Twiggy Biography

PHOTO: Twiggy

Born Lesley Hornby, her father, William Norman, was a master carpenter and her mother, Helen Hornby, worked as a counter girl at Woolworth’s store.

She attended Kilburn High School for Girls and began modelling at age 15. Her gamine teenage frame had earned her the nickname ‘Twigs’ and she was henceforth known as Twiggy.

1965 heralded the 16-year-old Twiggy’s meteoric rise to fame. She met 1960s celebrity Justin de Villeneuve, born Nigel Davis, who worked as a hairdresser. The couple fell in love and de Villeneuve became her manager. Under his influence, her fashion mod look helped make her the face of 1960s ‘Swinging London’ - a cultural revolution which represented all that was new and modern and was a time of hedonism and optimism. She was voted British Woman of the Year in 1966.

The world’s first supermodel, Twiggy became internationally known, modelling extensively in France, Japan and America, in 1967. Her elfin haircut, huge eyes, false eyelashes, sculpted jaw line and endless legs adorned almost every magazine cover, including Vogue and Tatler. She had her hair cut by Vidal Sassoon and was photographed by Barry Lategan. Twiggy enjoyed a year’s modelling contract with Woman’s Mirror, an Australian magazine. Always dressed in the latest fashion, she willingly attended all of London’s trendy parties and public events. Despite being somewhat flighty and giggly, her cockney accent and disarming sense of humour merely made her more appealing to the public. Her boyish, skinny features made her instantly different from other models of her time and were perfectly fitted to the 1960s rising hemlines and bold shapes of mod fashion.

Seeing how successful she was in the fashion world, de Villeneuve suggested she turn her hand to singing and acting as well. Twiggy recorded her debut album, ‘Beautiful Dreams’ (1967), with Mercury Records UK. It won numerous awards, including a silver disc for sales in excess of 150,000 copies and included her hit ‘Here I Go Again’, which reached number 17 on the UK charts. It seemed this rising star could do no wrong.

Twiggy was in Peter Clifton’s music documentary ‘Popcorn’ (1969), that included rare interviews and weird footage of stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, the Bee Gees, Mick Jagger and Otis Reading. She then met iconic film director Ken Russell in 1970 and he encouraged her to turn her talents to film, but to hone them by studying voice, acting and dance. He cast her as an extra in his horror film ‘The Devils’ (1971), that starred Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed. Twiggy made her lead role debut as Polly Browne in Russell’s romantic musical, ‘The Boy Friend’ (1971), set in the 1920s and adapted from the original theatre production. Her performance won her two Golden Globe awards, for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and for New Female Star of the Year. To coincide with the film release, MGM produced a DJ LP for radio stations. It featured excerpts from the film soundtrack, as well as an interview with Twiggy from a Hollywood press conference.

Through the 1970s, Twiggy proved herself a successful actress in television, film and on stage. She made her West End stage debut playing the title role in ‘Cinderella’ (1974). She made a variety series for BBC television, ‘Twiggy’ (1975), and starred as Katie Lewis in Richard Quine’s thriller, ‘W’ (1974). She released a number of 7” singles with Mercury Records, made a one-off single with Roger Cook, ‘Zoo De Zoo Zong’ (1971), and recorded her first own album, ‘Twiggy’ (1976). Her next album, ‘Please Get My Name Right’ (1977), was recorded in Holland and she toured the UK to promote it, ending with a performance at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Twiggy recorded a children’s album, ‘Captain Beaky and His Band’ (1977), followed by ‘Pieces of April’ (1978).

In 1977, Twiggy married American actor and former baseball player, Michael Witney, her co-star from ‘W’ (1974). They were wed at the Richmond registry office, had their honeymoon in Sardinia and their daughter, Carly, was born in 1978. They appeared together in Terry Marcel’s comedy ‘There Goes the Bride’ (1980). Witney was almost twenty years Twiggy’s senior and their marriage sadly ended, after only six years, when he died suddenly at age 51, of a heart attack in New York City, on 30 November 1983.

Through the 1980s, Twiggy continued to act in film and television in both the US and the UK. She played a cameo role as the Chic Lady in John Landis’s musical comedy ‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980), with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. She gave a highly praised performance as Eliza Doolittle in ‘Pygmalion’ (1981), John Glenister’s television film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name. She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress (Musical) for her performance in ‘My One and Only’ (1983), a musical adaptation of Gershwin’s ‘Funny Face’. In ‘The Doctor and the Devils’ (1985), a horror movie starring Timothy Dalton and Johnathan Pryce, Twiggy played the role of Jennie Bailey and also performed on the film soundtrack.

‘Club Paradise’ (1986) was a comedy with Robin Williams, Peter O’Toole and Rick Moranis. Twiggy was Josie Roberts in Michael Custance’s ‘The Little Match Girl’ (1986), a musical of the Hans Christian Anderson story of the same name. She played Jenny in ‘Madame Sousatzka’ (1988) with Shirley MacLaine in the title role. It was on the set of this film that Twiggy met British actor and director, Leigh Lawson. They were married in 1988. Next she had roles in three television films: as Detective Sergeant Charlie Lawson in ‘The Diamond Trap’ (1988), an action movie with Brooke Shields and Howard Hesseman; as adulteress Fen Harris in ‘Sun Child’ (1988); and as Hannah Chaplin in ‘Young Charlie Chaplin’ (1989).

In the 1990s, Twiggy turned her talents to becoming a television interviewer and presenter, with her own ITV series, ‘Twiggy’s People’. She interviewed celebrities, such as Tim Curry, Lauren Bacall, Dustin Hoffman, Eric Idle, Joan Rivers and Tom Jones on the show. She co-starred in the short-lived American sitcom ‘Princesses’ (1991), about three very different women sharing a Manhattan penthouse apartment. In 1996, she released two albums on record label Varese Sarabande: the critically acclaimed ‘London Pride – Songs from the London Stage’ (1996) and ‘A Hollywood Christmas’ (1996), a compilation album on which Twiggy performs the song ‘Christmas Children’. At age 48, she made it onto the bestseller list with her autobiography ‘Twiggy in Black and White’ (1998). She recorded the track ‘I Only Want to be with You’ with rocker Twiggy Ramirez for the original soundtrack of comedy ‘Dead Man on Campus’ (1998), before co-producing and starring in the critically acclaimed off-Broadway production of ‘If Love Were All’ (1999).

After appearing in episodes of television series ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ in 2000 and 2001, Twiggy presented British television talk show, ‘This Morning’ in 2001. In her second series for ITV, ‘Take Time With Twiggy’ (2001), she once again interviewed stars, such as Frederick Forsyth, Lulu and Ken Russell. She was thrilled to make ‘Midnight Blue’ (2003), a compilation album of her favourite songs that she had recorded over the previous 20 years. The following year, her album ‘Twiggy’ (2004) was released to coincide with her tour of Japan. She then recorded ‘Twiggy & Linda Thorson - A Snapshot of Swinging London’, released in October 2005.

Returning to modelling in 2005, Twiggy joined reality television show ‘America’s Next Top Model’ as one of the judges, led by Tyra Banks, in Cycles Five, Six and Seven. She featured in a major press, television and billboard campaign for UK dept store chain Marks & Spencer, modelling clothes for older women. Twiggy played Mrs Minola in David Richards’ television film ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (2005), based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. A year later, she played herself as a 19-year-old in radio play BBC’s ‘Elevenses with Twiggy’ (2006) in their Afternoon Play series. Adding to her repertoire of talents, she started a clothing line for the Spring/Summer 2006, called the Twiggy Collection and sold through online shopping portal Great Universal.

This timeless beauty – doe-eyed supermodel, pleasing actress, talented singer and author – is also a humanitarian. She is a supporter of breast cancer research groups, animal welfare and is a fervent anti fur campaigner. One of most famous models of her time, Twiggy is a living legend. Graceful and elegant, she continues to explore her talents with resounding success.

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