My secret life: Zandra Rhodes

Fashion designer, age 68

The home I grew up in ... was in Chatham, by the North Downs in Kent. There were four houses in a block, and ours was one of the central ones. It was at the top of the Weald with a garden that sloped down and chalk cliffs behind. We had a view for miles and miles around; it was quite wonderful.

When I was a child I wanted to be...I thought I'd be a teacher like my mother. When I first left the Royal College of Art, I had to find a way to make a living, so I taught two days a week. I hated it.

The moment that changed me for ever...was being brave enough to say that my textiles should be made into dresses, and then dropping everything to move to America.

My greatest inspiration...is my mother. She was an exotic lady, with a wonderful big curl at the top of her head that she sprayed silver. She was strong and encouraged me to believe in myself. She died of lung cancer before she had a chance to see my career progress.

My real-life villain...is Tony Blair, for abusing the House of Lords.

My style icon...is [the fashion editor and icon] Diana Vreeland. She had an incredible personality.

If I could change one thing about myself...I'd stop myself falling asleep in public. If I sit in too relaxed a state, I fall asleep instantly.

At night I dream of... I don't recollect a single dream. I have a theory that you have to sleep for at least seven hours in order to dream, whereas I don't allow myself more than five hours, and more likely just four.

What I see when I look in the mirror...the only time I look is to put on my make-up, which takes about three seconds. Though I sometimes look in [the British artist] Andrew Logan's mirror, and then I'm ageless. The older you get, the less attractive mirrors are.

My favourite item of clothing...is a black, frilly dress from my latest collection: it covers all sins, and somehow makes me feel less fat.

I wish I'd never worn...Doesn't apply. Every mistake is an original expression that leads to another new idea.

It's not fashionable but I like...Radio 4.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at...cooking and entertaining.

You may not know it but I'm no good at...relaxing. I can't even watch television unless I have a boring job to do, like faxing.

All my money goes on...archiving my work – some 70 chests of it! They're stored at my Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey.

If I have time to myself...I love to do a bit of gardening and cooking.

I drive...a horrible green Peugeot hatchback. And when I say horrible, I mean it. I ended up with it because I smashed my last car. I only drive in the evenings. I can get around faster in London by Tube than by car.

My flat is...a rainbow heaven on the top of the Fashion and Textile Museum, with glistening Amtico floors, complete with a camellia forest. In spring they will all come out.

My most valuable possession is...my sketchbook.

My favourite building...I like the colours Piers Gough introduced to London. I'm looking forward to Renzo Piano's Shard of Glass going up. I will be able to see it from my balcony.

Movie heaven...I'm in the front row of the cinema on a Friday evening, with my friends, watching Mamma Mia!.

A book that changed me...The Secret Life of Plants. It made me aware that we need to be good to plants as much as to animals. They are beings as well, so I talk to them.

My favourite work of art...is a huge Duggie Fields landscape, the first I ever bought from him. He does wonderful hard-edged pieces. I have 10 in my studio.

The person who really makes me laugh...I have a wonderful collection of friends, and we sit around my table and laugh our heads off most Sunday evenings.

The shop I can't walk past...is Dover Street Market. It's wonderfully weird.

The best invention ever...the telephone. Designers are quite lonely people, and the phone's a lifeline to the world.

In 10 years' time, I hope to...be fully acknowledged for all that I've done in the world of fashion and opera.

My greatest regret...is allowing my shop on Bond Street to be closed.

My life in seven words...colourful, original, pink, dramatic, adventure, entertainer, designer.

A life in brief

Born in Kent in 1940, Zandra Rhodes CBE is known for her colourful, eccentric designs. Her extensive list of clients has included Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury. Rhodes now lives with her partner, the film producer Salah Hassanein, and they share their time between homes in London and California. She has designed the costumes and set for a revival of Aida, which runs at the ENO, London WC2, until 22 November

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