How To Kiss Away A Fortune
interview: Ian Birch
Top model Yasmin Parvaneh, recently married to Simon Le Bon, seemed to have it all: money, looks, success. She wasn't impressed. Her conscience was at odds with the catwalk. So she gave it up. Ian Birch found out why.
"You can't help but have a conscience," says Yasmin Parvaneh, looking me straight in the eye. "The reason I gave up modelling was basically because I wasn't suited to the lifestyle. Some can lead a normal life as well as work, but I can't."
Earlier this year, Yasmin Parvaneh decided enough was enough. She wanted out and so she quit. She was at the peak of her career, having worked the circuits in Britain, France, Italy and America with painstaking professionalism. Fashion editors, modelling agencies and editors were clamouring for her services but she wouldn't and couldn't go on.
Walking away from the catwalk at such a time might seem like an act of outrageous folly but, for Yasmin, it was the only way left for her to retain her self-respect and keep her moral code intact. She could no longer square the demands of her profession with the demands of her feelings.
The history of her discontent stretches back to 1981 when she launched herself in the fashion world. At first she felt an irritation which her common sense kept at a distance. It was her family and friends, she argues, who urged her to go into the modelling business. Originally, she had been toying with ideas for setting up a catering outlet that would specialise in good fast food and a fast financial turnover.
But with her meteoric success came those punishing schedules and rat-race rigours. She found them incredibly difficult to stomach. She didn't socialise within the industry. She refused to indulge in those extra-curricular activities where contacts are made and wild promises rarely kept. And, to complicate matters still further, she fell in love with Simon Le Bon, singer with Duran Duran.
Trying to snatch some time together from their hectic lifestyles became a nightmare. Her love life meant "sitting by the phone with a diary making arrangements to see someone I want to be with all the time."
The dam finally burst late last year when the couple attended Fashion Aid in New York. What should have been a charity celebration rapidly degenerated into an unseemly scrum of jealousy, oneupmanship, ambition and backstage bickering. Both were horrified.
"I knew I'd had enough," says Yasmin. "It was horrible. I was disgusted that I had anything to do with the business."
"In New York," echoes Le Bon, "the only thing that reminded you that Fashion Aid was for people who were starving was the T-shirt which bore the silhouette of Africa. And that was it. It was just sell, sell, sell." They left before the end.
America had been the catalyst, a fact that is hardly surprising in the light of why Yasmin went there in the first place. "I gambled everything to make the really big bucks. You arrive with your reputation behind you, your promotion in front of you and you try and make it."
And she did make it very big after signing up with Elite, one of the top modelling agencies in New York. "Elite is a very good agency and it gave me lots of support. But in the end I felt guilty and responsible for people's ideals and the way they were thinking. It wasn't just selling a product, it was selling a lifestyle, a whole set of morals. To people like housewives in middle America, for instance, supporting their craving for that so-called success in life.
"You're selling to that market, that ignorance, that naivety and I was part and parcel of it all. You don't try to educate or change it. I just didn't agree with what I was doing.
"It's easy to forget quite how superficial modelling is. How little people want from it. How little they remember. It's not fame and glory you're doing it for, or I wasn't. I was doing it for the money."
As Le Bon says, Yasmin has "a very strong view on things." She doesn't make a decision lightly. She spends months reasoning out her motives and when a conclusion is reached, she sticks by it passionately. She's fiercely loyal to her family, friends and her husband Simon. That's why she flew out to New Zealand when rumours of his gallivanting around Auckland with various models suddenly erupted in February just before he set sail in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race. She was more furious at the lack of decency in the coverage than frantic at the thought of an emotional crisis. Abuse her loyalty and you won't be easily forgiven.
Yasmin might be the younger (she's 20, Simon 27) but she's definitely the stronger. Her influence on him has been much greater than his on her. She has made him rethink his old ways. She has pricked his pop star pomposity, she has built up his surprisingly fragile confidence and, perhaps more importantly, she has banished his cynicism about love.
Before Yasmin, Le Bon strove to be a mixture of Bryan Ferry, the sophisticated artist, and Jim Morrison, the reckless and sexually potent poet. But his mainly teeny-bop audience, together with his bluster, born out of insecurity, meant that he often fell flat on his face, through either overtly arty or tiresomely sexist behaviour. Yasmin has effectively curtailed this by providing a foundation that means he no longer has to try to be something he isn't.
The transformation was evident at the launch party for ELLE which had Yasmin on the first cover. All evening the pair, their relationship as intense as ever, were inseparable. If she turned for a moment's conversation with another guest, he would look lost and ask, "Where's Pebbles?" (Pebbles is his nickname for her after the cartoon Flintstones' baby, whose hairstyle she sometimes copies. Her nickname for him is said to be unprintable.) Later, blushingly, he asked if we might spend him any spare prints of Yasmin's cover photo.
The change was even more apparent a few months later when I saw them in the cavernous Studio One at Twickenham, where a video for Simon's spin-off group, Arcadia, was being pieced together. Huddled in a box in the middle of technicians, they were far more interested in each other than in the film. Le Bon nuzzled Yasmin's neck; she laughed. Their exclusiveness was almost daunting. Everyone's eyes kept drifting in their direction not only because of their physical playfulness but also Yasmin's extraordinary beauty. Her face is quite remarkable - a flawless complexion and exquisite features which no photograph of her that I've ever seen has properly captured.
Both were exhausted. They had just got back from a three week promotional tour of Europe with Arcadia. Simon was worried about an incipient flop single ("Do you like it?" he kept asking me) and Yasmin had recently found out she was pregnant although she hadn't yet seen a doctor.
"I'm so naive about babies," she said. "My problem is food. I'm a vegetarian and normally enjoy all food apart from meat. But at the moment I can hardly think of anything I want to eat. Whatever anyone mentions, I just feel ill. My skin shivers. But, of course, if you don't eat, you feel really sick."
The situation was especially bad when the couple went for a brief holiday in December to the Camargue with friends Koo Stark and her husband Tim Jeffries. "It was somewhere I've always wanted to visit, especially in the winter. It's very open and flat marshland with a preserved wildlife where there are pink flamingoes and herons. And wild horses, of course. But the food was diabolical. I couldn't find anything I wanted to eat. I felt really miserable until I saw a box of cornflakes and a jar of Marmite one night, and then there was just no stopping me. I ate!"
Her flinty matter-of-factness doesn't mean that she is without a sense of humour. Both she and Le Bon giggle like love-struck adolescents, both can suddenly veer from the serious to the silly, both enjoy similar interests. They're committed outdoor types who love swimming and riding. She's become something of an expert on sailing and would rather be on Le Bon's boat, Drum, than waiting home in Oxford for news of progress.
Still, Le Bon is in regular contact with her by radio telephone. Also on the ocean's airwaves to Drum is Radio 1's Simon Bates. On Bates' show, Le Bon can tell the nation how he feels about his wife. A typical message runs: "I love you very much and miss you one hell of a lot."