Elle McPherson Interview

Model Citizen

In June, supermodel and entrepreneur Elle 'The Body' Macpherson appeared in Harrogate to speak at the Yorkshire Business Convention. Tony Greenway selflessly volunteered for the job of interviewing her.

"Who," asks the Editor, waving a press invite, "would like to interview Elle Macpherson in Harrogate?"
Shoving old ladies and small children out of the way, I register my interest by ripping the invite out of her hand and running out of the door.
Yes, that would be quite nice, thanks.
It's early June, and Elle - Australian supermodel, actress and entrepreneur - is in town to speak at the Yorkshire Business Convention at the Yorkshire Event Centre. She's here to prove that she's not just a pretty face and, thrillingly, to talk about her knickers business. More of that later.
Ringing the press office, I ask if I can have five minutes with Elle.
"What? For an interview?"
Well, preferably. But I'm not fussy and I'm not from Harper's Bazaar. I'll have a game of Scrabble with her if she'd prefer.
The reply is that a short chat should be possible just before she goes on stage to give a 45-minute presentation to the assembled delegates who are all big wheels in Yorkshire business. Immediately afterwards, she will jump on a helicopter bound for the convention's sister conference in Hull. So I'm standing exactly where I've been told to stand when Elle emerges through the door.
The first thing that strikes you is how tall she is. Supermodels are supposed to be rangy, but this one, in her heels, must be 6"3 if she's an inch (her vital statistics show that she's 6" in her bare feet).
The second thing you notice is - well... you know. Her eyes are big, deep chocolate pools, her dentistry gleams, her face is tanned and her expertly teased light brown hair falls in gentle, undulating curls across -
Sorry. I'll shut up now. But you get the picture.
Today, Elle is looking sharp in a flared pin-stripe trouser suit - and she's also looking nervous. That's surprising because this is a woman who has walked down catwalks wearing next to nothing (albeit by designers such as Versace, Dior and Yves Saint-Laurent); who has featured on more covers of Sports Illustrated than anyone in the world; who has pitched business ideas to rooms full of suits, and who is so impossibly lithe she is nicknamed 'The Body' - a title she still retains in her mid forties. As a bonus, her business empire is worth millions. So if anyone is entitled to have an ego the size of the Australian outback, it's Elle Macpherson, but she speaks softly and without pretension in a voice that is a curious mix of Aussie and American twang. "I've got to talk to 1500 people in a minute," she says, pointing to the main hall in the Event Centre. "So of course I'm nervous. I'm just going to tell my story - I'm not here to preach and I tend not to give 'advice' - and share the wisdoms I've gained on my journey. Business is where it's always been for me."
Elle Macpherson Intimates, a lingerie collection she created in 1990, is now sold all over the world. Initially, market research told her that British women didn't care much about their underwear; but she didn't care much for the market research, and set to work designing a line of "beautiful, comfortable" knickers for every body shape. Being a successful businesswoman, she says, was always part of her game plan - it's just that a two-week modelling shoot in the mid-Eighties turned into a 20-odd year career in front of the cameras, and she became insanely famous as a result. Hey: as diversions go, it wasn't a bad one.
Saying 'cheese' wasn't enough for Elle, though. She never really thought it would be. "I first stepped outside the box in 1989 when I left my modelling agency to form my own company and set up my various licensing deals," she says. "Listen, I wanted to study law originally."
Was that what you were going to do with your life?
"Yeah. My stepfather was a lawyer and I studied at Sydney University. So my business career now - and the shape it has taken - is quite in-keeping with what I always wanted to do."
The fact is, however, that Elle is best-known as a supermodel and is still fronting global advertising campaigns despite being 20 years older than most women in the industry. How long does she plan to go on for? "I've just signed a deal with Revlon," she says. "So that's another three years at least. As long as I'm finding interest in it, I guess. I'm still doing it, and I'm 45."
"You're 44, actually," I think, but - thankfully - don't say out loud. (God, this is dreadful. I know more about Elle Macpherson than Elle Macpherson does.)
A reporter from Look North suddenly barges in and asks if this is the first time that Elle has been to Yorkshire. It isn't. Apparently, the Aussie superstar loves the county and has been many times before for short breaks in - believe it or not - Whitby. She is the mother of Arpad, 10, and Aurelius, 5 - boys from her former relationship with French-Swiss financier, Arpad Busson - and nothing takes precedence over her children. "They always come first," she says. "They're the centre of my life. I fit my business arrangements around their school hours and their needs... I only have to deal with attention and glamour when I choose to promote a product. I choose not to have it in my personal life."
The Look North reporter also asks if Elle feels pressure to have cosmetic surgery or treatments - and, ooh, it doesn't go well. "I create lingerie for every different sort of body. That's my business. That's my job." She looks testy. "Look, I have a hard time with those questions, 'cos what am I supposed to say? 'Yeah, it's a real pressure being beautiful.'" Bet that bit won't make it into the programme.
We wonder how she finds time for her acting career with her ongoing portfolio of business interests. Usually, for women of a certain age, roles in TV and movies are few and far between - but this law doesn't seem to apply to Elle. "You know, it's really interesting," she tells us, fizzing again. "I get a lot of people asking me to do (film projects) today... and I think it's because as one matures emotionally - and therefore physically - we develop a greater capacity to tell stories. So I get people wanting me to work on a sitcom or present a TV show or appear in a movie. And sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. It depends on whether it resonates with my spirit."
Erm, right, we say, not really understanding that last bit. So what's the worst acting experience you've ever had?
"They've all been amazing!" she says predictably. "I did 10 movies in 10 years. Working with Anthony Hopkins" - she corrects herself - "SIR Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin on The Edge, a David Mamet story, was pretty extraordinary. I had a fantastic seven episode guest run on Friends (playing Joey's improbably glamorous flatmate) which a lot of people remember because it's on TV so often." She laughs. "Sirens was fun - that was the very first movie I did. I've worked with Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand and I did Batman with George Clooney."
Yes. We weren't going to mention that one. So what are the film offers she's received recently?
Elle Macpherson suddenly gives a loud, alarming cackle. "Watch this space!" she says and disappears off to give her conference speech.
In the conference hall, she walks on stage and begins to show slides of herself in what can only be described as her skimpies. Sorry. There's no other way of saying it. There seems to be a lot of men here all of a sudden, and a couple of women walk out; but the story of her world-famous lingerie brand is received well. She is self-deprecating ("When I stopped appearing in the ads, sales increased. I don't know what that says about me!") and keen to work for charitable causes, such as UNICEF and campaigns for breast cancer awareness ("I'm a big believer that business can do well - and do good," she says). Afterwards, there is a lot of applause and she looks relieved. Waving some silk lingerie at the audience she tells them: "I forgot to say: don't leave home without clean underwear - you never know when you might need them!"
Well, right. Being photographed in them, designing them or selling them, knickers have certainly worked wonders for Elle Macpherson.


Alastair Campbell Interview

You Can Call Me Al

Keighley-born Alastair Campbell - Tony Blair's former press secretary, and New Labour's chief spin doctor - appeared at the Ilkley Literature Festival in September to promote his political diaries. Tony Greenway met up with him back stage

It's a quarter to seven on the opening night of The Ilkley Literature Festival, and Alastair Campbell is just 45 minutes away from personal attack. At 7.30pm, he is due on stage for a question and answer session with members of the Festival audience - and who knows what will happen? Especially if the 500-plus crowd is made up of Tory supporters.
Campbell is in Ilkley to talk about The Blair Years, his house brick-sized, best-selling political diaries; but before 'curtain up' he's agreed to meet Yorkshire Life. As Tony Blair's Director of Communications and Strategy, he took a 'no nonsense' (and sometimes four-letter) attitude towards journalists in No.10's press briefing room and has talked frequently about his contempt for much of the British media. So we're on guard tonight. But even his critics can't ignore Campbell, a man who was right at the heart of the New Labour project and at Blair's side during the momentous events of the last decade: the death of Princess Diana; Kosovo; 9/11; Afghanistan; the invasion of Iraq; fledgling peace in Northern Ireland; the death of scientist Dr David Kelly; the Hutton Report and his showdown with the BBC.
We're led to a dressing room in the bowels of The Kings Hall where we find Campbell leaning back on his chair with his feet up on the table. Physically, he's a big man, and although this is a large room he seems to take up most of it by sheer force of his personality. But this Alastair Campbell is very smiley and surprisingly non-threatening. "Yorkshire Life, eh?" he says, as though he never thought he'd live to see the day when he would be profiled within its pages. "Eee... Grand."
His Scottish parents moved to Yorkshire early in their marriage, and Campbell and his two brothers and younger sister were born in Keighley. "My dad was a vet," he says, "and when I was about 10 he had a really bad accident when he was injured by a sow that had escaped from her pen. He tried to keep going with his practice, but it was really hard work so he eventually gave it up, joined the Ministry of Agriculture, and we moved to Leicester. So we've got loads of friends in the Yorkshire area, but no family at all."
For a Yorkshire boy, Campbell has committed the unpardonable sin of supporting a Lancashire football team. "When I do come back to the North," he says, "it's to Burnley for the football. Sometimes I'll come to Keighley, stay overnight and take the kids to see where I grew up. Which they are completely indifferent about." Campbell has three children with his long-term partner, Fiona: Rory, 19, Calum, 17, and Grace, 13.
After graduating from Cambridge, Campbell began a career in - irony or ironies - journalism before taking the job of Tony Blair's Press spokesman in 1994. In opposition, he didn't get that rough a ride. In power, though, he became known as Labour's king of spin and was dubbed "the real Deputy Prime Minister" by the Press. Surely, as a former reporter, he shouldn't have been that surprised by this treatment? Yet, somehow, he always did.
"It's not (that I was surprised by) the way they treated me; more what (the Press) had become," he says, citing 24 hour news as a reason for a decline in journalistic standards. "I started out on the Tavistock Times when I was 22 - and the Press was different then. The nationals were 24 pages long and most people only ever saw one paper. You watched the news once a day for five or 10 minutes. Now the scale of it is so immense, and it's so noisy and judgemental." One thing he really hates, he says, is TV journalists commenting on each other's stories. "Some (television reporters) who stand outside Downing Street and blather all day... I just can't stand them. They talk b***** most of the time."
Campbell is a man who provokes strong reactions. From what has been written about him, it seems that people either loathe him, or really detest him. But why? Was it because of the job he did or the way he did it? Or does he just rub people up the wrong way? "I don't know, really," he says. "Someone asked me recently: 'Have you always provoked very strong reactions in people?' And I don't know if I have. I don't remember (doing so), as a child. But I do. I really do and I'm very conscious of it. You'll probably see it tonight when I go out on stage."
In The Blair Years, Campbell is - how can we put it politely? - 'forthright' about many of the people who cross his path, some of whom are supposed to be on his side. Campbell's loathing for Clare Short, for example, is hilarious. He gives her both barrels, calling her "a totally ridiculous figure" and writing "God, she does turn my stomach" (Short shrift, you might say). Elsewhere in the diaries, Campbell starts "screaming abuse" at Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's former Press Secretary; and he actually comes to blows with Peter Mandelson.
But if Campbell inspires occasional animosity from his allies, just imagine what his political enemies think of him. We tell him we once interviewed Mrs Thatcher's former Press Secretary Sir Bernard Ingham. During the conversation, we said the magic words 'Alastair Campbell' and Sir Bernard's head nearly exploded. Campbell gives a Cheshire cat grin to rival Tony Blair's. "I know," he says. "It's sad, really isn't it?" Campbell does refer to Ingham in The Blair Years, but we can't tell you what he says in detail because this is a family publication. Let's just say the description he uses has an Anglo-Saxon twang to it.
The thing is, all these characters still move in the same circles as Campbell. What does he think about meeting them again now the book has been published? "I don't care, really," he says - and he truly looks like he doesn't. "What do I say to them? I don't know. I bumped into Charlie Whelan the other day and the person I was with said: 'I can't believe you shook him by the hand.' I saw some piece that (Andrew) Gilligan wrote the other day about how he was at some function at the Labour Party conference; and he thought about coming over to shake hands - but how I hadn't got over it because I called him 'utterly disreputable' at a meeting. Which I did because that's what I thought." Gilligan, of course, was the Radio 4 Today journalist who made the original claim that Campbell had "sexed up" the dossier on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction.
After the stress of the No.10 press job, Campbell was glad to leave it all behind in 2003. "It's quite difficult," smiles Campbell, "when your job is to be in charge of the Prime Minister's media relations, but you can't stand 90 per cent of the media. It was time to get out. So most days I'm glad I'm not there, although I miss that sense of having an absolutely driven, defining purpose. I don't think I'll get that in the same way again and I'll just have to accept it. But the one thing I really don't miss is having the Press around my neck the whole time."
Even so, it must have been hard relinquishing all of his power. "I didn't view it as power, you see. I don't think I did. But I did have a big mental and physical crash after I left, because when I'm doing something, I'm the sort of person who has to do it full-on. Even though I knew I was leaving, I hadn't given a moment's thought to what I was going to do, because I was still doing the job. I didn't have anything lined up at all." The only official position he holds now is as Chairman of Fundraising for Leukaemia Research.
"It was funny," says Campbell. "David Blunkett came round for dinner a few weeks after I'd left and said to my daughter: 'Is it nice having your dad home all the time?' And she said: 'Yeah, really nice.' And he said: 'What does he do all day?' And she said: 'Well, that sofa you're sitting on - he's sitting there when I go to school in the morning... and he's lying on it when I get back in the afternoon.' That was true. I did crash out for a bit."
Oh, God. You didn't stoop to watching Tricia, though, did you? "No, I never watched daytime telly. But Tony would ring me and say: 'Anything good on Kilroy? Are you watching Jeremy Kyle?'"
Time for Alastair Campbell to face his Ilkley Literature Festival public. On stage, he goes down well with the crowd. He's frank (especially when asked a question about Clare Short: "I mean what do you do...? Nul points...") and entertaining. He tends to bang on about his dislike of the media a bit too often, and is probably the only person in the room who thinks invading Iraq was a good idea; but not doing the No.10 press job obviously suits him. And he still doesn't give two stuffs about what people think of him. "I don't really care," he tells the audience, "as long as I'm liked by the people who matter to me."