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The conversation: We catch up with model and actress Lily Cole

By Oscar Quine

The 26-year-old English model and actress talks Picasso, Cambridge, the future of the internet and revolution.

Long day?

Long month, long year, long life ...

Ah, I'm sure it's not all that bad. This'll cheer you up. If you could own one artwork, what would it be?

My brain immediately jumps to Picasso. I'm sorry not to say something more obscure and exciting, but I think that he's such an amazing artist.

Do you get bored of the 'model who went to Cambridge' label?

I think it's somewhat reductive. It does speak to a stereotype of models. But ultimately it doesn't really bother me; I find it quite funny really.

So do models get a hard time?

Models, I've always said, are quite an interesting group of people, because it's one of the only jobs in the world where you don't choose that path. You get a really eclectic group of people who end up modelling. They just happen to have been spotted. So they're often very, very smart girls – one friend of mine wanted to be a dentist.

You must be asked to front a lot of charities. What was it about the Sky rainforest campaign that made you say yes?

I really like how they're approaching this huge problem of deforestation in an economic way: by looking at whether we can drive a market for wild rubber. I think that there's a real logic to the proposition.

Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales is a supporter. Do you feel optimistic about the future that the web has made possible?

I think that, like anything in life, the internet's a tool which can be used for great good, or it can be used negatively. But it's so young; it's only 25 years old. That's younger than me. It has huge potential, which we've seen some of, in terms of offering an open, decentralised structure that can enable communications, relationships and connections that we've not had before. But it's not a given that it will be used that way. To quote Tim Berners-Lee, we have to campaign for the 'web we want'.

What about political revolution, à la Russell Brand? Would you care to speculate on whether the web has made old-fashioned parliamentary democracy redundant?

He said some very poignant things that really resonated with me. But in general, I'm wary of the word revolution and the concept. I'm no expert, but I studied history and politics and I don't think there's ever been revolution that's come off positively. I like the idea of evolution, and while I do think there's need for change, it's by critiquing the status quo and thinking how can we improve this: that's the only way that we're going to evolve.

Do you ever think about what you'd be doing now if you hadn't been spotted?

I think largely what I'm doing, actually. I always wanted to act, which I'm doing, and I always really cared about social issues, so I think that spirit would have had me doing something in charity or business or philanthropy.

Your project, impossible. com, asks people to grant others' wishes. Genie-in-a-bottle scenario: what would your three wishes be?

I'd wish that our culture didn't make money such an obstacle and that we were all more co-operative as a species. I think that would make us all a lot happier. I'd wish for the environment that humans could innovate more quickly in terms of energy needs and consumption. And then I'd wish for the health of my mum and my family.

The plug

Lily Cole has designed a Veja footwear collection, using wild rubber, for Sky Rainforest Rescue, which is on sale now. For details, visit

A degree of success

  • Born in Devon in 1987 to an artist/writer mum and a fisherman dad
  • Her modelling career began after she was spotted at the age of 14 by actor and scout Benjamin Hart
  • At just 16 she was booked for her first Vogue cover, and has worked with well-known brands such as Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Jean Paul Gaultier among others
  • Made her acting debut as Polly the geek in the 2007 comedy St Trinian's, alongside Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Russell Brand
  • Her first leading role (left) was in Terry Gilliam's 2009 fantasy film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, alongside the late Heath Ledger
  • In 2011, she graduated from Cambridge University with a Double First in History of Art

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