Category Archives: Interviews

The Sunday Times: What Kate Did Next



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.)


Meet The Instaboyz: The Sunday Times Magazine feature


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.


Zoella, The Plot Thickens: Sunday Times news feature


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?


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.



Esther McVey Interview: Sunday Times Style



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.


Totally Pointless. The Youtubers. Sunday Times Magazine feature


Alfie and Joe are messing around. They’ve taken a stack of tin cans, removed the labels, and now they’re daring each other to eat the unknown contents at random by picking numbers out of a bowl. Potential dishes include custard, tuna, mushrooms, raspberry pudding and cat food. According to the rules of the challenge, if they can’t brave eating it, they have to apply the contents to their face. They’ve got a grey, plastic bucket ready, just in case.

Alfie goes first, peeling open a can of pilchards that smells so bad Joe starts to gag. Joe is next, opening the cake can, which he eats so smugly he spills a splodge down his T-shirt. Next, Alfie gets tuna, and an ecstatic Joe does a little dance, pulling off his shirt. Joe gets custard, then fruit salad. He jumps around, tauntingly singing “meow, meow”, until Alfie opens the last can.

NO! It’s the cat food. “Urgh! It’s got jelly in it!” Alfie looks as though he’s going to be sick. Joe gets a Sainsbury’s carrier bag ready. Alfie bites, goes red-faced, tries to chew, but instead half-vomits the cat mush into the bag. “What am I doing with my life?” he squawks. Good question. Still, the eight-minute video has, at the time of writing, been watched 3.7m times.

If you haven’t heard of Alfie Deyes, then you are old. Simple. His core fans are aged 13 to 17. He has assumed a position in modern youth culture previously held by members of boy bands and young Hollywood heart-throbs. Except, unlike them, he can’t sing or act. Unlike them, too, most parents don’t have a clue who he is; probably because we live in an era where kids don’t watch TV in the living room, but sit in their bedrooms on their iPads. And so they found Alfie, an unthreateningly good-looking 21-year-old from Brighton, who posts silly videos on YouTube, and he has become a celebrity to them.



Make Mine A Becks. David Beckham Interview. Sunday Times Style.


And then he kissed me. His bristles were tickly sharp on my cheek, his body warm. He smelt amazing: a rich woody musk. And I thought: “I have reached the zenith of my career, and life. I have been kissed by David Beckham.”

Go on, admit it, you’ve thought about it. Even sensible, adult woman not normally smitten by idiotic celebrity crushes fancy David Beckham. Even women who don’t fall for people just because they look good in pants, who have no interest in football or Hello! magazine. Even heterosexual men. David, Beckham, Becks, Goldenballs (as Victoria infamously calls him) has got cross-gender, cross-sexuality, cross-country sex appeal. I think he might be our greatest British export; he’s certainly done better than Piers Morgan. Did I want to fly to Scotland and meet him? Of course I did.









Edinburgh is miserable, all lashing rain and blackened Georgian buildings, like someone’s taken Bath and submerged it in smog. We head to The Kitchin, a restaurant recommended by Gordon Ramsay, who was up here last night with Victoria (she flew up separately — they always travel apart when not with the children, presumably for security reasons).

This weekend we are celebrating Beckham’s new whisky: Haig Club. He has never promoted a spirit before. For more than 20 years alcohol brands begged and, I assume, offered top dollar, but he couldn’t (or felt he couldn’t) because he was a professional sportsman. Now he’s retired, he’s free to get drunk.

We hover, drinking cocktails made from Haig Club, with a nervous pre-date energy, waiting for him to arrive. Suddenly, a man with something in his ear appears and restaurant staff start stalking the door, like dogs waiting for their owner to come home. David Beckham is here. He shakes hands with everyone. “Hi, I’m David,” he says.









Jesus H, he is good-looking. Perfect proportions, square shoulders, not quite as tall as I had imagined. Teeth white (but not Hollywood perfect), hair slicked back (a bit too far at the temples), grinning cheekily so his eyes crease at the edges; smiling like a man who knows that you know he knows you fancy him. Less moody than on billboards, if a little older. But then he is almost 40 now.

He’s exceptionally dapper, of course — he’s David Beckham, the man who single-sarongedly invented metrosexuality, who made it acceptable for men to care about hair. “They said it was casual tonight, but it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant and Tom’s cooking for us especially, so I had to wear a jacket and tie,” he laughs. And I think, “Oh, isn’t he charming?” The other men are wearing open-collar shirts.


Dynamo – Now That’s Magic. (Sunday Times Magazine feature)



Londoners Stunned As Magician Walks On Water



A gaggle of tourists near Big Ben starts pointing. Small groups form on Westminster Bridge as passersby stop to see what’s causing the commotion. Before long, the crowd has thickened so much that people are hustling to find a space; they spill into the road from the pavement, their hands clasped over their mouths, their eyes cartoonishly bulging.

Frantically, they all start snapping away on their camera-phones, desperate for photographic proof of what they are seeing: a boy in the Thames, in the water, wearing a red jacket. But he is not drowning; instead he’s walking on the waves. The crowd calls out to him. Some capture the moment on video, so they can upload it to YouTube later. One of the clips is captioned “God in Disguise”.

Magic is an emotion; it’s the feeling you get when you witness something you can’t explain. That’s what the magician Dynamo thinks. “Like when your first child is born, or you score a goal,” he burrs in his soft Yorkshire accent. Or the feeling you get at that point in the day when the sun’s turned everything golden, and you see a boy, arms outstretched, walking on sparkling water. Magic, thinks Dynamo, is not a science, it is an art. A tool he uses to evoke a feeling.

There are three reasons why you are likely to have heard of the illusionist. The first is his epic, miraculous stunts. In 2012, a year after he walked on water in London, he strolled vertically down the side of the art deco headquarters of the Los Angeles Times, as pedestrians gawped up at him. In 2013 he circled London hanging off the top of a 15ft-high double-decker bus, with just his outstretched right arm holding him up. This September, he floated 1,016ft in the sky over the Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper.

The second reason you might know him is because he has a huge celebrity following: Lindsay Lohan, Samuel L Jackson, Chris Martin, Will Smith and Pharrell Williams are among his fans. He’s performed for Rihanna, levitated Matt Lucas, and Cristiano Ronaldo flew him to Madrid to perform at his birthday party. And the third reason is that he has set himself apart from the traditional magician. Dynamo is a street illusionist who looks like a normal kid in a hoodie rather than a pantomime warlock in a tux and top hat. He uses rappers and DJs in his act and performs his tricks in shopping centres and council estates, while body-popping to beats.

With 2.2m Twitter devotees and 4.1m Facebook fans, he is now the most followed magician in the world. His Bafta-nominated television series, Magician Impossible, airs in 187 countries to an audience of 250m. It’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary of sorts, which follows him as he wows celebrities and performs illusions for kids in the street, leaving them gasping with astonishment.




Dynamo is late for our interview, lost. He’s been driving his Mercedes G Wagon aimlessly around south London, so by the time he arrives he’s 40 minutes behind schedule. Which somehow allays my fears that he’ll be a telepathic super-genius who’ll be able to read my mind and predict all my questions.

He is tiny, much smaller than I expected. A slight, boyish figure (although he is 31), with dark scruffy hair, a pallid face and dark circles under intense turquoise eyes. He is wearing a hoodie, as is his way, although it’s a look he insists isn’t contrived. He just “couldn’t afford to get a nice fancy suit” when he started out. “We lived in Bradford and I didn’t have much money.” Now he’s loaded, he still wears a tracksuit — even if this one is by Dior. “Now I’ve got a bit of money, I’ve been trying to build up a wardrobe,” he shrugs shyly. “To be honest, when you grow up as a kid on an estate all you aspire to is owning a pair of sick trainers.”

Dynamo was seven when he saw his first magic trick. His great-grandad (who he called “Grandad”) showed him two matchboxes: one containing red matches, the other green. He got Dynamo — then still plain old Steven Frayne — to mix up the matches so the boxes each contained both colours. Then his grandfather snapped his fingers, magically, and when Steven opened the boxes the colours had separated themselves again. “I still don’t know how he did it,” says Dynamo, grinning. Somehow, I doubt that.