Jerry Hall enters the sunny hotel garden in huge sunglasses and a sprawling floor-length dress, with an exquisite Texan drawl, every inch the 6ft southern belle. The former supermodel, ex-Mrs Mick Jagger, actress, and aspiring poet, has a surprise announcement to make. “Ahv just discovered ahm actually English on both sides of my family.” She lights an organic cigarette, apologises, and settles down to reveal all.
She’s just completed an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and says it’s a life changer. She discovered that her father’s side of the family were Oldham mill workers, while her mother’s side moved from England to become pioneers in Kentucky. It’s the pioneer bit that has made sense of her life.
Hall always thought that she and her four sisters were unusually adventurous, but now she realises it’s just part of the family package; it’s in the genes. “Apparently my six-time great-grand- father was a great shot.” She counts on her fingers, and says she thinks it’s six times. “He went round settling places. He then went and settled in Missouri.”
She says he was a compassionate settler – “General Dodge was going to shoot men, women and children but my six-time great-grandfather said it would be inhumane to kill these people who are surrendering, and he helped bring about the Lewis and Clark peace treaty with the Indians.”
Hall is 60 next year, wearing no make-up, and looks wonderful. It’s more than 40 years since Jerry Faye Hall left Texas for Europe. She and her twin sister were the last of the daughters to leave home. While her twin Terry Jaye headed off on the back of a sailor’s Harley-Davidson for San Francisco, Hall chose Paris and a career on the catwalk. Her mother made her some new dresses and sent her off with her love.
“I left Texas with a backpack and sleeping bag, didn’t know anyone, had no money and went to Paris at 16. It’s a pretty crazy thing to do. Obviously, it was in my blood. Get up and go. The pioneer spirit.” But there was another reason why the Hall girls wanted to be a new life for themselves. Their abusive father. Sergeant John Hall had fought with General Patton’s men in Europe and returned from the Second World War a hero with a bronze star medal, having helped liberate a Nazi death camp.
But he was traumatised by what he’d seen, unrecognisable from the man who had gone to war. “He said there was a hole with 18,000 dead people in it. He had tried to identify them, couldn’t and buried them. He said it was so traumatic, all these skinny people running and hugging him and kissing him. He had nightmares, gambled away our farm, and was violent.” These days, she says, soldiers with his condition would be treated for post- traumatic stress, but back then there was nothing. Men were supposed to bury their demons and get on with life.
Was he violent to her? “Yes. He would blow his top. We were very careful to steer clear. But my mother loved him and stayed with him to the end.” Did he frighten her? “Yes, he was quite scary.” She pauses. “He was quite scary,” she repeats quietly. “He was violent to whoever happened to be in the way at the time he blew his top.” How would it express itself? “Very quickly. A whack here, or whatever. Yeah he was pretty bad.”
But in many ways, she says, it was a happy childhood. She adored her mother and grandmother. The girls were true Texans, outdoor kids, who would ride every weekend in the rodeo. “I was pretty good. We’d ride 20 miles to get to the rodeo. My sister Cindy was girls champion bull rider and was an RCA [Rodeo Cowboy Association of America] champion, She was a great horsewoman.”
Hall is a natural storyteller. She tells me how the girls would spend their summer with their grandmother and regularly attend strangers’ funerals. In fact, she’s had a poem published on this very subject. Can she recite it? “It’s pretty short if I can remember it right, it’s called Strangers’ Funerals…
‘My grandmother used to like to go to strangers’ funerals/Whenever she heard about one we would go./She used to say, well so and so knew them and it’s nice to have a good turnout./We would drive in her automobile while she was swatting flies, to little white plankboard churches in the middle of nowhere./Fifteen people in attendance./We would listen to the sermon and file by and look at the dead waxen face./Sometimes we’d cry./When we got back home, our granddad would be sitting on the porch saying, ‘You girls enjoy yourselves?’ ”
She grins. “Anyway I write these poems and they’re dark and humorous and I enjoy it.”
Hall shared an apartment with singer Grace Jones in Paris, and they performed in cabaret together. By the age of 19 she had appeared as a mermaid on the cover of Roxy Music’s album Siren, and by 20 was earning $1,000 a day as a model. She always wanted to be an independent woman, but admits she need never have worked. “When I was younger and modelling and travelling, I’d go out with people for dinner, once or twice, and sometimes they would propose. It was quite sweet. Beauty makes life easier. People want to do things for you. They want to marry you and pay for everything.”
Then she met Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and entered a new stage of her life. Jagger wooed her away from Bryan Ferry, to whom she was then engaged. They married (or at least she thought they had), and had four children and the former supermodel became primarily known as Sir Mick’s missus.
Was that frustrating? “It was slightly annoying but I was always very proud of the Stones and their musical genius. And I was still musing!” What does she mean? “You know, songs written about me.” Which is her favourite? “Miss You’s pretty good.” Didn’t Ferry also write songs for her? “Yes, quite a few. And Mick wrote quite a few. They always said they were all about me. Hehehe!” She takes her shades off, and reveals her astonishing blue eyes.
The relationship with Jagger lasted 23 years. In the end, she gave up on him and his relentless straying when he had a baby with Luciana WMorad in May 1999.
What is the best thing about Jagger? “I really loved hanging out with him, and now we’re such great friends. I recently went on holiday with him and the kids. We went to Mustique and had the best time.”
Is she amazed she put up with him for 23 years? “Well, it seemed to go by quite quickly.” She snorts with laughter and lights another cigarette. “He’s very bright, very funny, and we get along. He never annoyed me. Not little things. I mean his actions with other women were pretty bad but that was the only thing that annoyed me. He didn’t annoy me day to day.”
Did he admit it when he was seeing other women? “No, he denied everything to the last end.” He lied and lied and lied? “Well, I think most men do. He eventually had a baby with somebody else.”