As Heather Mills prepares for a cookery show in Birmingham, Richard McComb discusses veganism, her public image ...and cleaning her loos.
I am talking to Heather Mills as she does the shopping at a cash and carry.
It is not what I had envisaged. Not very boutique, hardly Hello!
Heather has just got it in the neck – again – for wearing a (say in po-faced middle-market tabloid voice) a “very daring playsuit and thigh-hugging boots” at a film premiere. So I am poised for something risqué.
What I get instead is this: the shocking revelation that the ex-Mrs Saint McCartney likes nothing better than whipping on her Marigolds and giving the loos the once over at her vegan cafe
I’m subtle about it, obviously, because I’ve been told any talk about the minted bloke from The Beatles is off the Q & A radar, as is her current squeeze.
But it is a fact that Heather was awarded £24 million in the (tabloid voice again) “Macca divorce cash grab”, so she’s not short of a bob.
“It’s not that I don’t have to,” says Heather of lavvy-cleaning duties at the caff.
“When it’s manic, it doesn’t matter how many people you employ. One, it’s hard to get really great staff. And two, we just work as a team. I’ve always worked like this with all my businesses over the years.
“If you’re involved and you’re hands-on, your staff will work as hard as you. So when they see me cleaning the loos and scraping the potatoes [not at the same time] and running to the cash and carry, they think, “Ah, okay, we can’t be snooty about what we do.’”
Yeah, I get it. But the loos? The Dancing On Ice Star blasting under the rim with the Toilet Duck? It doesn’t ring true.
“Well, why not? You’ve got to remember, it’s my brand, it’s my reputation. I don’t want people saying, ‘Oh, they’ve got stinky loos.’ Do you know what I mean?”
Yes, I do know what she means. I’m a food critic. I’ve been there.
“I think a loo says something about health and hygiene and that’s why we’ve got the highest rating for health and hygiene and we are proud of it.”
As we talk, Heather is bulk-buying bottles of water after her cafe, VBites in Hove “lagoon”, was denuded of supplies during a recent hot spell. It’s impossible to speak to her for the first time without being aware that she is Preconception Central. When I mention later that I have interviewed her, just about everyone says: “Is she mad?”
Confident? Strident? Paranoid? She’s all those, to a greater or less extent. But I don’t think she’s out-and-out mad. And she really isn’t rude, at least not to me, even though I’m very easy to be rude to. She’s even concerned about my colon, more of which later.
So why is 42-year-old Heather, “the Geordie nutter” (her words, not mine) the tabloids’ whipping boy, or rather girl? Her campaign against land mines (she lost her left leg in a road accident in 1993) led to bitchy comparisons with Princess Di.
She’s variously slagged off for: her fashion sense; for participating (it has to be said years ago) in some pretty tame fleshy photography; for getting her boobs reduced; for taking Sir Paul “to the cleaners” after four years of marriage; for saying she might “do a Madge” and adopt a child; and for being, well, Heather Mills.
Why the bile, I wonder?
“I create a lot of enemies being anti-beef, anti-dairy, anti-land mines,” says Heather.
“You’ve got to remember, I have got a lot of enemies. They spin things, they pay people to do things ... Strong women get slagged off. That’s how it is in Britain. I am a strong, outspoken, truthful woman and people don’t always like to hear the truth.”
She will never go gently into that good night, which is why, she says, she had to defend a claim for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination by her former nanny, Sara Trumble.
Hours before we speak, Heather has been told the tribunal has made its decision but there will be a written judgment, to be made public any day now. She doesn’t know the ruling but is convinced she will be vindicated. If she loses, there will only be one explanation, she says. For legal reasons, I won’t disclose what she suggests.
The case was “stressful and hurtful.” Heather says she treated Miss Trumble, an ex-beauty therapist, like a daughter but refused to pay for the employee’s £4,000 breast enlargement surgery. The nanny had wanted to up-cup just months after she gave birth to a daughter, says Heather.
“The reason I fought the case, unlike a lot of people who have been through the same thing, is because I had to make a stand,” she says.
“Too many people had said too many lies. I had let that person [pointedly, she doesn’t use the nanny’s name] into my life for five years. I had to make sure people out there didn’t think they could get into a family and try and blackmail them.”
She could have paid off the nanny, though, and got her to sign a confidentiality agreement.
“She already had signed a confidentiality agreement but people break them ... I did that once in my past with a young girl who made a story up. Basically, I didn’t pay her off but my ex and my sister did when I was suffering a revision amputation. And I didn’t know anything about it.
"Of course, because they paid her off it looked like she was telling the truth so I said that will never happen again. If it had been down to me then I would immediately have gone all the way to court with it.”
Heather is warming to her theme.
“What happens is you get another person that thinks, ‘Oh, she never fights it. So I’ll try extort and blackmail money out of her.’ It’s a bit like the Michael Jackson scenario. He was forced by his lawyers to pay off the first people that accused him.
"So then another lot come along and accuse him and put him through hell and ultimately he dies from all that stress.
“The truth is the truth and I spoilt the girl (Miss Trumble) rotten. I did everything I possibly could. Never sacked her, never raised my voice to her in my life. And she abused it and sold a story and tried to get money out of me.”
Heather, adds: “She’d just had a baby and I didn’t agree with the breast enlargement when your baby is only a couple of months old. I said ‘Wait until it’s a few years and then see.’ But she wasn’t happy in her relationship and wanted to improve herself for her boyfriend. I didn’t think that was very healthy.”
When I raise the fact that she herself had breast surgery, albeit a reduction, she says it’s “old news.”
But knowing you are going to spark a media firestorm, even if you are in the right, might make most multi-millionaires seek the quiet life rather than going public at a tribunal. Unless, of course, you enjoy the publicity.
Heather is not having it. “You are either innately the kind of person that is trying to make a difference, that is trying to overcome all challenges and focus on the bigger picture. Unfortunately, unless I have a lobotomy that’s who I am. I can’t help it. I know that when I really focus on something and it comes to fruition it makes huge change. Once you have experienced that you can’t let that go.
“A lot of people say that to me: ‘Why do you bother? Why do you do this? It’s not doing much for you. Blah, blah, blah.’ But they don’t live my life. They don’t see when I have a little girl who’s depressed and her mother’s ringing up because she’s going to loose her leg and she doesn’t know what to do. And I can raise awareness and help her.
“When you’re living in that world and not in the superficial celeb world you cope with everything because you are with people who are suffering 20 million times more than you ever will. It gives you strength.”
So what about veganism – and bowel movements? Heather is concerned about mine.
I let slip I have just returned from Lyon, a city famed for eating every part of an animal, with the exception of eyelashes. It’s not the most tactful thing to tell a hard core meat-free campaigner but she’s untroubled. Heather is in Birmingham next week to give a vegan cooking demonstration.
The Incredible Veggie Cookery Show, backed by vegetarian and vegan organisation Viva!, will give her a chance to show off her favourite recipes. But gastronomy, to me, means meat and fish, which are no-go areas (as are dairy products, like cheese) for vegans. Does Heather really think she could make me salivate with a “beefy style” stroganoff?
“I can 100 per cent promise you you will be in shock,” she says. I’m not sure how to take this.
The cook loves “chicken-style” creamy nut korma and confesses: “I’m a cupcake girl. I like my lemon drizzle cupcakes.”
But that’s got to be fattening for a former model. Not at all, she says. And the conversation gets colonic.
“People think, ‘Oh, I’m bloated’ when they eat wheat. Not to freak anybody out, but most of the time it is the putrified meat in your colon. When the wheat comes through, it brushes it and creates peristalsis and then creates movement, and then a lot of gas is created to push everything out.
“When you first become vegan, a lot of it comes out. You think ‘What on earth’s going on?’ You didn’t know that much was in your system.”
Then she tells me: “Try it for a month and all your French gastronomy will come out. It’s proven scientifically you will feel 100 per cent fitter.”
She reckons my energy levels will be boosted too: “When I did Dancing on Ice, I was never tired. Everyone was saying ‘This is so exhausting.’ And I was like, ‘This is like a holiday.’”
Veganism, she insists, is healthy and provides all the essential nutritional stuff. Her daughter, now aged six, with Sir Paul, is vegan. Beatrice has never known anything different, says Heather.
“My daughter has been vegan all her life. The perception of veganism is the smelly hippy that doesn’t wash and eats lots of risottos. And it’s not like that,” she says.
“Once you fully understand it then you see that everything is replaceable and that’s why I created a virtual replication of McDonald’s. If my daughter wants to have a burger and chips, she can have it. It’s just the chips are oven-baked and the burger is meat-free, but tastes like a burger. Everything is replaceable. If she wants a cake, she can have a cake. If she wants ice cream, she can have ice cream.”
Beatrice’s friends, says Heather, can’t tell if the savouries and sweet treats are vegan: “They’ve got no idea. They just eat it and think it’s yummy. Every time I go to a birthday party I take along an extra cake and half the time the kids eat that as well.”
Although Beatrice has a strict meat-free and dairy-free diet, her mum says she does not have to draw up a dos and don’ts list when her daughter goes for tea at her friends’ homes.
Heather says: “You know what’s funny? When she goes to other people’s houses most of the kids now at school have so many intolerances, to nuts, to dairy, to all sorts of gluten, and vegan food covers all of that. All of the people in my daughter’s class generally go for the healthier option anyway. It’s much easier than you think. There is fear and naivety. But if something tastes great, you eat it.”
Heather maintains her ideas on healthy eating, once mocked, are now accepted by dieticians.
“It’s like everything in life,” she says. “When people first said smoking was bad for you, they were called crazy. When vegetarianism first came in, it was called crazy. Children climbing up chimneys was normal once.
“Eventually, everyone will come to the realisation that feeding dead sheep to cows is not what cows are meant to have. Every time we fight against nature and stop being its gatekeeper we pay a price.”
* Heather Mills’ Incredible Veggie Cookery Show is at Carrs Lane Church Centre, Carrs Lane,
Birmingham on Tuesday (June 15).
Tickets £5 in advance, £8 on the door. Call 0117 944 1000 or book online at www.viva.org.uk/cookeryshows