Kelly Hoppen MBE, 58, is an interior designer, author and businesswoman. She’s also a TV personality, having appeared in Dragon’s Den and The Great Interior Design Challenge.

…when we moved to London [from South Africa]. 

I was three or four and our first home was in Sloane Street. It was a very big apartment— we had huge bedrooms, a large nursery, a long corridor and there was a stained-glass window in the entrance hall. I used to run into my parents’ bedroom every night—I had nightmares that these little men would come out of the stained-glass window and follow me into my room.

 

…my brother and I had vivid imaginations.

We’d play games in which we’d create make-believe scenes, like theatre sets. One was an airport and we were at the check-in. We’d check people in and we’d have fake boarding passes and we’d give them vouchers for “delays”, which happened to us a lot.

The other game we used to play was drycleaners. I used to get clothes from my mum, pin the numbers on, put them in plastic and hang them on wire hangers. We had a great love of the same music and Michael will, to this day, get an album, say “track one” and I’ll know exactly which bit he means.

 


Kelly didn't enjoy school but remembers a "fantastic" upbringing and adolescence

 

…both my parents worked.

t was a very normal family and my brother and I got on well. He’s two years older than me; we had a very special relationship growing up. My parents had a lot of friends and entertained a great deal. We were always included in that, so we had a fantastic upbringing.

 

…we used to go back to South Africa.

We went every Christmas until I was 16. Christmas in Cape Town was heaven. We’d go for a good three weeks in total and always stay at my grandparents’ home in Constantia, which was stunning.

It was all about family time, beach days, family lunches, seeing cousins, catching up with friends. We went to pool parties and listened to the radio, as there were no TVs in those days. We spent evenings at drive-in movies and then used to head to the Dairy Den for ice cream! My first kiss, first love and first drink all happened over those Christmases—it was the happiest time of year for me.

 


Kelly frequently visited South Africa while growing up

 

…loving the way people felt in my grandparents' home.

It wasn’t the style but the way they welcomed people into their home. My parents’ home was also beautiful, so I was always surrounded by good taste. My mum used to take me to see show flats on weekends, which I loved.

 

…I didn't enjoy school.

I was bullied there but I had some close friends from outside school. My brother went to boarding school when he was quite young so I was kind of an only child at home. I hated it but it was what it was. On the other hand, it was also sort of great because I’d want to go out with every one of his best friends...it’s always handy having an older brother.

 

 


Harnessing her trademark hair

 

…the first Architectural Digest I ever saw.

I was obsessed with one page in it, which was the before-and-after pictures [of a room] and I knew then that I wanted to do it. The first time I designed a room I was 13. I had a very pink bedroom and my brother and I swapped bedrooms and I designed it—with a cream shag-pile carpet, brown felt walls trimmed with chrome and modern furniture. I was always moving things around at home; it was in my blood.

 

…not understanding apartheid.

When I was young I knew instinctively that it was wrong—and the older I became, the more it abhorred me. It was one of the reasons I stopped going back to South Africa.

I remember I went back when my father died [Kelly’s father passed away when she was 16] and I made friends with a mixed-race band called Pacific Express. I toured with them and got into trouble because apartheid was rife, and for me to be with black or mixed-raced friends was simply not allowed. It was such a horrific thing to come to terms with. They were the nicest people and some of the happiest times I had were spent with them. It’s something I’ll never forget—atrocious politics.

 

 


She toured with a band called Pacific Express

 

…I was commissioned by a family friend to do a kitchen.

It was my first proper interior-design job. It was a standard kitchen from start to finish and it was a disaster because the client was an alcoholic. But it was a good lesson and I knew nothing could frighten me. From there I got a fantastic job at the racing driver Guy Edwards’s home. I was tenacious and worked hard to build my business. You define your life—you can’t lie on your back and wait for it to happen.

 

…Peter Jones in Dragon's Den putting a mask on his face.

It was my first week of filming and I lost it laughing, and I thought, Are they going to fire me? But then Deborah Meaden started to laugh, then Duncan Bannatyne—everybody was hysterical. Peter didn’t think it was that funny so I put the mask on, and then he laughed.

 


With friend Lord Bruce Dundas

 

…getting a letter on a Friday that I didn’t open until the Monday.

It must have been in a brown envelope. Being dyslexic, I read it and thought, What does that say? And then I re-read and realised I’d got an MBE.

That night, I was very emotional and I called my mum and my kids. They were over the moon. My mum said, “Darling, don’t tell anybody, they won’t give it to you”, but I’d already told 20 people. It’s so exciting, you can’t not. It was an amazing day. We had a lunch and a party in the evening and Rory Bremner gave a talk about MBEs (“makes beige exciting”). It was great.

 

…getting divorced was a tough time.

Ed [Miller, Kelly’s second husband] and I didn’t fall out of love—it was just circumstances, with him getting involved with a cult abroad. It was a difficult time. Also, I would say the death of my father when I was 16 was very hard. These times make you stronger and they define who you are; you go through them and good times come again.

 


Kelly's daughter Natasha and stepdaughters Savannah and Sienna

 

…my mother's words.

She's said that the thing that makes her most proud of me is that Ed and I brought up our family for 16 years. Ed became like a father to my daughter, Natasha, because she doesn’t see her own dad, and I became a stepmother (and still am) to his girls. Jo, who’s Sienna Miller and Savannah Miller’s mother, was very sick with cancer when I first met Ed, so the kids came to live with us.

There was an enormous bond between us and there still is. Jo was an amazing stepmother to my daughter too. We had a very unusual family that seemed quite strange, especially all those years ago. But we’re very blessed. We still go away as a family group on summer holidays.

 

…receiving letters from my father when I was travelling.

He said that we Hoppens aren’t demonstrative enough. He said you have to show your love, care for people and do unto others what you would have done to you.

 


Kelly and her daughter Natasha, now a chef and food blogger, posed for a portrait to support WaterAid's Deliver Life Appeal in 2015

 

…thinking that unless somebody's died, you deal with it.

You have to stay calm and focused and you’ve got to live life to the full. I think it’s because my dad died when I was very young that I’ve always had that mentality. I remember Alexandra Shulman [the former editor of Vogue magazine] once said to me, “I’ve got a dress from Gucci and it’s just sitting in my wardrobe—I’m waiting for a special day to wear it but I’ve waited a year now.”

I said, “Why wait? If you’ve got something and you love it, wear it today.”

It’s like with anything in life, today’s the day—you never know what’s going to happen.

 

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