Since she left Made in Chelsea, Millie Mackintosh has married – and divorced – rapper Professor Green, seen her fashion business go bust with £500,000 of debt and got engaged to Hugo, her cheating ex. She tells Louise Gannon why she’ll always be a risk-taker.
In the comfort of her West London apartment, Millie Mackintosh is trying not to answer questions about her royal friend Meghan Markle. The former star of Made in Chelsea is reportedly one of the circle of friends helping Meghan navigate the transition from blue-collar American actress to blue-blooded British duchess. ‘I absolutely cannot say anything about Meghan,’ she says, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
So what about the story that she was in charge of hiding the dress? She was pictured carrying a suspiciously large bridal dress cover in the run-up to yesterday’s wedding. She shakes her head. ‘That was the dress I wore to the Baftas and I was returning it, so it was in a special cover to keep it clean. It definitely wasn’t the wedding dress.’
Surely she can give us some insight into the American actress? After all, Millie met her a year before she started dating Prince Harry, when they were both guests at the opening of Soho House in Istanbul in 2015. Last year Meghan Instagrammed a snap of her and Millie riding bikes together at Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire, just a matter of months before her account was deleted (by royal decree).
Millie bites her lip as she ponders exactly what she can say. From expensive boarding schools to winters on ski slopes in the French Alps, she has grown up with privilege – and she is not given to loose chatter. ‘I think it’s a great thing that Meghan is going to be part of our royal family,’ she says.
‘She’s a really lovely girl. I met her a few years ago and we’ve hung out a couple of times. She’s fun and nice, and she has great style: elegant, modern and feminine. She has a really relaxed and natural look that reflects the woman she is. Everybody loves her – and they should.’ She stops and clams up. Not a single anecdote will pass her lips for fear of palace repercussions. Millie, 28, the great, great granddaughter of John Mackintosh (whose sweet company Mackintosh’s went on to create Quality Street, Caramac and Rolo), does not want to put a foot wrong.
It just so happens that next month she will be in the company of the Queen herself when she attends the Investec Derby at Epsom, of which she is an ambassador, along with Elizabeth Hurley, Clare Balding and the jockey Frankie Dettori. ‘I’m a massive fan of the Queen,’ she says.
‘In 65 years she has only missed the Derby twice, which is pretty incredible. I love going to the races because it’s such an event – this big tradition where everyone gets to dress up and wear a great hat. My favourite moment is when the Queen walks out wearing one of her immaculate colourful outfits, such as a sherbet-lemon coat [as she wore last year]. The crowd goes crazy clapping and you feel very proud to be British and incredibly privileged to be there.’
For a girl who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Millie has had to swallow some bitter tastes in the past year (though they have been sweetened by the prospect of her upcoming marriage to her handsome partner Hugo Taylor this summer). Her clothing business Cammac went bust in March after four years, owing more than £500,000. For Millie, it was nothing short of devastating.
‘There have been a lot of tears in the past few months,’ she says. ‘In terms of worst moments of my life it is up there [along with her 2016 divorce from Professor Green]. But when terrible things happen, you have two choices: you collapse or you try to make the best of it, learn lessons, face everything and move on. That’s what I have been attempting to do.’
We are sitting in the flat she shares with her fiancé Hugo, who rose to fame alongside her when they dated (and then split after he cheated on her with her friend Rosie Fortescue) on reality TV show Made in Chelsea seven years ago. The apartment is – like Millie herself – effortlessly stylish. It’s all pale furnishings and fresh flowers, and there’s a surprising smell of chocolate (turns out she’s just baked brownies).
An enormous glitter-covered portrait of Millie and her pug Mabel dominates the landing. ‘Hugo gave it to me for my 28th birthday,’ she says, looking mildly embarrassed. ‘But I wish it was just a picture of the dog.’ The only other hint of the sparkly life of two in-demand London socialites is a pop-art image of three Dom Pérignon champagne bottles. You can tell you are in the home of someone posh when it comes to making tea. ‘Earl Grey or herbal?’ she asks. ‘I haven’t got builder’s.’
Millie may not have builder’s, but she wants to prove that she does have balls – and that she is far more than the sum total of a privileged upbringing, a reality TV show, a pretty face and a great wardrobe. By her bed is a copy of the Susan Jeffers book Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway, which has helped her get through the past few months. The reason why she may turn out to be one of the best friends Meghan could have becomes apparent as she talks. Millie – who was bullied at school for her skinny legs, spots and braces – has taken a lot of knocks, but she is determined to get back up and stand tall.
‘In the past I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety,’ she says.‘And I needed something to help me cope and to understand the way my mind worked. I have never been someone for a self-help book, but this has given me a different outlook. I think – like a lot of women – I’m very good at hanging on to the negative things and not the positive. Keep going, don’t regret anything and push on through even when things are difficult.’
On the heels of her marriage breakdown, the collapse of her business was a catastrophic blow. ‘Creating a fashion line was something I’d wanted to do since I was at school, when I’d make little dresses for people and sew my school name-tags into the back as a label. As I got a lot of attention for my outfits on Made in Chelsea and on Instagram, the opportunity to have my own line became a reality.
‘I wanted it to be my business. I self-funded it because I believed in it and people such as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley were fans of my clothes. In hindsight maybe we tried to grow too quickly; we went from one to 30 stockists in a year and from two to four seasons. Fashion is such a tough business – there is so much competition, so many people making inexpensive clothes – and like a lot of people I couldn’t survive.
‘I knew for months that there were problems, and it was devastating when we realised we’d have to go into liquidation, but I took responsibility. The toughest thing was having to tell all the people involved, because I’d got to know stockists and the people who worked for me. They had become friends. But I made myself do it. I didn’t leave it to anyone else, and even though it was awful, people have been incredibly supportive.’
She turned – as she always does – to her family for advice. Hers is a family of self-made men and women. Her great-great-grandmother, pastry-shop owner Violet, invented a chewy toffee that her husband John turned into a business. Their sons went on to invent Quality Street chocolates, and so the Halifax-born Mackintoshes became one of the wealthiest families in 20th-century Britain. With the Mackintosh company sold some decades later, Millie’s parents Nigel and Georgina set up a deli business in Marlborough, which paid for her and her younger sister Alice to have a lifestyle of ballet, horses and private schools (Millie went to Millfield school, the alma mater of Lily Allen and Sophie Dahl).
‘I did have a good upbringing,’ she says firmly. ‘But one of the biggest misconceptions of me is that I’m an heiress. I’m not and I was never given money by my parents. I worked at Mac Cosmetics and Space NK as an assistant for a couple of years before I was on television. I have had to support myself since I came to London.’
With the closure of Cammac, Millie reportedly personally stands to lose £178,000. ‘I’ve had good advice,’ she says. ‘I’ve got great support and Hugo has been brilliant because he understands business [he runs his own sunglasses company, Taylor Morris Eyewear]. You learn from your mistakes, and I will do something again; I’ll just do it better next time around.’
Millie is tougher than she looks and is not afraid to gamble. It was a risk when she set up her business; it was a risk when she married Stephen Manderson (aka Professor Green) after just a year of dating, and it was a risk when she got engaged to her ex Hugo a year after her divorce.
She shrugs her shoulders. ‘I’m an all-or-nothing person,’ she says. Her marriage to Stephen ended after two years. She initially described it as a ‘friendly divorce’, but that was clearly not how he saw it. After the split in 2016 he released a song about their marriage breakdown, ‘One Eye on the Door’. She allegedly retaliated by covering the dress she wore on her wedding day with fake blood and wearing it to a Halloween party. ‘I didn’t do that and I wouldn’t do that,’ she says. ‘That Halloween dress wasn’t my wedding dress. I auctioned that for a charity that helps women from other countries forced into marriage, so it actually went to do some good.’
How does she feel about Stephen now? Does she think that the difference in their backgrounds meant the relationship would never work? ‘I’m not going to go there,’ she says. ‘I know it has been said that our upbringings may have been the foundation for the breakup, but those comments only degrade the relationship and time we spent together, and I certainly don’t feel that way about that period of my life or Stephen. We went our separate ways amicably. Sometimes it can be as simple as finding yourselves on different paths, and for us it was about respecting those journeys and each other’s wishes by parting ways. We have since both moved on. I only wish him the best.’
She pauses. ‘Going through a divorce is very painful and you learn a lot about yourself. But it hasn’t put me off marriage and I’m really excited about marrying Hugo. I wouldn’t ever want to be without him.’
You have to wonder how sure she is of Hugo, who once cheated on her with her best friend. ‘I’ve known Hugo half my life and we are very different people to the ones we were a few years ago,’ she says. ‘We’ve both grown up. I met him when I was 16. I was still at school and had sneaked into Boujis nightclub in London. At the time I was obsessed with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie and had dyed my hair very badly so it was a sort of yellow colour. I was wearing American Apparel metallic leggings with a backless top and tons of fake tan. He was on the other side of the dancefloor in jeans and a leather jacket, and we caught each other’s eye. There was definitely an instant attraction. By the end of the night we’d got talking and had a cheeky snog. We dated on and off, but we both dated other people and it was never properly serious till this time.’
On the scripted reality show Made in Chelsea, which shot a group of rich and privileged London 20-somethings to fame, Hugo cheating on Millie was, however, a big incident during the second series in 2011. ‘That show was about relationships and drama,’ she says. ‘We were very young. A lot of it was about what worked in front of the cameras. It was my decision to leave the show [two years later] because I didn’t feel comfortable with all of that and I’d never go back to it. It would seem very weird.’
Her idea of fun these days is less about hopping from one cocktail party to the next and more about popping to the Sainsbury’s Local over the road, baking (hence the brownies) and watching the US TV show Say Yes to the Dress, where brides get to choose their perfect gown from a selection of thousands in a New York bridal store.
‘I didn’t see Hugo much once I left the show, and then after my divorce I reconnected with old friends and we found ourselves back at the same gatherings,’ she says. ‘We were both older, we were both in different places. He was respectful and sensitive, and I felt completely comfortable in his company. He knows me so well and always looks out for me. I knew after everything he really was the right one for me. We both want children in a few years’ time, we’re open to the idea of living in Los Angeles for a while and we’re both so happy to be together again. He’s the man I want to be married to for life.’
FAVOURITE CELEBRITY WEDDING DRESSES Miranda Kerr looked absolutely divine and Nicky Hilton wore a Valentino dress that was to die for.
MOST USED EMOJI The thumbs-up or a heart.
BEAUTY PRODUCT YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT Lancôme tinted moisturiser.
SECRET PASSION Anything to do with food. Cooking it, eating it, discovering
EXERCISE TIP Mix it up. I do ballet barre, pilates, yoga and circuit training – every day a different class.
DREAM DINNER-PARTY GUESTS Anna Wintour, the Spice Girls and the Queen.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS Perfectionist, emotional, optimist.
STARSTRCUK MOMENT Meeting Mary Berry. I love her.
Investec is celebrating its ten-year partnership with the Investec Derby Festival; investec.com/derby