There are 44 years and 3,500 miles between them, but US ballerina Melanie Hamrick, mother of Mick Jagger’s son Dev, credits apps with keeping their love on track, says Jane Mulkerrins.
At an age when most men are slowing down, putting their feet up and settling comfortably into retirement, 75-year-old Mick Jagger is still shimmying around the world on tour, strutting and pouting his way across stadium stages with the Rolling Stones. Similarly, in spite of already being a great-grandfather, he’s lost none of his zeal for fatherhood, according to Melanie Hamrick, the mother of his eighth and youngest child, 22-month-old Deveraux. ‘He’s the most incredible, wonderful, loving father,’ says American ballerina Melanie, 31, of the rock star whom she has been dating for four years. ‘And, to me, he’s the most wonderful man in the world.’
In spite of her being based in New York (where she has been a member of the American Ballet Theatre since she was 17), and Mick still living in London’s Chelsea, Melanie insists her lover is a hands-on parent to their son, known as Dev. ‘Mick and I are fantastic co-parents and I don’t feel as though I’m the sole caregiver at all,’ she says. ‘I never feel a lack of support, regardless of our not being based in the same city. I feel as though I have more support from him than some of my married friends get from their husbands. With WhatsApp, FaceTime and social media, you can now have a close relationship even long distance. I think the norms of relationships have changed. Or maybe I’m just really modern and independent,’ she shrugs.
Certainly, Melanie appears to be adapting well to Mick’s very modern blended family – he has seven other children by four more women, ranging in age from 47-year-old Karis, his daughter by actress and former model Marsha Hunt, to 19-year-old Lucas, the child he fathered with Brazilian ex-model Luciana Gimenez Morad, while he was still married to Jerry Hall (mother of Elizabeth, 34, James, 33, Georgia May, 26 and Gabriel, 20). His is also father to Jade, 47, whose mother is his first wife, Bianca Jagger, and whose eldest daughter, 26-year-old Assisi, gave birth to her daughter, Ezra, in 2014, making Mick a great-grandfather.
Melanie and Luciana, who is also based in New York, have even become friendly, hanging out in the park this summer. ‘I’d say we’re friends,’ nods Melanie. (Luciana has previously praised Mick’s parenting, saying that: ‘He loves all his kids and he is so close to all of them.’ They have, she has said, ‘been raised so well. They are all very normal, well-adjusted and are not money orientated.’) Melanie is thrilled that she and her son are now part of the sprawling Jagger clan. ‘It’s amazing how balanced and kind everyone is. I grew up with a small family [she is the youngest of three, with an elder brother and sister] and it’s nice to have a big family for Dev.’ And, she says, he is most definitely a Jagger. ‘He dances and dances and dances,’ she beams. ‘He has his dad’s moves.’ Not hers, though? ‘Oh no, mine are really regimented,’ she insists. ‘I’m not the best social dancer.’
It’s a bright, breezy September day when I meet Melanie in the genteel bar of a plush hotel
a block from Central Park. It’s taken a couple of false starts for us to get together, as she’s currently in rehearsals and costume fittings for the American Ballet Theatre’s autumn performances at New York’s Lincoln Center. A member of the corps de ballet, she is also a soloist in one of the pieces for the shows. I ask her if it’s difficult to juggle the demands of a dancing career with motherhood. ‘I’m lucky – I have my family, Mick’s family and a wonderful nanny,’ she says, pouring English breakfast tea into a delicate china cup.
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, and raised in nearby Williamsburg, Melanie is the daughter of a civil engineer father and a healthcare worker mother. Her sister Rachel – who used to be a ballerina herself and now has a company called Flexistretcher producing fitness accessories for dancers and athletes – lives in New York too, and has a son two months older than Dev. ‘My parents are back and forth between Florida, where they now live, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they have a house, so they visit a lot,’ says Melanie. ‘And I believe in still being an independent person because it makes your child happier if they sense that your wellbeing isn’t totally reliant on them.’
Her ballet schedule, while demanding, does mean that she has the whole of July and August off as the American Ballet Theatre does not perform shows in high summer. ‘I’m working long hours rehearsing and performing, but then I know I’m going to have two months with my son.’ She and Dev spent a part of last summer on tour with Mick and the band – Melanie posted a picture on Instagram of them both on the stage before the Rolling Stones concert in Coventry in June – and she attended England’s World Cup semi-final in Russia with Mick in July.
Though scrupulously polite, Melanie, I strongly suspect, also possesses a certain steeliness, no doubt honed by the dedication and discipline required to make it to the top of her highly competitive profession. And that steeliness may well be required in a relationship with Mick, whose previous history of womanising is well documented. Indeed, while Melanie was still pregnant with Dev, gossip emerged linking Mick to Russian model Masha Rudenko. And this spring, 22-year-old film producer and socialite Noor Alfallah posted an incendiary shot of herself cuddling up to the star on a sofa alongside Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood and his wife Sally Humphreys. The pair are rumoured to have begun a fling last October in Paris, where the Rolling Stones were on tour, when Dev was just nine months old. ‘I feel very secure in my relationship,’ says Melanie, briskly and firmly, today. ‘There will always be rumours in the newspapers, but I know what Mick and I have so I don’t pay any attention.’
She and Mick reportedly first met in Tokyo in February 2014; he was in the city performing with the Stones, while she was there on a ballet tour. At the time, she was engaged to Cuban former ballet dancer José Manuel Carreño. Mick, meanwhile, was still in a long-term relationship with the American fashion designer L’Wren Scott, whom he had been dating for 13 years. Less than a month later, L’Wren took her own life in her New York apartment; her death is believed to have resulted from the pressures of enormous debts and business difficulties. (In a statement, a devastated Jagger said: ‘I am still struggling to understand how my lover and best friend could end her life in this tragic way. We spent many wonderful years together…I will never forget her.’ He set up the L’Wren Scott fashion scholarship at London’s Central St Martins college in her memory.) In June of that year, Mick and Melanie were first pictured together, papped on the balcony of his penthouse at the five-star Dolder Grand hotel in Zürich.
When, after less than two years of transatlantic dating, Melanie discovered she was pregnant, it was, she says, ‘definitely surprising’. ‘I just remember feeling shock at first. I had never thought about [having children]. It never crossed my mind. In the world of ballet, not many dancers have babies. You’re always thinking about ballet, ballet, ballet, and not really about having children.’ But then, she says, ‘When I felt that first heartbeat, I realised there was nothing better in the world.’ And, when she called Mick to say their son was on his way – a little earlier than anticipated – he flew by private jet to New York to be there for the birth.
With trips to join his very famous father on tour – Mick reportedly loves having all of his children travel with him – Deveraux Octavian Basil Jagger looks set to have a childhood that is dramatically different to Melanie’s own, which she describes as ‘classic suburban American. We had the station wagon; we even had the golden retriever.’ It was her sister Rachel, her elder by five years, who first got her interested in ballet. ‘I remember being very young, saying: “I want to go to ballet class today. I want to be at the studio all day with my friends.” It’s just something in you. And if you really want to be a professional dancer, you have to want it from when you are very young.’
And want it, she did. So dedicated was Melanie that at 11 years old she followed her sister to the Kirov Academy of Ballet, a strict ballet boarding school in Washington DC, where the training was intense. ‘We would wake up at 7am, do some school classes, then do ballet from 9.30am till 1.30pm, have lunch, do more academic classes, then another ballet class in the evening, followed by dinner and bed,’ she recalls. ‘The older kids would dance for six hours straight.’ The school was, she says, ‘old-fashioned’ in many ways. ‘We had one TV that everybody had to share, you weren’t permitted to have a computer in your room, and at night we would play board games and watch ballet videos, over and over again.’
There were just 12 students in each year and, says Melanie, by the time she graduated at the age of 16, that number had been whittled down to five. Some students, she says, ‘just started to realise that being a professional ballet dancer might not be for them’, while others struggled with ‘having to fight their bodies’ (by which she means that their developing adolescent bodies didn’t grow into the classic willowy shape deemed necessary to become a ballet dancer). Melanie was never one of those. ‘No, thank goodness, I’m really blessed,’ she says. Petite and pretty, with long dark hair and big brown eyes, Melanie has a typical ballerina’s super-slim physique. But, she says, at the school, she was conscious of a certain level of scrutiny. ‘You’re very aware of what you’re eating and you’re in a leotard and tights all the time.’
Compounding the scrutiny was the fact that the school weighed its students regularly. ‘At the time, I thought that it was a mean thing to do, but now I think it was actually to make sure you weren’t losing weight [ballet is an art notoriously rife with eating disorders]. But I still feel the effects of all that some days,’ she says. ‘I have days when I just want to wear a sweatshirt rather than a leotard, because I just don’t want to be looking at myself in the mirror in the equivalent of a swimsuit.
Not having planned to get pregnant, those particular physical changes took a little time to adjust to. ‘At first, I felt, “Oh my God, I’m gaining weight, this is awful.” I was very self-conscious,’ she admits. ‘I didn’t want anyone to know that I was pregnant, but it’s hard to keep it from the people who make your costumes. My breasts were really growing, so I was telling people that I’d switched birth control [some birth control pills can lead to weight gain]. Then, at about 12 weeks, I had to wear this two-piece costume on stage, and I was sucking my tummy in as tight as possible.’
Just a few weeks later, she hung up her ballet slippers, albeit temporarily. ‘I was a bit lost,’ she admits. ‘At first I told myself, “I’m going to relax and just put my feet up – this will be fun,” but within a month I was bored.’ It’s not surprising that, just six weeks after giving birth, she was back in training. And she was rehearsing full time when Dev was three months old. ‘I think it was a bit soon; it should have been five months,’ she reflects. ‘But I felt this new energy, and I wanted to do it – there was so much more I felt I could give to my career.’
Ballet and motherhood, however, have not been the easiest bedfellows. ‘The company was supportive – as supportive as it could be – but not a lot of women in the corps de ballet have babies. When I first went back, there was only one other girl who had a baby, and the company was not used to having to adjust. I had a hard time with all the long days. I would ask, “Can we start with a half day and build up? It’s a long time to be away from my child.” [She was told it wasn’t possible.] Now there are two more girls with babies, and hopefully I’m paving the way for other women – that’s my goal.’
While she is driven in her career, she is less keen to join the ranks of the competitive parents who populate the well-heeled New York circles she moves in. ‘There’s so much pressure. Someone will say: “Is your child doing Super Soccer Stars [an after-school football programme for children]?” And I’ll reply, “No, should he be?” Or, they will say: “But your child’s not taking private guitar lessons?” And I counter with, “Wait, no, mine just goes to the playground and the park. Oh no, he’s already behind!” She rolls her eyes. Mick, while no helicopter parent, is a strict father, according to one of his elder children. Georgia May [Jerry Hall’s daughter] has revealed that her father always insisted on essays being finished on time, and encouraged her to put her studies before her modelling career.
Does Melanie want any more children? ‘No,’ she replies, very quickly and very decisively. ‘I love Dev more than anything, but I want to give my attention only to him. He’s perfect and beautiful, but I don’t think I’d do it again.’
Her family may be complete but she is less sure about her future career plans. ‘Dancing can’t last forever, which is sad, because you want it to,’ she muses. Six months after returning to the stage, following her maternity leave, she tore her deltoid ligament (the large ligament connecting the ankle bone and the foot). ‘I was out of action for the whole summer,’ she says. ‘And you start to realise, “OK, maybe I need to start thinking about other things.”’ She has no plans to relocate to London, but would like to try her hand at choreography. ‘I don’t know yet if I have the talent but it will be fun to try.
‘Maybe I will have to take some hip-hop classes to help make me more relaxed in my moves,’ she ponders. Or maybe she could just dance around the living room, taking pointers from her boyfriend and their son.