‘I got through the Sixties unscathed ... I have quite a good right hook but luckily never had to use it’
Model and mother Twiggy speaks to Gabrielle Fagan about life, love and standing up for herself as a shy teenager in the Sixties.
She’s the iconic model who will forever be known as the ‘face’ of the Sixties, but in the five decades since she first found fame as the elfin-faced muse with big eyes and long lashes, Twiggy has remarkably never fallen out of fashion.
Discovered at just 16 years old, Twiggy retired from modelling after four years, but went on to become an award-winning film and stage actress, release her own album and appear as a judge on America’s Next Top Model. More recently, she’s successfully turned to design, with clothing and accessories ranges for Marks & Spencer and Specsavers.
We caught up with the glamorous and down-to-earth 68-year-old... How do you feel about ageing?
“I don’t think about my age or ageing. I know people can get depressed about being a certain age, but I don’t see the point of that; there’s nothing you can do about it and you can’t stop time passing, so you might as well celebrate it. I’m definitely not going to be the first person in the world not to get old.
“Quite honestly, as long as you’ve got your health, that’s the most important thing. I also feel very lucky to be doing the things I love and to have a lovely family — I feel as happy now as I was in my twenties.”
When you look back to the Sixties, how do you see yourself?
“Compared with today’s 16-year-olds — who appear so confident and grown-up — I was so shy, naive and unworldly. I was this funny little kid that was obsessed with fashion, who suddenly had to grow up quite quickly. Deep down, there’s still a little part of that girl within me, but I’m very different and much more confident now.
“It’s amazing to me that there’s still this fascination with the Sixties era. I get fan mail from teenagers all over the world who are obsessed with the period — perhaps because it was a time of such social change.
“As far as I know, I was the first working class model — until then it was only girls from posh or middle class families. I never expected to become famous, so when it happened, literally overnight, I was as shocked as anybody else.
“Suddenly — within three months — I was in Paris working with American Vogue and ELLE, and people like Sonny and Cher were throwing parties for me with Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen as guests. It was extraordinary.”
How important is work to you?
“I work hard because I enjoy it. I can pick and choose the work that I do and I only work on projects that I’m passionate about. I’m really proud of my latest collection of glasses for Specsavers — I had all of the ideas for the colours and shapes. Specs are such a fashion item now. I’ve got friends who wear them even though they don’t need to, just because they love the look.”
What’s changed your life?
“Being a mother. When I was growing up, my family were everything to me and I wanted Carly to feel the same. She was my priority over my career and if doing a certain job didn’t work for her, I didn’t do it. She definitely grounded me and stopped me from becoming selfish — we went everywhere together, which is why we’re so close now.
“Recently, becoming a grandmother’s been a life-changer. Before it happened, I didn’t think I could experience again the love I had for my own child. At the moment, I’m number one babysitter for Joni, who’s three, and I also have my step-grandchildren to love and enjoy.”
The Sixties were known as the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll era — did you suffer any of the inappropriate behaviour that’s being revealed in the media now?
“I do often think it’s amazing I got through it all unscathed, but I never, ever had anything inappropriate happen.
“I think that was thanks to my wonderful dad, Norman, who was from Bolton and whom I trusted and adored. When I suddenly got this overnight fame (by being named in a newspaper as the ‘face’ of 1966) he let me leave school to model, but insisted I couldn’t go to photo shoots or jobs on my own. My boyfriend became my manager, so he accompanied me everywhere. I also have quite a good right hook — but luckily I never had to use it!
“Even though I wasn’t confident, I had this feistiness — an inner core that was strong. A hugely famous photographer once asked me to cut off my fringe — my hairstyle was such a big part of my look — and, although I was nervous inside, I stood my ground and refused. That was quite brave at the time.”
You’re celebrating your 30th wedding anniversary this year. What’s the secret of your happy relationship with Leigh?
“God knows! [Laughs] No, seriously, it’s because we’re best friends — we hit it off from our first meeting. It wasn’t our first relationship — we’d both been through one that hadn’t worked out for various reasons, so we felt lucky to find one another. Leigh’s such a talented and attractive man, and most importantly, he makes me laugh. He’s very romantic too — if ever he goes away he still leaves me little love notes on my pillow.”
How do you look after your health and wellbeing?
“I’m certainly not fanatical about looking after myself. I love food and cooking and eat mostly organic, but I’ve never dieted — I was 6st 7lb when I was a teenager and I’m 8st 7lb now.
“Pilates is my indulgence. I have one-to-one sessions because I have a funny back. It went into spasm once and I had to lie flat for a week, which scared me. I had the bad habit of chewing my nails until I was 30, but now I have gel nails done every couple of weeks, which is really relaxing as I feel pampered and can ignore my phone.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“My parents always told me, ‘Stay true to yourself,’ and I think I have. I’ve never allowed myself to be forced to do things I didn’t want to do and I don’t suffer fools gladly.
“Of course, you go through life and different things happen to you — and I’ve had my fair share of sad times. You lose people [Twiggy’s first husband Michael Witney died of a heart attack] and so there are sad memories, but overall, I’ve had a lovely life.”
Twiggy for Aurora, exclusive to Specsavers. Visit specsavers.co.uk