The Diva Shows Her Secret Side
Irish Independent 25 December 2005

interview: Barry Egan

I have a confession to make. When I was a spotty teenager I would occasionally find myself writing 'Simon Le Bon is a wanker' in marker on the covers of my sister Marina's Duran Duran records. Mercifully, the alleged onanist pop star's wife Yasmin sees the funny side of it two decades or so later.

"So, you are going to walk out of here," she laughs, "and secretly scribble on my hotel wall, 'Simon is a wanker... '"

Au contraire, if I was going to scribble anything on the wall of Yasmin's suite in the Four Seasons hotel, it would be that Simon Le Bon is a particularly lucky bastard for being married for 20 years to one of the coolest, wittiest and most beautiful women in the world. I've met some truly mad models in my time, but never one who self-diagnosed herself as "a bit of a schizophrenic".

"One side of me is incredibly quiet - I'm naturally a bit of a loner - and is quite happy to sit on my own, and the other side... " she smiles. "I try to be a diva but I can't keep it up. You end up seeing a mess somewhere and you can't help tidying it up. It is just too much trouble being a diva."

Yasmin had too much experience of life's grimmer realities to turn out a permanently damaged ego monster like most supermodels. And growing up in a xenophobic Britain in the Seventies can't have been easy for a dark-skinned girl with a name like Yasmin Parvaneh. She didn't, she says, suffer racism as a child, but her sister Nadreh was "definitely discriminated against, not only by children but by teachers".

The Parvaneh family lived in a very white middle-class area in Oxford. At the first two schools Yasmin went to, she remembers, "there was me and one other Indian girl. We were the ethnic minority.

"That was it. So you can imagine. Obviously, I had darker skin. I had a strange name. Luckily, I have a very assertive father who people don't stand up to. He is a very wise but very strong and articulate man, and he doesn't stand for any rubbish."

This in itself brought its own problems. Her father Iradj, the son of a master sitar player, came from an affluent, cultured background in Iran, while her mother Patty came from a working-class family in the city centre of Oxford. Hers was "a loving but hard childhood, they weren't well off at all. It wasn't a rosy, rosyupbringing. It was tough being in a family where you have one parent from one part of the world and one parent from another."

And there was this schism with you in the middle?

"Absolutely, because I am quite sure for many years that my father was wracked by quite a lot of guilt about leaving Iran and leaving his mother. The society in Iran is so family orientated. The families just stick together, literally. And he broke away. And I think it had a real impact on him. And I think it was really hard for him."

And ultimately for you?

"It was hard for us too. There were times when he was a very, very stressed-out guy. It was a tempestuous kind of upbringing. There was a lot of passion. I learned to shut up and listen and just stay quiet for a long time. There didn't need to be another voice in that house."

And the day that Yasmin Parvaneh did open her mouth at 16 she really did have something to say.

"I think I just shocked my parents really," she recalls. "My father realised that I was surprisingly like him. Opinionated. Strong."

Yasmin's father left Iran when he was about 20 to study at Oxford. He fell in love with England "and with my mother and that was it". Yasmin's mother Patty was a window dresser in a department store, Ellistons, in Oxford. One day, Iradj literally saw her in the window and decided, remembers Yasmin, "he was going to marry that woman".

Yasmin heard that story many times when she was young. It has remained "a bit of a fairytale" for her, doubtlessly influencing her own view of romance in a subliminal yet profound way. She met her own husband in a similar way: in 1984, he saw her picture in a photographer's portfolio and decided he "had to meet this woman".

"When you look back at things like that now, you realise what an impact they must have had on decisions and choices I made," she says. "It's funny, of course, that my mother married young, as I did, and they stayed together 44 years and that definitely had an impact on the way I have approached my relationship with Simon. When you witness a couple go through thick and thin, go through really bad times and come out the other end... "

She adds that you only really get to the good stuff if you've gone through an awful lot together. "You have no idea how far and how deep a love can go and it changes unless you stick with it," she says.

There must have been a period when her husband's band Duran Duran went into inevitable decline a decade ago when it affected him and their marriage. "There were some tough times," she admits. "I wouldn't encourage anybody to become a musician unless it was their absolute lifeblood. You write a song and it gets slated and it hurts, or worse it doesn't get played and you know it is a great song. You have to be so strong in that business and Simon is.

"But yes," she adds, "we had some tough times. Definitely there were moments when he was definitely becoming very depressed and stopped believing in his own abilities." She didn't suffer the same emotional downs in her own career as she says she "never actually really stopped modelling. I kept having babies and I keep working".

Evidently. Yasmin was back modelling within ten days of having her first child, 6lb 4oz Amber Rose Tamara Le Bon, on August 25, 1989 at 10:39am at a hospital at St John's Wood. Two weeks after her second daughter Saffron's birth in October 1991, Yasmin was generally acknowledged to be the star of London Fashion Week. "I just keep modelling. I should probably stop," she laughs, adjusting her bathrobe. "Someone should probably stop me. Someone should probably tell me to stop making a fool of myself and give it up." Her self-deprecating humour is refreshing. "I only have to look in the mirror to know I'm not a goddess," she continues. (Not everyone agrees - Newbridge Jewellery has recently announced that she is the face of their Goddess range.)

Simon and Yasmin were married on December 27, 1985 in a low-key ceremony at an Oxford registrar's office witnessed by a few friends and relatives, after giving them one day's notice.

"I married my only boyfriend," Yasmin would tell journalists, before private-jetting off to honeymoon in the south of France and, later, Scotland. By which time, Yasmin was one of the world's most recognisable models, the face of global campaigns for such luminaries as Calvin Klein, Christian Dior and Karl Lagerfeld.

Cliche notwithstanding, the marriages of supermodels and pop stars tend to be marriages made in tabloid/Hello! magazine hell.

As to the reasons why she and Simon have been so happily married for 20 years, she too is mystified.

"If I could analyse it and know that, I'd be filthy rich, wouldn't I?" And you're not? "No. I've got three daughters in private education," she says, politely declining my invitation to visit Brown Thomas to see how much money she could actually charge to her credit card.

"But the secret of myself and Simon is knowing when to compromise and being able to compromise. And it is not always that easy. Simon and I never stop talking or laughing, actually. Things that used to piss me off about ten years ago - I would get uptight in the way that you do with your partner, the silly, little domestic things that wind you up - he still does them but knows they just make me laugh. I just chuckle. 'You cheeky little sod.' He is a cheeky little boy. He is also a happy man. He is contented within himself and is very at ease."

Born on October 29, 1964, Yasmin wasn't brought up religiously. Nor does she follow "any form or established sense of religion now" (but nonetheless regards herself "as someone who's quite spiritual. I just don't believe in this one power looking down on us. Why do you have to have somebody to blame? Why can't you take responsibility for your own life and realise that you are part of a planet that has an energy. Maybe that came from my upbringing because I wasn't indoctrinated in any way.")

She and her sister were brought up, she remembers, like boys. They weren't like "little, quiet, shy girls. And I tended to walk all over guys," she recollects. The fact that Yasmin is saying these words in her barely-there bathrobe lying on the duvet of her bed in a bedroom has me thinking that being walked all over by Yasmin Le Bon wouldn't be such a bad thing.

"I would just chew them up and spit them out within five minutes. So Simon really did shock me. I had never met a guy who could actually stop me in my tracks.

"Simon and I were very attracted to each other straight away, but not only physically. He has got such a strong personality and is a very confident person and... "

Is that almost frighteningly Freudian - that you were so attracted to a man who so reminded you of your father?

"I know! And I hate things like that! But it's true! I'm one of these people who always pooh-pooh all these things. I have never really wanted to believe in that at all but these things do really, obviously, have an effect," she says. "I suppose having had a father who was confident and domineering set a benchmark without me ever knowing it." Until now.

Did your father have a problem with you modelling?

"At the very beginning, he didn't like it at all," she says. "But he was fine. I broke free from the family quite young and became independent and successful straight away in modelling and my father actually very quickly became my biggest supporter."

Yasmin's other biggest support, her late mother had, she says, "real grace and strength". This force of character was surely evident in her choice of her husband: you don't need to be Enoch Powell to realise how a working-class family in late Fifties England might view an English girl becoming involved with a dark-skinned foreigner from the Middle East.

"I don't think my mother was ever that in love with the English mentality anyway. She never went out with an English man, ever. She was never ever going to marry an English man," Yasmin says.

"I am British in that I was born and brought up in England but you know it is strange, there are certain things that you can't help identifying with. I realise now that I am just so lucky to have had that kind of cross-cultural upbringing."

As to her own children's upbringing - daughters Amber, Saffron and Tallulah (born in 1994) - Yasmin laughs that she doesn't want them to be "little mini-mes. I want them to have their own distinct personalities." She need have no worries on that score as Amber and Saffron are currently in the grip of their mid teens. They are 14 and 16 and it's a hormonal household. "It is fantastic!" she laughs.

I'm surprised you're not bald with two teenage kids.

"Well I'm already grey, darling."

Do you dye your hair?

"Do I dye my hair? Do I dye my hair?" she hoots as she actually lets me pick through her hair looking for the offending grey gruaig. I find one lone strand.

"I should have shares in hair colour products, shouldn't I?" The greyness possibly comes from Yasmin apparently spending her life doing school runs and in supermarkets looking "really, really crap". And running a household in London as well as being a globe-trotting model.

"I don't see Simon running around the house after the kids. He's on tour or he's watching the football," she says of her Manchester United-supporting hubby. "But he doesn't let the football get to me anymore. It doesn't ruin his day anymore if Manchester United lose. He won't cry."

Candid to the point of being an open book, Yasmin says she cries a lot, mostly on aeroplanes and in traffic "which, of course, is all the time in London, as I live in the car. I don't ever need to go to see a psychologist," the international catwalk deity laughs for possibly the zillionth time that crisp late December afternoon. "That's why I have been modelling for 22 years. It's fantastic: you work with people you've never met before, you open to a stranger, they open up to you, you say things you've never said to anybody ever about your life... "

But even goddesses know the pain and sadness of real life - and Yasmin is no different. In 1987, she had a miscarriage; four years later, she saw her mother taken by breast cancer (my note: this was not true; her mother did not pass until 2001). Yasmin is now an ardent campaigner against breast cancer. "The lowest point in my life I couldn't tell you," she says. "I have had some very low points and they haven't necessarily been as an adult. I had a very, very low point as a child. I had experienced low points before I ever got into marriage."

The brrr of her mobile phone somewhere in the room starts a frantic search. It is eventually found in her Fendi handbag on the bed. It is her ten-year-old daughter Tallulah calling.

"Hi sweetheart!" coos her mother. "A friend is going to pick you up and bring you to the birthday party at 30 Devonshire Street at 4.45. If you can't remember that, look in my red diary. I love you, sweetheart."

I love you too, sweetheart.

Yasmin Le Bon is the new face of Goddess by Newbridge Silverware.

see more pictures from the Newbridge shoot