Being Alexa Chung: Television's hottest property
She is the girl of the moment and one of TV's fastest-rising young stars. She's beautiful, she's talented and her boyfriend's an Arctic Monkey. But what makes Alexa Chung tick? She talks to Deborah Ross about style, celebrity and, er, the joy of reading Sophocles
Saturday 09 February 2008
All I know about Alexa Chung before I meet her is that she is, in no particular order: 1) young; 2) beautiful; 3) a fashion icon; 4) talented; 5) the cool girlfriend of some cool boy from some cool band.
Honestly? I do not like the sound of her one bit and, frankly, resent having to drag my old arse out the door to meet her. You try dragging my old arse somewhere it doesn't want to go. It's no joke. Still, with much cajoling and giddy-upping – "Look, old arse, we all have to do some things we don't want to do sometimes; let's at least be professional about it" – I eventually get it to the pub in Islington where we have arranged to meet. She has already arrived. She is 23, the bitch, and is wearing over-the-knee socks, as you might if you had her long, long legs, but does this make her any less of a bitch? I think not and my old arse thinks not. On this, we are agreed.
Alexa used to be a model, but is now a TV presenter. She is one of the main anchors for Channel 4's youth slot, T4, presents the daily morning music show Freshly Squeezed and is about to present a new reality show, Vanity Lair. Her boyfriend, by the way, is Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. Do you, I ask, do his laundry? "No," she says. Well, now that this Alex has been covered, I feel we can properly get on with it.
It's true, she is very beautiful. And she is beautifully dressed. Aside from the over-knee-socks, which is just showing off, it's a smock dress "from PPQ" and black, patent heels by "Pedro Garcia". They are both very excellent labels, I say, as if I know. I then add: but if, Alexa, you had to – had to – buy all your clothes from one high-street fashion shop, which would it be? "Hennes," she says, "and Topshop." But that's two, I protest. "I can't have two?" she queries. OK, I say, you seem very nice, and not that bitchy, so you can have two. "Thank you so much," she says. She is nice, actually. And warm and friendly and funny and who knows, maybe she'll work it for my teenage son to go see the Monkeys that are Arctic. He would like that a lot. I hope she realises I was only joshing when I said she was a bitch; that I was only poking fun at my sad old self. If that doesn't cut it I'll just say what I always say: it was the arse that made me do it.
She used to be a model, but not any more. How come? She says she just got totally fed up of it and, in the end, couldn't even stir herself sufficiently to attend castings. Go on, I urge her, tell some stories about how awful it is being a model. Everyone gets off on those. OK, she says, one time "I did a shoot for Now magazine in Finland and it was meant to be a sexy secretary story..." She pauses, then adds: "This is such a low ebb." All the better, I say, encouragingly. "I had to swap with the other model there," she continues, "because although she was meant to be the underwear model, she started crying because her boyfriend was unhappy with her doing it. So I said: 'Fuck it, I'll do it. I don't give a shit.' They took us to a paper factory where I had to sit on top of what was basically a massive loo-roll, while all the people who worked there watched me in my suspenders. It was really, really horrible, actually."
As a model, she did a lot of cover-girl work for teen mags, as well as adverts for products like Fanta and Sunsilk, although I don't think she was ever the girl with the sun in her hair, as that was 1969. She didn't do a lot of high fashion because, she says, her look "is too cheesy, too commercial". I say I only ever went to one catwalk show – the office thought it would be funny to send me to cover one (ha, ha) – and was astonished by the way the models stomped so poundingly down the runway. "It's the aggression," she says, "because they are all really, really hungry." It was, I continue, a Julien Macdonald show and afterwards I introduced myself and as a joke – as a joke – asked: "So, Julien, pockets in or out this year?" And you know what, Alexa? He turned his back on me. "That," says Alexa, "means pockets are out." We laugh. Still, he could have just said, couldn't he?
Alexa Chung presents 'Vanity Lair' on Sundays at 1pm on Channel 4
© Tiger Aspect
She was born and brought up in Privett, Hampshire. Her father, Phil, is a graphic designer who is three- quarters Chinese, while her mother, Gill, is English, a housewife, and "the nicest person on earth". Your first label, Alexa? "Oilily," she says. "I had an Oilily culottes and jacket outfit. It was yellow with a flower print. I wore it to the primary-school disco and loved it." Were you a beautiful child? No way, she insists. She was, she continues, ridiculous to behold. "I was very gawky, very, very skinny, pin-thin, and a bit uncoordinated because when your limbs grow so fast, you can't catch up. It didn't work out so well for a few years."
But not too many years. At 14, she was scouted by the model agency, Elite, but "nothing really came of it and I wasn't that enthralled anyway". Her test shots, she says, were rubbish. "I was hyper-shy and really embarrassed so my face was very, very red." She was scouted again at 16 while at the Reading festival – aren't we all? – and that's when she started modelling proper.
She could, though, have gone to university. She got two As (English, Art) and a B (History) at A-level and had a place at King's College, London, to study English. So you like books, then? She did like books, she says, "but the only things I read at the moment are autocues and scripts". She says she bought The Picture of Dorian Gray the other day, and is determined to give it a go. "I must have been passionate about books previously so I am trying to rediscover that I liked to read once." Who do you remember liking? She loved Philip Larkin, she says. Anyone else? "At school, I took extra English in my lunch hour because I loved it so much, and when we did Sophocles I was like, wow, Sophocles is amazing." She says she absolutely plans to go back and do that degree one day. She adds that she did think for a while about being a fashion journalist. I say fashion journalism is no fun because you can't be rude about anybody. I mean, when was the last time you read a piece saying Armani has lost it or that Julien Macdonald's latest collection is crap (which I'm sure it is; too much nasty sparkle and too many pockets going in)? She says: "Is that one of the greatest pleasures then, of being a journalist: being rude?" You bet, I say. Sometimes, it's only the prospect of being rude that gets this old arse out of bed.
Her first TV job was on Popworld, where she developed a neat, amusingly sarcastic style of interviewing bands (do watch her interview with Panic In The Disco on YouTube ) and now she has Vanity Lair, which is what exactly? "It's a show that investigates what it means to be attractive," she explains. "It's based in an opulent house and it starts with 10 people who have voted themselves 10 out of 10, as attractive as they can possibly be. Each week we add three new people to the mix and they have to decide who stays, after having spent time with them." Good? "Really fun," she says.
We finish our time together chatting about this and that. She lives, it turns out, in Spitalfields "in a really sweet little street where all the hookers hang out". She likes to watch DVDs on an evening in. Or "I host Uno parties, drink whisky, and get really competitive over a child's game. I love Uno, and Connect 4." As for this Alex Turner, "going out with him is like going out with any boyfriend, except he goes away a lot and people pester me to be put on guest lists." (How could they?) We finish when she has to go to the launch of the Elle Style Awards, which she will be presenting. So off she lopes, on those impossible legs. I think I warmed to her, as did my old arse. An old arse can do that; warm for no reason. I should have warned her.
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