‘I think they played on my vulnerability’ — Kate Moss sheds a light on the grim reality of being a teenage icon in the 1990s
The latest guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Kate Moss gave what might just be the most intimate interview of her decade spanning career.
British supermodel and savvy businesswoman Kate Moss has been enigmatic in her discretion since she began redefining the modelling industry all those years ago. An instantly recognisable face, all high cheekbones and perfect symmetry, with a name universally known, it is the voice of Kate Moss that has remained something of a mystery — until now.
When we think of fame and celebrity, status and riches, we so often disregard just how quickly the real lives of these real people become a source of entertainment for us ‘normal’ folk. We think of them as public property, and this sense of ownership breeds an entitlement to an intimate knowledge that is simply unattainable.
From very early on in her career, Kate Moss sought refuge in the shadow of the spotlight. Sure, her face and body were well-utilised, snapped and papped and videoed to sell magazines, clothes, art, and a certain ideal of womanhood, but she did not wander down that same route as so many others in her industry.
Seldom interviewed to any real length and foregoing the opportunity to appear on the small screen, the rhythm and pitch of Kate Moss’ voice have remained shrouded in mystery, save a ‘Get the London Look’ here and there.
Now, in conversation with Lauren Laverne on the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, the iconic model is speaking freely and using her voice to speak about her experiences as a young model in 1990s Britain.
There is a coquettishness to her tonality, and her Croydon accent wavers as she makes her way through some of her favourite records, which range from David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ to Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’. A woman of impeccable taste, the model’s selection even includes a Soul II Soul mashup made specifically for the occasion by Kanye West’s Sunday Service.
Moss was scouted to be a model on a flight home from the Bahamas at the age of 14, just a year after her parents split and the teen began “smoking spliff and hanging out with older boys,” masking her heartbreak with the sweetness of a Long Island Iced Tea.
The model’s instincts were quickly sharpened within the industry, and she points to one particular encounter that left her with a keen ability to “tell a wrong ‘un a mile away.” At the age of just 15, the model showed up to a casting for a bra catalogue, and was promptly told to take her top off.
“I took my top off, and I was really shy then about my body, and he said ‘take your bra off’, and I could feel there was something wrong so I got my stuff and I ran away,” Moss tells Laverne.
Fast forwarding to 1990, we’re transported to Camber Sands beach in Sussex, where a then-unknown Kate Moss was about to make her name. Photographed by Corinne Day for the cover of The Face magazine, the model recalls being told to “snort like a pig” in order to achieve the desired nose-wrinkling effect.
“[Day] would say, ‘If you don’t take your top off, I am not going to book you for Elle. It is painful. I loved her, she was my best friend, but she was a tricky person,” Moss remembers. “But the pictures are amazing, so she got what she wanted and I suffered for them, but in the end they did me a world of good really. They changed my career.”
Less than a year later, at the age of 17, Moss appeared topless alongside a 21-year-old Mark Wahlberg for a now iconic Calvin Klein advertisement, but in Moss’ memory, it was quite the uncomfortable experience.
“He was very macho, and it was all about him,” she remembers “He had a big entourage. I was just this kind of model.” When asked if she had felt objectified, Moss elaborated that she felt vulnerable and scared: “I think they played on my vulnerability. I was quite young and innocent, so Calvin loved that.”
From there, the interview turns to the elephant in the room: heroin chic. A woman whose angular shape and extreme thinness pretty much single handedly redefined the era, and has been pointed to time and time again as being to blame for women’s anorexia and disordered eating, Moss laughs when one of her most memorable lines is quoted back to her: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Apparently, the phrase was actually coined by a friend at the time, who left it as a note on their fridge door for the attention of a housemate prone to snacking. “I was a scapegoat for a lot of people’s problems,” Moss said. “I was never anorexic. I never have been. I had never taken heroin. I was thin because I didn’t get fed at shoots or in shows and I’d always been thin.”
The model similarly expresses her frustration at becoming the poster child for cocaine in 2005, when a photograph of her doing drugs was published in a paper. “I felt sick and was quite angry, because everybody I knew took drugs. So for them to focus on me, and to try to take my daughter away, I thought was really hypocritical.”
The interview flows through a number of topics and moments from the model’s lengthy career, each punctuated by some of her favourite music. From speaking out in defence of Johnny Depp to swapping her dancing shoes for gardening gloves, Kate Moss’ love for her 19-year-old daughter and protégé model Lila underscores every word.
Having founded her own modelling agency in 2016, the veteran beauty is ensuring that every person on their books is well taken care of so that they will never be taken advantage of by the industry in the same ways she was. Speaking on signing her own daughter, she says: “I’ve said to her, ‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to do this shoot, if you don’t feel comfortable, if you don’t want to model, don’t do it.’ I take care of my models.
“I make sure they’re with agents at shoots so when they’re being taken advantage of, someone is there to say, ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate’.”