By Jane Mulkerrins
She survived the Costa Rican jungle with Bear Grylls, needed knee surgery after TV’s The Jump and has opened up about her battles with anxiety. Now Irish TV presenter, model and DJ Vogue Williams faces a new challenge: housetraining Pippa’s errant brother-in-law
We are little more than ten minutes into our conversation when Vogue Williams announces that she’s taking her leather trousers off. They are just ‘so incredibly itchy’, she explains, as she dashes behind a screen to change into another pair.
But back in her chair opposite me, now sporting a sleek pair of posh joggers, she remains in constant motion – shifting positions, fiddling with her great mane of wavy blonde hair and munching popcorn as she chats 19 to the dozen. It’s this boundless energy – as well as her charisma and disarming lack of airs or graces – that is helping to catapult Vogue into the spotlight.
If you aren’t yet familiar with the statuesque 31-year-old model, TV presenter, radio host, columnist and DJ, you very soon will be. She’s already a household name in Ireland where, as part of her thoroughly modern portfolio career, she presents a documentary series for the national broadcaster RTE, Vogue Williams Investigates (available in the UK on digital channel Quest Red), and her star has been in the ascendant in Britain since winning the reality series Bear Grylls: Mission Survive in 2015, beating fellow contestants including Olympian Kelly Holmes and rugby champion Mike Tindall.
The show involved spending 12 days in the Costa Rican jungle, employing survival techniques that were not for the meek. ‘I’m a bit of a tomboy and I love a challenge,’ she enthuses.
She’s also recently become prime paparazzi fodder, thanks to her relationship with fellow reality TV star Spencer Matthews, 28, whom, when we meet, she has been dating for seven months. The Eton-educated former broker was painted as the womanising love-rat of Made In Chelsea, a public image he has yet to shake off.
But more of Spencer later. We’re here today, in a studio in Southwest London, to discuss the latest string to Vogue’s well-furnished bow: her book, Everything: Beauty. Style. Fitness. Life, which is a mix of tips, personal stories and anecdotes.
‘It’s aimed at people who are very busy, who lead fast-paced lives and who want to get everything done in a short amount of time,’ she says. ‘There are little life hacks that I’ve learnt because I work so much but still want to go to the gym, go shopping, be able to take weekend trips.’
Among the ‘life hacks’ (millennial-speak for time-saving and organisational tips), Vogue also writes at length about her anxiety, and learning to combat it. It’s hard to imagine the young woman in front of me – bubbly, apparently confident and unfeasibly attractive – ever struggling with anxiety, but it’s something Vogue has battled for the past decade.
‘You do feel like a bit of a weirdo because it’s not something that’s tangible – you can’t see it and it’s often hard to explain to people, even my mum,’ she says.
‘When I tell her I’ve got really bad anxiety today, she’ll say: “Can you not just say to yourself: I need to stop thinking about that?” I have to explain to her that it doesn’t work like that; that’s the problem.’
Part of her aim with the book, therefore, is to help further understanding of the condition. ‘There is a stigma attached to anxiety, and to mental health issues in general,’ she says. I mention the work being done by Princes William and Harry, and the Duchess of Cambridge (to whom Vogue became linked when Spencer’s elder brother, James, married Pippa Middleton in May) and their mental health charity, Heads Together. ‘To have people like them, in their position, talking about this really helps it to hit home for so many people,’ she says.
She is about to film a documentary on the subject for Vogue Williams Investigates. Another episode will focus on the growing numbers of single women in their 30s and 40s using sperm donors to have babies solo. As part of the research, Vogue underwent a fertility test. ‘It was interesting and a bit nerve-racking,’ she muses. ‘But it took me doing a TV show to make me really think about it.’
She can’t reveal the results of her tests before the programme airs. She will, however, say that she wants children ‘a hundred per cent’. Spencer, she reports, wants them too. ‘We haven’t discussed having children together – we’re only seven months in!’ she cries. ‘But it’s important to know what somebody wants, even if it’s not going to happen right now. I don’t think I’d be with somebody if they didn’t want to have children.’
Growing up in the Dublin suburb of Portmarnock, Vogue was the youngest of three, with an elder brother, Frederick, and sister, Amber. ‘My grandmother claims she had heard the name somewhere,’ she says of her glamorous moniker. ‘I think it must have been after the magazine. I can’t imagine, 31 years ago, her hearing someone going on about the name Vogue in a shop somewhere in Ireland.’
Her father, Freddie, and mother, Sandra, divorced when Vogue was seven, a split that she says was ‘not amicable’. Sandra worked as both an air hostess and a waitress to support the family before remarrying, when Vogue was eight, to Neil, a businessman and property developer, and moving the family to Howth, a wealthy suburb of Dublin that Vogue calls her ‘favourite place in the world’.
Though Neil and Sandra have lived in Spain for over a decade, the majority of Vogue’s family is still in Dublin, and is close-knit. She owns a flat there, where her sister lives full time, and where she stays when working in the city. Their aunt lives above them. But family relations weren’t always so harmonious.
She refers in the book’s dedication to her teenage ‘monster years’, which began around the age of 14. Suspended from school, and after a big fight with her mother and Neil, Vogue was sent to live with her father for a year. ‘He was way less strict,’ she laughs.
At 16, she began modelling. So is she, I ask, someone who always feels confident about her looks? ‘No! I don’t think any woman is,’ she cries. ‘I’m certainly not in the shape I’d want to be in right now.’ (For the record, she looks incredible.) Though a fitness devotee, ordinarily working out six days a week, earlier this year she injured the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee while training for the Channel 4 ski challenge show The Jump before it aired in February.
‘I wasn’t able to walk properly for two and a half months and I put on a stone, maybe a stone and a half. I had lots of comments on my weight, and I was like, “Guys, give me a break, I’ve got a brace on my leg and I can’t walk.”’ But she laughs off the very personal criticism: ‘I had a great time putting on the weight, anyway.’
Vogue originally planned to continue modelling while studying architecture at Trinity College, Dublin, ‘but because I had been such a brat in school, I didn’t get the points that I needed,’ she reveals. Her stepfather persuaded her to study, rather incongruously, construction design and management, in Aberdeen instead, suggesting she try it for a year. ‘I really liked it, so I carried on. I can always use it as a plan B,’ she reasons. ‘And I’d love to build my own house at some stage and project manage it myself.’
Before she could launch herself on the building sites of Dublin, however, reality television came calling. In 2010 she was cast in Fade Street, an Irish TV show in the vein of MTV’s The Hills, which, she says, was ‘a total gas’. Then, in May 2011, she met Brian McFadden, former member of Irish boy band Westlife and the ex-husband of former Atomic Kitten Kerry Katona.
It was a whirlwind romance; within months she had moved to Australia, where he was a judge on Australia’s Got Talent, and in September 2012 they married in a lavish ceremony in Florence. She writes in her book that although it was an impulsive decision, she has ‘never regretted it’. Looking back, she also believes she was partly running away from a painful situation at home in Ireland – her father had just died after a stroke.
In 2014, the couple returned to the UK, splitting their time between London and Dublin, but separated shortly afterwards. ‘I don’t want to say too much about the break-up of my marriage because it’s in the past,’ she writes. The separation was initially amicable, but today, leading different lives, they are ‘no longer friends’, she acknowledges in the book.
Of her newfound single status, Vogue recalls: ‘I thought, “This is absolutely brilliant, I can do whatever I want.” I threw myself into my work. I loved the independence and I loved being on my own, which is not something I imagined I’d ever say,’ she admits. And then she joined The Jump.
From the start, Vogue and fellow contestant Spencer (who went on to win the show) hit it off, first in London and then at the show’s training camp in Austria. ‘You’re thrown into a situation where you’re living together for six weeks, and it was about a month into it that we both thought, “Oh, maybe this could actually go somewhere.”’ It seems they were bang on.
The day before we meet, Vogue posts an Instagram shot of the matching signet rings she’s had made for Spencer’s birthday, inscribed with an interlinked V and S. In her own words, they are ‘sweet and cringey’. So, I venture, is he The One?
‘Oh, I’m never going to answer that question again,’ she says, rolling her eyes in mock horror. ‘I would be careful about making any massive declarations of love because that bit me in the ass the last time [with Brian] and it was pretty embarrassing reading back those quotes. But, yes, we are serious and I think he’s absolutely brilliant.’
It probably helps that she’d never seen Made In Chelsea before they met. ‘He was young then and whatever he did in the past is not going to bother me or affect us,’ she asserts. ‘I just know him for who he is now. He’s so positive and down-to-earth, and the most chilled-out person you could ever meet – nothing fazes him.’
This month, the couple moved in together – to a new place that’s not haunted by the ghosts of Spencer’s girlfriends past (he’s said to have bedded over 1,000 women). ‘Spencer wanted me to move into his flat but I couldn’t live there,’ she says. So, could marriage be on the cards? ‘I’m not a hundred per cent sure I want to get married again,’ she muses. ‘It used to be important to me, but it doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. But if you’d asked me eight months ago, it would have been an absolute “no”; I am softening to the idea as time goes on.’
One wedding she won’t comment on, however, is Pippa’s. The bride was rumoured to have imposed a rule of ‘no ring, no bring’, meaning that Vogue was not invited as Spencer’s plus one, even though he was one of the best men, because the pair aren’t married or engaged.
But Vogue remains utterly discreet. ‘They’re quite private and they don’t want to be the topic of conversation, so I steer clear of it – I don’t say anything about it at all,’ she says of Spencer’s brother and new sister-in-law. She’s happy to be vocal about the rest of the Matthews clan, however.
‘I’m obsessed with his family,’ she beams. ‘His dad [David, a self-made millionaire] has a great work ethic, and I’d happily remain friends with his mum, Jane, even if I never saw Spencer again. I’m totally keeping his parents.’
Clearly besotted, then. But she’s also a woman determined to make the most of every professional opportunity sent her way. ‘I am ambitious, and I think that the harder you work, the luckier you get,’ she says. ‘I’m happy in my life right now, and it’s a place I didn’t think I’d find myself in after a tough couple of years,’ she grins. ‘That’s what I strive towards, that’s winning to me – just being happy.’
Everything: Beauty. Style. Fitness. Life by Vogue Williams will be published by Hachette Books on 28 September, price £19.99. To pre-order a copy for £15.99 until 8 October, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15
Hair: Alexandre Szabo at Carol Hayes Management. Make-up: Kenneth Soh at Frank Agency using Marc Jacobs Beauty and DHC. Styling: Nisha Grewal