How we met: Marie Helvin & Paul Young

'You meet people like Muhammad Ali and something touches you. I had that feeling with Paul'

Simon Usborne
Sunday 28 September 2008 00:00
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Marie Helvin, 56, was raised in Hawaii before moving to London, where she became one of the first supermodels. She married the photographer David Bailey at 19, and has since brought out a range of swimwear, written two books, and judged Britain's Next Top Model. Now divorced, she lives alone in Chelsea

I was still married to [David] Bailey when I met Paul. Whenever anybody interesting came in to be photographed at the studio – Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney, Sting – I would hang around in the hallways. When Paul came in, I made sure I was there. I was a big fan of his and Wherever I Lay My Hat is one of my favourite songs. It wasn't that I had a crush on him, but his beautiful voice fascinated me.

We moved in the same circles in those days and I remember one fantastic night at a party when Paul got on stage to sing a duet with Bruce Willis.

Paul and I have always shared a passion for music. He has an incredible library and constantly tries to catch me out with Hawaiian artists he thinks I won't have heard of. He'll send me CDs and I'll write back and say, "Paul, I went to school with that singer or that presenter." One Christmas, he sent me a recording of Bing Crosby singing "Mele Kalikimaka", ("Merry Christmas"). Paul was amazed when I rang him and sang the whole thing to him down the phone.

These days our obsession has turned from music to food. Two years ago we appeared on Celebrity Masterchef together, which was an amazing experience. I'm a home cook but Paul's food is extraordinary. For a while he cooked at a restaurant in north London and invited me for a meal. I'm embarrassed to say that I know London only as far as Primrose Hill. For a while on the drive there I thought we were going to Birmingham, but it was only Barnet.

It was worth the trip – Paul cooked one of his signature dishes, which he also did on Masterchef: wonderful large Cajun style prawns in a beer marinade with very spicy Creole-style rice. We both love chilli and constantly try to outspice each other. I had lunch with him last month at an Italian restaurant; they brought out the chillies and Paul said there was no way I could eat one. Well, I nearly ate them all and the restaurant ended up giving me the jar.

I'm so glad I met Paul. His personality matches his voice – he is charming, gentle and very honest. That day in the studio when I met him I saw it in his face and his demeanour; in his eyes and his handshake. You meet people like Muhammad Ali or Dizzy Gillespie and something about them touches you. I had that feeling with Paul.

Paul Young, 52, is a car factory worker turned blues and soul singer from Luton, whose 1983 single Wherever I Lay My Hat was number one for three weeks. A year later, he sang the opening line to the Band Aid hit Do They Know It's Christmas? He lives alone in north London

Marie and I both have trouble remembering just when we met. If I was being photographed by Bailey, it would have been around my second or third album, making it about 1985. It was a manic time and I'd worked myself into the ground; in the end I collapsed of exhaustion on stage in America. It must have been crazy for me not to remember the day, because Marie is a striking woman.

Marie's only a few years older than me but she had done so much more. I was, and still am, in awe of her and, being a terrible music anorak, I spend a lot of our time together trying to get any information about people she's met. We can sit down and lose about three hours in gossip.

For someone who has come through quite a free-living age, Marie's values and morals are very strong. She brings out the gentleman in me more than anyone else.

She's also very supportive. Two years ago, my marriage to Stacey, with whom I have three children, broke down.

We went out to lunch after we had been voted off Masterchef and I asked her what I should do now I was single. Marie was quite brazen in some of the things she told me, which I couldn't repeat now. She gave me insight and that's one of the things I love about her – she, like me, has grown into her age and is very comfortable in herself. She's not at all prissy, which is an impression some people have of her, and it's OK to talk about very personal things with her. Maybe it's because she trusts me.

It's very flattering to be with someone as pretty as Marie. Everybody wants to know her. I remember the first time we went to a promotional night together. It was for a car company at a showroom in London. It was amazing the way she set flashbulbs popping. Could things have turned out differently? Maybe if I was in my twenties, but our relationship is based purely on friendship. When we grow up we're led by different parts of our anatomy – the brain more than anything else.

Marie is so refined and holds herself so well that you might think she drinks only green tea and goes to bed early every night. But another thing I like about her is that she still likes to let loose. The last time we had lunch we had more wine than we should have. She's still got a bit of the devil in her, and so have I.

'The Autobiography' by Marie Helvin is out now in paperback (Phoenix, £8.99). Paul Young is recording an album for release next year with ex-Spandau Ballet front man Tony Hadley and Peter Cox, lead singer of Go West

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