Last weekend saw the finale of this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival, which has brought bibliophiles and culture vultures from across the country to Evergreen and This England’s hometown. It was a marvellous 10 days of events featuring authors, historians, politicians, actors, comedians, musicians, journalists, poets, photographers and many more. On Saturday afternoon I joined a packed audience to see an interview with a lady whose face symbolised a decade and became part of Britain's cultural history. She was – and indeed still is - a style icon and, like many who made the headlines at the time, she captured the youthful spirit, creativity and British quirky charm, which characterised that era. She is Neasden’s most famous daughter. Any ideas?
The lady in the spotlight on Saturday was the model, actress and singer Twiggy who was interviewed by Emma Freud. We discovered the 20th-century fairytale of how the young Lesley Hornby was transformed into the world's most famous model. It all began with her modelling a dramatic new haircut for the celebrated hairdresser Leonard Lewis at his exclusive Mayfair salon and posing for publicity photographs. The wonderful portraits of the wide-eyed, elfin-like girl were seen by the fashion journalist Deirdre McSharry and led to the “Daily Express” hailing her as the “Face of '66”. Twiggy was then just 16-years-old and admitted that it unleashed “a whirlwind”.
From that moment the Twiggy look was “in” and her life was captured, frame-by-frame, in the fashion magazines and newspapers. The fact that Britain – and London in particular - was at the centre of Sixties culture, added to the girl from Neasden’s appeal and she was feted across the world. She recalled an incident when, as she was leaving an American hotel, the crowd surged forward and she had to be picked up "like a carpet" by a former Mr. Universe, who was acting as her bodyguard, and carried under his arm to a car!
Remarkably, though, for one so young, she remained grounded – something she credits her family for and especially her father Norman’s solid no-nonsense Lancashire roots. The flashbulbs kept popping and the famous folk flocked around her, but Twiggy stayed exactly the same, and that refreshing, unspoilt demeanour remains to this day.
Her career brought her into contact with numerous Sixties luminaries including The Beatles – she even went to John Lennon’s wedding and is still in touch with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Without doubt, though, the highlight for her was having the chance to meet her favourite entertainer, the Hollywood legend Fred Astaire, whom she described as “Very modest and a gentleman.” After expressing her wish to meet the twinkle-toed star, she was lucky enough to be invited to tea at his home. Several years later she joined him for dinner at a restaurant and gave a wonderful description of him tap-dancing along Rodeo Drive! What memories.
When you mention Twiggy’s name people immediately think of her as a model, but there is so much more to her, and as she admits – apart from her family - it is her acting and singing career of which she is most proud. She starred in Ken Russell’s 1971 film adaptation of the musical-comedy “The Boy Friend”, winning two Golden Globe Awards, and then went on to star on Broadway. More acting roles have followed, together with the release of several albums - and then there's her fashion design work!
An incredible 51 years after that photo launched her career, it was marvellous to see that Twiggy is still as busy and stylish as ever - and that she has hardly changed. What is so heartening is that she embraces the idea of ageing gracefully and naturally (unlike many in the public eye!) and it is thanks to this positive, healthy outlook on life, that the "Face of '66" has become a style icon for all time.
There are more memories from the Swinging Sixties awaiting you in the winter issue of Evergreen, published on 22nd November (click here to order). Our Hit Parade article will have you "Walking Back to Happiness " as we focus on the career of another talented London girl who was a great friend of The Beatles, Helen Shapiro.