.

With her sister Annette, Susannah was privately educated at boarding schools including Queen's Gate School in South Kensington and the £20,000-a-year St Mary's School in Wantage, Oxfordshire, which was run by Anglican nuns.

Constantine has spoken about her homesickness and insecurity during this period, telling The Independent in 2008, that she had "sobbed uncontrollably into my pillow" on her first night away from home. This "miserable" experience, as she put it, may explain why, when asked years later to give a talk to pupils at St Mary's about her success as a writer and broadcaster, she scrawled, "No f***ing way," on the invitation.

The sweary missive had been intended for Constantine's personal assistant, but it was forwarded to St Mary's by mistake and the school wrote back, saying she was no longer welcome.

After school, Constantine initially trained to be a teacher, but it wasn't for her, and she moved on after a year to study sculpture in Brussels. In a 2007 interview with The Guardian, Constantine reminisced that during this time, she had "lost my virginity", "went a bit mad" and had "weird and wonderful boyfriends", two of whom were the Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan and Princess Margaret's son, Viscount Linley.

Constantine became a fixture in the Eighties British gossip columns as the result of the latter relationship, which lasted for eight years.

Perhaps through her connections with the Royal world, her next job was as a salesgirl at Harrod's, though again, it wasn't for her. "I was so lazy," Constantine told the Sunday Mirror in 2007. "I just sat on my a*** all day. It was boring, so I tried to shoplift things, but we'd always get our bags checked."

Horse enthusiast Constantine then flirted with the idea of becoming a mounted policewoman in London, but the four years of training put her off.

The future style champion turned a corner when she went to the US to work as a shop girl for the designer Giorgio Armani. On her return to London, she jobbed for designers including John Galliano, Richard James and Patrick Cox, which informed her understanding of the design of a garment.

Through mutual friends, she also secured a regular gig writing about sport, cars and fashion for The Daily Telegraph.

In 1994, Constantine crossed paths with Trinny Woodall at a dinner party thrown by Viscount Linley. Amazingly enough, the soon-to-be inseparable partners didn't think much of each other upon first meeting. "Susannah was the snobby, English aristo, and she thought I was Eurotrash," Woodall recalled in The Observer in 2002. "We were like dogs, sniffing round each other."

After repeated introductions and realising they had shared interests, the pair eventually joined forces. Using Constantine's 'in' at the Telegraph, they were signed up to pen a weekly clothing column, Ready to Wear. It proved popular and ran for seven years, but the online advice service they subsequently founded was less successful. The enterprise lost a reputed £10m and tested their friendship to the limits.

Still, they persevered, and in 2000, the team made their television debut for BSkyB with a daytime shopping show called Ready to Wear. A spin-off book, Ready 2 Dress, was too much, too soon - an alleged 13,000 copies had to be pulped - but their TV profile gradually increased, helped by a slot on Richard & Judy.

Their easy chemistry and frank approach convinced BBC Two controller Jane Root to take a chance on them, and in 2001, Constantine and Woodall were commissioned to host What Not to Wear. The format saw the two giving makeovers to ordinary members of the public, recommending outfits and speaking in a blunt manner about people's bodies, including their trademark practice of referring to breasts as "t***".

"Women like us," Constantine told the Daily Mail in 2006. "We're reflective of every woman out there. We know what it feels like to be not good enough, not pretty enough, all those things. We've just learned to deal with those issues."

The programme also featured occasional celebrity guests. After Top Gear curmudgeon Jeremy Clarkson took part in 2002, he famously declared, "I'd rather eat my own hair than shop with these two again".

But if the irascible Clarkson wasn't a fan, millions of viewers were, and following massive ratings success, What Not to Wear was promoted to BBC One for its fourth run, in 2004.

In its new slot, the show's length was extended from 30 minutes to an hour, and audience numbers also doubled, from the BBC Two peak of 2.8million to 5.6million. The series was nominated for multiple BAFTAs and won a Royal Television Society Award in 2002 for best factual presenters. Yet in 2006, the double act shocked many by leaving What Not to Wear to limp on without them. The line was that the BBC had suggested Constantine and Woodall were too "bitchy", but Constantine fired back in the Daily Mail: "There is no way Trin or I have ever been a bitch. That is to misunderstand everything we say or do. I find it bizarre that the BBC said that about us. But hey, whatever."

It was far from the end for the style queens, however, as they moved to ITV in a £1.2million deal, where they got their names in the title of Trinny & Susannah Undress.... The new project - which changed tack slightly, focusing on the main fashion issues in the UK -ran until the following year and was broadcast around the globe.

The pair's success on screen was matched by their triumphs in publishing. 2002's What Not to Wear tie-in won a prestigious British Book Award and sold 670,000 copies. A slew of spin-off titles followed, along with the likes of What You Wear Can Change Your Life, What Your Clothes Say about You and The Body Shape Bible. Many topped the book charts at home and abroad, and their combined worldwide sales are estimated at 2.5million.

In her private life, Constantine has been married to the Danish Death cigarettes magnate Sten Bertelsen since 1995, and they have three children, Joe, Esme and Cece. After giving birth for the first time, Constantine suffered from severe postnatal depression and panic attacks. "It was really frightening," she told the Daily Mail in 2008. "It lasted for four months, and the scary thing is that I carried on working through all of it."

Happily, she recovered, and today, the family live on a 120-acre pile in Sussex. Constantine is said to be worth around £5m.

On the downside, last year, the lifelong hunter was criticised for taking 10-year-old Cece on a duck shoot, where the child claimed her first kill and smeared the blood of the murdered bird across her cheeks.

Constantine has also been involved in a spat with erstwhile Countdown star Carol Vorderman, who described her and Woodall as "Tranny and the Horse". They in turn branded her an "overdone Eighties nightmare".

Meanwhile, in 2002, the presenters were the victims of gem thieves during a visit to the Cannes Film Festival.

But for the handful of downs, there have been many more ups, and Constantine remains bullish about her contribution to the world. Speaking to The Guardian in 2007, she set out hers and Woodall's ethos: "Ultimately, what we're doing is giving people confidence.

"We're probably the only people who have an opinion, who care how ordinary people dress. No one at Vogue magazine gives a s***."

Constantine's self-belief and fierceness of attitude should see her through anything the Australian jungle can throw at her.

A life so far

She was born in Hammersmith, London, in 1962

Early jobs included working for designers Georgio Armani and John Galliano

In 1995, she married Danish businessman Sten Bertelsen

With partner Trinny Woodall, she began presenting What Not to Wear for the BBC in 2001

A series of spin-off books with Woodall have sold a combined 2.5million copies

The odds on her winning I'm a Celebrity... are 50 to 1

Belfast Telegraph

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