Why are they picking on me?

From outrage to mortgage: Vivienne Westwood talks to Sophie Goodchild

Sophie Goodchild
Saturday 25 September 1999 23:02 BST

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, the queen of fashion outrage, has embarked on a new quest to save Britain's cultural heritage.

Yesterday, in an exclusive interview with the Independent on Sunday, Ms Westwood, millionairess and originator of punk fashion, angrily defended herself against newspaper reports that she was taking advantage of lottery money to renovate her 300-year-old home.

Last week, it emerged that Lambeth council and the Heritage Lottery fund have given her pounds 17,530 to restore iron railings and cracks in the brickwork of the house, in the historic Old Town area of Clapham, south London.

Once refurbished, the house, which used to belong to Captain Cook's mother, is expected to be worth pounds 1m. The decision has angered campaigners who say it contradicts the principle of the lottery being used for good causes.

Ms Westwood said yesterday that she bought the pounds 695,000 house not for profit but to save it for the nation. The former fashion designer of the year said that the house is the first she has ever been able to afford and, revealing a little-publicised asceticism, that she has not bought new furniture for 30 years. Her new house will be furnished with second-hand items.

"I applied for a grant like anyone else," she explained. "The council's view is that the work will improve the whole area.

"It would be ludicrous to award money to someone who could not afford to do up the building. There has to be a proportion of spending money from the person who buys it. It's unworkable if you have someone who cannot afford the repairs.

"Cultural things are very important to me and I hate the way property companies can pull down buildings. I don't think the British have had any culture since the 17th century. The whole world is being Americanised. God knows how this country will deteriorate, but this house will be standing into the next century."

Keen to shake off the materialist tag, she said her current flat in Balham, south London, which she shares with her husband Andreas Kronthaler, is sparsely furnished.

"All I've got at home are two second-hand armchairs, a trestle table, a fridge and a cooker," she added.

"I'm the most unacquisitive person you could meet. It's outrageous that I've been painted as this property speculator - I don't own some string of mansions.

"This is the first time I've been able to afford a house and I intend to stay in it, not sell it for profit. What I earn is nothing compared with other designers. People are just trying to provoke envy."

Derbyshire-born Ms Westwood most recently made the British stiff upper lip soften when she collected her OBE from the Queen without wearing any knickers.

This was typical of the woman who started her career in the 1970s with a series of punk collections at the World's End shop in Chelsea, which she ran in partnership with Malcolm McLaren, who discovered the Sex Pistols.

Her son Joe is another fashion success story, selling the knickers his mother shuns: he is one of the owners of the lingerie shop Agent Provocateur in Soho, central London.

Fashion bible Women's Wear Daily has rated Ms Westwood as one of the top six in the world for her unconventional designs.

In past interviews, she has expressed a desire to help the homeless but her own needs appear to be a more pressing priority at the moment.

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