HOW WE MET; SALLY BRAMPTON AND JASPER CONRAN

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The Independent Culture
Writer Sally Brampton, 42, studied fashion at St Martin's. After winning a talent contest in 1979, she started writing for `Vogue', became fashion editor of the `Observer', and helped set up British `Elle'. She was editor-in-chief there for five years, before leaving to concentrate on her writing. She has written three novels, and lives in London with her husband Jonathan and their daughter Molly, six. Fashion designer Jasper Conran, 39, is the son of Sir Terence and Shirley Conran. He studied at Parsons School of Art in New York and launched his debut in London in 1979; since then he has created the costumes for many ballets and plays, and designed, along with his main collection, Debenham's `J' range. He lives alone in London

SALLY BRAMPTON: The first time I met Jasper, I was an assistant on Vogue and I'd gone to see his first collection. He was being incredibly grown-up, over-the-top grown-up, and I just thought he was really, really naughty - he's got a really naughty face. I liked him.

We didn't become close friends immediately, but we'd see each other around at parties, endless fashion things, and I always loved the look of him. Then one New Year's Eve, about three or four years after I'd first met him, I walked into this party in Piccadilly and there was Jasper propped against a wall. We started talking. Soon we decided it was quite a boring party, so we went and got into his little red sports car, and went back to his house in Regent's Park. And that was it - we became incredibly good friends.

After that we decided to go on holiday together, to India. I was a bit worried, thinking he might be a bit of a spoilt brat and a bit noisy - I'm quite quiet. But Jasper was such good fun and completely unspoilt, the opposite of the "Conran dynasty" image that some people have. We went to Goa and stayed in a smart hotel for one night and then moved into this concrete bunker on the beach - it was pounds 3 a night with just a really low wall separating the loo and bedroom. We tried to get dysentery for two weeks, so we'd get really, really thin, but we didn't.

After India we'd spend pretty much most weekends together - this was before I got married - and go on holiday together each year. Jasper's fabulous to go on holiday with. We're capable of laughing a lot together - he does really make me hoot. He's very kind, very generous and very funny - a real good-time boy.

He's also very good to chat things through with, so if I have a problem I'll go and see him. He'll be very sensible and make you look at the problem from all angles; but he's quite fierce and won't just say: "There, there, darling." I think that's also why he's such an effective businessman - he's quite logical and rational about things. Although he's had good times and bad times with the business, he's never self-pitying about it. He just gets on with it and sorts it out - which I really admire, because fashion is such a tough business to be in.

Jasper completely loves women - all his best friends are women, he's mad about them. But he also gets on really well with my husband, who loves him too and doesn't mind if I go off and have time with him.

Jasper is an extraordinarily sensible man, very balanced, and incredibly kind and generous. But he is fiercely loyal, and if you cross him, if you do something disloyal, that's it. He'll never forgive you. He can get a bit out of control sometimes - he can remind me of my six-year-old daughter - but we've only ever had two rows. Once was when he was just completely out of control and I got fed up. But I always forgive him, I can't not. I try and be cross with him but I never succeed - he always sidles up to me and makes me laugh.

He's always utterly charming, but he can be self-centred and just shut down completely, which is quite frightening - you think you've done something wrong, but then you discover he just had a problem he couldn't talk about. He sometimes behaves like a major prima donna, usually when he's being a fashion designer, and doing the whole number - which he's extremely good at. He's much more of a showman than I am.

We have a very similar sensibility, we see things in a similar way and we feel happy together. Jasper likes food and I like food (we're both incredibly greedy), and he loves cooking and I love cooking. Also we're both passionate gardeners, so we spend hours talking about gardens and food. And about fashion, too. So we'll definitely still be friends in 20 years' time. We wouldn't be lost without each other, we're not those sort of characters, but without him I would feel enormously sad, incredibly sad. It would have to be something pretty drastic to part us.

JASPER CONRAN: The first time I met Sally, she came to my studio with Liz Tilberis, then the fashion editor of Vogue. I can't really say I remember it as a big event, because she was young, and I was young and we were probably both frightened. She was being professional and I was being professional so we were busy being young professionals in front of Liz Tilberis. Sally kept her mouth shut and I endeavoured to keep mine shut, so I didn't immediately think: "We'll be friends." It's been more of a creeping friendship.

We'd come into contact after that, but it was always on a professional basis, borrowing clothes ... Then there was a New Year's Eve party and we were both there and it was really boring and I said, "Let's go" - and that was the moment the friendship was born. It was the first time we really started talking to each other in a non-professional way. I had a little red sports car which we left in, and I remember sitting in it and talking.

Then we went to India, travelling around together, and we got to know a lot about each other and had a hoot. I insisted on hiring a motorbike and Sally got on the back and I realised I couldn't stop and we had to drive into the sand dunes. Sally jumped off.

After India our friendship deepened - I saw a lot more of her and our conversations became more personal, about our worries, both personal and professional. And then we started going on holiday together lots and spending time together and then she jolly well got married and pregnant. Naturally, all her attention was on her baby, she didn't have time for a long chat. And I thought: "That child will be nine before we can go to cocktail parties again." (I think we're getting near to nine, or six or something, it's not long.) I felt quite bereft, as if my friend had been taken away. I would get stabs of loneliness and feel left out. I didn't tell her, of course, because it would have been terribly unfair to put pressure on her. But above all, I was really thrilled because the man she married is a real man, he's the right man for her and he's a grown-up and he makes her happy, and at the end of the day that's what I want for her. I miss partying with her, but now there's this little Sally growing up, with almost the same responses as my best friend, and that is extraordinary to watch.

I'll tell you one thing that symbolises what an individual Sally is and her strength of personality. Before she got married, she made a very brave career move: she left Elle and turned down other job offers, really serious ones. To this day I'm gobsmacked by and in admiration of her braveness.

Our friendship is very balanced - we don't live out of each other's pockets - but we'll always be friends. Sally loves reading, we like a lot of the same things. She's very direct, there's no nonsense about her and so you find that you can listen to what she has to say and be persuaded by her argument. Sally has great intellect and a broad breadth of knowledge. There's not a lot of people that can persuade you - by virtue of a good discussion and arguement - to change your point of view.

Sally's a very good listener. I think it's fundamental to what we have together, that we listen to each other. If I don't know what I think about something, morally or intellectually, she's the first person I would ring, because I would get a very measured, thoughtful, considered response; she won't have an axe to grind.

She gets cross when I get childish but we don't seek to fall out. We rarely disagree - though I have caused her to shout at me, when I once played a prank on her which she didn't like at all: she was asleep and I threw water over her. She ran after me, all the way round the garden; she was very angry.

Sally is someone that I worship, I love her and I adore her and it's an unquestioning friendship. Without her I'd be bereft, I'd miss her wisdom. I can't think of anything she could do that would put me off. She doesn't have any bad points other than she has very long legs - and when I'm walking next to her, that's a bad point. And she won't come out when I want her to. But other than that she's the most considerate woman, very balanced, extremely funny, honest brave, thoughtful. Her only problem is she may be just a bit too perfect.

`Concerning Lily' by Sally Brampton (Heinemann, pounds 15.99), is published Thursday.

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