Perfection is an illusion: Yasmin le Bon on melancholy, depression and the realities of her charmed life
Married at 21 and a mother by 24, Yasmin le Bon is still waiting to get her sabbatical from caring for people. But, she tells Sarah Caden, becoming a grandmother has been an unexpected joy for her and husband Simon. It has also been a great source of laughter, and laughter is her major weapon against the melancholy and depression she has battled all her life
'Being apart is becoming more difficult the older we get," says Yasmin Le Bon, of time away from Simon, her husband of 33 years. "We're finding time apart more difficult. Twenty-four or 48 hours is fine, but when it starts getting longer, it's hard. It's getting harder, not easier, as time goes by. I suppose we've done it for so long and we're kind of sick of it now. I'm getting into a different phase of life."
In years past, when she and the Duran Duran frontman were parents of three little girls and he was touring and Yasmin was busy as one of the UK's most in-demand models, time apart was something they enjoyed. Yasmin has spoken in the past about how time away from each other allowed them to reunite refreshed and recharged.
Now, however, the girls - Amber (29), Saffron (27) and Talullah (24) - are all grown up, and while some parents regard this phase of life as their chance to take flight, unfettered, the Le Bons seem to be nesting.
Yasmin is in Dublin for a mere 24 hours when I meet her, ahead of her launch of Brown Thomas's recent Beauty Icons event. It's a flying visit, and she's happy to be here, but home is where the heart is. It's also where two of her three daughters still live - and the rest.
"Amber has moved out, but I haven't cut the umbilical cord in any way," Yasmin says with a laugh. "She's still bouncing back all the time."
Is it that they won't leave or she is loath to let them, I ask.
"It's me," she says, plainly. "I know, hands up, both hands up, I know it's me. My middle daughter lives at the bottom of the garden with her boyfriend and the baby and the youngest is at home, and her best friend lives with us, and my niece, so, yeah, it's a commune. I can't be without them all. I'm working on that.
"It's taking therapy," she adds with a throaty laugh.
Possibly Yasmin and Simon have made home too lovely for them to leave, I suggest.
"I'm not sure," she says, "but I've definitely made it impossible for them to leave. I just adore them all being around. We have a lot of fun together and there's a lot of laughter at home. I know that one day it's got to happen. They have to go, I get that, but I dread it. I really fear I'll become a mad old lady with a lot of cats and dogs.
There are already cats and three dogs, but there's "always room for more", she says.
Saffron's baby, a little boy called Taro, now 10 months old, has altered home life more than Yasmin could have imagined. At 54, she is a young grandmother, but Yasmin Le Bon has a habit of arriving at these milestones early.
She was 20 when legend has it that Simon Le Bon, then at peak Duran Duran fame, spotted her on the cover of a magazine. They married in December 1985 when she was only 21, and Amber was born when Yasmin was 24. Still, grandparent-hood has taken her by surprise.
"It's the best club I've ever joined," Yasmin says. "It's amazing. I had no idea. People say how great it is all the time, but you think, 'Yes, yes of course'. But it's beyond measure. I absolutely and utterly adore him and can't believe how much I adore him.
"We love to play with him and dress him up in all sorts of daft things," she laughs. "He's going to be very in touch with his feminine side. But my husband is [in touch with his feminine side] and [Taro's] father is. Real men is what I think they are.
"Simon loves having him. He loves it. We're getting a second chance of playing with the baby. You can imagine. We're fighting over him the whole time. You should see us. We put him on our bed and dance around him, trying to be the one to make him laugh.
"I love him as much as I love my own children," she continues. "I didn't imagine that would be the case. And I get a second chance at being with a baby. I was so incredibly busy when I had my girls. I had them young. I was working and travelling and trying to be married and you just juggle everything, and I sort of ran around like a headless chicken most of the time. Now I'm just calmer."
Describing herself as a very open person, Yasmin Le Bon talks with a smile on her face about the commune at home and the chaos and the daughters stealing her clothes, and it all sounds idyllic. She is good at conveying the light and shade of real life, however.
She knows that people look at her lovely face, and her wonderful career, and her rock-star husband and think she has it made, but Yasmin Le Bon is honest about her ups and downs with serious depression and has been candid about the changes that come with menopause. Her career has taught her how people love to gaze upon perfection, but how we also gain from the knowledge that perfection is an illusion.
So, when she talks about herself as a headless-chicken young mother, Yasmin Le Bon knows that what the rest of the world saw was beauty and wealth and glamour. And while she doesn't quite want to burst that bubble, she admits to wondering if she could have done it differently, for herself.
"You can go back and look and think all sorts of things you'd have done differently," Yasmin explains, "but you didn't, and I stand by my choices. Maybe if I had my time again I might have waited a bit longer to have children. Maybe it would have been nice to be a little more confident as a human being. Maybe had the chance to have done a few things for me first.
"I do honestly think I've never stopped caring for people," she concludes. "I thought I was going to get a sabbatical at some stage, but that hasn't happened."
Yasmin gets why people have been fascinated by her and her life for more than three decades, and she's refreshingly unresentful about it. This is, perhaps, because she gets that the fascination of strangers is what has sustained her career and her husband's.
"I don't think it's ever made me resentful or angry," Yasmin says. "I get it. I understand why people have been fascinated by it. We've been together a long time. It's extraordinary in any world, but particularly ours."
There is no secret to their relationship, she insists.
"I don't even dare think about it," says Yasmin. "While he's still making me laugh, it's good. But in equal measures, he makes me laugh and makes me annoyed and irritated. It's good, but that's how it is now. I don't have a crystal ball. It might change in six months.
"Just because you've had all these years together doesn't mean it can't change," she adds. "You don't just stay together because of your history or because you've managed to get this far. Although you do start getting to the good bits much down the line, nobody tells you that.
"But men and women living together, it's crazy, right?" she offers with a laugh. "Women and women living together makes much more sense."
Laughter is key
Laughter, I have read Yasmin Le Bon say, and she says it again to me, is key to her life. She needs to come at things with a light attitude, and that's not because she's naturally disposed to it, but the light keeps her from the dark.
Yasmin has talked, in recent years, about her bouts of depression, which have been very intense and sometimes prolonged. When she first spoke about it, she wasn't explaining something from her distant past, put into a neat box and filed away. Instead, she outlined her depression as something she knows will always be in her life, to be dealt with. It wasn't a battle heroically won, but a situation lived with.
"It wasn't a conscious decision to talk about it," Yasmin says, "but I'm quite an open person and I think it's important for people to know that they're not alone. Mental health is really tricky. I think it's still approached in a really bad way. This idea of self-referral just doesn't work. You'll never do it. You're in a deep, dark black hole where the last thing you're going to do is ask for help. The awful things in your head are too scary."
"I could talk about it then because I was in a better moment and felt stronger. And it's important to talk about. I think it's good to talk, good to share. You learn more and more. People tell you about their own experiences and it doesn't all seem so insular.
"It will always be there for me," she says, "but I hope that I cope with it better each time, that there will be a glimmer of something in the back of my mind that reassures me that it's going to be OK.
Can she feel it coming, with experience, I ask. Does it loom obviously on the horizon?
"Sometimes. Not always," she says with a laugh. "If only life were quite so predictable as that.
Does the emphasis she places on a life filled with laughter help?
"By nature I'm melancholy," Yasmin says, "and I think it's a beautiful thing. I think it means you look at the world a different way. Maybe because of that I do really make an effort to be upbeat, because I think other people could find me very melancholy and downbeat, and maybe I'm quite frightened of that.
"I just want to please people," she exclaims. "I'm a people-pleaser."
When Yasmin Le Bon first arrived to meet me, she couldn't help but comment on the spring sun, low in the sky, shining through the hotel window and straight into her face. She commented, but she didn't change seat.
A light beauty
Harsh is how some might describe that sun spotlight, but Yasmin doesn't go that far. She notes it, accepts it, and happily sits there in its glare.
This self-ease, along with the fact that she looks terrific in the glare, only cements everything you've ever thought about her. She is beautiful, yes, but she carries it lightly. If she's bothered about sitting in the sunlight spotlight, it doesn't show. What does show is that Yasmin is relaxed, and the fact that her skin looks like skin, and not a shiny, rubbery, peeled and filled mask adds to the effect.
That shouldn't matter, but it does in an age when so many women over 50 are at war with their faces and altering them to ill-effect. And it's this self-ease that has made Yasmin Le Bon endure.
No one enjoys a modelling career of more than 30 years such as hers on good looks alone. There has to be likeability. And Yasmin Le Bon has likeability in abundance.
"This is my year of saying yes," says Yasmin, who plans, among other things, a visit to her late father's native Iran, where she hasn't been since she was a child. She's also saying yes to jobs like that in Brown Thomas, where she feels an appearance from her screams how the beauty business is more inclusive about age.
When she started modelling as a 19-year-old, Yasmin admits, she never thought she'd still be around in her 50s. Everyone told her how it was a short career, but here she is. And here she is happy to be, not lamenting the passing of time, but going with it.
"As women, we need to be kind to ourselves," she says. "It could be baking or fixing cars, or that great new mascara, it's all being kind to yourself. And not waiting for someone else to treat you.
"I spent a lot of my life imagining that someone else was going to treat me and look after me, and then I realised, 'You know, honey, just look after yourself'."
When did that dawn on her? I ask.
"Probably about a year ago," she says with a smile. "And I'm not joking. It's a big wake-up call. I wish someone had told me sooner. And it's not being mean, it's not being resentful that someone else should have done it. It's that I should have looked after myself first. It's my really big message.
"It's not that other people don't love and appreciate you," she adds, "but you have to love and appreciate yourself first. I tell that to my daughters."
And do they listen? She hopes so. The fact that they're all still living under her wing seems to suggest that they hold her in high esteem. Maybe, she agrees, but there's great benefit in it for her, too.
"Having a great mix in life, people of all ages, it keeps you young," says Yasmin Le Bon. "It keeps you interested."
And keeps you interesting, perhaps, down all the years and decades.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine