Jodie Kidd: 'It was such a crazy, bonkers ride. I'm so glad that I made it out the other side'
Fast car-driving model Jodie Kidd has a new job - as landlady of her village pub. She tells Katie Law why she's putting the brakes on
Pulling pints in the pub is the last thing you'd expect former model Jodie Kidd to be doing, but it turns out the petrolhead, TV star and Nineties waif is a natural at it. As the new co-proprietor of The Half Moon pub in Kirdford, a picturesque village in West Sussex, Kidd (38) seems to have found her calling. On the day we meet she's busy straightening the cutlery on tables and handing out menus to customers, brisk and businesslike in black jeans, rolled-up sleeves and workaday flat pumps.
"The pub closed down last year and was for sale. There were rumours that a developer was going to turn it into houses," she says. "I live a few miles down the road and I've been coming here most of my life. One day I drove past with two friends and said, 'Let's just buy it'. The next thing I knew, it was ours."
Together with partners Chris Lee and Dan Elson, and help from her mother Wendy, who is pootling about outside when I visit, she threw herself into redesigning the interiors and gardens, no expense spared. "Everything here's got little bits of me," Kidd explains, fondling some tan leather seats. "Like this, it's my riding obsession - seats made from saddle leather, and brass D-rings holding up the hessian cushions, which are like sacks for horse feed."
Choosing the right white for one wall proved an unexpected challenge. "I didn't realise how many different whites there are," she says. One was too cold, one was too warm, one looked like nicotine stains. I said, 'Oh my God, I just want a white wall'."
From the hunting-print wallpaper and bright, petrol-blue bar, to the black-and-white framed racing-car photographs on the walls, the ambience is pure Jilly Cooper: clubby, horsey and gentrified. Just the ticket for locals, whose familiar stomping grounds are nearby Goodwood, Cowdray and Petworth. In fact, the ladies lunching at the next table look a bit like Jilly Cooper.
"We got it on a lease, so it was very affordable and meant we had more money to spend on it." She doesn't know how much, though, she says, with a sweet, clownish grin. "When it comes to finance, I'm bad. I sprinkle my fairy dust here, and they (Lee and Elson) were like, 'Right Jodes, we love you, we think you're absolutely fantastic, but if we're going to do this, you have to have a good team because you're either going to drink all the profits or give them all away'. So every single bit of lime is measured, every glass of wine to the tiniest ingredient is costed. A lot of work goes on in the back office, which I'm terrible at. I'm out front: I entertain people."
And she does. Customers are visibly delighted to be greeted by the celebrity landlady - and the restaurant, with its ambitious menu designed by executive chef Paul Welburn, is booked solidly for weeks. In keeping with one of her other pet projects, the charity Ocean Rescue, Kidd has forbidden any plastic in the pub.
"I've always done it at home. I reuse bags, I don't use plastic water bottles and I compost. Growing up in Barbados I used to go beachcombing for shells and there was absolutely nothing," says Kidd, whose family still owns a plantation estate there. "Now it's just disgraceful. There are eight million tons of plastic ending up in our oceans every year."
She's bought "great loo rolls" for the pub, made from bamboo and called Who Gives a Crap, and plans to install ports outside to recharge electric cars. These days she drives a BMW i8, and something else she calls "my little thing", which turns out to be a rather large BMW X5M. "So the electric is what I do all my big journeys into London - it's an hour to Putney - and then my country 4x4, which is quite naughty and fruity."
Since becoming a mother - her son, Indio is nearly six - Kidd agrees that she has calmed down, although later admits she still has a "crazy petrolhead child" side to her. "After Indie was born I got rid of my Lamborghini, my Ferrari and my Maserati." She also gave up competitive racing. "I don't push like I used to and, being a single mum, I'm hopefully going to be there to watch Indie have children."
She's given up high heels ("ridiculous, embarrassing, good God, I'm 6ft 2in), playing polo ("a crazy sport, too expensive") and riding, although she still keeps a horse, together with a menagerie of dogs and chickens. In fact, Mavis the chicken has a bit of a following on Instagram and Kidd regards her as part of the family. "She thinks she's human. She walked into the house and started laying an egg on my sofa last month," Kidd giggles in mock outrage.
She's currently off air, though Kidd has two new TV shows in the pipeline - one about the modelling industry, the other about cars and food, because "I'm a massive foodie" and anything involving cars is "my happy place".
Next week she's off again, rowing 120 miles down the Gironde to recreate a Second World War commando raid, Operation Frankton, in special kayaks called kleppers. "God, five days rowing…" she sighs. Does she train? She certainly looks hale and hearty, no trace of the anorexic giraffe about her these days. "No, I just wing it, but I'm pretty fit because I keep doing these things."
Indeed, in the past couple of years she has climbed Kilimanjaro, cycled around Burma and more than 600 miles from Ypres down the Western Front to Verdun. Next year she'll row 900 miles down the Zambesi - all to raise money for (mostly military) charities. "I'm not like a gym-obsessed bunny but I do try to get on a rowing machine when I'm watching Game of Thrones - and then I collapse with a glass of wine and go to bed."
It's a big change for Kidd, who first strutted down the catwalk at 15 and went on to make a fortune, then lose a string of lucrative contracts a decade later after getting caught up in a News of the World cocaine sting. "It was such a roller coaster - a crazy, bonkers ride. I'm just very grateful I made it out the other side but it put me in a position where I can help promote good things now."
Then there was her volatile romantic life: two marriages - one to internet entrepreneur Aidan Butler lasting 18 months, the second to soldier David Blakeley for just four months, and a relationship in between with Argentinian polo player Andrea Vianini, which resulted in Indio. "I really am here in the pub 24/7, and any other time I'm with the little monkey," she says, muttering to herself that she must remember to order the bouncy castle for his birthday party.
In spite of their much-publicised split, Kidd's parents are doting grandparents. Her father, Johnny Kidd, is a grandson of Lord Beaverbrook and a former champion show-jumper who ran off a decade ago with a much younger Hollywood stunt girl after 33 years of marriage. "Even though mum and dad aren't together, they're probably here at the moment. Dad will be strimming and mum will be in the garden." She describes her family, including older brother Jack - who has just had his sixth child, and sister Jemma, now Marchioness of Douro - as all "super-close", planning to spend Christmas together in Barbados.
Is there a significant man in her life now? "Er no," she says, going coy. "No, nothing too exciting. I haven't got time, I'm too bloody busy. Indie's my man." She pauses. "Maybe Prince Charming will walk into the pub. Maybe he's here now..."