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Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

A few months ago Rosie Huntington-Whiteley woke up to a surprising email about the supposed break-up of her relationship with Jason Statham, her action movie star boyfriend of the past four years. “I literally woke up in bed with him that morning and I rolled over and I got this email from my publicist. I was like, ‘Honey, are we still together because they say in the papers that we’re not?’ He was like ‘Yeah, I think so’.”

Huntington-Whiteley, the 27-year-old English model from Devon best known for her work for Victoria’s Secret and Burberry, laughs. “It’s mad — then we started getting these texts and calls from all our friends saying they were sorry to hear about [our break-up].”

It coincided with her growing conviction that if people were going to write about her anyway, she might as well bring exposure to something worthwhile. “That’s one of the good things about being in the limelight: I can use all the attention I get for something positive… For a long time I really wanted to do some form of work for charity. I didn’t just want to turn up at an event or throw a party or write a cheque, I wanted to be on the ground.”

So when she was approached by Unicef to make an appeal film for Soccer Aid 2014, a celebrity football match at Old Trafford in Manchester in June, she jumped at the opportunity. “I was really thrilled. I just said, ‘Absolutely, where am I going?’”

The answer was Cambodia. So a few weeks ago she travelled to Phnom Penh and met children from slums and mothers giving birth in difficult conditions. “I was a bit nervous. I did think, ‘Am I going to be so moved that I just cannot hold my shit together?’ But when you’re on the ground, you’re so in that moment that although it was shocking and moving, it wasn’t until I got back here that it really [hit me].”

 

Returning to her home in Los Angeles, where the local currency is “gossip and bullshit” (as she puts it), was surreal. “Can you imagine? Los Angeles is one of the most luxurious places to live in the world. Look at the weather. And if you’re a celebrity everybody bends over backwards to cater to your every whim. It’s very hard to understand how life can be so kind to some and so ungenerous to others.”

We meet at her publicist’s office in Los Angeles in a minimalist room overlooking the city. Today — in the midst of an LA heatwave — she is wearing a sheer Isabel Marant minidress in a black and white print and studded Stella McCartney flat sandals. Although she sits ramrod straight, she is a lot more relaxed and conversational than I had anticipated, with a sharp sense of humour.

For example, discussing the mania for “hiking” in LA, which she now shares, she says she was a bit daunted when someone first asked her on one. “I said I didn’t have any walking boots. They said, ‘You’ll be fine, just put your flip-flops on.’ It turns out a hike in LA is a dirt track, slightly uphill for maybe half a mile, with tons of other people passing by screaming on their hands-free [phones]. Or girls with full faces of make-up and little sports bras with their tits pushed up under their chins. It’s great for people watching: I think I get hit on more when I go hiking than in any other instance.”

Huntington-Whiteley describes her early years as idyllic. “I have incredible parents, they’re still in the same house where I grew up, a little farmhouse in Devon, it was very sheltered and peaceful. I went to the local comprehensive: there were kids from council estates and there were kids like myself who grew up in little farmhouses or cottages.”

Other kids sometimes teased her for being posh. “I battle with it a little bit,” she says, dropping every ‘t’ in the preceding sentence, perhaps to make her point, “because I wasn’t brought up posh at all. Thanks to my name, I’ve had that my whole life.”

The only real hint of poshness comes from her paternal great great grandfather, Sir Herbert Huntington-Whiteley, who was a politician. The eldest of three children, Rosie’s father is a chartered surveyor and her mother is a fitness instructor. Summer holidays were spent in Cornwall. “My parents didn’t really have the money to travel so it was soggy sandwiches on camping sites for most of my childhood.”

She describes herself as “quite shy, maybe a bit of an introvert” — at least as a child. “I’m not a loner but I’ve always been comfortable being on my own. I’m in my head a lot. I was the type of kid who would go sit up in the field by myself for ages, contemplating life and planning a way to get out of Devon.”

At 15 she cracked it. Interning at a London model agency before taking her GCSEs, she was signed when she turned 16. At first she tried to juggle modelling with her schoolwork but found it overwhelming. “I remember going to my mum and saying ‘I have to choose, I can’t do both’ and my mum just looked at me and said ‘We support you either way but this opportunity might not be there in a year — yet you can always come back to school’.”

Unusual parental advice, perhaps. “They’re supercool, my mum and dad, and very open minded… I wish I had finished school but at the same time maybe not finishing has kept me so driven because it’s made me realise I have to make something of this career.”

Her first modelling job was for a Levi’s jeans commercial. She made her catwalk debut alongside Naomi Campbell in spring 2004 and two years later was signed to Victoria’s Secret. But it wasn’t until 2008, when she replaced Agyness Deyn for Burberry, that she became widely known outside the fashion industry.

In March 2011 she had her first solo British Vogue cover. In 2012, after modelling for Marks and Spencer, she designed her own line of lingerie for them — it became the fastest-selling collection in the company’s history.

Recently she has also tried her hand at acting, taking the female lead in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) and soon to be seen in the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). “People go, ‘Oh she’s an actress now’ but no I’m not, I’m a model, that’s what I love. I got the opportunity to do one of the biggest movies of all time [Transformers] — what girl would say no?”

Her work for Marks and Spencer takes her back to the UK almost every month. “I feel very cemented in the UK with my work. I miss it a lot: the people, the culture, the humour. When I look into a British person’s face, I feel a connection to them that I don’t feel out here. You have an instant understanding of what they grew up watching on TV, you can crack a joke and know that person is going to get it.

“But the opportunity out here for my career is something you don’t necessarily get back home and I feel while you’re young and you’re not tied down, why not live somewhere else and enjoy it? England will always be there.”

She may not be tied down yet but earlier this year (indeed not long after the break-up article) there was a story that she and Statham, 46, were going to marry this summer. “People always say that. Sometimes I’m pregnant, sometimes we’re not together. Jason and I are very happy, we have a great relationship and most of what gets written about us, especially the negative, is a load of BS.”

They divide their time between a beach house in Malibu and their main home in the Hollywood Hills. “It’s a beautiful old house, Moroccan Spanish. I would love to have a view, but if you have a view, people have a view of you and I don’t really want to be photographed sunbathing topless by my pool.”

The house is in a gated community. “We used to live somewhere that wasn’t gated and we’d just get bombarded; you get followed home by paparazzi and the tour buses would go past every 20 minutes and point our house out. I’d be reversing my car out of the garage and everyone on the tour bus was watching me do it. So now we drive into our own sacred beautiful prison.”

She sighs resignedly: “I can only imagine how it must be for really famous people like Justin Bieber and the Kardashian girls, that’s a whole other stratosphere.”

She describes herself as far more settled in her life and career than she used to be. “I feel more confident in myself, I wouldn’t want to go back to my late teens and early twenties and all that angst… Each year I’m getting to know myself better: I understand my body, I understand myself as a woman, that’s incredible power.

“I like to make goals and I’ve managed to accomplish most of what I’ve visualised in life — except for wanting to be a huge popstar. But I know better than to chase the tail on something that is completely unrealistic.”

Instead, she says she would love to do more work for Unicef while continuing to build on her modelling career. “I’m a career girl. I love to work. I just turned 27 and I feel like the next ten years are a model’s prime.”

As published in The Times, May 24 2014

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