There’s a power behind every throne. Justin de Villeneuve is the power behind Twiggy. Twiggy is the heir-apparent to Jean Shrimpton. And David Bailey is the power behind Jean Shrimpton – but we won’t go into that now.
Twiggy weighs 6½ stone and is just back from Paris, where she modelled the Cardin collection and posed for three covers of Elle. She’s off to New York in the spring, for £1,000 a week. Six months ago she was at school in Kilburn. She’s 16.
“I met her when she was 15,” said Mr de Villeneuve, a 27 year-old East Ender. “I saw the potential there. She’s very kookie, very twiggy. I’m sold on her.” He’d just turned down a film offer for Twiggy from Antonioni. “It wouldn’t have been right for her image. Twiggy’s like a little boy – she’s a teenage Garbo.”
Twiggy was wearing light orange boots, dark orange sailor-boy trousers, and a striped mauve and orange tee-shirt. (There certainly was a lot of orange.) She likes dogs, sewing, Batman and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, when the head fell down the stairs.
But Twiggy wasn’t saying very much: “I’m frightened I might say something wrong.” “Well, you say what you want to say, baby,” said Mr de Villeneuve. “Modelling’s better than school,” said Twiggy. “Isn’t she sweet?” said Mr de Villeneuve. “Isn’t she sweet?”
She was plain Lesley Hornby at the time, a thin and pretty 16-year-old shampoo girl from North West London who became the world’s first supermodel after her picture made it into the papers. In an interview in the Guardian the photographer Barry Lategan once remembered when Twiggy came into his Baker Street studio:
I looked through my camera and this face looked back at me and I turned round to Leonard [the hairdresser] and just went ‘wow’. It was the effect of her looking back at me, I can’t find the adjective to describe it. I think it was the eyes, she had such presence. She was gawky but she had a sort of elegance. Some people cower in front of the camera, but she became who she was.
One of Lategan’s photographs was seen by Daily Express journalist Deirdre McSharry and it appeared in the paper headlined The Face of 66.
The photographer can even claim a role in selecting the name that identified her for the rest of a career which took in acting, presenting and music as well as being an international icon.
Her boyfriend said ‘stop biting your nails, Twigs’ – short for Twiggy. I said ‘if you ever go professional you should call her that name’, so I suppose I’m partly responsible.