In the Kensington branch of The Ivy, Poppy Delevingne and I are checking each other’s teeth for asparagus. I’ve ordered the vegetable risotto and the 31-year-old model — an ambassador for Chanel and the London Fashion Council, sometime party girl and sister of Cara — is way too nicely brought up and English to let me eat alone.
We are meant to be discussing her role in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and whether she is jealous of crayzee Cara’s success. Not to mention what it’s like being part of one of London’s best-connected clans, which includes her late maternal grandfather, Jocelyn Stevens, publisher of Queen magazine and chairman of what was then English Heritage; her grandmother Jane Sheffield, lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret; her philanthropist step-grandmother, Dame Vivien Duffield; and her mother, Pandora, who was a personal shopper at Selfridges and a heroin addict in her youth, and struggled with depression and medication dependency after her three daughters were born.
I also want to know what married life is like for Delevingne with her husband James Cook, after nine years together and a 2014 wedding in London and Marrakech. Oh and I want to ask about those photos — the ones that showed her and a worse-for-wear David Beckham stumbling out of a Hollywood club in February.
But for the moment she’s too busy tucking into her risotto. ‘I’m a pig,’ she says, with a big, guileless grin. ‘It’s annoying too, because I’m a beanpole. No one will ever believe someone thin is a foodie, but I am.’ Later she says she is ‘a bull, and fiercely loyal’, a reference to her star sign, Taurus, represented by a tattoo on her nape, just below a heart that Cara apparently drew. ‘Helped with,’ Delevingne corrects me: she may love her little sister but she isn’t daft enough to let her loose with a needle on her neck.
Later, she says she is ‘basically a giraffe, I have never in my life been told to lose weight’, in response to my question about whether she has experienced the brutal side of the industry since she was scouted at 15 by Sarah Doukas of Storm Models. ‘I was lucky and never really encountered any trouble,’ she adds, although the constant rejection at castings is tough, ‘and it’s not once a week, it’s five times a day. That builds up, it begins to grate on you.’ But that, she says, is balanced by meeting wonderful, creative people, such as Karl Lagerfeld, who made her wedding dress.
Personally, I’m seeing Delevingne more as a unicorn, singular and admired, trotting through life unmarked by mean emotions or misfortune. Although she claims to be clumsy, she always seems to fall on her feet. In her early 20s she shared a flat in New York with Sienna Miller. ‘Sienna is someone who always wants to help you find your way and she was always like, “You need to be acting, you need to be doing comedy” — always truly very supportive and loving and nurturing. And she makes the meanest risotto, probably the best in the world.’
Delevingne is untouched by envy of her (very slightly) older sister Chloe, also 31, a sometime fashion buyer, party organiser and married mother of two; or of Cara, 24, who she introduced to Storm and whose career as both a model and actress has somewhat outstripped her own. ‘I am not jealous of her, unfortunately for you,’ says Delevingne, who lived in the basement flat of her family’s home with Cara until her own marriage. ‘I always knew she was going to be something special, since she was a child. She knew the words to every song, the routine to every dance. She was a little actress, we’d bring her out to do a performance after lunch and she was just the apple of all of our eyes.’
Cara has spoken about her own teenage problems with dyspraxia, depression and self-confidence, which might not make modelling seem like the most sensible career, but Delevingne was sure Storm would look after her little sister. ‘As soon as she got Burberry, it was written in the stars for her and I am proud of her every day.’ Cara not only won further campaigns for Chanel, Tom Ford, La Perla and Tag Heuer, she also scored decent parts in the films Paper Towns, The Face of an Angel and Suicide Squad.
‘As regards acting, we are lucky we are quite far apart in age,’ says Delevingne. ‘Six years is quite a jump. We are very different. We have a different look. At least we are not a year apart and competing for the same roles. She has been so supportive. In terms of the acting she has taken a big sister role.’ The morning we meet, a tabloid reports that Cara is back with her ex-girlfriend, the singer St Vincent, from whom she split last year. ‘I can’t go there,’ says Delevingne, firmly but sweetly, raising a slim hand in a girl-scout salute. ‘Sisters’ code of honour!’
Despite her mother’s mental-health problems during their childhood — which Pandora herself has been open about — ‘we did really have a happy childhood. If anything it made me understand things like depression or addiction better. That’s the only thing I took away from it: a deeper understanding that those things are diseases.’ Delevingne’s parents (her father, Charles, is a Belgravia-based property developer) have been married for more than 35 years. They ‘are both forces of nature. My mum is quite a shy person, very gentle and very loving, with the biggest heart ever. She always taught me I could wear what I like as long as it made me happy. She was always, like, “Be wild, be bonkers, be louche, it doesn’t matter”. So she taught us to be ourselves. And my dad has tremendous amounts of courage and patience. When I was modelling he always saw me at my worst. He’d be like, “Another day on the battleground darling? Perseverance darling!”’
Poppy Delevingne – In pictures
She knows it was a blessed upbringing, with access to international travel, high culture and visits to Princess Margaret at Kensington Palace. ‘No one compares to Princess Margaret. To me she was a real live princess and when you are a little girl it doesn’t get much better than that. I thought she was sensational.’ But deep down the Delevingnes are an ordinary family who ‘sit on the sofa, bicker and laugh and argue over whether we watch Broadchurch or Miss Marple, or throw the Monopoly board across the room.’
So there’s apparently not been much unhappiness in Delevingne’s life and nary a breath of scandal either until those pictures of a squiffy-looking Beckham helping her into a car in West Hollywood in February. To be fair, Cara and countless others were at the party too. But the fact it happened on Delevingne’s husband’s birthday, and that she later Instagrammed him a gooey greeting (‘HaPpY bIrThDaY to you, my husband, my true blue, my forever boy…’) caused some tongues to wag. The truth is prosaic, according to Delevingne: she’s known Beckham slightly for years, through a mutual friend, Dave Gardner, who is Liv Tyler’s fiancé.
About the only real cloud to cross Delevingne’s horizon recently came when she shot a video for Tory Burch’s clothing line in which she and two other white girls emulated a viral dance routine to the song that inspired it, Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion McCall’s ‘Juju on That Beat’. Since both the song and the dance were created by black artists, Burch was accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ and the video was withdrawn. ‘I was a girl that got hired to do a job,’ Delevingne says. ‘I didn’t have a say in who got cast, what we danced to, what routine we did. When you are a model, all those things are out of your control. You don’t really have a voice and that can be quite suffocating and frustrating.’
At 31 she wants to scale back the modelling in favour of acting — although she hopes to keep her ambassadorial role for Chanel. In Ritchie’s film, a knockabout mockney reboot of the Camelot legend, she is ‘an ethereal queen’, the mother of Charlie Hunnam’s hipster hunk Arthur, seen mostly in sorrowful flashbacks. ‘I get harpooned in the first 10 minutes,’ she smiles. ‘I haven’t counted my lines, it’s probably six or seven, tops.’ At least the person doing the harpooning was Jude Law, whom she knew from his days with Sienna Miller, and who made her feel at home. Ritchie was ‘jovial, but ever the professional’. He laughed at her overacting on the first take but in the end she felt ‘I died quite reasonably’.
She’s also in Matthew Vaughn’s forthcoming Kingsman sequel The Golden Circle. ‘I’m a baddie, which is such fun, a naughty, out-there, wild spy,’ she says. Does she last longer in this one? ‘Not much. I’ve got to stop dying!’ After our lunch, she is flying straight to LA where she has an acting coach and attends castings.
Poppy Delevingne: ES Magazine Cover Shoot – in pictures
She says she’s knocked her party habit on the head. ‘I will always love the pub — I am a pints girl — but strapping on eight-inch heels and going to a nightclub fills me with dread. And acting is a whole new ball game in terms of being hungover: you just can’t do it.’ She still enjoys ‘dancing uncontrollably, flapping my hands around’; that, along with SoulCycle, Pilates and running help her work off a propensity for anxiety. ‘Actually, I hate that word and my husband will kill me for using it,’ she corrects herself. ‘I am more of a worrier. I worry about people, about the world, life generally.’ Cara, by contrast, is ‘a hustler. She sets her sights on something and she goes and gets it.’
Being married, Delevingne says, ‘is such a nice feeling, knowing you have got someone who is always on your side’. She slightly cringes at the memory of her lavish wedding and says that on the three-day Marrakech leg, she only changed outfits three times, actually — not the reported 75, which was a joke. Today, she and Cook divide their time between their house in Cranleigh (where he grew up and works for his family’s aerospace engine company, ATC Holdings) and Ravenscourt Park.
She would like children, but they already have two nieces, one nephew and 14 godchildren between them, and she is in no rush. ‘You know when you have a roast dinner?’ she says. ‘My favourite bit of a roast dinner is the potatoes and gravy. So what I do is I eat around them and save them till last, because that’s the best bit. And that’s kind of how I feel about having children.’ And first, she wants to give acting a proper crack, in a film where she doesn’t die, ideally in a role where she wouldn’t be the pretty, thin, blonde girl. ‘I want to be cemented in that, before I take my roast potato step.’ And with that last improbable image, she heads off to LA. Good luck to her.
‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is released on 19 May
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