Trinny Woodall on overcoming divorce and financial meltdown

Life after What Not to Wear has been far from easy for Trinny Woodall. As she launches a new make-up range she tells Margarette Driscoll, ‘I always have 100 ideas in my head’, and reveals how she found love over the backgammon board.

Trinny wears TOP, Lisou. TROUSERS, Céline. RING, Legge & Braine. CHAIR, Graham & Green
Trinny wears TOP, Lisou. TROUSERS, Céline. RING, Legge & Braine. CHAIR, Graham & Green

The place is abuzz: the team masterminding the launch of TRINNY London – her new make-up range – chattering loudly around the dining table, a wall festooned with green, pink and yellow Post-it notes, tubs of creamy make-up piled on top of one another in the kitchen, and above the fray (literally above, as she is a head taller than anyone else) Trinny, in chunky silver Prada loafers and Zara frock.

‘Ah, I need an office,’ she wails, pulling ham from the fridge and spreading cream cheese on crispbreads for lunch (it’s after 2pm), while introducing everyone, showing off her new yellow and silver packaging and talking so fast it is sometimes hard to keep up.

It is almost as hard to keep up with the shifting fortunes of 53-year-old Trinny’s life in recent years, which saw her TV career dry up, her marriage founder and her fortune disappear after the sudden death of her ex-husband. Early menopause brought on by several rounds of IVF piled on the pressure. Her energy, creativity and determination pulled her through. ‘I always have 100 ideas in my head,’ she says. ‘Getting enough sleep is an issue. I manage around five hours a night but I continually wake up my boyfriend.’

Said boyfriend is Charles Saatchi, the well-known art collector (and ex-husband of Nigella Lawson) who has played a key role in Trinny’s renaissance after a low period in which her TV career dried up and her life was touched by tragedy. The couple were introduced at a dinner party four years ago and Charles has since become her business adviser, lover and chief counsellor: ‘I was so lucky to meet him. He is my best friend and the person I tell the most to.’

Right now, we are sitting next to the bathroom from which Trinny broadcasts her Instagram and Facebook Live feeds to more than 300,000 followers. Trinny’s daily fashion and beauty tips are wise, funny, sometimes wacky but always entertaining. She films herself trying out latest trends (‘which some people say aren’t for women over 35; what rubbish!’) in high-street changing rooms. Back in the bathroom, she has demonstrated everything from dry shampoo to dermal rolling (a treatment involving a roller that makes tiny pinpricks in your skin), to £5 lip-plumping masks.

Trinny with her What Not to Wear co-star Susannah Constantine
Trinny with her What Not to Wear co-star Susannah Constantine.
Trinny with friend Elizabeth Hurley and partner Charles Saatchi
With friend Elizabeth Hurley and partner Charles Saatchi

She broadcasts her Monday musings – weekly, stream-of-consciousness chats – at 6.30am to catch women watching in Australia and the west coast of the US, and at 6.30pm for those of us closer to home. She is sometimes jaw-droppingly frank – regular followers are familiar with her skin issues, her colon and her menopause – but then honesty is her calling card. She admits to having had Botox for nearly 20 years, as well as laser treatments and controversial platelet-rich plasma therapy (nicknamed the Dracula facial, and apparently a favourite of Kim Kardashian).

BLAZER, Zara. TROUSERS, Victoria Beckham. BROGUES, Prada
BLAZER, Zara. TROUSERS, Victoria Beckham. BROGUES, Prada

‘Anyone who watches my videos knows that I’m open about my beauty regime, from the products I use to the procedures I’ve tried,’ she says. ‘I like to try new things and you’ll often see me with a facemask on in front of the camera – even when I’m riding my motorbike around town. I’m a fan of Diana, a most brilliant doctor at Dr Sebagh’s London practice, and on my Facebook page you’ll see me having a Fraxel laser treatment [to eliminate old, damaged skin cells, replacing them with fresh, healthy skin to give enhanced tone and texture]. It’s important to give women an honest review of procedures and treatments, what the experience is like and the results they can expect.’

Trinny doesn’t accept money from cosmetics companies or fashion houses to promote products. ‘The freedom I have is to be totally unbiased,’ she says. ‘Lots of people think I must be paid by Zara, but I go there because it’s the international shop everyone has access to.’

Since last year she has been back on British TV, giving style advice on ITV’s This Morning. From the outside, her life looks perfect. ‘The reality is so different,’ she says.

Indeed, there have been times in the past few years when her back’s been against the wall. When her career came to a halt she went from earning six-figure sums to next to nothing. But she is resourceful: ‘I rented out my own house and rented this [smaller] one instead, and the difference pays the mortgage. I sold off my wardrobe. I’ve always been very independent. Yes, I have a lovely holiday and Charles pays, we go out to dinner and Charles pays, but my life is my life. I’ve had periods of real extravagance and times when money has been tight, so I manage.’

Twenty years ago, as a shopaholic style magpie with an eye for fabric, cut and just the right touch of glamour, she became one half of Trinny and Susannah, the outspoken duo who ‘made over’ frumpy British women in TV’s hugely popular series What Not to Wear. They were perfect foils for one another: Trinny, the skinny (and bossy) beanpole, and Susannah, curvy and voluptuous (and gentle). In newspaper columns they used themselves as models to demonstrate which clothes suited their body shapes. What Not to Wear ran for five series; Trinny and Susannah wrote 11 fashion and style books (selling more than three million copies worldwide).

But when they moved from BBC to ITV for a new series: Trinny & Susannah Undress the Nation, ratings fell and the show was canned. They continued abroad, filming 20 series in nine countries but around three years ago the game was up: ‘We were no longer flavour of the month.’ Susannah moved to the country to write a novel (as featured in last week’s YOU). Trinny set to work on an idea for a high-quality, simple-to-use make-up range that could be carried around in neat pots that clicked together like Lego bricks.

DRESS, Magda Butrym. TROUSERS, Zara
DRESS, Magda Butrym. TROUSERS, Zara

This germ of an idea has now evolved into TRINNY London – an innovative capsule collection of make-up essentials, tailored (through a specially created digital algorithm) to suit wearers’ colouring, which will be sold online.

But just as she was trying to get the project off the ground, life intervened in a most shocking way. In November 2014 Trinny’s ex-husband Johnny Elichaoff fell to his death from the roof of Whiteleys Shopping Centre in West London after a business failure and a long addiction to painkillers following a motorbike accident in his 30s.

Trinny was devastated. Though divorced, they had remained close. A serial entrepreneur and former rock drummer, Johnny was a romantic, charismatic character. The first time he proposed, in 1996, he arranged for Trinny to be led, blindfolded, into a chapel in rural Greece lit with hundreds of candles where he was waiting on one knee. Three years later, after they had broken up and got back together he proposed again, this time in her bathroom.

The marriage, though happy, was under stress from the start. Trinny was unable to conceive and underwent nine rounds of IVF and suffered two miscarriages before their daughter Lyla, now 14, was born. Later, the couple had seven more attempts at IVF but there was no second pregnancy.

Even though Johnny’s addiction was becoming worse and Trinny had a small child to look after – and often Johnny’s son Zak, now 25, from an earlier relationship – Trinny believed she could cope, having overcome her own battles with alcohol and cocaine in her 20s (she has been clean and sober ever since). ‘Still, it’s amazing how you can fail to see what’s going on around you,’ she says. ‘And then, everything unravelled.’

Trinny with her former husband Johnny Elichaoff
Trinny with her former husband Johnny Elichaoff
Trinny with daughter Lyla
With daughter Lyla 

They divorced in 2009 but remained friends. Even now, Trinny’s voice breaks when she speaks of him. ‘He could be wonderful, but when you live with an addict you live with fear. You dread the next phone call,’ she says. ‘When I decided to divorce him – and it was a big decision because he wasn’t well [he had depression], but there had been years of Johnny not being well – I couldn’t bear to stay in the house. I could have moved to the suburbs, traded down, but I wanted Lyla to have a perfect, fabulous home where we could create the life she should have had.’

So she bought a house in Kensington and took on a huge mortgage, piling stress upon stress. Around the same time, in her mid-40s, she was hit by the menopause. ‘It came early because when you have IVF and remove a lot of eggs the end of your fertility can come sooner. I seemed to lose my energy and positivity. I felt insecure, my emotions were all over the shop. Thankfully, that’s passed now. There might be lots going on but I no longer have that feeling of waking up in despair.’ Because Trinny’s mother had suffered from breast cancer, Trinny opted not to go on conventional HRT. ‘Then I saw an endocrinologist in America – they’re way ahead on this kind of thing – and after a series of tests, she prescribed biodynamic hormones. As well as those, I take turmeric pills for bloating and fluid retention, and I try to get lots of advice from experts.

‘I put on two stone in the menopause, but I’d been 8st 11lb before, which was far too thin. I’ve always eaten well, but I burn a terrific amount of energy. I used to weigh myself once a week but I haven’t done so for two years now. The last time I did I was 10st 6lb which is a nice weight for me. I was always a beanpole, but now I look in the mirror and think, “Hmm, there’s a bit of tummy and my legs are quite swollen”, so I won’t wear a dress. I can get quite heavy legs, but I don’t care. I like clothes that fit so, to look and feel better, I just buy a larger size.’

Slowly, she picked herself up and sorted herself out. The sale of her clothes raised £30,000. She met Charles. Things were looking better. And then Johnny died. The day she heard what happened, Trinny’s first thought – though reeling with shock – was for the wellbeing of Lyla, then nine, and due home from school in a few hours’ time.

When Lyla got home from school they went upstairs. ‘She knew there was something going on because there were so many people in the house. We sat on the bed and I gave her a hug and said, “Dada’s died”. I just held her, and Zak came and held her…and together, somehow we got through but there have been ramifications from Johnny’s death. He left a financial mess.’

DRESS and NECKLACE, French Connection
DRESS and NECKLACE, French Connection

Nine days before their divorce was finalised, Johnny had been declared bankrupt. The £24,000 a year Trinny had been awarded in maintenance for Lyla never materialised, nor did she see a penny of the £1.4 million she had lent Johnny during their marriage. Late last year a court ruled that Trinny was not responsible for Johnny’s debts but she still faces a second action. ‘It’s relentless,’ she says. ‘My biggest wish is to have all this resolved so I can grieve.’

Lyla is now happy at boarding school, though she likes to know Trinny’s whereabouts: ‘If she can’t get hold of me she’ll call eight times in a row. It’s natural, she’s lost a parent. But mostly I feel she’s dealt with it. We do discuss Johnny and there are pictures of him everywhere and I’ll sometimes say “Dada would have said…”’

One of Trinny’s recent clips on Instagram shows the two of them on a girls’ weekend in Paris. Lyla has also appeared on This Morning, hosting an item on the clothes children would choose for their mothers. She is a natural on camera. ‘She is, but I don’t want to be the sort of parent that ropes their child into everything they do,’ says Trinny. ‘The line between home and work becomes blurred because I have to keep my social media going, but I don’t overthink it; it is what it is. I feel we’re very close right now and she has good friends and she’s a good friend to other girls and that’s important to take you through life.

‘I worry about being a single mother, but I get good counsel from Charles. He has a fabulous daughter, Phoebe [23] who is incredibly gracious and smart. He’s got a great child because he brought her up well.’

Charles has clearly been a rock, but he does sound like a daunting date. After that first dinner party, he asked Trinny to lunch saying he’d heard she was good at anagram Scrabble, and challenged her to a game. ‘I had about 12 words; he did them all in three seconds,’ she says. ‘Then we played backgammon. I’ve played since I was about five – it was the only way I could get money from my dad – and Charles and I drew, with a game each. All the time we were chatting and he was asking me about my life.’

They decided they would have dinner with her friends, then with his, then have lunch and decide whether they liked one another: ‘Very grown-up,’ she says. As it happened, she was throwing a dinner party the following evening and sat him between an art historian and her friend and neighbour Elizabeth Hurley. Charles turned up with comedian Harry Enfield and political commentator Matthew Norman.

The next night they went to Scott’s in Mayfair. Trinny had been away filming all summer and says she knew nothing about the much publicised ‘malarkey’ that had gone on at the restaurant (Charles photographed with his hand on Nigella’s throat just before they split). ‘When we left, the press was outside and I felt a bit freaked out.’

She spends evenings at Charles’s house and days at her own. Charles is one of the early investors in TRINNY London (along with Unilever Ventures), ‘but only because he thinks it’s a great product. He’s quite tough.’

Inside each make-up package is an inscription that says, ‘Be your best…’ It is Trinny’s motto: ‘I think the lasting lesson of making over 5,000 women is the difference in confidence between women who make the most of what they have – intellectually and physically – and those who don’t.

‘I feel every day I want to be my best. I love being over 50 because I’ve grown in confidence with experience. But I’ve always been someone who looks forward. Even when Susannah and I had a bestselling book for the third year running I was never thinking about what I’d achieved. For me – it’s always, what’s next?’

TRINNY’S CAPSULE COLLECTION 

Trinny and her business partner Mark McGuinness-Smith
Trinny and her business partner Mark McGuinness-Smith

All a woman really needs, according to Trinny, is a good base, blusher, highlighter and lip gloss. Her creamy concoctions are designed to be applied with your fingers – no need for different-sized brushes or applicators.

You can buy just one item, or create a stack that click together to fit into a handbag. Trinny developed the idea when she was travelling and filming: ‘I’d unwind in my hotel room by decanting my make-up into little pots from Muji, squeezing together colours to make new ones,’ she says. ‘I was working with make-up artists all the time so I was able to try lots of different formulas but I often thought, “I wish this had a better pigment release; I wish this was more creamy; I wish this stayed on the skin longer.”’

The website helps you find the right shades to suit your colouring. You will be guided through a series of questions about your eye, hair and skin tone, then presented with a refined choice of colours that are right for you.

What Trinny has created – after months of development with an Italian cosmetics manufacturer, and having tested the formula on scores of ‘real’ women – is her ideal make-up kit.

‘The essentials are BFF [best friend forever], a skin perfector cream that lights up your skin,’ she says. ‘Then foundation, which you put where you need it. I use it under my eyes and over a scar on my cheek. I’ve included a pot of cleaning pads because you might be putting on make-up in the train on the way to work. Then highlighters, one light, one dark – I pop them in the corner of my eye if I’m tired – and a lip colour which I also dab on my cheeks for a little glow. I’m done in two minutes. It’s like painting by numbers.’


TRINNY London make-up pots cost between £16 and £35 each, and come packaged in her favourite colours, yellow and silver. trinnylondon.com

 Styling: Annie Swain. Hair: Shukeel Murtaza at Frank Agency using Kevin Murphy. Make-up: Charlotte Ribeyro using TRINNY London 

By Margarette Driscoll