Why I Still Need My Catwalk Cash
interview: Dennis Cassidy
She fixes you with those deep, dark eyes across the cluttered kitchen and, just for a moment, a hint of weariness shows. "No one ever told me how difficult it was having babies," laments Yasmin Le Bon.
The international model and wife of Duran Duran star Simon has been up half the night, hand-sewing a dress for one of her daughters to wear in a school play. No Versace creation ever mattered more to her. Most of Yasmin's catwalk comrades would not dream of losing beauty sleep over such an enterprise. But then, few of them have a trio of demanding youngsters tugging at their skirt-hems. For many women, no matter how successful, child number three would be the point of no return for their careers. Yet, nudging 30 and nine months after the birth of little Tallulah, Yasmin is about to make her third modelling comeback.
So which will take a back seat - home or work life? Neither, insists Yasmin. She wants both. But she cannot pretend it will be a simple juggling act. "Motherhood is very, very difficult," she says. "I certainly wasn't prepared for the sheer exhaustion at first. It feels like being hit on the head with a sledgehammer all the time."
In that case, why is she returning to work? The answer, from a member of the modelling elite whose global appeal could loosen any fashion promoter's purse strings, is a surprising one - especially as she is married to a successful pop singer. "It is necessary," Yasmin insists. "Yes, I am going back to modelling because I enjoy it, but also because we need the money. I haven't had a pay cheque in 18 months. Simon and I both work in unstable industries. You never know when you will be paid for something, or when you will be working. People think because we have both earned big money, I don't have to work. They don't understand we are not earning fabulous sums every day, yet the bills keep coming in. Running an international band is enormously expensive. By the time all the retainers have had their cut, there is little left." But surely the shareout from his pop career is Simon's problem? "No. I don't see why, if I can earn a living, I should put all that extra strain on him," says Yasmin. "So many men are weighed down with the responsibility of being the breadwinner. I wouldn't do that to Simon, it's selfish. Anyway, I've always worked. I had Saturday jobs when I was 13 or 14, mainly in shops, where I learned the art of being asleep on my feet with my eyes wide open. Modelling is perfect because I can pick and choose the jobs I do. I can't think of another career that would pay nearly as much, where I wouldn't have to work every day."
Yet if men are burdened as breadwinners, Yasmin concedes that work takes its toll on mums, too. "I sympathise with them, especially single or unmarried ones," she says. "With Simon being away so much - he's in the States at the moment - I feel I've been in that position myself. It's lack of sleep that ages you. You can smoke, drink and party as much as you like but lack of sleep makes you old and, if you are on your own, you never get a break. After the first child, though, it gets easier. You develop more energy. By the time Tallulah came along, I could survive on a couple of hours' sleep a night."
Despite looking after Amber, who will be six this year, Saffron, who is nearly five, and Tallulah, Yasmin claims she feels fitter and stronger than ever. But getting her figure back into perfect shape has been tough. "With the first two, I could just give up breakfast every day and the weight would drop off," she says. "Now it would make no difference if I ate nothing at all for a week. I have had to spend hours running on a treadmill and working out at the gym."
The idea of putting in such extra effort after sleepless nights with the children may leave Yasmin undaunted. But it has certainly impressed her catwalk sisters. "There has always been the odd girl who has had a baby, then made a comeback. But they don't go off and have another, then another, then come back," she admits. "The girls are surprised I keep bouncing back. But I don't see why I shouldn't. I didn't plan to get married and have children until I met Simon. But now I wouldn't change my three girls for the world." In fact, her life before Simon arrived on the scene in 1984 could scarcely have been more glamorous - jetting from one modelling assignment to the next, her every appearance accompanied by the frantic whir of camera shutters. Then Simon, leafing through a fashion magazine, spotted a picture of the half-Persian beauty and decided she was the girl for him. He tracked her down and bombarded her with phone calls. "I was very suspicious at first because I didn't know this guy," says Yasmin, "but one of the other girls did, so I grilled her before I agreed to talk to him. He kept ringing to invite me to the cinema. So that's how it started - my flatmate pestered me into letting him take me to the flicks. Mind you, it was the world premiere of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom ..."
The Le Bon family moved into their present home in Putney, southwest London, on Christmas Eve, 1991. And they still haven't unpacked. From the outside, all that distinguishes their white, double-fronted house from its neighbours is a knot of not-so-young girls gathered at the gate - and the sleek red convertible parked next to a builder's skip on the drive. "The fans are Simon's," says Yasmin, "but the car's mine. I love driving." As for the builder's skip and the clutter inside, she offers repeated apologies. "Visitors think we have only been here a few weeks," she says. "But so many alterations need doing, it doesn't seem worth unpacking." One item which has been rescued from its box, though, is a large frame containing the red shirt worn by Pat Crerand in Manchester United's European Cup-winning team. It sits on a piano. "That's Simon's pride and joy. We couldn't possibly keep it hidden," Yasmin explains, leading the way to the kitchen, where one wall is covered in children's crayon scribbles. "They might as well enjoy themselves while they can," she says. Her down-to-earth attitude is both natural and refreshing. Yet Yasmin has to admit that she and Simon are hardly average parents.
She will soon be gracing magazine covers again, while Duran Duran have recently released an album (called Thank You) and have a single, White Lines, in the charts. "Until recently, the kids thought having parents like us was normal," she says, "but Amber has started asking questions now. We have just had to be cool about it and tell her 'yes, your dad's on Top Of The Pops. But it's no big deal.'" And when the clashing demands of family and career get too much for her, Yasmin seeks solace in the company of other mums. "You meet one at the school gate who looks wonderful and think 'I bet she never tells her kids off,'" she says. "Then you get to know her and she says 'I've had a terrible day, the kids are driving me mad.' And you realise you are not alone."
Not surprisingly, for a girl who just drifted into full-time modelling at 19 and hardly stopped work from the moment London agency Models One snapped her up, Yasmin feels her domestic skills could be improved. "If I was better organised, I'd get myself a sewing machine. Then I could whip up these outfits in a couple of minutes," she sighs. "Mind you, they don't go to waste. I keep them so they can be used again - and I do swapsies with other mums. I wouldn't exactly call myself a good cook, either. I feed the children but that's about it. I wish I'd paid more attention to home economics at school but I only turned up for one lesson."
Modelling for a living does offer some consolations, though, not least when it comes to paying those troublesome bills. "When I was at school I didn't think you could earn a living from it," says Yasmin. "It was just something you did for extra booze money. But on my first job, I earned more in a day than I could in a month working in a shop. Now I am planning to go back to modelling part time, people ask whether I will stop having babies. At the moment I say 'yes - three's fine'. But who knows? In a few years I may get all dewy-eyed again." She pauses. "It's not just down to me, though. It's Simon, he's the one who goes all soft over babies. But he's not desperate for a son. He's happy with girls. Let's face it, he's been surrounded by women for years."