The model, her former cook, and a tale of bankruptcy
A year ago, a dazzling future beckoned for the young chef Sophie Michell. The former cook to Claudia Schiffer was forging a successful television career and her first book, a glossy guide to healthy eating entitled Irresistible was about to be published.
Twelve months later, the 24-year-old has declared herself bankrupt after a terrible year in which her book was withdrawn from publication. The publishers, Octopus, agreed to take the book off the shelves after the German supermodel complained about an endorsement on the cover which was used without her permission. Both Ms Michell and Ms Schiffer claim to have been "deeply hurt" by the affair. Ms Michell claims to have lost up to £100,000 as a result of the incident.
The former pupil of Wells Cathedral School in Somerset, who trained at Butler's Wharf Chef School, began working for Ms Schiffer and her husband, the film producer Matthew Vaughn, after being introduced to Ms Schiffer by a mutual acquaintance. She cooked for the couple for two years at their flat in Bayswater, before quitting in March 2004, when she was offered a part in the Channel 4 show Fit Farm.
Appearances on Sky One, GMTV and UK Food followed, helping Ms Michell to secure a publishing deal. The book's cover featured a quote taken from a letter that Ms Schiffer had sent to Ms Michell's mother. The extract from the note to the musician Chris Michell read: "We love Sophie and everybody loves her cooking too." When the book was published, Ms Michell sent a copy to her former employer, with a letter of thanks. But far from being touched, Ms Schiffer was furious that her name appeared on the front of the book in letters as large as that of the author. Through her lawyers, Mishcon De Reya, she demanded the withdrawal of the book, which was taken off the shelves six weeks after being published.
A spokesman for Ms Schiffer said: "This whole episode is deeply hurtful for Ms Schiffer. Through hard work, the success she has achieved has made her a public figure, of course, and she understands the many benefits and attractions this brings. However, if they are to have meaning for her, personal friendships are just that - personal and private.
"She has never commenced legal proceedings against Sophie Michell or her publishers. But protection of Claudia's endorsement rights is essential because she has commercial agreements in place, which prohibit any unauthorised exploitation of them."
Ms Michell, who received a £10,000 advance for the book, claims she was forced to move back in with her mother. "I was incredibly upset last year," she said. "It was the most unbelievably awful year." On a more positive note, she added: "I'm not going to let something like this knock me back. I'm writing a new book."
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