Between running a multimillion-pound design empire, radio work and managing her happily blended family, MYLEENE KLASS has to grab every chance that she can to chill out. She tells Margarette Driscoll about raising strong daughters and the man who healed her heart
Life has taken some unexpected turns for Myleene Klass, the classical violinist who accidentally became a pop star, morphed into a style icon and now sits atop a multimillion-pound fashion empire. Yet her golden touch has not been infallible. Her marriage to Graham Quinn – after they had been together for 11 years and had two daughters – collapsed after six months, when Graham told her he was leaving her, reportedly out of the blue, on her 34th birthday. She told YOU at the time it was like taking ‘a bullet to [the] heart’ and thought she would never smile or trust anyone again.
But now she has rediscovered her faith in romance. Today she’s upbeat, relaxed and decidedly unstarry. When an assistant asks if she’d like a coffee she says, ‘That shouldn’t be your job! I’ll put the kettle on.’ In the five years since Graham’s departure, she has focused on caring for her daughters, Ava, ten, and Hero, six. Though being a single mother was not what she had anticipated – ‘my parents were the blueprint for a happy marriage’ – she picked herself up and slowly began to enjoy her independence. Then some friends set her up on a blind date and everything has changed again.
Simon Motson, 43, a divorced fashion marketing executive, has been photographed by her side several times in recent months and they dated in secret for a long time before that, Myleene reveals. And not only are they now a fully fledged item, they have recently moved in together in North London. ‘It’s massive,’ she says. ‘He has two amazing kids, I have two amazing kids [who are around the same age], we met at the right time and he makes me so happy that I’m grinning like an idiot most of the time.’
Simon – or Sim as she and the girls call him – brought her coffee in bed this morning, along with a lily in a vase for her bedside table. It feels an unimaginable luxury to have someone to share her life again. ‘It’s pretty idyllic,’ she says. ‘The lovely thing is that I enjoy my relationship with him so much. I don’t need him; I’ve proved I can manage life on my own. I’m there because I want to be with him. It’s more powerful because it’s a choice and it feels like the right place to be.’
Who could begrudge Myleene, 39, her new-found happiness? She has certainly worked for it, right from early childhood, when she practised the piano and violin for hours every day after school. Even now she never stops, rushing from design meetings to photo shoots to school pick-ups during the day and presenting a late-night programme on Classic FM at weekends. Her clothing and luggage range for Littlewoods – recently expanded into homeware, including tropical leaf-print duvet covers, geometric glass tables and lamps – sells an item a minute every day (Myleene’s personal fortune is estimated to be at least £11 million). And then there’s My K, her children’s clothes range for Mothercare, which is stocked in 33 countries.
Myleene is intensely proud of her achievements and stays on top of every detail: ‘We sell the most snow suits in the United Arab Emirates because of the air conditioning,’ she says. ‘We can’t sell snow suits to the Russians because our tog count isn’t high enough. I have to be aware of the cultural concerns of every country I sell to: I can’t have elves in China, or fairies in the Middle East. It’s all problem-solving, which I love.’ Her energy and enthusiasm seem to be boundless. Each morning, she and her daughters leave the house telling one another to ‘slay the day!’
‘Hero came to work with me recently and as we went home she said, “Oooh, I’m really tired,”’ says Myleene. ‘I told her, “This is what I do every single day when you are at school and then I rush to pick you up.” I think it’s good for her to understand. Some mothers want to stay at home and I have the greatest respect for that, but I am happy being a working mum. I don’t want the girls to see me walk out of the house feeling down because it’s a Monday. To me, Monday is no different to Saturday because I love what I do every single day.’
Apart from knowing to stand out of the way if an admirer wants their photo taken with Mummy, the girls have no real concept of how famous she is, she says. ‘I often take them on shoots but they don’t see the façade of hair and make-up. I send them to see the technical side and get them to find out what everybody’s job is,’ she says. ‘It’s almost like they are on work experience. They’re not impressed by showbusiness. All their friends want to be popstars and models. They want to be marine biologists.’
They sound a bit like Myleene at the same age: serious and studious. Born in Norfolk, she comes from six generations of classical musicians and showed extraordinary musical ability from the start, but aged 12 she also won a school engineering prize and had to decide which direction her life would take: music or science. When she chose music, she imagined a future as a classical musician in an orchestra (she still plays piano and violin for her own enjoyment). She could never have dreamt she would end up performing at Wembley Arena as part of a pop band created at the birth of reality TV.
Myleene’s father, the son of an Austrian opera singer and violinist, used to read her Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as a bedtime story and taught her the constellations. She is still a keen amateur astronomer and frequently uses mathematical or scientific terms, describing herself lying awake at night and visualising the huge workforce around the world depending on her decisions, ‘circling around me like an orrery’.
At home, she does all the practical work and is teaching Ava and Hero how to clear drains and put up shelves. ‘My dad gave me a toolbox and it’s my best present ever. I’m super-practical. I love fixing sinks and putting up pictures.’ And with her natural flair for design, she enjoys decorating, too. ‘I take photos of anything that inspires me. I was in Marrakech recently and I saw a beautiful hexagonal table and thought, “That’s the shape for my glass table!” I wanted my home range to be super-sleek and easy to put together. I think, as with fashion, lots of people are worried about getting it “wrong”.’
Myleene’s mother Magdalena came to Britain from the Philippines in the 1960s, when there was a shortage of nurses, and was posted to Great Yarmouth. Her father Oscar arrived from Austria with his parents just after the Second World War, aged three, and met Magdalena when he was working as a Royal Navy diver. They settled in Gorleston-On-Sea, a few miles from Great Yarmouth, where Myleene, the eldest of three, grew up.
‘There was one black boy and one mixed-race girl at my school,’ she says. ‘I didn’t fit what people thought of as mixed race. They didn’t ask, “Where are you from?” but, “What are you?”’ She spent hours practising piano and violin, and played the organ at the local church. On Saturdays, she would travel to London to study music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. ‘I took Ava there for a piano exam recently and choked up,’ she says.
What she does now may look easy, but it has taken discipline and dedication to get there. ‘That’s why I don’t care when people criticise me,’ she says. ‘I think, “OK, you sit at the piano for eight hours while everyone’s going clubbing and you can’t because you’ve got an exam tomorrow. You get up at 5am to get the train to the Guildhall. I used to teach violin and piano on Sundays and then polish the pianos in a music shop so I could pay for my music books. I was not born with a silver spoon. You can say, “She’s always on holiday.” Well, I worked for it.’
Myleene has sometimes caused controversy with her outspoken views. She rounded on Ed Miliband when the then Labour leader proposed his ‘mansion tax’, telling him it would hit ‘little grannies’ in modest houses they’d lived in for a lifetime as well as the super-rich. When mothers at her daughters’ school asked for £10 contributions toward a Kindle and a desk for two children’s birthday presents, Myleene responded by posting their emails on Instagram, saying she was collecting money to buy a unicorn for Ava. The point she was trying to make is that children are drowning in material things. ‘I get into trouble for half the things I say,’ she sighs, ‘but that’s me. I’d say the same to you as I would say to my friends.’
Having graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, she was in the musical Miss Saigon, then worked as a session musician, touring with Michael Crawford and doing backing vocals for Robbie Williams and K D Lang. She was working on the BBC’s Lily Savage show when she met Nigel Lythgoe, who was to be one of the judges on the upcoming 2001 TV show Popstars, devised to create a pop group out of wannabe musicians. He encouraged her to enter and she did, on impulse, but was then told that if she wanted to be successful she ought to change her name as Myleene was so unusual. ‘Even at that very green stage I didn’t feel that was the right thing to do. And my name has been a gift,’ she says.
Hear’Say, the band that was created by Popstars, had dizzy but short-lived success. It became the first band to have a debut album (Popstars) and single (‘Pure and Simple’) at number one in the charts at the same time. Twenty months later it was all over, but Myleene had made her mark: she became a presenter on Classic FM and took up modelling. In 2006 she appeared on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, causing a sensation by taking showers in that white bikini. A deal to model for Marks & Spencer followed. After five years – during which, she claims, the clothes she modelled sold faster than anyone else’s – she decided she could build her own brand.
Those pulse-raising bikini shots look almost quaint now that Kem Cetinay and Amber Davies, winners of Love Island, have become celebrities by dint of having sex for the cameras. Surely such easy fame must raise her hackles? ‘Longevity is the test,’ she says. ‘Let’s see where everyone is in ten years’ time.’
Myleene lives her brand, wearing the clothes from her range both in public and private. A capsule collection of 15 pieces has expanded into dozens, updated according to what she needs for her own wardrobe. ‘That’s my saving grace. I’m not a man in Italy telling women what to wear, I’m a woman who’s sitting here thinking, “I need something for the office, something for the school run and something for my aunt’s birthday party,” and I know how I want it to look and feel.’
Popstars had one lasting impact on her life. It was while a member of Hear’Say that she met Graham, the Irish boss of the security firm hired to protect the band. In the aftermath of the couple’s split in 2012 they gave conflicting versions of what had gone wrong and Myleene said she had been foolish to go into marriage without a prenup. Now, she says, ‘it feels like another lifetime’.
What she will say is that it made her doubt her ability to judge character. ‘When it comes to business I am extremely decisive. I have a strong gut instinct for what’s right,’ she says. ‘But on a more personal side of things I’m not sure my instincts are so well developed. What was nice about meeting Sim was knowing he was trusted by my friends – that they vouched for him.’
Their blind date almost didn’t happen. They arranged to meet at a London private members’ club and Myleene went to the wrong one. ‘That was awkward, but luckily he’s very sweet and he rang me beforehand to get to know me a bit, so we had each other’s numbers. We’d both been single for three years and we’d been married so we knew what we were looking for – or I guess we knew what we were not looking for. I was 36 when I met him and you look at dating with different eyes as you get older. We think alike. I admire his morals, his family values, he’s a decent person. I have two children to think of, so that’s important.’
They have taken all four children on holiday together, but she’s not sure either of them is ready to get married again: ‘It’s early days. I didn’t even think I’d be here, so who knows?’ Myleene turns 40 next year but apart from upping her exercise – partly for fitness, partly to look after her bad back, ‘but no pilates, it’s too boring; I prefer high-intensity workouts such as boxing’ – she feels the milestone is something to embrace. ‘I would fear 40 if I hadn’t accomplished what I wanted. But I’m not frightened of it; I feel good. I have grown more confident with age. I would not wish to be that girl in that band again for one second. I don’t regret it – I’m thankful for it – but I don’t understand the obsession with youth. Maybe that comes from the Philippines, where they believe the older you get the wiser you are. I hope they’re right.’
By Margarette Driscoll
Myleene’s new homeware range is available at littlewoods.com