She may be a supermodel married to a Premiership footballer, but Abbey Clancy is endearingly unpretentious. She opens up to Sophie Heawood about her surprise pregnancy and why a fortnight as a vegan was more than enough.
The other day, Abbey Clancy was happily scrolling through her phone, trying to find an old photo to post online for the Ten Year Challenge that everyone else seemed to be doing – until she realised, to her horror, that all she could see in the pictures was ‘too thick make-up, too many hair extensions and too much time on the sunbed. I couldn’t post any of them. I looked horrendous ten years ago!’ I try to tell her that the orange foundation and streaky hair aesthetic was simply a product of its time, but she’s having none of it, laughing in horror at her former self: those Tango Wag days are officially over, replaced by the refined glamour of a 33-year-old who now believes that ‘less is more’.
At least, in terms of fashion, that is – because in the rest of her life it seems that more is now more, and I’m about to find out that it really wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. In recent years, Abbey, who rose to fame on Britain’s Next Top Model and cemented it with her marriage to Premier League footballer Peter Crouch, has become a much loved television personality after winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2013. She combines this with family life, but last month she and Peter stunned their followers by posting a black-and-white holiday photo of her bikini bump on Instagram, revealing she was pregnant with her fourth child, having sworn that they were going to stop after their third just a year before. What she admits to me, as we sit in a smart London cocktail bar where she reluctantly orders a pot of tea rather than the margarita that she longs for, is that she might be five months gone, but she’s still very much in shock.
‘We were, like, how did this even happen?’ She says she goes to bed at 8.30pm nowadays and falls asleep by 9pm, after they’ve put one-year-old Johnny, Liberty, three, and Sophia, seven, to bed. ‘So we were genuinely shocked as to how this was possible. I’m so boring these days. Ha! But I remember being scared to tell Pete when I found out.’
Did she do the test at home? ‘I was on a photoshoot and the photographer, a woman who I work with a lot, said, “Your boobs look really big.” And I said, “Actually I was thinking that.” Then I looked at my diary and thought, “Oh, no.” I mean, Johnny wasn’t even one yet and I’ve been so ill with my other pregnancies that I thought I wouldn’t be able to spend any time with him, and I’m just gone with love for him, I’ve been enjoying having a son so much.’ She thinks about it all and says she doesn’t mean to sound moany or like a mumsy mum. ‘You know, I do feel very blessed to have a fourth baby and I do think it’s a gift, but I was so ill with Johnny, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was in hospital twice on a drip.’
Does she mean hyperemesis gravidarum, like the Duchess of Cambridge? ‘Yeah. She copied me.’ It hardly needs saying, before an angry mob of Kate fans appears, that Abbey is joking – she’s always joking. She’s one of the quickest wits I’ve met. If you didn’t see her and Peter on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, being made to say unlikely things to children’s party entertainers, look it up on YouTube. I almost had to stop watching because the pair of them made me wheeze with laughter. But the pregnancy sickness was no joke, so it has come as a huge relief to Abbey that she isn’t ill this time around. Could it be because she and Pete turned vegan after they were profoundly affected by watching the What The Health documentary on Netflix? Well, no, because ‘two weeks of brown rice and falafel later’, she says they found themselves profoundly affected once again, only this time it was by driving past a branch of McDonald’s, where they celebrated the end of their experiment ‘with a Big Mac’.
This is why we love Abbey and Pete so much – they’re as flawed and funny as the rest of us. Of course, you don’t get to win dancing competitions and play professional football without unusual amounts of determination and skill, but they wear their achievements lightly. And Abbey was, in fact, a straight-A student at school, sailing through all her exams, but she insists that ‘something has happened to my brain since’.
I mention Russell Brand’s recent admission that his wife does all the work with their children [Mabel, two, and Peggy, seven months] because he claims to be more ‘focused on the mystical connotations of Mabel’s beauty and grace’ than on changing nappies, and Abbey raises an eyebrow. ‘What a t***,’ she mutters, before explaining that her own father was like that, ‘but at least he admitted he thought it was women’s work. Russell just hasn’t got the balls to say that. But Pete is amazing and does everything for the kids – I’ve never had to ask him. The house does look as though it’s been burgled when he’s been in charge, though – that’s the only downside. I kept our last house so clean that you wouldn’t have known children lived there, but I’ve had to let go a bit now.’
They used to rent a place in Hampstead, North London, which Abbey loved. But it was never a long-term plan, and having bought a plot of land in Surrey they built their own house on it. Two years on, it still looks too new for Abbey’s liking – she prefers a mix of vintage styles – and they still haven’t got any decent furniture, which is why she’s asking our waiter if the lights in this cocktail bar are vintage.
Eldest daughter Sophia has turned out very sporty – she plays hockey and swims for an under-tens squad, though she hasn’t inherited her dad’s competitive spirit. Abbey jokes that she’s the one who has to bang on the glass in the swimming tournaments telling her to swim faster. Fashion-wise, they still can’t agree either. ‘She’s turned into Vicky Pollard. She wants the scrunchie on top of her head, hairspray, gelled back, and she wants to wear Nike or Adidas head to toe.’ Meanwhile Liberty is obsessed with babies, which is just as well, because her own baby brother Johnny is obsessed with her electric ride-on unicorn that she got for Christmas.
That wasn’t the biggest surprise in their house at Christmas, though. ‘Guess what Pete got me? A three-metre-long phone charger because the guys on his team bought them for hotels. Can you believe it? I nearly tied it round his neck.’ Ooh, but if your bed’s quite far from the socket, that could be useful. ‘Well, yeah,’ she admits, ‘it’s actually been my most-used present. Sit in bed and play on my phone, it’s amazing! It’s just that I’m still surprised that he actually bothered to wrap it up.’
Given how much time Peter has to spend away in hotels, though, it’s helpful that Abbey believes ‘the secret to a happy marriage is you’re not with each other 24/7. Although he’s 38 now, so I think he’ll have one or two more years of playing football. Then hopefully we won’t kill each other being at home together all the time, or you’ll be doing the divorce interview next.’
Peter recently signed for Burnley, but Abbey doesn’t even go to see his matches any more, ‘because last time I attempted it, I ended up in Dover. To go to [his former club] Stoke. And we live in Surrey.’ Sorry, what? ‘That’s what Pete said. I took the three kids, plus two girls from up the road, hired a driver, made packed lunches… We drove for four and a half hours until Pete rang saying, “Where are you?” and I said, “Er, we’ve just passed a sign for Dover?” and he said, “Are you insane? That’s the opposite way!” The driver had obviously put the wrong address in, so we turned around and came back home.
‘The kids were crying, “We want to see Daddy!” You plan a lovely day out and in your head it’s amazing, like the picture postcard where everyone’s smiling and holding hands. Then every time we try, it’s hell. We went to the cinema yesterday and Pete spent the whole time in the lobby with the baby because he was screaming, and I had to sit between the girls because they were killing each other.’
Spending time with celebrity mums can sometimes make you feel inadequate. Not Abbey. She describes a world of family that I can recognise. The only moment I feel guilty is when she says she doesn’t go on her phone much when she’s with her kids. I ask, because I need to learn this myself, what she does with it – does she turn it off and put it in her bag? ‘Well no,’ she says, ‘because they’re on it – watching Peppa b***** Pig.’
Then, while I’m snorting laughing into my drink, Abbey reveals that she is a real worrier. At first, it sounds normal, stressing about the kids like any parent does – but then it becomes clear she’s describing something so extreme that she’s had to get help for it. That she had started taking the kids to the doctor insisting something terrible must be wrong with them, ‘and he was saying, “Just go away” and laughing at me because there was nothing wrong with them.’ Abbey is not laughing any more when she tells this story. ‘I didn’t want to see someone for myself – my health anxiety is always for other people, never for me,’ she admits. ‘But it’s been getting out of control and I just don’t want to be thinking these negative thoughts all the time. I don’t know where they come from.’
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise – we all have our own demons, after all – but on chat shows Abbey seems so confident. ‘I’m confident speaking to people, because I like to talk, but I’m not as confident as other people might think. And I wasn’t depressed – this was just a waste of energy and time and making me unhappy. So my friend recommended this guy called Tim. I don’t know what sort of treatment it was.’ Some kind of talking cure? ‘Yes, exactly. I was sceptical, but he was amazing and it worked.’
Abbey is now looking to the future, thinking she needs to up her game if she’s going to stay on top of four children plus her work ambitions, which include designing more collections for the fashion brand Lipsy, for whom she has just done a swimwear range. Ever the self-deprecator, she quips that ‘it’s sod’s law that I’ve always wanted to do my own swimwear range and then I had to shoot it when I was pregnant. We had to get those photos done, pronto, before I was showing. But I’m proud of it; it sold out so I was really happy about that.’
She insists that, until now, she’s never been somebody with a five-year-plan (‘I don’t even know what I’m doing five minutes after’) but I’m not sure I believe her. She seems far more in control of her destiny than she lets on, and agrees that she’s always ‘fighting fit’ within months of giving birth. She won’t reveal exactly what her future might hold, but stresses that ‘I am going to continue to work,’ and that her mother lives with them too, ‘so it’s like having a live-in nanny. I wouldn’t leave the baby with anyone else.’
It’s clear that this is a time of upheaval. Something in Abbey’s soul is shifting. ‘I fit into a different dynamic now. Sometimes I feel old and sometimes I feel like a baby myself, and I’m, like, how have I got four kids and a husband? My own friends don’t even have kids yet. But I do want to have more of a goal and be more proactive. I know what I want now. I feel more focused and I want to do things that I’m proud of. I think I’m growing up.’
The new Abbey Clancy x Lipsy collection will be available from 28 February at next.co.uk/lipsy