Category Archives: Interviews

The Sunday Times: Interview: Tom Hardy

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I wanted to like Tom Hardy. Who wouldn’t? He is a proper British megastar, on the cusp of nailing Hollywood, with the box-office draw and versatility to be our DiCaprio, Cruise or Travolta. He is magnetic on screen, with a rare ability to combine masculinity with vulnerability. He is Derek Jacobi in Jason Statham’s body. As a result, he makes cartoonish characters such as Mad Max and the super-villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises compelling and lends heinous men such as Charles Bronson and the Kray twins humanity. It is a credit to his ability to shape-shift that he is soon to star in an array of biopics, playing the war photographer Don McCullin, the explorer Ernest Shackleton and Elton John. It’s hard to think of another actor who could manage all three. So, I admire him as an artist. My boyfriend is in love with him. And everyone I know fancies him.

I did wonder if, in real life, Hardy might be … difficult. One interviewer suggested that “interviewing Tom Hardy is not an entirely comfortable experience … One cannot help being slightly wary about what he might say or do next.” Another journalist claimed in a Twitter rant — after missing out on an interview — that he had “seen Tom Hardy make publicists cry”. There was an incredibly awkward interview on Jonathan Ross, when Ross screened footage of a 20-year-old Hardy winning a Big Breakfast modelling competition, and Hardy seemed so irritated that afterwards Ross anxiously told the audience: “He is genuinely pissed off with me.” Hardy later said he was just winding Ross up.

Apparently George Miller, wanting to cast him for Mad Max: Fury Road, was so worried that Hardy would be combative on set that he asked other directors for reassurance. And then there was that fight he had while filming Lawless with his co-star Shia LaBeouf. Besides all of which, Hardy himself has admitted: “I have a reputation for being difficult. And I am. I am, actually.” Fair enough. Perhaps the qualities that make someone a great actor — an ability to dig deep into their guts and wrench out their soul on screen — are the same qualities that, in person, might make someone prickly.

When Hardy arrives, however, he is lovely. We meet in Richmond, at a posh boutique hotel on the banks of the Thames. He tells me they do a fantastic afternoon tea. Perhaps, at 39, he has relaxed. He lives nearby, as does his dad, Edward “Chips” Hardy, a writer, and his mum, Anne, an artist — they raised him just two miles away in East Sheen. I’m meeting both Tom and Chips today, because together they have created a drama, Taboo, the first episode of which aired on BBC1 last night.

Taboo took nine years from conception to completion. The Hardys are enamoured of it — as if it were a child they have brought into the world. And they should be proud: it’s wonderful. Set in 1813 London, Taboo tells the story of James Delaney, an adventurer and outsider who returns from Africa to build an empire after his father’s death. Chips wrote the treatment for it, the Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight did the script, Sir Ridley Scott produced it and Tom stars in it. The sets are as rich as you’d expect from a BBC costume drama, but it’s not stuffy. Instead, it plays on explosive themes: death, the occult, incest and revolution. Scott has claimed that Hardy’s character, Delaney, “will become iconic”.

Chips arrives first. He looks like AC Grayling in Steve Jobs’s wardrobe: tall and wiry with long grey hair and silver glasses, wearing all black. He looks like what he is: a Cambridge-educated comedy writer, straight enough to have worked as an advertising executive, but hip enough to tell me he spent the 1960s smoking weed. He’s not the kind of dad I’d assumed Hardy would have, but I like him immediately. He folds himself into a chair, orders coffee and starts chatting about Zac Goldsmith, who has just become his former MP after losing the Richmond Park by-election — something Chips doesn’t seem particularly sad about.

By contrast Tom arrives late, in a red puffer jacket, looking like a lumbersexual. He’s bearded and scruffy in cargo pants and a black T-shirt, showing off tattooed guns. I can report that he is even better looking in real life than on screen. And has the same laddish, cocky-but-fun demeanour he had in those MySpace pictures that emerged of him posing in his underpants a decade ago. “I’m starving!” he announces, straddling a pouf. “I’ll get the turkey and chestnuts — let’s have a proper Christmas lunch … We’ve got to have the hats — we need hats!” Chips orders a vegetarian risotto.

Superficially, father and son seem to be opposites. One wiry professor; the other tattooed jock. The way they speak is different, too — Chips’s eloquent tones at odds with Tom’s confused accent: part posh west London, part Danny Dyer. They are aware of how they come across. “I paint with my fingers, like potatoes,” Tom says. “And I read Modiano,” Chips jokes.

 

Read the full interview at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/before-25-i-dont-remember-anything-i-used-to-be-a-drinker-a-proper-one-tom-hardy-hell-raiser-turned-bafta-winning-actor-r08mxdzl0

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The Sunday Times Interview: Susan Sarandon, actress

“There is nothing about Hillary Clinton I find feminist, except that she’s a woman”

Susan Sarandon arrived last night from LA. Is she exhausted? “I’m surprisingly all right,” she grins. She looks damn good for 69. Relaxed, too. Her hair, loosely up in messy ringlets, seems more strawberry blonde than red-carpet red. She is dressed casually in a loose, pink, sequined kaftan top, which she pulls at, complaining: “I am at my fattest.” Still, she digs into the bread basket and declares she’s hungry. “Let’s get oysters!”

I confess, I am slightly disappointed. I had hoped to meet Sarandon at her purringly seductive best. After all, she was the sexiest feminist icon ever in Thelma & Louise — and 25 years later she is a siren still: tweeting pictures of herself comparing cleavage size with Salma Hayek at this year’s Cannes and stealing the red carpet from stars 40 years younger by turning up in a plunging tuxedo dress (her “double-breasted look”). In 1975 she played Janet (dammit) in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, where she seduced Frank-N-Furter and Rocky Horror in one night. In real life, she had a three-year fling with David Bowie in the mid-1980s after they met on the set of The Hunger. For years Playboy begged her to pose, offering ever more cash. Now she says she regrets not finding a way to do it, on her own terms, in a way “that wasn’t dehumanising or objectifying”. She did offer to pose naked while pregnant, but it wasn’t interested. Now she can’t do it “because I have two grown-up sons”.

Today, though, I might not have recognised her walking into Claridge’s. Unlike celebrities who travel with an entourage while wearing giant Prada sunglasses and complaining about paparazzi, Sarandon avoids starry fuss. In Hollywood, she claims, she is “kind of an outsider”, and chooses to live in New York because “if I was isolated behind gates in Beverly Hills, I wonder if I would be able to maintain my connection to the bigger picture”. That is important to her.

The day we meet, Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination. Sarandon, who has been campaigning fervently for Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s rival, is unimpressed. “She could be indicted,” she says of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server to send classified information. “She’s lied and she’s broken the law.” Even off the red-eye with no sleep, she can’t wait to sink her teeth in.

I would have thought a famously liberal feminist like Sarandon would relish the prospect of America’s first female president, but no. “I don’t vote with my vagina,” she retorts. Besides, in her view, Clinton is no sister: “There is nothing about her I find feminist, except that she’s a woman. She doesn’t support basic things that would help women.” She continues railing in this vein, firing partisan allegations about everything from Clinton’s alleged lack of support for a $15 minimum wage and universal healthcare to her willingness to send back some undocumented child refugees.

Her gripes against Hillary are so numerous, I could write about nothing else. “She’s a hawk and she’ll probably get us into another war — she’s been desperate to get us into it with Russia and Iran.” As Sarandon warms to her theme, she reels off the charges: “She won’t release the transcripts of all her speeches to Goldman Sachs … She was the last one out for gay rights … Monsanto … Honduras … Libya. Across the board, everything she stands for is wrong.”

So what is the alternative? Sarandon has provocatively suggested people might vote for Trump over Clinton just to watch the system implode. “Some people feel Trump will bring the revolution immediately,” she has said. She has since seen the light, admitting that, rather than voting for Trump, she’ll abstain or vote for Jill Stein, an independent candidate.

If she feels so strongly, would she ever run herself? “No! Absolutely not.” But Americans love a celebrity politician: look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California. “No, you can’t make a difference, it’s much better to be outside.” This seems to be a recurring theme with her.

She is easy to be with, and relaxed in the way people are who are totally comfortable in themselves, which you’d expect from a woman who has always been authentically herself, long before being so was a thing. Unpretentious, she is not afraid to speak her mind, even about her own industry. She recently called out Woody Allen as a paedophile, in the light of renewed allegations that he abused his adopted daughter: “I think he sexually assaulted a child and I don’t think that is right.”

She has been outspoken since high school, when she was arrested at protests for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Since then she has sparked controversy with her support for gun control and LGBT rights, as well as speaking out against sex trafficking, the death penalty and human-rights violations. This is not just luvvie talk — she went to Lesbos recently to work with refugees: “The worst humanitarian crisis I have seen.”

AVAILABLE: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-interview-susan-sarandon-actress-6vvp593c2 

Image: MAARTEN DE BOER/GETTY

The Sunday Times Magazine: Girls Uninterrupted

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I’ve never been to a lesbian orgy before, so I wasn’t sure what to wear. My dungarees were in the wash and I’d just waxed my legs. Lucky, then, that Skirt Club, “an underground community for girls who play with girls”, is above such sapphic clichés. Instead it promised a night that would be “dark and decadent”, referencing 1920s Berlin.

“I’m going to a lezzer orgy!” I texted my friends. A few hours later I was surrounded by women in Coco de Mer knickers, feather capes, designer leather dresses and sheer kimonos — a scene worthy of Eyes Wide Shut unfolding in Notting Hill. Women licked tequila shots from each other’s taut torsos. They kissed in groups of two, three and four, then disappeared behind Chinese screens into candlelit rooms laid with sheepskin rugs, so you could only see their entwined silhouettes.

Skirt Club fills a new niche for young, single, financially independent and curious women at a time when female sexuality is changing. Increasingly, high-profile women aren’t “coming out”, as Ellen DeGeneres once did (in 1997, on the cover of Time magazine), but taking a more relaxed approach to defining their sexuality.

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The supermodel of the moment Cara Delevingne, currently dating the singer Annie Clark, says she believes in “gender fluidity”, coyly tweeting that she “plays for more than one team”. The actress Evan Rachel Wood — once married to the actor Jamie Bell — says she has fallen in love with men and women. “I don’t know how you label that, it’s just how it is.” And the actress Kristen Stewart, once engaged to Robert Pattinson but who then dated her female PA, Alicia Cargil, doesn’t feel the need for labels: “In three or four years, there are going to be a lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight. It’s, like, just do your thing.” Last year, even yours truly — having always been into boys — started dating a woman. I didn’t feel the need to call myself a lesbian. It was what it was. Now I’m back to dating a boy.

There is an emerging group of women like me resisting boring labels. Not calling ourselves gay, bisexual or straight, but feeling more sexually fluid. We’re on a spectrum where terms such as pansexual, polysexual and hetero-flexible come closer to what we do in bed. In a YouGov survey this year, almost half of British people aged 18-24 said they did not consider themselves exclusively straight or gay, and in the past decade there has been a fourfold increase in the number of sexual encounters women are having with other women.

Why is this happening? Why now? Some might wonder if it is down to the influence of technology — apps such as Scissr (Grindr for gay girls), Her and Tinder making sexual experimentation easier — opening up the pool of people you can meet and allowing you to do this privately from the palm of your hand. Perhaps it reflects more liberal attitudes? Or a fad? Perhaps it relates to feminism going mainstream and encouraging women to be less shy about getting what they want. Perhaps it’s girls giving up on pornified men. I hitched up my stockings and went to Skirt Club to find out.

Skirt Club would not call itself a lesbian orgy. It is far more discerning. Members, “intellectually minded” professionals aged 18-39, apply to a “strict committee”, enclosing photographs. “We’ve had men try to come,” the founder, Geneviève LeJeune, says, “but they’re banned.” LeJeune suggests there is “a trend for women calling out for what we want sexually”. She notes that most of her members identify as straight. “It’s not a club for lesbians but for bi-curious, bisexual and heterosexual women to explore. It doesn’t mean they’re gay. Skirt Club is a place they can have a one-off wild night.”

You have to get there, of course. Even if you take a taxi from your house straight to Skirt Club, you need to get from your front door to the car dressed in hooker heels and fishnets, without bumping into the neighbours while they’re putting out the bins. Then, once the cab drops you off, you’re left wandering the streets looking for a “secret door”, too embarrassed to ask anyone for directions.

The location is classy for an orgy, not the usual sleazy swingers setting — in the suburbs or at someone’s idea of a posh hotel — but a five-storey townhouse in Notting Hill. I watch as a slim Chinese girl in patent black heels buzzes her way through a door, and follow her in. A pretty brunette hostess, wearing a black silk corset, suspenders and peacock-feather collar, is waiting. She fastens an antique key on a black ribbon around my wrist, so other members would know I was a “Skirt Club virgin”.

The bar is a makeshift in someone’s kitchen. In fact, the whole house is pretty homely, with sofas, bookshelves and Ikea art. This is always the problem with orgies. You picture a scene in the catacombs of Notre-Dame and end up in a bungalow in Rottingdean (you can count on the English to suburbanise even group sex).

READ THE FULL FEATURE HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1629221.ece

The Sunday Times: What Kate Did Next

 

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The most predictable thing about Kate Moss is that she likes to surprise people. Since she first appeared photographed in her pants in a fairy-lit bedsit, a heroin-chic waif in an era of glamazon supermodels, she has broken the mould. So it is fitting that now, aged 41, when we might expect her to start growing old gracefully — and it seemed that she might with her move to interior designing — instead she has installed a young man in her basement.

Just four years after she whirled up the aisle in a cloud of Galliano chiffon to marry the rock guitarist Jamie Hince, the union has been evaporating into rumours of rows and claims that they haven’t been seen together since April. Instead the elfin, model-pretty 28-year-oldCount Nikolai von Bismarck has been spotted sneaking into Moss’s London home.

He accompanied her to the opening of Richard Caring’s Sexy Fish restaurant in Berkeley Square last week and was snapped having lunch with Moss’s friends Sadie Frost and Meg Mathews two weeks ago in a pub near Moss’s Gloucestershire home.

“A lot of people know Kate has been seeing a lot of Nikolai, but she’s never been this open,” a source told The Sun on Sunday. “Their relationship is pretty intense and he has been virtually living at her London home, but has been staying in the basement quite a lot.” (Allegedly so that Kate’s staff and 13-year-old daughter Lila Grace didn’t spot him.)

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/newsreview/features/article1623241.ece

Meet The Instaboyz: The Sunday Times Magazine feature

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The two men behind Instagram do not have shares in Kim Kardashian’s ass. Or in any other part of the world’s most famous Instagrammer. “Not at all!” they protest, when I ask. Oh, come on! They shake their heads some more. They must, at least, have a favourite picture of their best customer?

“I think you’re talking to the wrong guys,” Kevin Systrom replies. But he does admit: “Kim and I did once get a selfie together.”

I can’t think of Instagram without thinking of Kardashian. The American reality-TV star has raised the selfie to an art form, invented belfies (bum selfies), and her family has so successfully taken over the social networking photo site that she and her sisters — Kendall, Khloé, Kylie and Kourtney — are all in the world’s top 11 most popular Instagram users. Still, you get the impression that Systrom and Mike Krieger, the guys who invented the photo-sharing service, wish she wasn’t the first thing Instagram brought to mind.

I meet Systrom and Krieger at Instagram’s offices in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley. Facebook bought Instagram for $1bn in 2012, so it now has an office on the social networking giant’s campus. It looks like an adult Disneyland, with a cupcake shop, a bike-repair place, a dry cleaner’s, a Mexican restaurant, a barbecue restaurant and a mini In-N-Out Burger. The vibe is cool enough for them to be playing the Killers in the canteen, but the army of geeks working there are dressed in normcore. I spot Sheryl Sandberg taking a walking meeting around the central quad they call Hacker Square. In one corner stands the firm’s founder Mark Zuckerberg’s glass-windowed office, where he can look out on his empire like a watchman in a panopticon.

Instagram’s own digs have the standing desks and beanbags you would expect in any West Coast tech company, as well as an anti-gravity-simulating photo booth, where furniture hangs upside down from the ceiling, and a giant camera piñata that you don’t. On the walls are pictures of some of the team’s favourite Instagram posts.

The company now has more than 200m monthly active users. Some 65m photographs are posted on the site each day. Its most popular users, Kardashian and the Canadian singer Justin Bieber, have more than 20m followers each, but it is as well known for its legions of hipster fans, posting nauseating gold-filtered feeds of their lives.

A recent article in the American online magazine Slate claimed that Instagram’s envy-inducing qualities made it the most depressing social media site. It has been accused of killing privacy, making us liars who edit our online lives (leaving the bad stuff out), censoring women and spreading terrorist propaganda. Still, love it or revile it, Instagram is ubiquitous. The San Francisco hotel I stay in has its own Instagram account; you can buy a “Keep Calm and Instagram” T-shirt; on the city streets I hear people saying, “Have you Instagrammed that?” It has joined the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook as the only Silicon Valley giants to become verbs.

But if you want to understand how Instagram was conceived, and the ambitions it held as a tiny start-up, you need to go back to where it began: a cafe called Farley’s in San Francisco. It’s where I’m sitting right now. In Potrero Hill, a quiet, pastel-painted suburb that is smarter than Haight-Ashbury but shares the same sweet smell of pot and hippie vibe. Outside, hipsters sit under red-flowering gumtrees drinking chai lattes. Inside, geeky boys — all boys — hunch over laptops, inventing apps. The setting is a gentrified juxtaposition of hippies and cash.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Magazine/article1487668.ece

Zoella, The Plot Thickens: Sunday Times news feature

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Pity the poor writer: a tragic loner hunched in a garret, dredging her soul for words few will bother to read. Is any novel worth the grief? Probably not, unless you are Zoe Sugg — aka Zoella — whose debut novel, Girl Online, became the fastest-selling book on record when it was published last week.

When Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein in 1818, so many publishing houses declined it that she resorted to begging a tiny outfit, Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mayor & Jones to print 500 copies. Booksellers bought about 25. Zoella owns more lipsticks than that.

James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected 22 times before 379 copies were printed. Joyce bought 120 of them. Barely 500 copies of Moby-Dick sold in Britain before Herman Melville’s death.

Yet at a time when reading is supposed to have died for a generation of yoof with the attention span of a goldfish using txtspk, Zoella — who makes video blogs (vlogs) and is best known for reviewing mascaras on YouTube — has become a publishing triumph.

The 24-year-old, who posts YouTube videos known for their not-so-witty catchphrase “Hello, everybody!”, has outsold JK Rowling and Dan Brown. Girl Online shifted more than 78,000 copies last week in Britain. Upon hearing the news, the young writer tweeted: “Holy crap!!! WHAAAAAAAAAAT. This is insane.”

Who is this literary mastermind? How has a girl from Brighton who has previously been derided as “vain and inane”, “beige” and “human vanilla” become a modern literary sensation?

Has she, as some in the publishing world have suggested, become a record-breaking author without doing the hunched loner bit and actually writing the book?

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In Girl Online’s acknowledgements, Zoe thanks “everyone at Penguin for helping me put together my first novel, especially Amy Alward [an editorial director at Puffin] and Siobhan Curham who were with me every step of the way”. Did Penguin offer Curham, a young-adult author, the same deal to ghostwrite Zoella’s book? “Penguin does not disclose author advances/ fees/salaries or contracts,” the publishing house said.

 

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/focus/article1492699.ece

Esther McVey Interview: Sunday Times Style

 

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Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for employment, is to me what Margaret Thatcher is to her: a politician whose politics I don’t like, but a woman whose career I admire. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, then, before we met, I don’t think I would have even given her that.

To see McVey flicking her sleek blonde blow-dry on television is to suspect she is a former GMTV presenter (which she is) looking for something to do post-40. Watching her sashay into the office in a split-thigh Whistles dress, one wonders if she is more interested in her outfit than her job. And yet, having met her, I could kick myself for making such lazy assumptions, because she is bright, sharp, funny, inspiringly ambitious and focused on her job. Although she will probably hate me saying so, she has an air of the pussy-bowed one about her.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/style/living/relationships/article1476337.ece