The Mail on Sunday
7th May 2011
It’s not a name that trips easily off the tongue. There is no trace of it in Debrett’s or Burke’s Peerage and it does not carry the instant social cachet of a Guinness or a Palmer-Tomkinson.
And yet last week it was a Delevingne who appeared on a 40ft billboard in New York’s Times Square – a feat Tatler-friendly girls in pearls would hawk their country pile to emulate.
Cara Delevingne, 18, is the youngest of three sisters so socially ambitious even a Middleton might pay homage. She shares the blonde locks, long limbs and a gamine beauty of her siblings Chloe, 27, and Poppy, 24.
All three have a knack for dressing elegantly but provocatively and dutifully attend scores of events – from the exclusive summer party at the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Hyde Park to Sunglass Hut shop openings.
They seem to know everyone, from rock chicks to royalty – and anyone useful in between. They even have their own soubriquet, the ‘Dynasty Sisters’, a reference to Joan Collins, a star of the Hollywood series, who is Cara’s godmother.
‘Poppy, in particular, is a serial air kisser,’ notes one observer of the Delevingnes’ inexorable rise. ‘She turns up to everything when she is in London and everybody there is her best friend. She’s very self-assured, always complimenting people on their figures.
‘Cara is more grungy – hanging out with pop stars’ offspring such as Tara Ferry and Coco Sumner. Chloe likes to attend parties with her parents. She always stresses they are a family that sticks together.’
London is awash with such socialites but what is unique about these sisters (Middleton sisters excepted) is the ease with which they have come to dominate the gossip columns.
But then the Delevingnes have social success written in their DNA. The girls’ grandfather is Sir Jocelyn Stevens, an assiduous charmer whose varied career took him from proprietor-editor of The Queen magazine to chairman of English Heritage via stints as managing director of the London Evening Standard and later the Daily Express.
His first wife Janie Sheffield was lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. They had four children, John, Pandora (the future Mrs Delevingne), Rupert and Melinda. Together they formed a key part of Princess Margaret’s Mustique set and became a staple of the society columns before they split in 1979. Sir Jocelyn then enjoyed a long-term relationship with Selfridges heiress Dame Vivien Duffield.
To mark his 50th birthday in 1982, Sir Jocelyn flew 130 close friends to the Swiss ski resort Gstaad where he threw a ball at which every table was decorated with a tree of diamonds, sapphires and emeralds.
But beyond the glittery facade there was a painful reality. Sir Jocelyn and Janie’s second son, Rupert, was brain-damaged at birth. Never able to talk or walk, he died aged 22. The 14-hour days Sir Jocelyn put in at the office, where his terrifying temper earned him the nickname ‘Piranha Teeth’, meant he was rarely at home with his family.
Then in the Seventies, when she was a young society beauty herself, Pandora fell into drug addiction. This was brought on, Stevens believed, by ‘the enormous strain of living with Rupert from the age of seven’.
Sir Jocelyn took immediate action, dragging his daughter out of druggy squats and tracking down her dealer and ensuring he was jailed.
‘He came to every hospital,’ Pandora told Tatler. ‘He once hauled me out of the overdose ward in New York, and put me into a loony bin in Switzerland and used to sit there, wherever I was, holding my hand and saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” ’
Pandora, now a personal shopper, is today drug-free, thanks to the devotion of her father and the man she met at a party in the Eighties and would go on to marry.
While the Delevingne girls appear to have inherited the magnetic qualities of Sir Jocelyn and the beauty of their mother, it is their father, Charles, who gives them their dynamism. A former ‘Debs’ delight’, he is a ‘property man’ and can be credited with keeping this sometimes difficult family at peace.
Meet the family: Clockwise from left, Poppy, Pandora, Charles, Chloe, Chloe’s ex Louis and Cara in 2003
Meet the family: Clockwise from left, Poppy, Pandora, Charles, Chloe, Chloe’s ex Louis and Cara in 2003
‘No one seems to know how much he earns or what “property man” actually means,’ says a friend. ‘But Charles and Pandora have always enjoyed a rather opulent lifestyle. Up until two years ago they occupied a multi-million home in Lyall Street, Belgravia, a stone’s throw from Roman Abramovich’s home. The girls went to top boarding schools as sixth-formers – Chloe to Stowe, Poppy and Cara to Bedales.’
They stood out even as young teenagers at their London day school, Francis Holland School For Girls.
‘They were head-turningly skinny,’ says an old school friend. ‘But they knew how to make the best of themselves early on.
‘At Francis Holland we all wore grey kilted skirts which we rolled up at the waist. They had so little on their hips and rears – and of course it showed off their super long legs. They made sure to leave before the sixth form. This is crucial if you want to expand your social circle and get on.’
Chloe is the brightest sister. She has a degree in biomedical sciences from University College London but rather than putting it to good use, on leaving college she became the ‘face’ of Kensington nightclub Firehouse.
Its proprietor, her soon-to-be husband Louis Buckworth, named the private members’ club Chloe after her. In 2008, Chloe and Louis married at St Paul’s Cathedral, in what was hailed as the ‘society wedding of the decade’. Spice Girl Geri Halliwell was a guest.
Just 17 months later, the marriage was over. Chloe left Louis and began a relationship with property developer Ed Grant, who had been best man at their wedding and who had been lodging at their flat.
An attempt by Chloe’s parents to rescue the marriage with an all-expenses-paid trip to Thailand failed. Now calling herself a ‘charity fundraiser’, Chloe lives with Grant in a house overlooking Hyde Park belonging to Arabella Duffield, the daughter of her grandfather’s former partner, Dame Vivien.
A friend said: ‘They have only recently started appearing together in public. This might have something to do with Louis selling up his share in Firehouse and escaping to New York for a new life as a financier.’
But what of her sisters? At 5ft11in, Poppy is the tallest Delevingne girl and she has forged a successful career as a model, appearing in campaigns for Anya Hindmarch, Jigsaw and Laura Ashley.
Spotted during her younger sister Cara’s speech day at Bedales by Sarah Doukas, founder of model agency Storm, Poppy has since pushed her social connections to the limit.
She is a friend of Princess Beatrice, counts Sienna Miller as a former flatmate and has been spotted dancing the night away with Dasha Zhukova, Roman Abramovich’s girlfriend. Formerly the girlfriend of Dan Philipson, who famously offered Chelsy Davy a ‘shoulder to cry on’ following one of her splits from Prince Harry, Poppy now dates British model James Cook.
Determined to make it as an actress, Poppy moved to New York when she turned 21. British socialite and Vogue magazine contributor Plum Sykes had lined up meetings with three top US acting agents before Poppy’s plane had even touched down.
Poppy lodged at the Duchess of York’s apartment as Sarah Ferguson had gone to school with Pandora. Two years later, she got her own flat and Sienna Miller, who was acting on Broadway, became her ‘roomie’.
‘Poppy has gone down a storm in New York because she is the living embodiment of the American fantasy of what an English girl should be,’ says Sykes of her friend.
In 2009, Poppy starred in a 15-minute short film called Liberty, with Bond Girl Gemma Arterton and Tom Hardy, who starred in last year’s blockbuster Inception alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. But the film has not propelled Poppy on to greater things.
A contemporary on the party circuit says: ‘She’s currently on UK television screens as one of three girls mutely acting in a Nice’n Easy Clairol hair colour advert and last year she was in one for Sure deodorant too. I’m not sure this is the sort of acting she had in mind.’
Indeed she is soon likely to find her younger sister stealing the limelight. Cara left Bedales a year early to embark on a modelling career. ‘Cara has always been thought to be the prettiest and it’s likely she’ll eclipse Poppy,’ says a family friend.
Also with Storm, Cara is now modelling for Burberry – whose advertising campaign put her face on those New York billboards. She is said to be so pleased she uses it as a screensaver for her iPod.
Cara also appears to be making greater headway than her older sister in pursuing her acting ambitions. She reached the final casting for Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and starred in a pop video for Bryan Ferry. With Geri Halliwell’s guidance, she has hired pop mogul Simon Fuller as her manager.
But if Cara does thrive where Poppy has faltered it won’t lead to any sisterly discord. The girls are extremely close and have never been known to fall out.
Rather sweetly, Cara is somewhat in awe of her elder sisters. At this year’s London Fashion Week, she was said to have been paralysed with nerves before taking part in a show attended by Sir Philip Green and Anna Wintour because she took a tumble during rehearsals.
‘I hit my knee quite bad,’ she said afterwards. ‘I’m terrible at runways. I just can’t walk in high heels. But I’ve been practising with my sister Poppy, so one day I’ll learn.’
Every summer the family take a house in the South of France. A friend said: ‘All members of the family, including branches of Pandora’s, the girls’ boyfriends and close friends, come along. It’s all very raucous and jolly.’
Yet for all the parties and the privilege, difficulties remain. Three years ago, Sir Jocelyn left the woman they had come to see as a second grandmother, Dame Vivien, for the woman who was to become his second wife, Emma Cheape. Friends say it caused great embarrassment. And the girls have had to cope with the threat of their mother’s demons resurfacing.
Pandora frequently relapsed into drug dependency as they were growing up. ‘I watched her struggling with addiction, in and out of rehab, desperately striving to overcome it,’ Poppy once said. ‘My mother is the bravest human being I’ve ever come across.’
It is this resilience that is perhaps the greatest of all the gifts they have inherited from their forebears. There seems to be no doubt that the Delevingne sisters will live up to their Dynasty moniker in years to come.