Cecilia Chancellor

Such an elegant lady and mother, Cecilia is a legionary British super model who has been photographed by some of the best in the industry. Her warmth shines though, and her genuine kind spirit is part of what makes her beautiful. I hope you will enjoy reading Cecilia's interview.


Cecilia Chancellor first began modelling as a teenager, when her friend, Camilla Nickerson, then an aspiring stylist, asked her to appear in a photo shoot in return for a £75 fee. She was soon signed with top agency Models 1 and went on to work with influential photographers including Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, David Bailey, Irving Penn and Corinne Day. Lord Snowdon hailed her as “the face of 1985” and later, i-D magazine labelled her the “face of 90s grunge and easy glamour”. As well as appearing on glossy magazine covers around the world, she has appeared in numerous high profile campaigns for brands including Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Banana Republic and Kenzo.

Born in Dorset and raised in Italy and London, where she is now based, Cecilia took time out from modelling to enrol at art school, take an extended trek in the Himalayas and raise her son, Lucas, who is now a successful model himself. He gained early exposure as a babe-in-arms on the January 2002 cover of British Vogue, when his mother featured alongside a roll-call of union flag-clad British fashion stars including Liberty Ross, Jacquetta Wheeler, Erin O’Connor, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and the late Stella Tennant, a cousin of Cecilia’s.

Now in her mid-fifties, she is enjoying a renaissance in front of the camera and on the catwalk, fronting campaigns for Marc Jacobs Beauty, Miu Miu and – most recently - Winser London.

How would you describe your approach to style?

Despite having worked in the fashion industry for what feels like forever, what is ‘in fashion’ doesn’t influence what I buy or wear. I used to work for Helmut Lang in exchange for clothes which I loved and lived in. Other designers also sometimes paid in clothes and I accrued an excess over many years in the business. But I have culled a lot of things that no longer ‘spark joy’, to quote Marie Kondo. I’ve slowly pulled together the pieces that I cherish and work for who I am now, so I don’t have a massive wardrobe.

These days I prioritise comfort in clothing. Feeling comfortable in yourself is vital, so I look for things I feel good in, rather than just looking in the mirror and deciding something works from the outside, or would look good in a photograph . I no longer enjoy heavy, or stiff clothing, preferring garments that have an ease of movement. I am drawn to natural fibres that feel luxurious against the skin and have a lightness about them.

My main uniform comprises everyday staples such as jeans, a selection of fabulous white cotton shirts, scarves, boots, and lovely, cosseting knits. The stretch silk blouses at Winser London are just amazing, because they feel so sublime and the stretch gives that comfort factor. I think women designers do that better: they just get it. I am also a big fan of the recycled cashmere pieces from Winser London and the cashmere throws are a lovely weight and texture - perfect for a comforting layer when you need it.

I go for an understated colour palette of neutrals with a bit of colour added here and there depending on my mood. I am not stuck on one silhouette: I have skinny jeans, but I wear cropped, or slightly flared jeans and they all have their moment. I have a lovely chain necklace I wear every day with different charms that I add or take away.

Talking of recycled cashmere, do you actively take a sustainable approach to shopping?

I feel that those of us in the business have a responsibility to educate ourselves and address the damage the fashion industry is doing to the environment. I try to make informed choices, whether that’s buying something made from recycled materials or looking at brands that tread lightly on the environment in their production process. Good quality, well-made pieces should last longer, but sustainability is not only possible for people who have the money to buy expensive clothes. It is an attitude. Even if you buy so-called fast fashion, you can still make a considered purchase and treat it with reverence , love it and look after it.

Modern life is fast and busy, but when we found ourselves with an enforced lockdown during the pandemic, I had the time to go through my wardrobe, deciding what works for me and passing on things I no longer wear, even darning holes and mending things I want to continue to wear. I hadn’t mended my clothes myself in a long time and I found it surprisingly satisfying. I find that having less clothes and caring for them in this way makes me appreciate and enjoy them more. I highly recommend Orsola de Castro’s brilliant book ‘Loved Clothes Last’

My grandmother had a Gucci handbag, which was her special bag and she had it for life. I think that’s what luxury fashion should be about. There’s something a bit obscene about a new luxury handbag every season. But expensive or not, somebody took time and care to make our garments and should they not be seen as disposable.

Has anyone influenced your style?

I think I have been influenced subliminally through all my years of being privileged to work with the most incredibly talented and creative fashion stylists. To generalise, I’d say overall they’ve taught me confidence, that there are no fashion rules and that if it looks and feels good to you, that’s enough. Style is not about replicating a fashion trend, but about playing with clothes and enjoying expressing yourself. And understanding your own body and personality and dressing to enhance that. I have absolutely loved being dressed by stylists over the years. Sometimes they would choose things I would never think of for myself and that can surprise you when you look in the mirror and feel a million dollars.

What is your approach to dressing up for more formal or glamorous occasions?

I tend to take an understated approach to evening wear rather than high octane glamour. I like to be the best version of myself, where the outfit enhances my strengths , rather than making a big statement with a wow piece that overwhelms me. I feel a bit the same about makeup. There is incredible artistry in applying cosmetics to create different personas, but the make-up artists I have loved to work with the most are the ones that make you the dreamiest version of your natural self: people like Stephane Marais, Mary Greenwell and Bobbi Brown all have that touch that is about enhancing beauty rather than imposing a look.

You are often described as a radiant, English rose and have long been hailed as a classical beauty by tastemakers and fans. What is your approach to skincare and maintaining your looks?

I am scrupulous about cleansing and moisturising, but have sensitive skin so I keep my skincare routine fairly simple. I have regular facials with the brilliant Jackie Denholm Moore, which are rather an indulgence, and she has recommended Dr Shrammek for me, which are mid-priced products rooted in dermatological science. I look for products with the least chemicals in them.

I justify my facials because I don’t currently spend on Botox or fillers which many women my age have as part of their beauty maintenance. I’m trying to brainwash myself that beauty and wrinkles don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I don’t particularly like seeing my face ageing, but I am not sure that I prefer the look when people have had a lot of Botox and fillers done over time, as it becomes difficult to read facial expressions. After all, a lot of beauty is in our expressions.

My thinking is that by doing what I can to stay healthy and happy, that will help me look the best I can at any age. I like Jones Road, the new make-up range by Bobbi Brown: they are easy to use formulations that enhance natural looks and nourish the skin at the same time.

So, what do you do to stay healthy and happy?

I’m very keen on mindful exercise methods. I currently do yoga mostly, but have also really enjoyed Pilates and Gyrotonics. These systems help the energy flow around the body, amongst many other benefits, and feel so good. I’m sure I don’t do enough cardio exercise, although I do go through phases of bouncing around on a mini trampoline to loud music, which I highly recommend!

I like walking in the countryside, too, especially in Dorset or when I’m at my mother’s house in Northamptonshire. Being outdoors and just breathing in nature is so good for our wellbeing. I spent a lot of my childhood summers in Tuscany and I love that part of the world. We had a family home there, which sadly was sold recently, but I am hoping to make Italy and the Tuscan countryside a part of my future.

I believe emotional healing is also important to health and wellbeing. The longer we are alive, the more difficult experiences we go through, and the ageing process is hugely impacted by tough times. Caring for yourself and getting the help you need when you are in the midst of and in the wake of emotional turmoil or grief makes an enormous difference to your physical and mental health in the short and longer term.

I try to make time for the things I enjoy. I’m learning to play the guitar and dabbling in a bit of writing. I plan to pick up the life sculpting that I’ve done periodically over the years. I find that very meditative. I am trying to keep some of that calm stillness and slower pace that I found in lockdown when I was living with my mother and son in the country. I am used to moving around a lot and I missed travelling and working, but I benefitted a lot from the slower rhythm and having time for a deeper connection with nature. I’m going to try and hold onto that.

How does it feel that you are modelling in your fifties, four decades after you made your professional debut in front of the camera?

I am so much more appreciative of modelling now, probably because I do it less. It’s such a joy to have a team of professionals taking several hours to make you look your best. I do sometimes have to remind myself that I haven’t been booked to be the 25 year old model I used to be, and am not expected to be flawless or young.

It is exciting to see that the modelling industry is reflecting a wider shift in society that celebrates and represents diversity, whether that’s about age, race, size or whatever. Beauty comes in so many different forms and it’s great to see that being recognised commercially: it just makes sense.

I love the fact that there are so many of my contemporaries getting work and that brands are making the effort to use women that resonate with their audience. It can be very demoralising seeing a teenager marketing something that’s targeting an older woman. It’s also very positive for younger women to see older models representing a different kind of beauty, so they can see that the passing of time is not something to dread. That they will still be valued as they age.

Congratulations on your MBE, which was awarded by Theresa May in her final list of nominees as Prime Minister. You’ve achieved numerous forms of peer and industry recognition and sporting medals and trophies over the years. What does this Honour mean to you?

When I first received the letter, I assumed it was in recognition of the charity work I’ve done, which would have been wonderful. I’ve always wanted to be actively involved when I take on a role as President of Sparks or Muscular Dystrophy UK, for example, or fundraise for Doddie Weir’s foundation to help research a cure for Motor Neurone disease. I’m not someone who is comfortable just lending my name and having a photo in a brochure.

To discover the MBE was for my broadcasting work and for promoting women in sport was a fabulous surprise, because I’m so passionate about that. Sport must reflect wider society: we are definitely seeing more girls and women participating and becoming involved in sport at all levels, but we have to make sure that there aren’t barriers to that. The more visible women are in different fields, the more uptake there is and the standard improves and it becomes something people take notice of. Men are watching women’s football, cricket or golf on TV, and young girls are seeing that normalised as something they can aspire to. Or hearing women commentating or hosting coverage of men’s sport. That is what is gratifying to me, and perhaps had I received an Honour in my 30s, I might not have been as appreciative of what it symbolises.

I feel very fortunate to be in a situation that even as I approach 50, I am professionally on the ascendant, which wouldn’t have been the case a few years back. It’s great there are more female role models of a certain age in the media, carving a path and keeping it real. I love Jo Whiley, for example: she is full of youthful energy, and she’s comfortable in her skin. I am the age I am and I’m proud of that and want to be authentic, with as much passion and energy as I can so I can continue doing the job I love. I am lucky to work with lots of young exciting people and that gives you stimulus. Working through perimenopause can sometimes feel an effort, but I never underestimate how lucky I am to do this as a job, so I try hard to live in the moment and be grateful.

You have attracted some great guests and had some interesting conversations on your podcast, The Mid.Point. How did that come about and what’s the thinking behind it?

It started out because I wanted to have more open conversations about the potential to do positive things in mid-life, whether that’s changing direction or simply remaining relevant and optimistic. It’s evolved to cover a range of diverse issues, and it’s been a great outlet for me as a personal project to contrast with my sports broadcasting. I’m loving that this is resonating with a wider female audience than perhaps other areas of my work, and it means a lot when people come up to me and say how much they enjoy the podcast and how they can relate to issues that come up.

I have found that sometimes, especially during the pandemic, speech radio can leave me anxiety-ridden, and podcasts provide a different audio experience. I listen to Josh Widdicombe and Rob Beckett’s Parenting Hell, Matthew Syed’s Sideways and the Desert Island Discs archive at home, in the car or on my walks.

Finally, you have an incredibly demanding work schedule, do lots of hands-on charity work, keep to a demanding exercise regime and you have teenage children. How do you relax?

I’m genuinely happier when I’m busy. I do enjoy those calming countryside walks, immersed in nature, and Kenny loves that watershed in the day when it hits 9pm and he puts his feet up with a box set. However, I am so middle-aged, I find sorting a cupboard therapeutic. There is something about organising a kitchen draw that gives me great pleasure. Is it weird that I admit that sorting stock cubes is very satisfying?