How we met: Nicola Green & Elle Macpherson

'At home she walks about in bare feet and sarong trousers like she's at the beach – and that's the person I've got to know and love'

Nicola Green, 41

A portrait artist, Green (left in picture) has painted subjects from the Pope and the Dalai Lama to Barack Obama. She lives in London with her husband, the Labour MP David Lammy, and their two children

Elle's known as "The Body", and her physical presence was definitely a defining feature when I first met her. I don't want to say it was overwhelming, but she has this strong presence, a beauty that's not just in her face.

A friend introduced us about 10 years ago, at a time when I was at a low point in my life, living a bit Bridget Jones style. But what I had to hold on to was my career as an artist – and Elle and I had that in common : I could see we were both motivated by this sense of vocation, and whatever has happened [in our personal lives] over the years, we've had our careers.

On the surface there are a lot of differences between us: she's got experience in the world of clothes, which was not remotely my subject, and it's given us a different perspective in our lives, but she's also into art .

A year after we met, I was in New York for an exhibition and Elle was working there, so we met up for a pizza. At the time she was taking her proposals for her lingerie line around the US department stores, but every single one said that there was no market for them – that either underwear had to be practical and cheap, or beautiful, but not both. We had a long chat about that and she talked about her understanding of femininity and why all those department stores were wrong. I think they look great; I'm always wearing one of her bras and pants.

Most of my portraits are of powerful men – Barack Obama, the Pope, the Dalai Lama – but that conversation stayed with me; I realised that Elle had, perhaps uniquely, taken her experience of femininity as a model – when she was largely being objectified – and turned that around and made it into global brand for women of all shapes and sizes who now buy her bras. I decided then that I wanted to paint a portrait of her.

We spent the next three years discussing the project and it became collaborative; we went to the National Portrait Gallery together and looked at great portraits of women which manifested femininity and power: Cranach's Venus and Queen Elizabeth I. I made Elle's portrait lifesize, as I think that reflects the feeling I had on the first day we met.

She's always been a few years ahead of me as a mother, with her two boys. I had my second son in 2008, just before I travelled to the US and followed Obama on his first campaign trail, which meant I was leaving a five-month-old and a two-year-old at home. I had no idea how to cope with the relentless jetlag, coming home to be awoken at night by babies, and then make my work in the studio and support my husband while trying to remember to look after myself. But I learnt a lot from Elle, talking about juggling freelance work, relationships, nappies and school runs.

When she's dressed up in high heels, you don't see the down-to-earth straightforward Australian she is. Her sheer Australian-ness has always struck me: at home, she walks about in bare feet and sarong trousers like she's down at the beach – and that's the person I've got to know and love.

Elle Macpherson, 49

After making her modelling debut aged 19, Macpherson went on to grace the cover of every major fashion publication. She has since launched a lingerie line and skincare products, and presented TV shows including 'Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model'. She divides her time between London and Miami, where she lives with property-developer husband Jeffrey Soffer

We met through mutual friends at a function that Nicola was speaking at. I thought she was articulate and intelligent, and we chatted after her talk. I knew she was going through a difficult time, as she had just broken up with someone, and as I had gone through a similar experience, we connected.

Art is important to me in the sense that I've been collecting since I was young. I like lots of British artists, such as Lucian Freud and Tracey Emin, and when I found out she was an artist and doing work around laughter, I was fascinated. I knew she had worked with Obama, and I thought, this is a girl who had vision, so we stayed in touch, and art became our shared passion.

One afternoon after she had come around to my house, she said, "Elle, you have no happy snaps of yourself at home!" I'm photographed all the time, images of me are a business, so in my house I take all the photos. So Nicola suggested doing a portrait of me. Over the next few years we talked about it a lot: I loved how she wanted to tell a story through this portrait, about a definition of femininity; that one doesn't have to wear a power suit to be perceived with inner power. Though there was a possible con to this: she was a friend, what if I didn't like it and I ended up offending her?

Another part of our shared connection was a serendipitous one; a year or so after we met I was sitting in a taxi in New York, with my trusted legal adviser of many years, when I got a call from Nicola excitedly telling me she was now engaged. I was so thrilled, and when I hung up I explained to my adviser how this girlfriend of mine was marrying this young British politician when he got a call too – and it was from David Lammy, telling his friend he'd got engaged to this artist, Nicola Green. It turns out my adviser was David's mentor – he helped put him through law school – and they were already very close.

Nicola is removed from my world perspective as we're in such different [fields], and we experience the world differently; I'm a more feeling person than a seeing person as she is, and she doesn't allow herself to be distracted by life's clutter, as I do. But when we chat it's like a piece of jazz music – we go off on a tangent together.

I love how understated she is about things. I remember one afternoon she was visiting for lunch when she suddenly said, "I have a dinner to go to and I don't know what to wear!" So I asked, "What kind of dinner is it?" And it was for Obama's inauguration, at the White House. So I said, "Right, come upstairs," and we went through my wardrobe. To be honest, I never thought we'd find something that would fit; I'm 6ft tall. But we found this royal-blue satin dress and she put it on and she looked so beautiful and elegant.

In my relations with people I always look to feel inspired; few people do that – but Nicola does. What do I see when I look at her portrait of me? I see wisdom, a mother, a young girl, I see simplicity and strength: all the things, in fact, that I see in her.

'Elle the Body' by Nicola Green will be available to view at the London Art Fair (londonartfair.co.uk) from 15 to 19 January. For more information on prints: flowersgallery.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'