Few sights in the world, I think, can be quite so restorative to sagging spirits as the one before me right now, on this cold, grey, downcast morning. There’s dawn over the Serengeti. There’s the sun setting behind the Grand Canyon. There’s Paris in the spring and New York in June and Venice by moonlight. And then there’s the approach of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, slaloming through the tables of a smart London hotel dining room, wearing tight leather jeans and a soft charcoal sweater, heading in the direction of my corner table, a broad smile on her famous lips.
At 27, Rosie is among Britain’s – and indeed the world’s – most successful models, the face and body of, at various times, Burberry, Victoria’s Secret and Marks & Spencer. She has regular appointments on the covers of our leading fashion magazines, a vital presence on social media and – less willingly – she is a fixture of the tabloid gossip sites.
More than a model, then, Rosie is a brand name in her own right. Her M&S lingerie range, Rosie for Autograph, is the fastest-selling line sold by the biggest underwear retailer in Britain. She is glamorous, clearly, but also somehow accessible. If sales of the lingerie are any indication, she appeals to women of all ages. And quite a number of us chaps think she’s smashing, too.
On the afternoon I meet her for this piece, Rosie is in town to launch her first fragrance, also called Rosie for Autograph. It has been 18 months in the making, and the creation of it took her first to New York, to meet the “nose” who worked with her on the scent, then to Grasse in the south of France, where the roses used in the fragrance are harvested and then fermented, and on to Devon to shoot the ad campaign. Today, she’s here in London. Tomorrow, she’s off to Wales for more promotion, and on the following day she’ll be on a plane back to LA, where she lives with her boyfriend since 2010, action movie star Jason Statham, a fellow Brit expat.
This is a flying visit, then, as Rosie’s visits tend to be. It’s why, apart from the obvious reason (you’ve seen the photos?) we thought she’d be the ideal cover star for Esquire’s travel issue. Because if anyone racks up the air miles, it’s our Rosie. She reckons she spends on average at least a week in the UK each month, and much of the rest of the time she’s on location for shoots or otherwise travelling for work. Still, you can take the girl out of England…
“I’ve lived out of the country since I was 18 but I do feel inherently British,” she says. “Even though I live in LA, a big bulk of my work is in England and so I feel really cemented here.” Rosie and Jason do a mean Sunday roast, I’m told.
Rosie is a rural girl originally, from Devon, where she grew up on a small farm, muddy-booted, dreaming of escape. “I was the country kid who wanted to go to the city,” she says. “As soon as I hit my teens, and I started to get inspired by fashion and culture and travel, I wanted the cosmopolitan life and the opportunities you could only get if you lived in London. I wanted to be in a city that was glamorous, that was sexy, that was dangerous.”
She’s come a long way, then, but Rosie’s was not an overnight success. She’s been modelling for 12 years, but only considers her real breakthrough to have happened at the beginning of this decade. “The first eight years of my career were a grind,” she says. “Sometimes I almost forget. I moan about having to get on a 12-hour flight and I catch myself and go, ‘Shut the fuck up, Rosie. Who thought you would be sat in First Class on British Airways sipping a cup of tea, everyone asking if there’s anything else they can bring you?’”
“It’s a very privileged bubble I rotate in,” she says, “and it’s important for me to remember that.”
Her first trip outside the country was aged 15, when she joined a school trip to Tokyo. A year later she was on planes to New York, LA, the Caribbean. “You’re like, ‘Someone is paying for me to go the Caribbean?’ It was like a joke.”
She’s worldlier now, of course. But not jaded. A few days before our meeting she was in Southeast Asia and she is evangelical about the thrills of Thailand and Cambodia in particular. She had watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat and also, working with Unicef, talked to survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime and visited the killing fields.
Thailand she values for the anonymity it gave her. “It was really the first time in the five years we’ve been together where Jason and I have been able to lie on a beach and not have some zoom lens up our arses, where people weren’t really fussed about us, and we were able to do normal things,” she says. “And you can’t get the Daily Mail in Thailand so that is one of the major reasons to go back there.”
Later, she emails me the name of the hotel she stayed at in Siem Reap, the Sala Lodges, in the hope I’ll pass the recommendation on to you. She’s good like that. (If you are in the market for a holiday, she also recommends any Aman Resort, especially the one in the Turks and Caicos; and the Firmdale Hotels in London and New York for business travellers and city-breakers.)
She has a catalogue of places to visit she hasn’t seen yet. “I’d like to go to Vietnam, I’d like to go to Laos, Burma. South America: I’d like to spend more time in Rio. I’d like to go to Argentina again, and Chile, and I’d love to go to Machu Picchu. I should write a list, really, of all the incredible places to see before I croak.”
Lately, what with all the globetrotting, she has fallen in love with home again. “I had to leave Devon to really appreciate it,” she says. “I’ve travelled really broadly across the whole world. I’ve been to some stunning places and now I go back to Devon and it is right up there. I mean it’s kind of breathtaking.” Natural English beauty, you see? It still takes some beating.
Oh, and if you are down that way, Rosie recommends the Hotel Endsleigh, in Milton Abbot. Honestly, in the extremely unlikely event the modelling doesn’t pan out, she’d make a mean tour operator.
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