Model Jodie Kidd on her love of Surrey and the fight to save her ancestral home, Cherkley Court
Here, Guildford-born model, actress and mother Jodie Kidd chats to Surrey Life about her ongoing love for the county – from trips to The Parrot Inn at Forest Green and the old cinema in Cranleigh to her thoughts on the controversial plans for Cherkley Court, her family’s one-time ancestral home
Standing at 6ft 2in out of heels, she may remain best known as a supermodel, but Jodie Kidd is nothing if not full of surprises.
For one thing, she represented England in the World Women’s Polo Championships. For another, she was unsuccessful in her bid to star opposite Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2, due to proportional reasons. And, most importantly, she deems herself an expert on all things Surrey, her native homeland.
“It’s a subject you’ll never shut me up on,” she laughs, speaking exclusively to Surrey Life magazine. “It genuinely makes me happy to rabbit on about the area; I’m an expert because it’s always been home for me. Well, half my home, at least...”
Straight out of Surrey
Half her home, she says, because she was brought up a self-confessed ‘border girl’. Born in Guildford, the new mum-of-one – to baby Indio – who walked the runways for Dior, Gucci and Matthew Williamson during her ten years on the catwalk, was raised at her family home outside the West Sussex town of Loxwood. But when her parents moved to America while Jodie was still at school in Petworth, she, brother Jack and sister Jemma would spend much of their school holidays with her grandparents at their Surrey stud farm in Ewhurst, a place that offers happy memories for the ex-model.
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“For me, Surrey is a place full of gorgeous childhood moments,” she tells us. “When my parents were away, Jemma, Jack and I would spend so much of our time in Ewhurst – probably one of the most beautiful places you could pass a summer. For hours and hours, we’d be out in the fields with my pony, trying to build up the courage to attempt the show jumps, which I got quite good at later.
“We also spent a lot of time in Barbados, which for any child is pure heaven, but I was always pining for my grandparents’ home.
“Even now, living in Loxwood with my own family, I’m over in Surrey all the time. Cranleigh is a wonderful little town with fantastic shopping. And it’s also got this wonderful old cinema, where I remember going to see my first movie – Jaws – when, naturally, I was far too young and should never have been allowed in!
“And now that the spring is here, we’ll venture over to the Hurtwood Park Polo Club – a really fun place to spend a day, as my partner and I both love polo. And a hidden Surrey treasure has to be The Parrot Inn at Forest Green. It’s a gorgeous pub, where they have their own delicatessen with amazing food. More and more people are finding out about it.”
Former ancestral home
Historically, Jodie’s preferred Surrey spot should be Cherkley Court in Leatherhead, a Victorian palatial pile of bricks with an estate of 370 acres that was once the home of her great grandfather, Lord Beaverbrook, the politician, writer and former owner of Express Newspapers.
“It’s a place that’s incredibly sacred and special for me and my family,” says Jodie. “It’s so full of our history and the rolling estate is just stunning. My great grandfather lived there as he was part of the War Cabinet during the Second World War, and we’ve got some wonderful family photographs with him and Churchill.
“Sadly, Cherkley’s no longer in the family – it had to be sold – but that hasn’t stopped me going up there all the time. I want my son to know about where he came from.”
That may soon prove difficult, however, with current plans to turn her former ancestral home into a luxury hotel, spa and golf course.
“It’s absolutely gutting to hear about the plans for development and so unfortunate that my family has no say,” she says. “There was every chance that something like this could happen but I think we were all blind to the idea that it would actually happen.
“I fully put my support behind the campaign to stop the development – I’ll do anything to maintain Cherkley Court in its historical state.”
Having left behind the catwalk nearly seven years ago, Jodie has embarked on several careers, from actress to polo professional and TV presenter. The thespian dalliance, including ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ parts in Prince Valiant and Mad Cows, with Anna Friel, was ironically short-lived, with her statuesque height proving a non-negotiable constraint. Her sporting prowess, meanwhile, led her to represent England at the Polo’s Women’s World Championships in 2005. Later, she went on to find success on the small screen, reporting for GMTV and This Morning, fronting several TV series including Sky’s The Ultimate Playboy and Channel 4’s The Ultimate Bikini Guide with sister Jemma, and even doing a prerequisite reality stint on Strictly Come Dancing, finishing a respectable fifth. And now she’s currently working with the Discovery Channel on an as yet untitled wildlife and travel series, due to air in early 2013.
“I’ve tried so much over the years and have always been one of those annoying people who ‘has’ to be busy all the time,” she laughs. “I did the modelling, I tried acting and I’ve owned shops and businesses, but I know television is my future – and what I’m working on with Discovery is by far the most exciting project I’ve ever encountered. I’ve always adored nature and this will give me the chance to become the next David Attenborough!”
However, having recently given birth to her first child, Indio, with Argentine polo player, Andrea Vianini, her ultimate priority is to spend time with her beloved young son.
“Life with Indy is just so wonderful right now,” she says. “I always knew I was maternal, I just never thought I could love someone so much. He’s such a lovely baby, you couldn’t not fall in love with him, and I’m happy to put everything else on the back burner. Motherhood is my ultimate achievement.”
In at the deep end
It’s not all bottles and midnight feeds for the TV star though, who is lending her support to Swimathon 2012, an annual charity swim in association with Marie Curie Cancer Care and the BBC’s Sport Relief, which takes place in 645 pools around the country just about the time this magazine is hitting the shelves.
“I’ve always been a water baby and it’s a fantastic event to raise much-needed funds for the charities – especially with the Olympics this year. It’s something the whole family can be involved in.”
So will Jodie be putting her own family forward for the event? “I’ll certainly be getting Andrea involved. And even Indy; he’s nearly seven months old now, so he can have a splash about. Perhaps paddle an inch or two – it’s the thought that counts!”
My Favourite Surrey…
Shop: Little Beau, on Cranleigh High Street. It’s where I buy all my son’s clothes – gorgeous little finds, so cute.
Restaurant: It’s not so much a restaurant as a pub but I love The Parrot at Forest Green – it’s a real hidden Surrey gem!
View: One of my favourites would be Cherkley Court. It’s so full of our history and the rolling estate is just stunning. We’ve got some wonderful photos of my great grandfather there with Winston Churchill.
Place to chill: My grandparents’ stud farm in Ewhurst. It’s lovely to go there and reminisce on the fun we used to have as children.
Place to visit: A walk along the Surrey Hills on a blustery spring Sunday will always do it for me.