granny to that 'wild beauty' Cara Delevingne
Dame Vivien Duffield rolls into the room like a small tank, in a theatrical blouse draped with Chanel beads, scarlet pumps and snappy fingers crammed with gold rings.
"You've got 15 minutes," she says in a flat, husky drawl. She looks as happy as Madeleine Albright stuck in a lift with pro Serbian activists. Her hair, short and upright like a dandelion, might be the softest thing about her.
As well as being among Britain's greatest philanthropists, Dame Vivien "Don't call me Viv, I loathe it" is, in her own words, "mean as hell". She signs all cheques herself totalling some 216million in gifts through her charitable foundations as well as helping to raise 100million for the Royal Opera House (including 5.5million from her own pocket), 111million for the Southbank Centre and 1.25billion for Oxford University, her alma mater, to name a few.
Her hustle is shudderingly effective. "Shrouds don't have pockets!" she tells wealthy donors, fast snapping those fingers. She's railed at private school parents "Cough up!" at the "new rich, especially foreigners" for not being more generous and castigated the tight fisted upper classes: "They have wonderful possessionsbut if you look at the patrons of the arts in the past 50 years, I don't think there are any aristocrats."
Brusque puts it mildly. Once, kept waiting by her ex partner Sir Jocelyn Stevens when he was managing director of Express Newspapers, she sent a message saying if he did not come down immediately she would buy the paper and fire him.
Today at the Soho Theatre in Dean Street, Duffield, 67, is talking about JW3, her biggest project to date: a 40million shining glass and concrete Jewish community centre on Finchley Road, Hampstead. It houses everything from a theatre to a vegetarian restaurant with Ottolenghi trained chefs. She wants to create "a Jewish London" along New York lines, "a place where even if you are only vaguely Jewish you will go and remember your roots".
Film director Sam Mendes, actress Zo Wanamaker and former editor of The Times James Harding are part of the line up of 700 events ("I want to see Sam Mendes talking to Kevin Spacey," she says. "Because he's a friend. And I like the idea of that comedian who circumcised himself what's his name?" I'm not sure).
To my first three questions she says: "Not answering that"; "Irrelevant!"; "Nope". Then: "I know what you're going to write anyway that I'm bossy, tough and a bully. That's what they all say." She rearranges her blouse. "They always write the most awful things. How can anybody be nasty about me? 'Easily' is the answer to that."
She's shown a photograph of herself. She peers right in, as if near blind. "I look grim," she says flatly. "Maybe with your eyes smiling a bit more?" the photographer suggests. She yelps: "I don't feel like smiling. I'm being interviewed. I hate being interviewed."
But then a funny thing happens. She relaxes. And when she relaxes, she transforms. She becomes a magnetic energy in the room, all charm and gossip. And the voice purrs, and I'm not surprised people are scrabbling to take out their chequebooks and asking, eyebrows lifted, if they make it payable to the Clore Duffield Foundation of which she is chair.
Dame Vivien props her chin on her hand for more pictures and talks about Cara Delevingne, "my step granddaughter".
It's a "nightmare", she says in tigress tones. "I feel sorry for Cara. And Poppy. Both of them. Poor Cara. She's a star. Poppy is just as pretty but a different sort of beauty. Cara's more unconventional. She's wild. As a beauty, I mean: a wild beauty. She's very photogenic and very transformable. She's tiny."
"Like Kate Middleton?"
"No, Kate Middleton is none of those things," she says where to buy cheap pandora sharply. "Kate Moss had that wonderful face. I think Cara's in that league if they don't kill her before."
By "they" she means the paparazzi. "They are pursuing her! She's very young, she's only 21."
Dame Vivien has two children with Sir John Duffield (whom she married aged 22): Arabella, 41, a first class graduate from Cambridge who worked for Save the Children in Ethiopia, and George, 40, who runs a charity called Blue for the preservation of the oceans and is also a not for profit film maker whose Imax film Jerusalem premieres in October. "I'm very proud," she says as she fills me in.
And from her 32 year relationship with Sir Jocelyn Stevens, which ended in 2005, she has four stepchildren: John, Pandora, Rupert and Melinda. (Melinda is the editor of Cond Nast Traveller. "Do you know how hard she works?" asks Dame Vivien with disbelief. "She's incredible.") The Delevingne girls the third is Chloe are Pandora's children.
Dame Vivien who lives between Geneva, Gstaad and Chelsea paints her own parents as conservative. Her father, Sir Charles Clore, an immigrant from Riga, acquired Sears Holdings, which then owned Selfridges and invested heavily in property. He was, she's said, a "real Jewish father". She was a "disappointment" to her mother, Francine. "She wanted an absolutely ravishing daughter, instead of which she got this short dumpling."
Duffield's directness is pandora jewellrey her father's; her jolly hockey sticks accent is Heathfield Girls' Boarding School circa late 1950s. She wasn't treated differently for being Jewish "No one cared" but there were other drawbacks. "If you were one of the beauties, which I wasn't, you had a fantastic life," she has said. "I was as I am now. I was short. I wore glasses and I was plump. I haven't changed."
At university she thrived. She read modern and medieval languages at Lady Margaret Hall, when women in Oxford were still a novelty. "Because I went to Oxford when I did, I always thought of myself as one of the boys," she says. "That was the great thing, you became friends with them and held your own with them." And she was game: when playing backgammon at Christchurch overshot the 10pm curfew by five hours she scrambled over the walls of LMH and ended up in hospital at 3am with a broken arm.
After graduating, she "yearned" to go into business, "dreamed" of taking over Sears but her father thought it unsuitable for a woman, particularly his own daughter. Later he "freaked" at the idea of her going to America to study during the Flower Power era, so, aged 21, she paid for her ticket herself.
"I'm very interested in women's issues," she says now she helped rescue the Women's Library with the LSE. "And the whole feminist thing. Once I was always the only woman on every board. That's now stopped but there is undoubtedly still an anti women in work feeling."
She pauses. "Still, I'm very glad I was my generation of women and not this one. This generation has more to juggle. They're expected to be equal to men but with all the drawbacks." She has always thought "it was near impossible to have the three things a woman's life is about: a successful marriage, children and a successful career. Two, easily. Three, very difficult".
Now it's "even more so. You don't have as much help. Few successfully manage it and I'm full of admiration for them". She cites Melinda Stevens again, and her goddaughter Charlotte Hogg, australian flag pandora charm who has just been appointed chief operating officer at the latest pandora charms Bank of England.
Her own steeliness comes from "years of experience" in male dominated environments. "I'm not the only woman on the board any more. I'm probably the oldest." Her male contemporaries "are all retired now. I'm the only one left".
Her Jewish identity is also "profoundly" important. "I'm the least Jewish person you've ever met," she says. "We didn't keep kosher, drove to synagogue, I married a Christian and I lived with another one for 30 years. But I'm profoundly Jewish in that I feel it."
She savours the revelation that Daniel Radcliffe is Jewish. "But that's wonderful," she says, her voice taking on the sound of an idea forming. "I'm rather a fan. Now all we need is to find a Jewish tennis player. Do you suppose Agassi might be?"
And time's up. "Our first event at JW3 is tonight.
It's me and the Chief Rabbi." She adds, astonishingly: "I'm terrified.".
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