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Christie Brinkley

Christie Brinkley, a supermodel before the word was invented, is perplexed by everyone's obsession with her age. 'People say, "You look so great for your age," and I say, "OK, you can leave off the for your age part. Can we all stop qualifying it?" I have never hidden my age: I love being 57.'


Of course, that is easy to say when you are Brinkley. On the surface, at least, she leads a charmed life - fabulously wealthy, she lives in a fairytale mansion in the Hamptons and still has the looks that launched more than 500 magazine covers. If anything, she is busier than ever and recently surprised Broadway with her interpretation of Roxie in the musical Chicago, due to open in London next week.


Her personal assistant, Paul, who spent seven years at Buckingham Palace as footman to the Queen, collects me from my hotel and drives me into the inner sanctum of the most exclusive corner of the Hamptons. At the top of a long private drive a tower looms into view. We have arrived at the Brinkley estate, which comprises so many buildings it resembles a small village.


I am deposited in one of the outhouses, the 'art studio', and left to my own devices while Brinkley is prepared for the photo-shoot. The walls are hung with dozens of the famous magazine covers as well as lots of experimental art, some of it by Brinkley, including an easel holding an unfinished portrait of what looks like Alexa, now 25, the daughter she had with her second husband, Billy Joel.


A photo shows Brinkley swimming with her son Jack, 16, from her third marriage to Richard Taubman, a property developer, and her daughter Sailor, 13, from her fourth marriage to the architect Peter Cook, whom she divorced (messily) in 2008 after he admitted to an affair with the daughter of a neighbour. By the door is a life-size cardboard cut-out of Brinkley holding a glass of champagne.


More than an hour later the Queen's footman is nowhere to be seen and I begin to wonder if the cut-out is as close as I am going to get. Following the sound of voices, I venture over to another outhouse but am diverted by a woman who seems to pop out of the bushes and introduces herself as Mindy, Brinkley's friend of 20 years.


Christie, she tells me, is not ready but I can talk to her instead. After half an hour of hearing that Brinkley is 'as lovely on the inside as she is on the outside' (sample quote: 'If she sees a fly, instead of grabbing a fly swatter like most humans, she traps it in a cup and says, "I have to relocate it"') I start to get fidgety. It looks like my tightly scheduled interview slot is going by the wayside. As the hair and make-up marathon shows no signs of abating, I am eventually allowed to join her there.


I find her sitting on a black leather swivel chair, straddling it backwards. 'This is very Chicago,' she says of the pose, describing her amazement when her agent told her she was being considered for the musical. 'He mentioned it in passing, assuming there was no way I could donate that kind of time. I was like, "Wait a minute, what?!" I always wanted to be in a Broadway play and I thought, I am not going to be the grandmother saying, "I was once offered this part but I didn't even try out."'

She does look preternaturally young but I cannot testify to how she looks au naturel. Three people are working on her, adding hair extensions and combing out each individual eyelash.


Brinkley's previous acting experience was limited; she had appeared in Billy Joel's video accompanying Uptown Girl, the hit song he wrote about Brinkley, and also in National Lampoon's Vacation as the 'Girl in the Ferrari' but shrugs dismissively when I mention it: 'If you can call that acting. Really, I'd had zero acting experience before Chicago.'


She almost has to shout to be heard above the noise of the hairdryer and the radio. 'What is that noise?' she asks, starting on a croissant. 'It's Lady Gaga,' explains the hair stylist. Brinkley harrumphs: 'It sounds like an alarm function going off.'


Her parents, both very elderly and ill, encouraged her to do the musical. 'My dad has Parkinson's and can barely write. And he also has a tracheotomy so he can't talk. He starts writing on this piece of paper, tracing over and over, and all of a sudden the words take shape: "Take it."'


On opening night only her father was there. 'My mom had a heart attack that day and was rushed to hospital. I learnt the meaning of the phrase, "The show must go on." But my dad, who can't walk, who can barely move' - Brinkley is crying now - 'he came to the theatre. And my last show was on Sunday, Father's day, and I dedicated it to my dad.' The tears are pouring down her face and she can barely speak. 'And it was my best show.'


Riccardo, the hair stylist, puts his arms around her. 'I wanna give you a hug. You are so inspiring, you know. You have such incredible passion.' But the make-up artist looks on horrified as his careful creation starts slithering down her face.


As a young girl growing up in California, Brinkley says she dreamed of becoming an illustrator. 'Modelling was never in my plan. Never.' 

At the age of 19 she moved to Paris. 'I lived in a little garret under the eaves. My room was tiny, my shower was three blocks away at the bain publique and my telephone was at the post office, where a photographer who saw me coming and going invited me to his studio to take some pictures. I thought, "Oh, yeah, what a line ." He gave me his name and number and I told a friend of mine, who said she'd seen his name in Elle . So we went over to see if there was a real studio. And there was.'


Her very first job landed her on the cover of a magazine called Parents. 'They handed me a yellow bikini and I was horrified. I wasn't that confident. I wanted to hide my hips and thighs. They put this guy behind me in a Speedo who started kissing my neck. I was squirming. I didn't know what to do with my hands and the photographer was going, "Look how she moves, c'est fantastique, génial, oh-là-là ."


'Modelling opened up the world to me. All my friends were bohemian artists and were a little bit appalled when I sold out and did something so bourgeois. I'd say, "Come on, guys, with what I earn from this job we can all go to Morocco."'


Soon she was on the covers of Vogue, Glamour and Cosmopolitan and had secured a record 20-year contract with the cosmetics brand Cover Girl, signing again in 2005. She married the artist Jean-François Allaux but divorced him in 1981. I tell her I read an interview she gave 30 years ago saying she would never marry again.


'Wait, what husband was that?' I think it was after your first husband. 'I wouldn't have said it after him because we had a great marriage; we were just young.'


She describes her second marriage to Billy Joel as 'a blast'. They met in St Barts where he was playing a hotel piano and she started singing along. 'We literally never stopped singing the whole time we were together.' They had a daughter, Alexa, now a singer herself, but the marriage fell apart in 1994, shortly after Brinkley suffered a heli-skiing accident. Brinkley had fallen in love with Ricky Taubman, also injured in the accident.


Nevertheless Brinkley and Joel have remained close. 'Billy came to the show the other night. He came rushing back during the intermission going, "This is so great. Wow, you have perfect pitch. I always said you could do this." I said, "Oh you're such a credit grabber. Get back out there."'


Brinkley says the modelling world has changed 'so much for the better' since the 1970s. 'When we started out we were clothes hangers and we were told that by the time we turned 30 we would be chewed up and spat out. I'm amazed at how lucky I've been. I'm born in the middle of the baby-boom era. We're the generation that says 60 is the new 30. We don't let the numbers shape us; we're reshaping the numbers.'


On the subject of husbands she says, 'I have to be careful in husbands. Unfortunately, I trust everybody. I just think everybody is great.' Within months of marrying Taubman she realised what a mistake she had made. 'I even named my perfume after husband number three: "Believe", because I still believed in love.' She breaks into a sing-song voice in self-mockery. 'I believe in true love and I believe in happy endings. And I believe. My perfume is called Believe.' She pauses for dramatic effect. 'And then it was hubby number four.'


I ask if she considered naming a perfume after husband number four. She shakes her head, then explodes with laughter. 'Stinks. I would have had to call it Stinks.' Maybe she needs to wait to work out the smell of a perfume before getting married? 'I can now say unequivocally I would never get married again. There's absolutely no reason to. I learnt in my divorce that marriage is ridiculous. You take a vow but you don't get brownie points when you honour your vow and the other person doesn't. The court doesn't recognise that. It's like, "All right now, let's see how we're going to divvy up the kids." Well, obviously, the one that didn't break the vows should be the role model. But no…'


At the moment she says there is no one else in her life. 'I'm loving it,' she says, breaking into song: 'Loving it.' Not that she has given up completely. 'You've gotta believe there are truly compassionate, kind, great people out there. Who also happen to be extremely funny. It's getting harder and I'm a little more wary but I look at my parents; they've been together for ever and are still madly in love. They literally touch each other's fingers to transfer power to each other. They always kiss each other before every toast, they call each other their king and queen. It's true love.'


Make-up and hair finally finished after nearly three hours, Brinkley offers to show me the house. Barefoot, she walks over the wet grass, pointing out the vegetable garden she planted herself. Beyond is a swimming-pool and hot tub.


Plucking a gardenia, she tucks it into her neckline and leads the way into her house, which is large but not imposing. Framed children's artworks ascend the staircase, and the fridge in the kitchen is covered with family photos. Shell-encrusted ornaments and boxes, all made by Brinkley, jostle for space.


Leafing through a pile of photographs of herself as Roxie, she says she does not have any regrets about her past. 'Everything brought me to where I am today, with three healthy, wonderful children. And a career on Broadway!'

As published in The Sunday Telegraph, July 10, 2011

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