In Full Bloom: Interview with Poppy Delevingne
Poppy Delevingne skitters into the Berkeley hotel’s Caramel Room at teatime on a sunny August afternoon, all tousled blonde hair, Moroccan tan and beaming smile. As we talk, she waves her long, slim arms around, hunches forward to concentrate, and, in-between sips of mint tea, talks at breakneck speed (70 words a minute, so my transcript tells me), jumping from subject to subject with dizzying gear changes. In a room filled with quiet quartets of ladies enjoying champagne and scones, and black-clad sheikhas playing with their diamond-studded mobile phones, she’s conspicuous. And yet, of all the superpowers in the Marvel Universe, the one Poppy Delevingne most hankers after is invisibility. This is surprising for two reasons. Firstly, she undeniably draws the eye. Secondly, the Delevingnes are London’s premier party family and have been dancing on the capital’s finest mahogany dining tables for generations – and they’ve never been more prominent than they are now. Invisibility is hardly part of the package.
For 28-year-old Poppy has a little sister, the stratospheric supermodel Cara, and as a pair they are, pace Kardashians and Middletons, the most famous sisters on the planet. Cara, with her 7 million Instagram followers, her 1.8 million Twitter followers, her gaggle of beautiful girfriends, from Jourdan Dunn to Rihanna, her ambiguous sexuality, the beanie hat perpetually shoved on her blonde mane and her scruffy onesies, is the epitome of modern celebrity. At last year’s Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, I watched anxiously as she was pursued from rollercoaster to giant teacup to ghost walk, not only by a shoving horde of paparazzi hungry for a candid shot, but also by great swarms of girls of 12 or 13 who ran towards her, almost weeping with excitement, squeaking ‘how beautiful she is’. In truth, she’s more than beautiful… Her step-grandmother, the philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, has called hers a ‘wild beauty’ that’s quirky, individual and exemplified by the dark, heavy eyebrows that add drama to her features. It’s a look that brands have come to love, and at only 22 she is the face of Tom Ford, Topshop, Chanel, YSL Beauty, Mulberry, Balmain, Burberry Prorsum and DKNY.
Poppy’s fame is of a more manageable kind. When she invites the cameras in, as she did for her summer wedding (of which more later), they come running. But when she chooses to go incognito, she can almost achieve that invisibility she craves. Rather than being the face of brands, she’s an ambassador, as she is for Chanel and the British Fashion Council – and enviable diplomatic postings they are. As a model, she specialises in projecting an unattainable dream of aristocratic yet fun-loving English beauty for labels such as Alberta Ferretti, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Anya Hindmarch and Thomas Sabo. But now she’s looking to branch out. ‘Predominantly I’m a model,’ she says. ‘Modelling is a stepping-stone, but it’s also been my career for 10 years and I’d never diss it. But I like to have my finger in all the little pies and I like new experiences.’ And so she’s art-directing and styling for The Collective, a style magazine that’s the brainchild of the designer Osman Yousefzada. She’s also got a small role in a new American comedy show, having previously appeared with such luminaries as Tom Hardy and Gemma Arterton when they were just starting out. ‘I’m starting at the bottom and hopefully working my way up,’ she says humbly. She also plans to one day write her own film script. ‘I’ve got loads of ideas,’ she offers. ‘And I’m never scared to try anything new.’
But her biggest job this year has undoubtedly been arranging the epic series of events that saw her married to James Cook, who works for his family’s aerospace company, and who is as tall, blond and photogenic as she is. ‘Do you think we look alike?’ she asks in mock worry. ‘Oh God. That’s slightly fucked up. Like kissing myself. It doesn’t say anything good about us, does it – a battling-for-the-mirror situation?’ She admits that when she, he and his sister Tori go out, ‘people always think we’re the siblings and she’s the girlfriend because I look more like him than she does’. The Delevingne-Cook wedding was a month-long extravaganza incorporating two hen nights: one at the Groucho Club and the Edition hotel, with Cara, Alexa Chung and One Direction’s Harry Styles; and a second at the Coachella music festival in California, with Sienna Miller and Lily Donaldson, among others. Two hen nights call for two weddings. One was in London and involved Claridge’s and Kensington Palace, for which the bride and her supermodel bridesmaid wore Chanel Haute Couture. The other was more of a hippie party in Marrakesh. This centred around La Mamounia, lasted four days and four nights, and is quite the most glamorous event that has ever happened in that most decadent city. Guests including Georgia May Jagger, Mary Charteris, Pucci’s Peter Dundas, Jaime Winstone, Joan Collins, Julia Restoin Roitfeld and Suki Waterhouse raved in the desert and lounged by the pool, and then raved some more. ‘We barely slept at all,’ Poppy says now. ‘I don’t know how we did it.’ The event was as much about fashion as it was about romance, with Poppy admitting she had ‘75 outfit changes’ as she slipped into a kaleidoscope of different looks, including floor-length floral Emilio Pucci, Matthew Williamson, vintage D&Me and a jewelled Dolce & Gabbana bodysuit.
In short, there was an awful lot of wedding… but no honeymoon. ‘Can you imagine the crash that happened?’ Poppy exclaims. ‘I mean, literally on the plane. I was sobbing. Tears of relief too, but it’s my one regret that we didn’t get away. My husband went into a deep, dark depression, saying, “It’s over. I want to do it all again, now.” Before, we’d thought, “honeymoon, schmoneymoon”, but now I know there’s a reason why people do it. Just to be together, to recap and talk about it.’ The wedding ended on a Monday, and on the Tuesday morning James was back at work in Cranleigh, Surrey, and Poppy was in New York on a modelling job.
There’s no time for children at the moment – ‘We have to get the money flowing in again,’ says Poppy frankly. But there are long-term plans for a family; although, she confesses: ‘I’m slightly worried if we have daughters none of them are going to get kissed. They’re going to be six-foot-eight and very pale and very blonde. And someone’s going to have to have a very big ladder. And I’m going to be begging boys to kiss them at school dances… “Hello darling, please kiss my child. Please! I know she looks like a giraffe.”’
Actually, I think it’s highly unlikely any children of hers will be unkissable. This is a very flirty, slightly wild family that has, as Poppy puts it, ‘steam in our bellies’. Poppy is the middle daughter of Pandora and Charles Delevingne. Charles, a former debs’ delight and now a property developer, has described his own father Dudley as ‘a great boulevardier who lost all his money in the Wall Street crash and then fled to Hollywood, where he had an enormous amount of sex’ – but sadly failed to make it in the film industry. Charles has said that his aunt, Doris Delevingne, was ‘a beautiful and rather naughty courtesan’ who apparently had affairs with, among others, Winston Churchill and Cecil Beaton (the latter’s only other female love interest was Greta Garbo). Sadly (since she sounds a riot), Doris killed herself at the Savoy in 1945.
While Charles spent his youth as a Jilly Cooper-style lothario of breezy charm and glamour, the girls’ mother, Pandora, was equally seductive; her background just as colourful – and distinctly grander. Her father is Sir Jocelyn Stevens, the former owner of Queen magazine and a backer of the 1960s pirate station Radio Caroline. He was once managing director of the London Evening Standard and Daily Express, and was a long-term chairman of English Heritage. Sir Jocelyn’s first wife, and Pandora’s mother, Jane Sheffield, was a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret; and his partner throughout the 1980s and 1990s was the vastly wealthy Dame Vivien Duffield. ‘It’s an incredible history,’ says Poppy in her husky voice, which still has overtones of Bedales, the Hampshire school where she and Cara were boarders. ‘My grandfather [Sir Jocelyn] is an amazing person, so intelligent. Very special. Vivien as well. I was very close to her, and very close to my granny Janey too. When I was growing up, I used to go to Kensington Palace. I fell completely in love with Princess Margaret there – she was a princess and had an aura about her. I used to write her love letters. My grandmother was slightly… embarrassed. Once, she took me to a Royal Variety Performance, and I asked the Princess something like “What’s in their knickers?” about the male ballerinas. And then she admired my shoes on holiday once, so I went and bought her some of the same: espadrilles with flowers on.’
Poppy claims that her childhood ‘wasn’t really tricky. I had a good childhood, a great childhood. We [she, Cara and Chloe – who is, at 29, the eldest and most private Delevingne girl] were all in it together and we had a special bond. We became extremely close. We fended for ourselves and we grew up quite quickly. And then, we were very protective of each other.’ Perhaps Bedales – a slightly non-conformist establishment whose alumni include Daniel Day-Lewis, Lily Allen and Juno Temple – was an escape. Certainly she loved school, talking nostalgically about ‘moonwalking’ or sneaking out of the dorm at three in the morning to drink White Lightning cider. ‘Getting out was easy,’ she recalls fondly. ‘Getting back in was hard, so you’d have to stay up till class, hiding in bushes. Pretty grim… but really fun at the time.’ The best part, she says, was School Riot, a once-a-term cross between tag and a prison breakout, in which all the pupils would burst out of their dorm rooms in the middle of the night, dressed in hoodies and jeans and therefore unidentifiable. They would run amok around the school, the teachers sprinting after them, in order to catch the rioters and send them back to their dorms. I feel sorry for the teachers, but Poppy assures me: ‘They enjoyed it secretly, rugby-tackling teenagers.’ It wasn’t all midnight binges, though. She credits the school as ‘the best thing that ever happened to me. I was quite shy before I went there, but it taught us to talk out, to be individual and to have a personality. Yes, we did wild things, but I got a lot out of it and made some terrific friends. I’d definitely send my kids there’.
But before having children of her own, Poppy has to leave her parents’ house, where she still lives in the basement with Cara and Cara’s pet rabbit Cecil – also an Instagram star. The sisters are still very close. ‘She was my baby, my little doll, and she was in awe of me when we were younger,’ remembers her sister fondly. ‘We all brought her up, we all did. She was a very loved little “Bubski”, as we used to call her.’
These days, the girls still look after each other. But they party together, too. ‘We’re very similar and like to stay out late at night,’ says Poppy. ‘We’re like Duracell Bunnies and we just don’t stop. When we’re together, it’s terrifying. It’s quite intense. People are like, “Oh my God, we need oxygen masks.” We finish each other’s sentences so it’s like a crescendo. Chloe is quieter and more relaxed. But she’s got steam in her belly too.’ When I say I think Cara looks like a young Pandora, Poppy disagrees: ‘I’ve never heard people say Cara looks like my mum. People say nowadays that Chloe looks like my mum, I’m a mixture and Cara’s like my dad. Cara’s very Delevingne: big eyebrows, snubby nose. The Stevenses are more Roman-nosed and taller. Delevingnes are more froggy-looking.’ She laughs. ‘Yes, definitely more frog-like.’
Both girls are moving out – Poppy to her new marital home in Ravenscourt Park, and Cara to a flat. ‘The little chickies are leaving and my parents are thrilled. They are so ecstatic to have a normal life again and not have us keeping them up all night.’ They are also, she claims, delighted to be waving bye-bye to Cecil, who, confusingly, is a doe rabbit. ‘We thought she was a boy but it’s a girl,’ says Poppy. ‘She’s strong too, a handful. She’s got a huge hutch, and when she wants to get out, she’ll get her teeth round the door and bang it really loudly. She’s sweet but she poos everywhere, every three seconds. She peed on my script the other day. I was reading it and going, “Why is it damp? Oh my God! It’s Cecil.” Cara’s obsessed with her. She’s very special.’
Poppy herself is desperate to get a dog. She hasn’t had one since she was about 11 and owned Molly, a miniature schnauzer whose beard she would dye orange in imitation of Ginger Spice, of whom Poppy was a huge fan. ‘Then one day Mum came home and said, “Don’t freak out but I have Geri Halliwell in the kitchen.” I literally fainted. It was a big deal, a huge deal for me. Geri saw the beard and she saw my room, which was covered in Spice Girls posters.’ What Halliwell made of the canine moustache-dye homage is not on record. But she can’t have been too upset, since she was one of the guests at Poppy’s London wedding.
It’s slightly surprising that Poppy should have been so stunned by Halliwell’s appearance in the kitchen, since their house seems to have been filled with one long procession of famous people – family friends and her mother’s fashion clients – from Madonna to Joan Collins, Cara’s godmother, all enjoying a sprinkling of Delevingne stardust. But if Poppy’s childhood was a quintessentially London one, things are beginning to take a rural turn. ‘I have a big country life now,’ she offers. ‘We have a house in Cranleigh, which is where James was brought up, and his father lives close by. At heart, he is a country boy; he spent his childhood playing polo. And now I’ve fallen in love with it.’ They’re polar opposites, she says. He’s country, she’s town; he’s calm and she has, she says (and I’m sure she’s right), a ‘mad, kooky, weird energy’. Perhaps they meet somewhere up in the stratosphere: he spends his days mending aeroplanes and they love to fly together. He’s planning to learn but she’s not: ‘I wouldn’t trust myself flying anyone else around. I’m a little too flighty to fly.’ And off she breezes, on to her next adventure.
From the Winter 2014 issue of Town & Country, on sale 4 November. Photographs by Koto Bolofo. Styled by Miranda Almond.
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