by Judith Woods
Since JO WOOD split from her partner of 34 years, Rolling Stones rocker Ronnie, she has rediscovered her independence. The challenge now, she tells Judith Woods, is learning to let her new man look after her
Wood is peeping out from beneath her choppy fringe, blue eyes dancing with girlish laughter. It seems preposterous that the former wife of Rolling Stones hellraiser Ronnie is now 62 and a grandmother of ten. But since her marriage ended six years ago she’s taken on a new lease of life: Jo may no longer be the edgy rock chick she once was, but make no mistake, she’s not ready to hang up her leather jacket just yet.
On the contrary, she has a new man on her arm, a fabulous villa in Spain, has relaunched her organic beauty brand and is ready to take on the world. ‘I feel amazing. I go to the gym four times a week, I eat well, I’m happy. I’ve got a wonderful family, a nice boyfriend – what else can you ask for? I’ve accepted I am the age I am, but I still feel young and I can’t resist my little acts of rebellion. If I’m not parking in mother-and-child spaces at the supermarket, I’m dodging under barriers at airports instead of traipsing up and down to reach the end of the queue. My partner laughs but I think life’s too short to live by every petty little rule.’
On the subject of airports, not so long ago Jo made headlines when she and her 53-year-old builder boyfriend Paul Scarborough were bumped from an overbooked EasyJet flight from Murcia, Southeast Spain, after a romantic weekend at Jo’s holiday home. ‘They messed with the wrong woman, I can tell you!’ she cries. ‘I use that service like a taxi and when I pay for a seat I expect a seat.’
The pair made alternative arrangements to fly home, then Jo went straight to Twitter and received not only an apology but a full reimbursement. So presumably she’ll be boycotting EasyJet in future? Not a bit of it; among Jo’s many fine attributes is pragmatism. ‘They’ve paid their dues and said sorry so all is forgiven,’ she says. ‘I hope it’s taught them a lesson on how not to treat people – and with any luck I’m on a list somewhere with a warning cross next to it, so they know that I’m trouble and should leave me well alone!’
Petite, pretty, hair tousled and with just a little boost of injectables around her eyes and trademark pout, Jo has something of Goldie Hawn about her – although she prefers comparisons with ‘Brigitte Bardot in her heyday. I have a bit of laser treatment to get rid of age spots on my face but otherwise I’m lucky that I’ve got good genes. Would I go for the full facelift eventually? Yes, sure, but not for a while. I’m quite happy with my body – apart from my bottom. I know girls want big bottoms these days, but I’d rather mine was smaller and neater. But hey, if that’s my only problem I’m a lucky girl.’
Jo uses the term ‘lucky’ a lot. It’s a throwaway, catch-all word that she variously uses to convey relief, pleasure and gratitude that she’s somehow managed to pull through difficult times. But I’d say a lot is down to her own strength of character, quiet determination – and that pragmatism again. Born into a lower-middle-class family in Essex (her father was an architectural model maker, her mother an Avon lady), Jo worked as a model. Her first husband was clothing entrepreneur Peter Greene, with whom she had her eldest son Jamie. When she met Ronnie in 1977, and later married him, he raised Jamie as his own and she became stepmother to Ronnie’s son Jesse, from his first marriage to Krissy Findlay.
Jo and Ronnie went on to have two children together, Leah, 38, and 33-year-old Tyrone, during their 34-year relationship, much of which was spent on the road as the Rolling Stones conquered the globe. ‘There were some crazy times,’ admits Jo. ‘At one point in my 20s my mother would call me up begging me to stop taking drugs because I was so skinny she was certain I would die. Then there was the booze. I remember once, in my 30s, being in Dubai with Ronnie, who went off to bed while I stayed on in the bar. I got into conversation with a horse trainer, we had a drinking competition and I matched him drink for drink. I staggered to bed and felt so bad the next day. I was left asking myself, “What was the point of that?”
‘But I’m a survivor and I’m lucky that I don’t have an addictive personality. When I decided to kick cocaine because I didn’t like how it made me feel, I just stopped – well, I stopped taking it during the week at any rate,’ she laughs wryly. ‘Even alcohol is something I can take or leave and these days I choose to leave it.’
The couple’s three-decade romance came to an end in 2008 when Ronnie, now 70, cheated on her with Ukrainian cocktail waitress Ekaterina Ivanova. The relationship didn’t last and he went on to marry theatre producer Sally Wood, 39, with whom he has 14-month-old twin daughters Gracie and Alice, whom Jo adores.
But it wasn’t always so easy to maintain her equilibrium. ‘I was devastated at first, but in time I realised that splitting from Ronnie really was the best thing that could have happened to me; I got my freedom back. When I was with him I lived in a bubble where my only job was to keep him alive. Since I’ve been on my own I’ve rediscovered who I am, literally climbed mountains, taken part in all-women car rallies and had a blast.’
It was at the summit of one mountain in Kenya in 2009 that Jo had an epiphany. She was on a family break with her friend Jerry Hall, and was struggling to get to the top but kept pushing on. When she reached the peak she thought, ‘Ronnie, I forgive you. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to be strong and I’m going to make the most of my days.’ She has certainly been doing that, although there have been upsets along the way. After many years’ friendship, Jo was dismayed when Jerry failed to invite her to her wedding to 86-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 2016. ‘I was quite hurt at first,’ confesses Jo with sadness. ‘I had no idea why she wouldn’t want me there, but I suppose she’s moving in different circles now. There was no big fallout and I consider her a friend regardless.’
Fast-forward to 2017 and Jo admits that being with Paul, whom she met in 2011 when he was doing work on her London house – and a period of singledom during which she appeared on Celebrity First Dates – has cast fresh light on her marriage. ‘Paul and I had a brief fling and stayed friends – he went on to do up Leah’s flat – then more recently I found myself inviting him to Spain with me and things started up again,’ says Jo. ‘He’s very different from my ex-husband. With Ronnie I didn’t have a worry in the world, I never had to pay a bill; it was all about how long I could stay up for. With Paul I feel protected. He calls me his “beautiful baby” and wants to take care of me – which takes some getting used to after I’d only just become an independent woman, looking after myself.’
She shows me photographs on her phone of Paul doing odd jobs round her house in Spain, and smiles indulgently. He’s also helping her do a massive wardrobe clear-out. After her split with Ronnie she put many of her clothes in storage; now she has retrieved them and is going to hold ‘a little sale’ of designer gowns, vintage frocks and old Rolling Stones T-shirts. Even her wedding dress will be sold because, as she puts it, ‘nobody in my family wants it and perhaps there’s somebody else out there who would like to get married in a little bit of history’. Jo has moved on.
‘I really care for Paul, I love him and I miss him when he’s not there. We have a great grown-up relationship; we see each other two or three times a week. The rest of the time I do my own thing and he does his own thing; he’s got four children and three grandchildren, and I have my brood. We both need time to be with family and friends so we are together, apart. Having said that, we also get on really well with each other’s families. It all feels so easy, so natural.’
In Jo’s world calling anything ‘natural’ is just about the highest possible epithet. Her beauty range Jo Wood Organics, which includes decadent fragrances and luxe candles, is her absolute passion.
She created her first oils and fragrances in the wake of a major health scare back in 1989 when she was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s disease and prescribed drugs, including steroids. The medication made her feel so bloated and miserable that she sought alternative remedies, stopped smoking and took up a wheat- and dairy-free organic diet, which made her feel much better. (When the pain returned in 1991, an exploratory operation revealed the true cause was a perforated appendix, which was causing inflammation.)
Fired with enthusiasm for organic food, she would source it on tour and cook it for her family on a portable stove that she took on the road.
‘After I’d sorted out my diet, I started to look at my skincare and I was horrified by the chemicals listed on the average label. I set about looking for organic brands, but nothing quite met my needs so I started my own label. Where possible the ingredients are sourced in Britain, but the main ethos is purity and simplicity.’
Having launched her range in 2006, with Ronnie as a partner, she put the company into liquidation when they divorced. But now she is selling an enhanced Jo Wood Organics range online and through Fortnum & Mason. Sumptuously packaged in matt black and gold, it features exotic elements such as Egyptian jasmine and Iranian rose otto.
‘I was sad when I wound down my little company, but I always knew I’d come back to it someday,’ she says. ‘I’m currently in talks to find a business partner who can help me grow the company. Organic products can change lives; it’s terribly important that people are aware of what they put on their skin because it all gets absorbed into their system. And I believe we should be looking after the planet: giving farmers fairer pay to grow organic crops without harmful pesticides benefits the earth and all of us too.’
As she talks about her plans, it’s clear that Jo has regained not just her mojo but her motivation. Top of her to-do list is a beauty brand ‘that feels nice and smells divine’, aimed at tweenage girls who want to start copying their mums. Converting the young to an organic way of thinking is, she says, ‘a no-brainer. The other day I caught Leah’s daughter Maggie with some big brand kids’ skincare products that she’d been given for her eighth birthday. I read the awful ingredients and confiscated it! There was no way she was putting that stuff on her face. That’s why I urgently need to press ahead. After I die, I would like to be known as someone who helped make the planet a better place for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren – that would be a worthwhile legacy.’
It’s an admirable ambition and, judging by Jo’s energy levels and conviction, there’s every reason to believe it will happen. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, she clearly revels in her pivotal position as head of an extended family that is fast evolving into a dynasty.
‘I see Ronnie and Sally at various birthday celebrations, of course, and she lets me have a cuddle of her gorgeous twins. I love having all my children and grandchildren round: babies crying, boys rampaging up and down the stairs; noise, laughter, chaos. And then, once they’ve gone, I tidy up and enjoy the silence. That’s the joy of being a grandmother. I feel very lucky.’