Style Celebrity Features

Wednesday 28 September 2016

'I have ups and downs - but I don't carry anger' - Millie Mackintosh

Millie Mackintosh found fame on a reality show, married and divorced in full media glare - and now 1.2 million people follow her daily life on Instagram. But what you see on camera is far from the whole story

Elizabeth Day

Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30

Millie Mackintosh's clothing line has been a huge success for the former reality TV star.
Millie Mackintosh's clothing line has been a huge success for the former reality TV star.
Happier times: Millie Mackintosh with her former husband, rapper Professor Green, aka Stephen Manderson

Millie Mackintosh is in the process of telling me she isn't posh.

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"No!" she says firmly. "I'm not."

Really? But that accent: so proper, like a Mitford sister crossed with a radio announcer from the 1950s.

"Sometimes when I hear my voice on a recording or something I think, 'Oh God, I sound really posh,"' she admits. "But I don't generally feel like I am."

I suppose it doesn't help her case that she made her name on the reality TV series Made in Chelsea. She was on the show for five seasons from 2011 and was portrayed as one of those glossy, groomed trust-fund kids perpetually arriving at nightclubs in chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces and weeping over boys called Hugo or Spencer or Francis.

Millie, whose great-grandfather invented Quality Street, was introduced to audiences as an heiress -but she says it wasn't really like that all. Unlike some of her fellow cast members, she didn't inherit millions on her 21st birthday. Instead, she used Made in Chelsea as a platform from which to launch her eponymous clothing line on Asos (where, three years in, it is the biggest-selling brand after the site's own label), and is now, at 26, entirely self-sufficient.

"I invested my own money into setting it up," she says when we meet at a photo shoot in north London. "I own it, I model it and they're my designs. So I would say, yeah, I've kind of created my dream."

Along the way, Millie has reinvented herself as a social media style icon, posting daily Instagram snapshots to her 1.2 million followers, detailing everything from her workouts to her favourite swimsuits and home-made healthy recipes (a photo of her chia and quinoa loaf alone garnered 4,264 likes). She also brought out a range of false eyelashes, which she once said was the fulfilment of a "lifelong ambition".

The press, Millie says wearily, still has a tendency to use "the Made in Chelsea tag" and it's frustrating because "I'm really grateful I did the show… But I want to be seen and taken seriously as a businesswoman".

She certainly knows her stuff. She refers to her "brand" 13 times during our hour-long interview - approximately once every four minutes, which is quite an impressive feat when you think about it.

She says that looking back at old episodes of Made in Chelsea is "like watching yourself grow up on TV - I'm not that girl any more".

How does she think she's changed?

"I've kind of grown my brand," she replies, without missing a beat.

This is not to say she isn't lovely. She is sweet, polite company and smiles a lot. When I ask her which Quality Street she is most like, she says: "The purple one [with] the nut inside - I'm totally nutty, a nut job!"

She has turned up on time for the 9.30am shoot, having squeezed in a workout session first, and at one point offers to help by wheeling the stylist's suitcases across a cobbled street.

She is wearing high-waisted jeans, a battered pair of Sam Edelman boots, a black T-shirt, leather jacket and a gold necklace dotted with tiny stars. Her swept-up hair is still damp from the shower and her face appears bare of make-up. She is tanned from a recent trip to Monaco, where she posted pictures of yachts and sunsets.

I know this because, in the days prior to our meeting, the images have been splashed across most of the tabloids following news of her divorce. In February, she announced that her two-year marriage to the rapper Professor Green (real name Stephen Manderson) was over. Their relationship had been dogged by rumours of explosive rows and much was made of their different backgrounds - while Mackintosh is a privately-educated country girl, Manderson was born to a 16-year-old mother on a council estate, raised by his grandmother and endured the suicide of his father in 2008.

Does Millie think Britain has a problem with class?

"Yeah, I guess there is a big divide," she says. "The way I was brought up was to respect everybody - I wasn't brought up to think I was better than anyone else. Yes, I had a very privileged upbringing, but I've earned my own money and have been shown the value of that."

Their relationship was played out in the full glare of the public spotlight. In 2011, Professor Green saw Millie in underwear on the cover of the now-defunct magazine FHM. He asked his publicist for her number and they had their first date at London's most 'media' hangout, the Groucho Club.

He proposed just over a year later in France and Millie swiftly posted a snap of her diamond ring on Instagram. When they married at Babington House, Somerset, in September 2013, the newlyweds posted another flurry of photos, followed by regular snaps from various holidays and music festivals they went to as husband and wife.

But beneath the sun-soaked, Valencia-filtered surface, things were starting to unravel. He was said to want to have children; she was rumoured not to be ready. He was open about his struggles with depression; she describes herself as one of nature's optimists. They had counselling.

Last summer, The Sun reported that the couple had a blazing argument at the opening party for Soho Millie in underwear on the cover of the now-defunct magazine FHM. He asked his publicist for her number and they had their first date at London's most 'media' hangout, The Groucho Club.

He proposed just over a year later in France and Millie swiftly posted a snap of her diamond ring on Instagram. When they married at Babington House, Somerset, in September 2013, the newlyweds posted another flurry of photos, followed by regular snaps from various holidays and music festivals they went to as husband and wife.

But beneath the sun-soaked surface, things were starting to unravel. He was said to want to have children; she was rumoured not to be ready. He was open about his struggles with depression; she describes herself as one of nature's optimists. They had counselling.

Last summer, The Sun reported that the couple had a blazing argument at the opening party for Soho House members' club in Istanbul, with Millie demanding a divorce. They did their best to quash the story - by September, Manderson was uploading an image of the couple in the bath together; in January, he posted Instagrams of their holiday in Italy.

But the following month, they announced their separation, with a joint statement insisting they "still cared deeply for each other".

The disintegration of their relationship is now also being documented online. A few weeks ago, Millie posted a snapshot of her embracing Hugo Taylor, a former boyfriend from Made in Chelsea days. When a tabloid then published photos of her looking the worse for wear in Monaco while celebrating Taylor's 30th birthday, Manderson took to Twitter to say "money really can't buy you class, can it?", and accusing his ex of "gurning".

When I broach the subject of her very public marital breakdown, Millie looks uncomfortable.

"I can't really talk about it. It's for legal reasons," she explains, and I can tell that she feels bad in case she sounds stand-offish.

Have her female friends been a particular source of support?

"I can't really mention it," Millie says, arms crossed.

OK, I say, but how are you faring? "I'm great."

How are things going with Hugo? "He's great."

Later, when she picks up her smartphone to check something, I notice her screensaver is a picture of the two of them kissing.

Is she happy? "I'm very happy, that's all I can say," she says.

It's self-protection. I get it. It must be extremely difficult for her to navigate a personal upheaval on the one hand and a need to communicate with her 1.2 million Instagram followers on the other. Where does one end and the other begin?

"My Instagram is quite a true reflection of what I do," she says.

Does she ever feel the pressure to post when she might not want to?

"A bit, sometimes… Some days I'll post a lot more than others."

There are a couple of points during our conversation when she hints things might not have been entirely rosy. She says the media "sensationalise", and insists: "They like to make headlines. The papers will write what they want about me. It's part of my job. I just rise above it and don't respond to it.

"I don't have notifications on my phone. I don't see things unless I need to. I like to read positive things."

She occasionally gets "frustrated and annoyed", but says: "I wouldn't say I really carry anger around as an emotion. If I do, I take it out in an exercise class. I'd rather be an optimist than be a pessimist."

How does she deal with sadness?

"Sometimes you just think 'I'm having a bad day today'. I don't feel happy all the time and I definitely have ups and downs. On days when I feel unhappy or a bit overwhelmed, I just know that I won't feel like that the next day. I'm like 'everything will seem different tomorrow'."

Her family are loving and supportive. Her parents, Nigel and Georgina, owned a delicatessen in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and raised Millie and her younger sister, Alice, to appreciate the value of hard work. Her childhood was comfortable and horse-mad.

"They've kind of been there through all of it," she says now. "My dad looked at my contracts [for her business] and my mum loves the creative [side] - all my drawings."

She was sent to boarding school at the age of nine - first to Hanford Prep School in Dorset and then on to Millfield in Somerset. She didn't have a particularly good time.

"I mean, what teenager does have a good time through their teens?" she asks. "You know, I got bullied. Not all the way through - at different points - and it was something I learned to deal with. I just found it quite difficult. I had acne, I had braces. I was shy and didn't feel comfortable in myself and it took a while to kind of figure myself out."

What form did the bullying take?

"Girls can just be really mean. It was just the standard teasing and jibes and that sort of thing. I would just kind of laugh it off, that's how I dealt with it. I think that's still a good way to handle bullies now - to not listen to what they're saying and brush it off. Laugh at it, but never rise to it."

At Millfield, she studied art and design and started making baby doll dresses for friends after an internship with a lingerie designer. She would sell them as one-offs, sewing in her school nametape as a rudimentary label. After Millfield, she did an eight-week make-up course and was working part-time at Mac, still making her dresses, when the producers from Made in Chelsea came along.

At first, she was cautious about signing up because she worried "people would hate us and throw rocks at us in the street".

Luckily, when it aired, no rocks were thrown and she insists "it was a really fun experience".

It certainly catapulted her into the 20-something consciousness. I wonder if she ever feels exhausted by having so many people poring over her life? Does she ever just want to throw away her phone?

"Maybe - but only for, like, a day," she admits.

Her favourite Instagram filter is Valencia, saying: "It just gives everything a golden glow."

How apt, I think, for the sweet-natured Chelsea girl who is so insistent about looking on the bright side of life. 

Sunday Independent

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