I wrote the cover feature of the October '10 issue of Vanidad in Spain - an interview piece with the model Lily Cole. Photos by Simon Harris, see magazine for full credits.
WW: So, Lily Cole, you’ve got a lot of strings to your bow – supermodel, actress, university student. Where is it you feel at your most comfortable?
LC: Where do I feel most comfortable? On holiday! [Laughs]
WW: [Laughs] Where did you go on holiday when you were younger? I used to want to go abroad but we always ended up in little country holiday homes …
LC: My family the same, it was always quaint cottages in the countryside.
WW: How about now though? You must get to see a lot more of the world with your work?
LC: I love the travelling aspect of my job; I’ve been to so many amazing places. Paris is probably my favourite city in the world!
WW: Do you prefer it to London then?
LC: That’s a tough one. I love Paris, but London is of course a wonderful place, and it’s my home too, so it would be impossible to choose really.
WW: So you’re still only 22-years-old and currently in your second year studying Art History at Cambridge. What interested you in going to university, despite already having forged a successful career in modelling?
LC: I was always interested in learning so I continued with my A levels, and then my Politics teacher persuaded me to apply to Cambridge. I got a place there to read Politics, and then I spent two years deliberating a bit. I felt like it was a unique opportunity to study lots and learn more so I ended up studying the Arts instead as that’s something that I really love and I’m so glad I did.
WW: And as a model did you ever feel there was a point to be made by doing the studying, or did that never really come into it? I guess with art you are still in the realm of aesthetics…
LC: Yeah, I was supposed to do Politics, though despite being very passionate about it, it’s heavy and pretty intense. I chose to switch courses because I love art and didn’t really know a lot about it, it was more of an interest and a curiosity at that point. Now I realise it seems very appropriate on a visual level because I do work in fashion, I love film and that’s a medium I’m really interested in right now. Even though we don’t actually do film studies within the course there seems a natural progression of film within the arts.
WW: On that note I heard you were working with Marilyn Manson on an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ inspired film, is that right?
LC: It is and it isn’t, in the sense that the film has been kind of up in the air to happen for the last three or so years. So hypothetically ‘yes’ but I don’t know if and when he will manage to get the production going on it…
WW: He almost seems like the godfather of all the gothic/ Gaga stuff going on at the moment doesn’t he? Are you a fan of his music?
LC: I don’t listen to his music a lot to be honest, some of his work I really do love though. I think he’s a fascinating person and human being in mind and creative spirit and so it was from that angle that I was really interested in working with him.
WW: It’s weird, I was talking to someone earlier about how youth tribes and how different I was when I was when I was younger compared to what I’m like now - were you ever a teenage goth? It’s ok to admit it Lily… [Laughs]
LC: [Laughs] I had a goth moment - everyone has that phase, most people do! I think it lasted a year or so, a year and a half. Marilyn Manson wasn’t a big part of it though; it was more pop-rock bands like Green Day and Linkin Park - the kind of stuff which was not as cool.
I did like the softness of the goths though - when you have all the different groups in school the goths were always quite sensitive and gentle. You didn’t feel like they were going to punch you in the face!
WW: And what was school like for you in your teens generally?
LC: It was OK. I think I enjoyed it in the kind of way kids enjoy school to some extent and then often don’t like it at the same time because it IS school! I went to an all-girl school from ages 11 to 16, and really enjoyed it. I had great friends there, we studied drama and art and all the creative subjects. After that I went to a private school which was a boy’s school with girls in it so it was completely different scene - but that was brilliant too as I had a really good group of friends, and did a lot of drama!
WW: So it wasn’t difficult going from an all-girl school to one with boys?
LC: It was good, I’d been so deprived! [Laughs] I needed the change, and there was like five boys to every girl! The balance felt great!
WW: Do you remember your first crush? I think mine was actually one of the Spice Girls!
LC: I had a crush on a teacher when I was about 8! I can’t remember what he taught, I think he was maybe a piano teacher but I think most girls get that sort of crush when they’re growing up…
WW: And do you think now that men find you intimidating now because of how successful you are?
LC: Well I'm not out to meet guys because I have a boyfriend but I wouldn't think so! I can't really comment because I've been with my boyfriend for a while now. He has his life and I have mine. I like that he's passionate about what he does and what I do - I don't think success should be intimidating though, it should be celebrated.
WW: With regards to the film role and speaking of childhood and so on - is the idea of fairy tales and magic something you’re into? For some reason I just get that impression from you…
LC: Yes definitely, I would never want to limit myself only to that though. I think all the films I love are very much based on reality even if they’re not non-fictional, but I also love Terry Gilliam too - his works are very fantastical and imaginative. That element in life is very important to my own, so I love bringing it into my work and art.
WW: How do you mean when you say “important in your own life”? Are you into spiritual books and concepts like that?
LC: I guess I mean in terms of believing in things beyond reality. Just… more esoteric kind of stuff!
WW: I see - do you get to explore these sort of ideas in your course and express this creative part of your soul then…
LC: Unfortunately not, it’s not in the course at all. But I do – I mean I do my own bits here and there but definitely not as much as I probably would like to or would be, if there was a facet for that in the department.
WW: So what kind of work is it that you do on you own?
LC: I draw, write, and I paint. I have no ambitions to be selling in a gallery – I just do it for myself really.
WW: What are you into painting? Is there a particular theme to your work?
LC: I don’t take it very seriously, it just depends when and how I’m feeling. I painted me and my boyfriend’s dogs recently - it’s my most recent work!
WW: What sort of writing do you like to do?
LC: I used to write stories, but now I’m studying I’ve been doing so much essay based writing, so I’ve been very busy with that. I’m trying to put some time towards it again though.
WW: And what kind of books do you like to actually read?
LC: Neville Cross is my favourite writer, and I love [J.D.] Salinger and [Truman] Capote.
WW: Ok so that’s books and films covered… I guess the inevitable next question is to ask what sort of music do you like?
LC: Very eclectic stuff – [gestures to CD player] I love Stevie Wonder. I also like a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. I seem to prefer old music and I tend to listen more to that rather than newer stuff. I’m a big fan of Bjork though, and I love Joanna Newsom’s music too.
I do enjoy Pop music – hearing Alicia Keys and Jay-Z when you’re in the right place is great, but for me, listening at home, it tends to be more old school or eclectic music.
WW: You’ve got so many interests and talents, where do you see yourself going in the future?
LC: I want to keep on modelling, continue doing the things that inspire me, and try out lots of new things too.
WW: Ok, and final question, you’re known as being so other worldly and elegant, do you ever just go to the supermarket in a tracksuit?
LC: [Laughs] Of course, sometimes I’ll just put on a tracksuit when I’m going out for the shopping – I’m sure there have been pictures!