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Toby Young
Thursday 7th December 2006

Sophie Dahl

The Lies and the Legend

The Goddess

"Is this Toby Young?"

"Yes."

"Sorry to disturb you. I'm calling from the Daily ____. I'm writing a feature on Sophie Dahl's disturbing weight loss. D'you have five minutes?"

Oh Jesus H Christ. Not again!?!

When I asked Sophie Dahl if she wanted to rent the spare room in my New York apartment five years ago I didn't realise that, for the rest of my life, I'd be called approximately once a day by some wretched tabloid hack wanting the inside dope on my former flatmate. In short, I didn't realise that this sweet, fresh-faced girl would become one of the most famous women in the world.

The "story" this time--and it isn't really a story, it never is--was that Sophie had looked "worryingly thin" (The Sun) when she'd presented children's author Mark Haddon with the best book prize at the South Bank Show Awards. Afterwards, Sophie had complained of feeling faint and asked to sit down, prompting the finest brains in Fleet Street to order up 1,000 words on how the curvy supermodel had become a super-thin waif. Was she suffering from an eating disorder?

If I'd had a little more patience, I could have explained to the reporter for the Daily ____ that Sophie hasn't been "curvy"--a Fleet Street euphemism for fat--since she moved to New York in 1999. Indeed, I might have gone on to ask her why she was bothering to call anyone. Why didn't she just dig up the last Daily ____ article about Sophie's "disturbing weight loss" and simply copy that? Or the one before that? Or the one before that? The Daily ____ has run a piece on Sophie's "disturbing weight loss" every six months or so ever since she shed her puppy fat.

Let's get one thing straight: Sophie Dahl does not have an eating disorder. How do I know this? Because two days before she presented the South Bank Show Award I watched her demolish the breadbasket at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's before ploughing through a hearty, two-course lunch. Far from being anorexic, she eats like a horse. I'm fairly sure she isn't bulimic, either. True, she did disappear at the end of the meal, claiming she had to go and get her eyebrows done, but--shock, horror--I don't think she skulked off to the ladies and stuck her fingers down her throat. No, I think she actually went and got her eyebrows done. At least, they looked like they'd been done when she re-appeared, 45 minutes later, and settled down to a plate of biscuits in the tea room.

Here's a scoop: The reason Sophie Dahl manages to stay in shape, in spite of her healthy appetite, is because she works out. With a trainer. Every day. It's as simple as that.

Almost everything you read about Sophie in the tabloid press is a myth.

Mick Jagger?

Not any more. She's been living with the same man, Dan Baker, for over a year.

A predilection for older men?

Er, no. At 25, Dan is a year younger than her.

An inexhaustible party girl?

When she was a teenager, maybe. These days she reckons she goes out--as in out out, to a fashion party or a movie premier--once every six weeks.

One of the highest-paid women in Britain? According to a recent article in the Mail on Sunday listing Britain's 100 highest-paid women, Sophie earned £1.4 million in 2003.

When I ask her about this, she bursts out laughing.

Okay, okay, but she's still one of the highest-paid models in the world isn't she?

Well, she's certainly one of the world's highest-paid models when she can be persuaded to step in front of a camera, but these days she spends most of her time working on her book. She has a contract with Bloomsbury, the publishers of her first book, to write a novel. It's due at the end of the summer. And unlike The Man With The Dancing Eyes, this is going to be a proper, grown up book.

The list goes on. And on. And on.

All of this begs the question: Why do people make up all this crap about her? What is it about this extremely down-to-earth, good-natured 26-year-old that sends Fleet Street's rumour-mongers into overdrive?

She certainly doesn't court publicity. One of the reasons the reporter for the Daily ____ was calling me was because she'd already tried--and failed--to talk to Sophie. That's the reason they all call me. Because Sophie never talks to any of them. Ever. Jordan, she aint.

True, she did once step out with a Rolling Stone, but that's hardly an exclusive club. You could fill The Hippodrome on a Saturday night with Bill Wyman's conquests alone.

She isn't a movie star.

She isn't a pop star.

She isn't even a soap star.

She's never even appeared on a reality show, for Christ's sake.

Why in God's name is Sophie Dahl so famous?

The answer, and you probably know this or you wouldn't have read this far, is that she possesses the X-factor. Style. Glamour. Sex appeal. Call it what you want. She's got it.

I can't tell you the number of occasions I've stepped into a party with Sophie on my arm and...it's almost as if someone had stood five feet in front of us and fired a Kalashnikov. What was that? Who's that? Heads whip round in unison. Everyone shuts up. The music practically stops.

Then, after a pregnant pause, people just pounce. Suddenly, we're at the centre of the hurricane. Sophie is like this fabulous, mouth-watering wedding cake--everyone wants a piece of her. I literally have to fight them off as I rush, head down, gripping Sophie as tightly as I can, towards the VIP section.

It's completely insane.

And remember. She's not a movie star. She's not a pop star. She's not even a soap star.

She just looks like...somebody. And because she looks like somebody, she is somebody.

I didn't realise it when she appeared on my doorstep in New York in 1999, but this apparently normal girl would blossom into an icon. Women like this come along once in a generation. In 50 years time, when my granddaughter is putting up pictures of Sophie on her wall, alongside Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Madonna, I'll be able to tell her that I once lived with that woman.

And of course, she won't believe me.

The Mortal

Q: So does the fact that you're now living with a 25-year-old man mean you're no longer interested in wrinkly old rock stars?

A: I don't have any interest in any men other than him, let alone older.

Q: But it's fair to say that, before Dan came along, you did have a bit of a thing about older men.

A: I don't know if I had a specific interest in older men. I suppose I just came across them more than I would if I'd been at Oxford or Cambridge. On the other hand, maybe I would have fallen in love with a don. [Laughs.]

Q: So tell me about this Bollywood movie you've just done.

A: It's called The King of Bollywood. I'm the female lead, opposite Om Puri.

Q: He's a lot older than you, isn't he?

A: For God sake, Toby, do shut up. [Laughs.]

Q: So he's not your love interest?

A: No. They managed to find an Indian soap star who was six foot to play my love interest.

Q: Will you be singing and dancing?

A: Yes, the whole thing.

Q: That'll be...kinda weird.

A: [Hitting Toby]: Shut up. It'll be brilliant.

Q: So are you still pursuing an acting career?

A: I think the problem with acting is that you need to be on call all the time, willing to get on a plane and go anywhere at a moment's notice. I'm really happy being at home, being in New York in one place. That might have to do with being in love and being happy. It's really difficult travelling all the time to film sets and so on. It's hard enough if you're not in a relationship, but if you are in one it's impossible. Doing plays makes more sense to me.

Q: Did you enjoy being in The Vagina Monologues?

A: I loved it, purely because of Sian Philips and Miriam Margoles, who were in it with me. It was like being surrounded by a gaggle of mother hens. I think there's more of a sense of camaraderie if you're in a play than a film. Of course, I wouldn't mind working with Jim Sheridan or Anthony Minghella, but I think it's rare that you land one of those parts. If I had a wish it would be that I do one really good film a year and write my book and live in New York.

Q: That's three wishes.

A: No, I live in New York already, so it's only two.

Q: Did you enjoy the experience of writing The Man With The Dancing Eyes?

A: Loved it.

Q: Did you get a lot of good feedback?

A: I got a letter from a grandmother. It was the nicest letter I've ever got. She'd read the book in her reading club. She said, 'Good on you, girl.'

Q: D'you get a lot of letters from readers?

A: Yes. They're usually from grandmothers, teenage girls or men in prison. [Pause.] The ones from prisoners aren't usually about the book, though.

Q: Can I see one? I'd love to see one of those.

A: Certainly not.

Q: And you're writing another book?

A: Novel. No pictures.

Q: When do you find the time to write?

A: Everything's now set up so that writing can be my first priority. Most nights I stay in and cook supper for Dan. We go to the country a lot. We go to the beach. It's very cosy, blissful domesticity. We just snuggle up and watch telly.

Q: What do you watch?

A: We watch the History Channel a lot. I've become a Civil War buff.

Q: Really?!?

A: Yes. And I love anything to do with Churchill. I'm obsessed with The Gathering Storm.

Q: I really liked that, too. Wasn't Albert Finney good?

A: Amazing. He's my godfather.

Q: So have you become a recluse? I notice that you don't seem to be giving as many interviews as you used to.

A: I don't believe in talking unless I've got something to talk about. Because I was so young when my career started, I was a bit dizzy and excited about the whole thing. I've always been quite private, but I didn't really know how to go about that when I was 18-years-old. I think you learn quite quickly.

Q: Didn't I read somewhere that you and Dan gave a welcome-back party for David Blaine when he came out of the Perspex box?

A: Completely made up.

Q: Would you ever consider pulling a stunt like that yourself? What about a reality show? Have you ever been asked to do I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here?

A: Not that I'm aware of. If they did call, I don't think my agent would have even bothered to pass on the message. [Pause.] Nothing would possess me to do I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. I can't imagine anything worse.

Q: Don't you miss the bright lights occasionally?

A: Generally you go out either to meet people or to meet people for work and I think once you have met someone and you're genuinely happy you only go out to see your friends. It becomes much more simple. I've always been suspicious of people who are married and still go out all the time.

Q: So will we shortly be hearing the pitter-patter of tiny feet?

A: [Laughs.] I've wanted a baby since I was about 12. It's more a question of quelling the maternal instinct. I think probably not until I'm 30.

Q: How many would you like?

A: Three. [Pause.] No, four. Boys.

Q: It's a far cry from the Sophie Dahl who appeared naked and spread-eagled in the Opium ad. What did you think of all the kafuffle about that? Weren't the posters banned in France?

A: I thought it was very amusing. I didn't really see what all the fuss was about. Compared to those Gucci pictures of the girl pulling her knickers down to reveal a G shaven in her public hair they were very mild. It's the sort of thing I hope to show my grandchildren and say, 'Look. Granny's tits once went north.' When I look at it, all I can think is, 'God, what huge feet I have.'

Q: What size are your feet?

A: I'm not going to tell you. Seven-and-a-half.

Q: [Staring at her Alice Temperly shoes]: Really?

A: Yes, really. [She gives me a stony-faced look.]

Q: So who are your female icons?

A: Most of my icons of female beauty are dead. I loved Carol Matthau. She wrote a fantastic book about growing up in New York. Truman Capote was her next door neighbour and used to spy on her in the bath. She was said to be the inspiration for Holly Golightly. I think the Duchess of Devonshire's pretty amazing, too. I think the women I'm most interested in all had quite interesting lives. I think Angelina Jolie is the ultimate renaissance woman.

Q: Angelina Jolie? What can she do apart from act?

A: She's an ambassador for the United Nations, you moron.

Q: Okay, okay. Anyone else?

A: My grandmother and my mother are both extraordinary looking and have amazing style. There are very few people around now who have that sort of glamour. I quite like some of the pop divas. I think J-Lo's fabulous. I love the way Beyonce looks.

Q: Would you ever consider doing an Austin Powers film?

A: I'd love to do an Austin Powers film. But what would my name be?

Q: What's your pornstar name?

A: Well, my first pet was a dog called Bumbie and the first street I lived in was Rosehill Gardens.

Q: Bumbie Rosehill!

A: That's quite good isn't it? [Pause.] Bumbie Rosehill.

Q: [Genuinely getting excited]: You have to do it. You'd be brilliant. Call your agent right now.

A: [Laughing]: Oh do shut up.

The Man

Dan Baker--or Daniel Baker Jr, to give him his full title--is a 25-year-old law student at New York University. He is the son of Mary Conley Baker, a philanthropist and writer, and Dr Daniel C Baker, a plastic surgeon known as "the king of New York's face-lifters". Dr Baker's clients are rumoured to include several female icons, including Meg Ryan and Sophia Loren.

Elle, June, 2004

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