Twiggy: My family values

The original supermodel remembers growing up in north London, her close relationship with her parents, marriage and being a stepmum

I grew up as Lesley Hornby in a 1930s semi-detached house in Neasden, north-west London. My dad, Norman, was one of the first of his workmates to buy his own house. Everyone told him he was mad because they all rented then. He had a good job as a master carpenter. We certainly weren’t rich but I always had everything I needed. I had a very happy childhood. I had my mum, dad and my two older sisters and was probably a bit spoilt with love and affection. My mum’s dad lived with us towards the end of his life. I must have been three or four. He’s the only grandparent I vaguely remember – a big man with a big moustache.

My mum, Nell, was a factory worker way before I was born, but by the time I came along, she was at home. When I was five or six she had a part-time business with a couple of neighbours catering for children’s birthday parties, often for wealthy families. I can remember my dad bundling me into the car in my pyjamas to pick Mum up from parties.

I adored my dad. He was a really kind, loving, wonderful gentleman. On Sunday afternoons, especially in winter when I couldn’t play out, Dad and I would have a father and daughter afternoon. He’d make mini sandwiches as a treat and we would sit in the front room and, if it was cold, we’d light the fire. Then we’d play hangman or noughts and crosses. It was always just him and me. I was very much a daddy’s girl.

My dear mum and dad are not with us any more although my mum lived until she was 91. My dad was 81. The biggest qualities they instilled in me are to be kind, loyal, not to suffer fools gladly, and that family is really important.

My eldest sister, Shirley, is 15 years older than me so was almost like a second mum. She had her first son, Paul, when she was 18 so I grew up with him. I was very close to Viv, my middle sister, who is seven years older than me. She used to make her own clothes and was very stylish. She taught me to sew and probably ignited my love for fashion. My sisters are retired now but we’re all still close.

My life changed at 16 after the Daily Express featured a picture of me and called me “the face of 66”. Twiggy was born and the phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to book me. We were all quite shocked. That sort of thing didn’t happen to people in those days. My family coped with it brilliantly, even though I was only 16 and suddenly whizzing off round the world. My dad quite wisely said it was a chance of a lifetime and that if he stopped me, I may have ended up not liking him for it.

I got terribly homesick and cried myself to sleep most nights in the beginning. I’d always been with my mum and dad so it was a baptism of fire. When I had to go to Japan for the first time in 1967, I didn’t want to travel so far without them. I was coerced into going and it was a wonderful trip in the end but I had to grow up quite quickly.

I got married for the first time in 1978 [to the late actor Michael Whitney] and I had my daughter Carly the following year. I took time off because I just wanted to be a mum. Motherhood makes you a lot less selfish and helps put everything in perspective. Carly is 35 now. She’s a very talented artist and works for Stella McCartney as a print designer. She’s my best friend.

That marriage didn’t work out but I was very lucky in 1985 to meet my second husband, Leigh [Lawson, an actor and writer]. We’ve been married for 26 years. He makes me laugh. I make him laugh.And I’m very lucky because he doesn’t like sport. I became stepmum to Leigh’s son Jason but it wasn’t a difficult transition. He was such a sweet little boy. He was eight and Carly was six so she suddenly had a lovely big brother. They are as close now as any brother and sister.

Twiggy is featured in the 100th episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on Thursday (9 October) at 9pm on BBC1

Interview by Busola Evans

The GuardianTramp

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