‘I don’t really have the time right now for TV,’ says Trinny Woodall, which is a surprise. After all, TV is the reason we know about her. She is the makeover queen who, along with her partner-in-crime Susannah Constantine, made her name telling women what not to wear. Their show was a huge hit during the early Noughties — until, as is often the way, it wasn’t. The BBC dropped them. TV production companies stopped calling. And Britain’s charity shops filled up with well-thumbed copies of Trinny and Susannah’s bestselling books.
But Trinny never had any intention of retiring gently. Instead, she did what she does best — a makeover — only this time, she transformed herself. She decided to try her luck on social media — on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram — to see if she could broadcast directly to a new audience. ‘I cut out the middle man,’ she explains. ‘Nowadays, nobody edits me or decides how I should be perceived. It gives you such freedom.’
This freedom to broadcast is something anyone who has grown up in the age of social media will be familiar with. Teenage YouTube stars often earn millions; advertisers would rather give their money to twentysomething ‘influencers’ than pay for pages in magazines.
But it was a conversation with a tech investor in Silicon Valley that made Trinny, now 54, realise that she could also find new opportunities in this youthful market. ‘He said, “How many followers do you have on Instagram?” and I said, “A few thousand”. I just used it for pictures of my daughter. He put the phone down on me. So I made the decision to start using social media as a way to broadcast. I put my phone on my bathroom wall and started talking to camera — and all these women from around the world started watching me.’
Her videos are now broadcast throughout the week to hundreds of thousands of people. The focus is predominantly on fashion and beauty, delivered with an enjoyable frankness and spontaneity. ‘It’s so important for older women to engage with social media and be tech-savvy because it helps you feel ageless. The excuse that “It’s not my decade to do that” is rubbish.’
Trinny is happy to dish out advice to women of all ages and she still does a little television when she can. She has a slot on This Morning several times a month. ‘It keeps you in tune with the average Mrs Joe. I also talk about topics that appeal to younger women. They have insecurities I understand — and I don’t dress like their mothers,’ she says. (She styled herself for our shoot in a bright pink Zara suit in just five minutes.)
Her own daughter, Lyla, is 14. Would Trinny be happy if she also became a social media star? ‘I don’t care what Lyla does, but what I do want is for her to have a work ethic. The other day, she wanted some clothing, and I thought I’d let her use the infrastructure she has got within social media to work out how to do it. So she sold about six things on Depop — a youthful version of eBay — and I said, “Great — did you think about postage and packaging?” She hadn’t, but now she knows you need to factor in that cost. It gives her a business sense.’
‘When I went to school, teachers just said to most young women, “You might be a good secretary or a PA.” That was the main opportunity if you didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer. At one point when I was younger, I wanted to be prime minister. Then I had a period working in the City, trading commodity funds, but what I really love is giving advice to women’. As she points out, the internet has created vast new opportunities to do just that. Other women seem to trust her judgment — and trust is a valuable and precious commodity online.
In recent weeks, Facebook has come under increasing scrutiny because of data breaches. Does she worry that it might be fading in power as people lose faith in the site? ‘Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the world. I really don’t think it’s going anywhere,’ she says. In August last year, Facebook launched Watch, a video streaming service similar to those run by Amazon, YouTube and Netflix. Its UK launch is coming soon and Trinny has been chosen as one of ten British social media personalities to produce some of its first programmes.
Social media can be vicious, of course. Does she ever get trolled? ‘Not really,’ she says. ‘We have pervy men who watch, but we can block words from the comments which they think are funny — “penis”, for instance. But generally, the women who watch are very supportive.’
This support, built up over the past few years, led her to launch a makeup brand called Trinny London. It seems to be flourishing, but not all of her past ventures have been a success. During the dotcom boom, she and Susannah launched Ready2Wear, which collapsed, taking £10 million of venture capital with it. ‘It’s so corny, but you learn far more from a setback than you do from success.’ Her advice? ‘Cut out middle management. I hired too many managers and I paid them quite a lot of money. They just sat there licking the fat.’
Her new business has the feel of a small start-up. The office is full of young men and women flurrying around with samples of products. Upstairs, two customers are being given makeovers. All the products are sold through her website using an algorithm which matches your skin tone to the right makeup. ‘The art of the make-over is something I own more than anyone else, so that brought us a lot of customers who generally would never have bought makeup online for the first time.’ It all feels very feminine, very pretty — but with 11 investors, including Unilever Ventures, and her partner, Charles Saatchi, presumably it must be run in a more cut-throat manner than appearances suggest?
‘There is a certain way to negotiate with men. In 1996, I started a column for the Telegraph. After a few months, I went back and negotiated the contract with Charles Moore, the editor at the time. I said, “This is what I want” and he agreed.’ ‘Nowadays, when I’m fundraising, I’ll sit across the table from a group of predominantly male investors. If I say, “You’re really lucky I came to see you — I’ve got multiple funds interested and you need to tell me in two weeks,” they’ll be more likely to go for it. If I’m charming and say how exciting everything is, they just think, “This is a woman’s business” and are less likely to invest. Women are women for a reason; men are men for a reason.’
She pauses. ‘Most interviewers now ask me if I’ve ever been groped in the workplace.’ I wasn’t about to ask this, but given the prompt, I do. ‘The answer is no — I just don’t put up with any shit. I have never experienced any kind of groping. From 27 I was self-employed so I’ve never had a difficult relationship with a male boss. I’m a tough woman.’ Is she a feminist? ‘No.’
After her TV career slowed down, her life was hit by tragedy. She was unable to conceive, and went through nine rounds of IVF and suffered two miscarriages before Lyla was born. Then in November 2014, her ex-husband Johnny Elichaoff fell to his death from the roof of Whiteleys shopping centre in West London. Was she able to retain her tough demeanour even through that?
‘How you judge personal difficulties is subjective, but life does not stop. I’ve never believed that it does, not even that you should take time out. I churn on. I’ve never felt — and I think one must never be — a victim of life, ever. Half my family is Scottish and I was brought up to believe you are never a victim. You never show your feelings. I’ve tried to create that in my own family life. Lyla is a very engaged, gregarious child and she shouldn’t be anything else. Her dad died, which is unbelievably tragic, but it shouldn’t define her. If I allow that to define her, it will be detrimental to her, so I don’t.’
Elichaoff’s name has been in the papers recently following the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. There is some suggestion that her ex-husband’s suicide may have been connected to the murky world of Russian business. He was part of the ‘Cipriani Five’ group, who would meet at the London restaurant to discuss business. They included the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky; property investors Paul Castle and Robbie Curtis; Elichaoff and Scot Young, an entrepreneur. Between 2010 and 2014, all five died in mysterious circumstances. Young’s death came a month after Elichaoff’s. He was found impaled on the railings beneath his London flat. At the inquest in 2015, the coroner ruled that there was not enough evidence to suggest suicide. Does Trinny think her ex-husband was targeted? She’d rather not discuss it.
We talk about her current partner, Charles Saatchi. ‘We have a good time together,’ she says. Is she aware of her boyfriend’s feud with Taki? In 2014, the two engaged in a furious war of words after Taki used his Spectator column to stand up for Nigella Lawson, Saatchi’s ex-wife. ‘The art world is full of rogues and pirates,’ he wrote. ‘In my book, the heroic man who grabbed Nigella by the throat is both of these things, and he is most welcome to come and try to grab my little throat any time.’
Saatchi responded, saying Nigella had always found Taki’s column ‘toe-curlingly vile’, before challenging him to a cage fight ‘with no gloves, no rules, and the loser being carried out, usually battered to bits’. ‘I can’t even remember that,’ says Trinny. ‘It was five years ago, so no, it’s like whoosh!’ She gestures with her hand. She has an unusual ring on her ring finger, made out of one of her Trinny London makeup pots (she later swaps it to the other hand). Is it significant? ‘No, I have very big hands. I always wear my rings on this finger.’
Is she interested in British politics, given her youthful ambition to be PM? What does she think of Theresa May? ‘I have no interest in even opening the newspapers right now. I am so uninterested in politics. It’s all just a grey blur. The thing I believe in much more is having women watch me and from that, finding an energy in their life.’ She has certainly rediscovered her own energy.
Follow Trinny on Instagram @trinnywoodall
Photography by Anna Huix / Hair by Gregory Hill / Make up by Charlotte Ribeyro using Trinny London.