Jerry Hall: The life of a mature rock chick

After the collapse of her marriage to Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall could have fled Britain for her native Texas. But she stayed, learnt how to start treating men mean, and hasn't look back since. She tells Simon Gage about the life of a mature rock chick and why she's surrounded by studs

"I'm very good with orchids," she says in that atonal voice that has become something of a trademark (along with the waist-length hair, wide American smile and never-ending six-foot-and-then-heels height). "They're tricky. They don't like a lot of attention. You have to ignore them. Like men. Ha, ha. It usually works."

The Texas drawl may still cling on after over three decades away from her native Mesquite, a dowdy, working-class outpost of Dallas, but there's little doubt that Hall is every inch the sophisticated European lady. "I did that," she says, going back to the subject of being treated mean by men, and throwing in another one of those funny, dry laughs of hers, peeling back her lips to show off teeth so white you almost want to grout them "It's over. Now I like to treat them mean."

And there has been no shortage of eager young men to practice that meanness on recently, even if she is all talk: in the flesh Hall comes over as airy and fun-loving and very unmean indeed. She has just finished filming Kept, her first reality show, which sees a dozen under-sophisticated American men brought to London and Paris to go through a variety of charm-school-type processes from dressing well to saying the right things over expensive dinners, all in the quest for Hall's undivided attention. As the series progresses, Hall dumps the wannabes one by one until she's left with a winner who will be kept in a fancy London flat and attend glamorous parties on her arm. "I think some of them had fantasies that they might end up marrying me or something," she laughs. The poor, deluded fools. "I know!" More dry laughter.

The show works not only because of the mix of cute twentysomething guys, a glamorous older woman and access to the smartest events London and Paris have to offer, but because, as a concept, it mirrors Hall's own experience of transforming herself from American trailer trash into a byword for modern European sophistication. This is the woman who used to hang out with Salvador Dali, after all.

Born in 1956 to a downtrodden mother and an abusive, alcoholic truck-driving father - Hall has since said that she spent her childhood in terror of her drunk dad coming home to throw his weight about - she left Texas at 16, the minute she was old enough to get the hell out, with just a suitcase filled with copies of nasty Frederick's of Hollywood outfits her mother had run up. Her destination was Paris - "I turned up pretty rough, chewing gum and reading comics" - where within years she would become one of the top catwalk models in the world with her face on campaigns for Revlon and Yves Saint Laurent's Opium and a rock star fiancé in the form of Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry on her arm. But she was always more than just a ridiculously great-looking girlfriend for Ferry, whom she met when he held an umbrella over her on a shoot for the album Siren; she was a muse, appearing not only in album cover artwork, but videos and, once she had left him for Mick Jagger, heart-broken songs such as "Cry Cry Cry" and "Kiss and Tell".

The marriage to Mick, which took place on a beach in Bali more than 10 years after they first got together, was annulled in 1999 after four children, and a series of misdemeanours by Mick, ending in the announcement by Brazilian model Lucia Morad that she was having Mick's baby. When I meet Morad, who is as beautiful as an underwear model should be but frankly no Jerry Hall, she refuses to shoulder any responsibility for the split. "I felt a little sad, yes, because you don't want to get that kind of blame but, at the same time, I don't think anyone's responsible for the break-up of a 22-year relationship, because there are so many things under the bridge," she argues. But of Hall, she has nothing bad to say. "I know she doesn't like me but that's understandable. But she's never really dissed me, she's quite respectful."

"Mick's a wonderful person," says Hall, without any hint of edge or hurt. "He has * fantastic qualities. He's a great father, he's very funny and we laugh together. We really like each other. He was just not a good husband."

Ask her why she stayed so long if he was such a bad husband and she laughs. "I thought about it. But I was kind of hooked, you know. Basically we get on great. And in life that's not easy to find. I mean, we didn't fight, you know. We laughed our heads off, we had so much fun. All of our friends are the same friends, we like the same people. So we got on great. Except he slept with lots of other people, which was horrible. Otherwise, he was perfect."

Of his serial infidelity, she simply says: "You know, that gets tired after a while." I ask if, with everything going for them as a couple, she couldn't just be French and sophisticated about it and turn a blind eye to his dalliances with models young enough to be his daughters' younger friends.

"I tried," says Hall, who has suggested Mick seek the help of a therapist for his womanising. "But I'm basically very moral." She laughs when I suggest it's because she's still very much a Texan: she goes back every year and thinks she might have moved home after her divorce if it hadn't been for her four children who all live with her in Richmond. "But it just makes you unhappy. I think it's a bit of an illness. Mick was very careless. Everyone read about it, including me. It was a bit much. Very hurtful."

Hall was not only very humiliated and hurt but actually quite isolated by the Morad affair. Ask if she ever cheated on the cheater and she doesn't miss a beat. "Yeah," she says, without a hint of regret. "I mean, when you're unhappy, you know, you try to find comfort somewhere else from time to time. Especially near the end. But basically, I'm pretty faithful. Very faithful."

Hall seems to be having quite a lot of fun getting in digs at Mick - she recently performed a none-too-complimentary country song about him - but if you accuse her of being mean to him, she snaps back "Nowhere as mean as he was to me!" She doesn't need to be defined by Mick's unfaithfulness and has never for an instant seemed anything but the very epicentre of cool, even as she nears 50 with grown-up children stepping into her fashion shoes (her eldest daughter, Lizzie, is now one of the most highly-paid models in the world and embarking on an acting career in Sophia Coppola's forthcoming Marie-Antoinette.)

When I turn up to see a sequence of Kept filmed at The London College of Fashion (the boys are being taught how to do catwalk modelling), Hall walks in and is so far and away the most beautiful person in the room, she looks like she belongs to another species. She's in the company of mates such as Vivienne Westwood and Edina Ronay and has a lightness and sense of fun about her that verges on the giddy. When we have a chat at a party thrown for her after the catwalk show, she's cool and unflappable even though she is on the champagne and under the glare of lights and cameras that focus in on her every slurp, her every comment.

Far from stalling post-Mick, Hall's career seems to be reaching whole new levels. Apart from Kept - the raunchy poster campaign was banned by London Underground - there is the film career which started with Tim Burton's Batman and continues to a recent Merchant-Ivory film which slipped by unnoticed. There were the rave reviews for her stint as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate (well, she did study at The Actor's Studio in New York when she was 18) while her 146-point IQ has been called upon to help judge the Whitbread Book Award. And you can add to that a range of stockings that she has helped develop and put her name to, and the work she does for breast cancer and children's charities. Yet she still describes herself as "a lazy, stay-at-home girl".

Although Kept might seem like an elaborate joke on older women - putting Hall among nice-looking men half her age who have to pretend they find her attractive - when I see her at Paris's Georges V hotel with the young model types who make the final stages, she easily outshines them, even if some of them are so young they didn't quite know who she was until they got through their auditions: headlines about her nights gossiping with Andy Warhol at Studio 54 ran before most of them were born.

"The chemistry between us last night, you can't put an age on that," says handsome 27-year-old Anwar, in his hotel room. He's talking about his romantic Paris date with Hall the previous night. "She has a lot of experience in some places and I have a lot in others. You mix the two together and you get a perfect relationship." The poor deluded fool.

"It was great fun to have this surplus of young, gorgeous guys," says Hall, who since Mick has dated a film producer 10 years her junior. "Me and my real girlfriends - Suzanne Wyman, Bill Wyman's wife, Jeanne Marie, who's Bob Geldof's girlfriend and Jo Wood, who's Ronnie Wood's wife, and Rachel Fuller, Pete Townshend's girlfriend - we're all rock chicks and we were sort of like Sex and the City and Mean Girls. I was very nice to their faces, but when they weren't there... My girlfriends were much more interested in their personalities and I was keen on how good-looking some of them were. I was kind of shallow. I have gone out with younger men and they're great fun, they've got enthusiasm. Stamina! But I think older men are much better lovers."

Quite apart from her stable of studs, Hall is still out there dating in the real world "and having a fabulous time", though she still refers to herself as single. And it may be surprising but despite her experience with Mick, she still entertains the idea of one day settling down again. "I quite like the idea of getting married," she explains, "but I certainly don't want to be housewifey and cook and do all that stuff. And I don't want to have children, because I already have four. And I don't want to be bossed around because I've got my own money, you know. So it's got to be the right person. But I do quite like the idea of having a companion."

So, she's not lost her faith in true love, despite everything? Cue one of the best "Ha"s of the day. "I've had my moments," she says. "But no, I still believe in true love and romance." *

'Kept', 6pm Sundays, VH1