Fame and fortune It's so last season! Makeover queens Trinny and Susannah had the world at their feet, but these days, they’re having to fly all over it just to pay the mortgage
23:00 GMT, 3 August 2012
Susannah Constantine is so worn out she doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going these days. There’s barely time to draw breath, let alone spend time grooming herself to perfection.
‘I haven’t waxed my legs for God knows how long. I’m lucky I’ve had to rely on my personality and humour rather than my looks,’ she quips.
She and that other grande dame of TV makeovers, Trinny Woodall, have been knocking up more flying hours between them than AirMiles Andy as they jet around the globe, doing the same type of no-holds-barred wardrobe overhauls that made them famous here.
Style queens: Trinny and Susannah once had the world at their feet
During five series of What Not To Wear, and then Trinny and Susannah Undress…, the pair mercilessly told women how they had to change to dress the best for their figures.
Since they left our screens four years ago, they’ve taken their reality series format to eight countries, including Poland and Israel. Now they’re hoping to land a new style show in the States – which will mean even more travel and more hard work.
‘This year we spent the whole of January in Norway, April and May we were in Sweden, and June in Israel,’ says Trinny. ‘July we were in Holland for a month. We have a week off then we go to Norway for a month then we have three days off then we go to Denmark for a month.’
Crikey, we’re slap bang in the middle of the summer holidays. How do they cope with the children Susannah has three, Joe, 13, Esme, 11, and eight-year-old Cece and Trinny has a daughter Lyla, eight, conceived through IVF.
Trinny with her daughter Lyla
‘It’s a nightmare,’ says Susannah. ‘I’m going to start crying. I hate it. That’s the hardest part of the job. Sometimes it makes you want to throw the whole thing in.’ So why keep doing it It is, after all, four years since ITV decided not to renew their contract [they’d defected there from the BBC in 2006] and their 2009 US series Making Over America With Trinny And Susannah bombed.
Susannah has just entered her fifth decade and Trinny is reaching the end of her fourth. Isn’t it about time they stopped… well, let’s say flogging a dead clotheshorse
‘We can’t,’ Susannah wails. ‘We’ve got children. We’ve got mortgages. We’ve got lives to look after like everyone else. The heyday of television 12 years ago is very, very different to today. You work a lot harder for a lot less now. We were very, very spoilt. We had everything.
'We were earning loads of money, not having to work as hard and you do get used to a certain lifestyle. You create expectations for yourself. It is difficult to switch that off. One does get on the hamster wheel of keeping it going. But then I do think with age you become much wiser. At home we live such a frugal life. In winter we don’t have heating. If you come and stay you bring your ski clothes.’
We meet on a damp summer afternoon in a swish London hotel, where Trinny and Susannah are talking about their new range of clothes designed for ‘everyday’ women which will be sold in the UK on the QVC shopping channel.
Susannah, who tells me the only things she doesn’t economise on are wine and food, is modelling a dress for the woman ‘with the bigger tummy’ and ‘big breasts’ while stick-thin Trinny, who swears blind she doesn’t diet, cuts a dash in a pair of black slacks and leopard-print blouse.
Downstairs in the bar a couple of shiny new ‘stars’ from the reality TV show The Only Way Is Essex are in a meeting with television executives plotting the next step of their careers, which just goes to show what a game of snakes and ladders this celebrity lark can be.
Trinny, a former alcoholic and the daughter of a banker, and Susannah, a sloaney ex-girlfriend of Viscount Linley and one-time Kings Road party girl, were, of course, as huge as Ant and Dec ten years ago when their What Not To Wear more or less invented the genre of reality makeover TV.
With their rather bossy brand of plummy advice about how to disguise ‘saddlebags’ (Susannah) and ‘flat-chestedness’ (Trinny) they became famous the world over and filthy rich, with an estimated shared wealth of 10 million – until they moved to ITV.
There, they failed to repeat the same success, and their 2008 series Trinny And Susannah Undress The Nation was dropped after attracting fewer than three million viewers. Soon, their only television presence was as the butt of various jokes, hilariously so on The F Word, when celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay named his two pigs after them. They said they found it ‘highly amusing’ but still…
Susannah, a one-time King's Road party girl, with her family
The last we saw of them was in the 2010 Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall spoof documentary Trinny And Susannah: From Boom To Bust, smoking, drinking, losing contracts, molesting strangers, Trinny having her naked buttocks pummelled to preserve her pert derrire.
‘You’ve got to turn what people are criticising you for into a positive,’ says Susannah. ‘I came up with the idea after reading a Sunday newspaper profile piece in which the last line was, “The next time these two see themselves on television will be to witness their own hanging.” I was so upset. I was sobbing. This friend of mine said, “What are you complaining about You got a whole page. Turn it on its head.” That’s when we came up with the idea of From Boom To Bust.’
The ‘mockumentary’ was a surprise hit revealing Susannah and Trinny’s dry and, at times, dark sense of humour. Today they are just as self-deprecating – astonishingly honest too.
Take, for example, when Susannah speaks about the family home in deepest Sussex she shares with her dashing Danish businessman husband Sten Bertelsen, three children and numerous chickens and dogs that wander through the ramshackle rooms at will.
‘I’d say I’ve become quite eccentric in a way,’ she says. ‘There are a lot of weird and wonderful people coming through the door. The house is always open and always filled with people and we don’t care if they come in wearing their muddy boots and the dog pees on the floor because the carpets are so old and stained anyway.’
Trinny, on the other hand, doesn’t do old or stained. A self-confessed control freak, she’s recently sold her London home in Holland Park, in which glossy coffee table books were arranged in neat piles and is renting whilst builders work on a new home for her.
She tells me she has to ‘be in control’, so much so that she’s been controlling the signs of aging with regular injections of Botox since the age of 35 and ‘weird treatments like withdrawing your blood and injecting it back in to plump up cells’.
The last we saw of them was in the 2010 Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall spoof documentary Trinny And Susannah: From Boom To Bust, smoking, drinking, losing contracts, molesting strangers, Trinny having her naked buttocks pummelled to preserve her pert derrire
She took Susannah along to her clinic once. ‘The doctor said, “Get your friend to shut up”. She kept going on about, “If you maim me” and “I don’t want to look like a stroke victim”.’ Trinny, it turns out, is the ‘accelerator’, the get-up-and-goer in their 15-year friendship.
Susannah is the cautious one, the ‘brake’. ‘We’ve had maybe three moments when we’ve had harsh words in 15 years,’ says Trinny. ‘One of the times was when we were filming in Florida. But we couldn’t bear it. It’s far more painful not to get on. It’s raw. Like you’re suffocating. Susannah is the closest person in my life.’
Indeed, the last few years have been particularly testing for Trinny, with her ten-year marriage to Lyla’s father Johnnie Elichaoff collapsing alongside her British television career. She is now single after ending a love affair with Italian businessman Stefano Bonfiglio at Christmas.
‘When I got divorced it was quite tough. Now Johnnie’s like my best friend and we do things as a family, which is kind of the perfect scenario, but when it all happened at the same time it was quite an emotional time for me. I was ending my marriage and we stopped working in England in television so it was a moment of, what next
The style experts have investigated what lies beneath the UK's outfits for years
‘I need to be in control to feel safe and when you have no concept of what is going to be your future in any direction – whether you can afford to stay in your house – it made me think, “Where do I get my self-worth from I don’t have a marriage any more. I don’t have a career. I’m a mother but what else am I”
‘But you learn the most when you have a c**p time. I think when you end a marriage you need that space,’ she says. ‘You need to work out who you are. The first stage for me was dating. But I feel that right now I don’t have time for a boyfriend. I also think if you look you don’t find. It will pop up.
'There’s another part of me that wonders where it would pop up because I hardly have time for friends, with all the flying about doing our shows. Is Heathrow Terminal 5 my destination for Mr Right’
Susannah interrupts, ‘Or a gym in Norway.’ Trinny, it turns out, was ‘picked up by some 48-year-old guy’ in the gym the other week. ‘Maybe because you were wearing a handkerchief for a towel,’ Susannah teases.
Trinny ignores her. ‘I don’t need anyone in my life,’ she continues. ‘I have a child, I look after myself. I earn my own money. I’ve got my own house, but there’s a huge mortgage on it and I have to pay to do it up so I need to work as hard as I can this year. There’s a part of me that thinks, “Should I jack it all in, downsize my entire life to a fifth of what I’m earning so I see more of my daughter, and change her school and where we live – or do I stay with what I’m doing”
‘I know this year we’re going to have our teary can-we-get-through-it moments but could we, say in two years, get to a place where we’re able to control how we work
We’ve just signed a contract in the States – if that project comes off we could be reaching an audience of 280 million people in just one country, instead of 50 million in eight different countries with eight different programmes, as we’re doing at the moment. It’s much better travelling to one place. If we do it in the holidays and the kids come with us we can take a house in Los Angeles or New York…’
She pauses. ‘Lyla had a meltdown at school last term and said, “None of the other mums go away.” I said, “They do my love, and sometimes some mummies who stay in London see their children for only half an hour at breakfast. When I’m with you at weekends and when we’re not abroad, I’m there with you 100 per cent.”
But try explaining that to an eight-year-old. I think the juggle is to get my priorities right. It’s getting the balance of being a mother and being a career woman.’
Susannah snorts. ‘And if you find the secret to that, we’ll all be set for life.’
Trinny & Susannah’s first clothing range with QVC UK launches on Sunday 19 August, www.qvcuk.com