Jodie Kidd: The Kidd stays in the picture

What does a supermodel do next? Some try a pop career, others write novels. But Jodie Kidd's off-catwalk activities seem far less likely to end in ridicule. Stuart Husband hears why the future's bright for the sports-mad siren once labelled an unsuitable role model by Bill Clinton
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jodie Kidd is eating some chocolate. A few years ago, this might have made headline news. The gangly, six-foot-one supermodel had become the bony poster girl for fashion's dalliance with "heroin chic", and the moral panic was such that even Bill Clinton felt obliged to wade into the fray and single her out as an unsuitable role model. Meanwhile, journalists scrambled to ascertain her daily calorific intake.

"Crazy, wasn't it?" laughs Kidd, polishing off her truffle - it has to be noted - with delight. "I got so tired of having to insist that I ate spaghetti and steak all the time. They all wanted me to nibble a lettuce leaf before running off to be sick." Kidd is 26 now, but she still cuts a singular figure; she's filled out a little, but the word "rangy" could have been coined for her beanpole limbs, which are currently coiled awkwardly over a chair. The impression of gawky adolescence is reinforced by her Diesel hooded top and flared cords, her hunched shoulders, and her make-up-free face; a perfect oval, dominated by almond-shaped blue eyes that restlessly scan the room. "Sorry," she says at one point, "I'm not very good at eye contact. But then, there aren't a lot of people on my eyeline."

There's a word for Kidd's ingenuous, skittish demeanour, and it suddenly comes to me: equine. Quite why it's taken me so long to reach that conclusion, when we're surrounded by statues, photos and drawings of horses, is a mystery. We're in the Berkshire farmstead of her older brother Jack, a professional polo player - his 30-odd horses are quartered in the surrounding paddocks and stables. Jodie's older sister, Jemma, was on professional dressage teams. Jodie herself spent her "whole childhood in the yard" and was showjumping in her teens. "We're all horse-mad," she confirms, as her breeched-and-booted brother strides through the room to further underline the assertion. "In fact, we're all incredibly outdoorsy. I always thought I'd be some kind of sportswoman. Modelling turned out to be a sidetrack." She shrugs. "I was already over six feet tall when I was 15. I thought I was far too weird-looking to ever be a model, but I guess I just had the right look for the right time."

Kidd's artlessness can be disarming. "I don't know why you're interviewing me," she says breathlessly at one point. "I've got nothing to promote, and I'm very boring." She insists that modelling "was just something that sort of fell into my lap", much like her recent stabs at rally driving ("I didn't know I could do it but a friend worked at Maserati and invited me to go round the practice track and I just beat everyone..."); golf ("It's just a hobby but I keep getting invited to do these pro-celebrity things and I'm becoming obsessed..."); and television presenting ("I thought I'd be shite but friends urged me to give it a go and I think it's a really cool thing now..."). In truth, her family background not only endowed her with the confidence to succeed, but also provided her with a social milieu in which the opportunities that have come her way seem more pre-ordained than freakish.

Kidd's great-grandfather was the press baron (and noted horse and car collector) Lord Beaverbrook. In the 1940s, he purchased what became the Kidd family home, Holder's House, a classic 10-bedroom, 18th-century plantation house in Barbados. Kidd's mother, Wendy, and millionaire showjumper father, Johnny, brought their children up there, and Kidd credits the surroundings with her abiding love for vast horizon lines and things that neigh. She was ultra-competitive with her siblings - "We love to win", she avows. "We would fight and cheat and do whatever it took to come out on top" - and was sent to boarding school in Gloucestershire at 16, captaining the county in lacrosse and swimming and athletics at the expense of maths and physics and chemistry. "I knew academic life wasn't for me," she says. "I was never going to be a lawyer or a doctor. I used to sit in class drumming my leg against the desk, dreaming of being a polo player like my brother or being like one of my sister's socialite friends."

It was the photographer Terry O'Neill, a family friend, who suggested that Kidd go for a modelling audition. "I was like, yeah, right," she says (Kidd frequently lapses into teen-speak: one of her favourite adjectives is "hardcore", as in, "I was sitting backstage at Marc Jacobs with Naomi and Helena and I thought to myself, 'This is hardcore.'") In fact, it was her mother who encouraged her: "She was the Vogue fan and she loved the idea. She took me to London and got me my first eyeliners, mascara and lipsticks. I'd never bothered with any of that before."

Was she at all interested in fashion?

"Well," she says airily, "I loved the glamour and I'd follow the goings-on with Christy and Naomi and everyone. But it was all in the abstract. I've always been a total tomboy. At the time, if you told me that I'd be joining them, I'd have laughed in your face."

It was this nonchalant attitude that presumably led to agencies proclaiming her a "natural" when she started doing the rounds - that, and the fact that Kidd's pre-pubescent, drained look was destined to personify the next fashion moment. At 16, she was taken up and fast-tracked to a point where she became what fashion types call a "one-namer" - Cindy, Christy, Jodie. "The rest," she shrugs, "is history."

But it's a somewhat turbulent history. There were mutterings from the start about Kidd's "skeletal" appearance, and the pervading junkie-chic, epitomised by Corinne Day's portfolio of a wasted-looking Kate Moss and friends sprawled over mattresses amid Trainspotting styling, only added fuel to the fire. "But that was just my shape at the time," protests Kidd. "I'd come from having this really sporty childhood to sitting in planes and studios and dressing- rooms. So I'd lost all the muscle but still had these really * huge shoulders. Look, I'm not naïve. I saw what they were doing with me and I knew there'd be shit about it. When they said I was anorexic or hinted I was a junkie or whatever, I could have stood up and gone, 'Right, I'm suing all of you.' But that would just have blown up in my face." She smiles. "I remember my dad turning round to me at the height of it all and saying, 'Look Jodes, tell them I won a knobbly knees contest when I was 17 and skinniness just runs in the family.' I was like, 'Yeah, thanks Dad.'"

Wasn't she unnerved about persistently being presented in a way that would invite seamy speculation? "But I was just the mannequin," she responds, sounding uncharacteristically disingenuous. "I'm not an art-director, I wasn't in a position to demand stuff. When I started, I was doing all these Cindy Crawford-style shoulders-back, head-up poses, and they'd be going, 'No, head off to the side, look limp,' while they applied some smeary make-up. They're directing me, and I'm being paid to do my job. So the pictures were very down and solemn. It's the way the fashion world was then," she concludes, with a what-can-you-do shrug. "Everyone was into controversy and stirring things up. Now the look is much more South American: darker, curvier, bigger boobs. I wouldn't get a look-in if I was going round the agencies these days. It's all cyclical."

'Cyclical' is as close as Jodie Kidd will venture toward criticising the industry that made her famous - which is hardly surprising as she's still in the thick of it (having recently completed a Monsoon campaign). "I was lucky to come in on the end of the supermodel thing," she acknowledges. "These days, models are massive for a nanosecond, then you barely see them again." Looking back, she prefers to accentuate the positive: the travel is "awesome, the ultimate in independence: New York, Miami, business-class, wow"; the people she meets are "incredible, so talented, photographers, stylists, amazing"; she feels "so lucky, so blessed, we're paid really well and treated really well". Yes, she concedes, there are too-much-too-young-style pitfalls, but "if you can handle rejection, and get yourself a great agent who'll travel with you from day one, you'll come through." Kidd, however, does seem to have sailed through the whole experience unscathed. "It's opened so many doors for me," she says happily.

Kidd is also craftily negotiating the life-after-modelling thing with some aplomb. At least, she's yet to write a dodgy "novel" (Naomi), become the "face" of a lager (Helena), embark on an ill-judged and hastily terminated pop career (Naomi again), or launch messy law suits against tabloid newspapers (that'll also be Naomi). Her racing career began when she took part in a couple of Gumball rallies - a Wacky Races for the super-rich where drivers aim to make the fastest time across 3,000 miles of public roads (Paris to Morocco, say), with Kidd, in her Dodge Viper, slipping effortlessly into the role of Penelope Pitstop. She then charmed Jeremy Clarkson at the GQ Awards ("A model into cars? I was his ideal woman"), and broke the course record on Top Gear's "Celebrity in a Reasonably Priced Car" track challenge. She's now taking part in the Maserati Trofeo international race series, and has just returned from her second race in Italy where she touched the car's top speed - 190mph - to come 10th in a field of 28. Not bad for someone who has been driving for less than 10 years.

"Cars are just like horses," she shrugs, when asked to account for her success. "I learnt as a kid how to keep a horse balanced, so in the car I can corner and under- or oversteer subconsciously."

Golf, too, is a matter of balance and poise; through all the tournaments she's playing, she's hoping to inject a little fashion pizzazz ("Ian Poulter's Union Jack slacks were great," she enthuses, "but they should be just the start"), and get her handicap down to single figures. And her TV work so far - albeit comprising less-than-taxing cable fare such as MTV's Dude, Where's My Movie Quiz? and Fashion Avenue, in which Kidd led the viewer through "the world's most fashionable shopping streets" - has shown her to be a cut above the average autocue automaton. "I've got some big projects coming up next year, some amazing documentaries," she says, her limbs going a little St Vitus at the prospect. "And they're not about me," she adds hastily.

This is a droll reference to a BBC Trouble at the Top doc, aired last year, which focused on the only blot on Kidd's copybook so far - the ill-fated launch of Pret A Polo, a hospitality/events company whose grand design was to bring the worlds of fashion and polo together; Kidd set it up with her then-boyfriend, polo player Tarquin Southwell, but things soon fell apart amid accusations of financial mismanagement, artistic differences (the documentary revealed that Kidd and Southwell were at loggerheads on whether to have live goldfish in bowls as table centrepieces, with the former arguing that people might use them as ashtrays), and the eventual collapse of Kidd and Southwell's relationship. Kidd, serenely oblivious to a more fundamental flaw in the concept - that the worlds of fashion and polo really couldn't give two hoots about each other - insists it's still a goer: "It's a really nice idea. The barriers are coming down in polo, and I will take the idea up again when the timing's right."

Kidd's optimism is no doubt aided by the fact that, just three months after breaking up with Southwell, she embarked on a whirlwind courtship with internet millionaire Aidan Butler; they were recently engaged - a not-inconsiderable triple-stone band dominates Kidd's left hand, if proof were needed - and Kidd has put her £750,000 timber-framed Sussex farmhouse on the market in preparation for their marriage next year. "I knew within days of meeting Aidan that he was the one," says Kidd dreamily. "But then, I'm an all-or-nothing kind of girl from an all-or-nothing kind of family. There's no in-between with us."

To prove the point, Kidd bounds from her chair to join the shouting-match in her brother's kitchen, where her PA is phoning to airlines for a family trip to Barbados (for her father's 60th birthday) and Bologna (for Jodie's latest race meet). The TV's blaring, her brother's shouting about who'll look after the dogs while they're away, and Kidd sits in the middle of the mêlée, looking delighted as her three-year-old niece, Jaden, bedecks her in stick-on glittery earrings.

"I'm never glam enough for her," Kidd says, indicating Jaden's princess-style glitz. "I'd always rather be on a horse, or walking in my wellies." And unlike Linda, Cindy, Naomi et al, you can actually imagine Jodie Kidd sweeping a yard or mucking out a stable. Alongside the head-start advantages and the fairly rarefied lifestyle, it seems that Kidd's saving grace has always been a healthy appetite for the prosaic.