I am posting this without comment other than to say that you should please note that it comes from the Times of London, NOT a tabloid. Make of it what you will.
November 28, 2004
Investigation: The girl can't help it
Her courage, gritty determination and undoubted commitment to charity work is held in high regard throughout the world. Now marriage to Sir Paul McCartney has given her a world stage. So why does Heather Mills still need to embroider her past? Russell Miller investigates
Everyone agreed it was the hottest ticket in town. As a gloriously pink Hollywood sunset settled over LA, one limousine after another swept up to the Century-Plaza hotel. Liveried flunkies rushed forward to open the doors, TV lights flared, cameras flashed and the crowd cheered as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas stepped into the blinding glare. Then came Jack Nicholson,then Rosanna Arquette, then Kiefer Sutherland, then Daryl Hannah, then Andy Garcia... There was no question that this invitation-only gala evening had attracted the cream of Hollywood. But few of the people gathered would have recognised the real star of the show: a lassie from Washington, Tyne and Wear, formerly known as plain Heather Mills, now Lady McCartney.
Heather and Paul McCartney were co-hosting the fourth annual Adopt-A-Minefield Gala, a $1,000-a-head dinner and concert at the Century-Plaza. The McCartneys are patrons of the charity, which aims to publicise the global landmine crisis and collect funds for mine-clearing; the concert would raise $2m for landmine victims. For most of the1, 500 guests the highlight of the evening was the concert, featuring McCartney and Neil Young. But before the music began it was Heather's show from the moment she emerged in a strapless Valentino gown, hand in hand with her husband, and walked through the ballroom with applause ringing in her ears.
All the early speakers paid tribute to her undoubted courage and spirit. The 2004 "honorees" were called up to receive awards for their work on behalf of Adopt-A-Minefield. "Calling her my friend is a great honour," gushed the honoree Wendy Walker Whitworth, producer of Larry King Live. "I am totally awed by her kindness and love."
"Heather is a shining example of hope and bravery in the face of adversity," said Josephine Eastman, another honoree, and the sister of McCartney's late wife, Linda. (It was Josephine who got Heather involved in Adopt-A-Minefield.)
After Eastman's speech, Heather quipped: "I don't know why you people haven't got a female president yet." Many of those present stirred uncomfortably in their seats at being addressed as "you people". In a video produced by Heather,shown on two huge screens, we watched her in Cambodia,talking to landmine victims, visiting hospitals, describing, in her Geordie lilt, the horrors wrought by landmines left behind after war, particularly on innocent children. Then it was time for her speech. She stepped up to the lectern with all the confidence of an international diplomat about to address the United Nations Assembly and began by warning those present that America needed to think about what it was doing, "throwing bombs at a country" in a "so-called just cause" and creating a thirst for revenge. "People have to elect the right president," she said, making it clear she was not thinking of George W Bush. (This was three weeks before the presidential election.)
I was at a table with a group of staunch Republicans. Most thought her speech was offensive, and one summed up the feelings of the table when he said: "I don't give a rat's butt write that in your notebook what she thinks. I didn't pay all this money to be told how to vote by a Englishwoman, then get served a plate of carbohydrates." (The fact that the dinner was strictly vegetarian, in deference to the wishes of the McCartneys, did not sit well with some steak-eating Californians.) During her speech Heather talked rather vaguely about how she had lost her leg. "My mother lost a leg at the same age as me," she said. "Then I worked on the front lines in Bosnia. Then I lost a leg. Then we got Princess Diana involved [in the landmine campaign], then I met my husband, President Putin and Colin Powell. It is all about using contacts and networking to make a difference..."
"Did she lose her leg in Bosnia?" a woman at my table asked. "No," I replied, "Kensington." I forbore to add that Heather's mother still had two legs when she died in 1989.
The talk-show host Jay Leno conducted an amiable auction to raise funds, which was partially hijacked by Heather, who first offered up her Valentino gown ("I got it at a discount," she joked), which went for $10,000. She then grappled with Leno for the hand microphone and, to his playful embarrassment, invited bids for his underpants. They fetched $2,000. Later, whipping up bids for an oil painting by McCartney, Leno cracked: "Listen, the sooner you buy this crap, the sooner Paul will play." It was a relief when McCartney and his band eventually took the stage. He can still bring on the magic, and even the sour Republicans round my table began to look as if they were enjoying themselves for the first time that night. The concert ended just after midnight. On their way out, every guest was given a bag stuffed with a copy of Heather Mills McCartney's autobiography, A Single Step, and the first issue of a new magazine, Privilege, which featured Heather on the cover. Inside was a long interview in which she talked about her life, how she was forced to steal food and clothes to survive when she was a homeless teenager, and how she reinvented herself as a model and businesswoman.
Who could not fail to be moved by her reminiscences? If only they were all true. For much of Heather's version of her rise and rise from misery to celebrity is fantasy. Ironically, the real story of how this former model was able to position herself between Princess Di and Mother Teresa in the spectrum of angels, marry McCartney and host dazzling celebrity-packed galas in LA is even more extraordinary than her own extraordinary version of events.
The defining moment in Heather Mills McCartney's life was the accident. It happened on August 8, 1993. She was standing on the corner of De Vere Gardens and Kensington Road in London with her then boyfriend, Rafaelle Mincione, a banker. As she stepped into the road she was knocked over by a police motorcyclist on an emergency call. When she woke up in hospital three days later, she found she had lost her left leg below the knee.
The tabloids described her as a "£200,000-a-year catwalk model with a golden future", although it would have been hard to find too many pictures of Heather on a catwalk. Her field was glamour pouting prettily in skimpy lingerie or swimwear. She had made an appearance on page three of The Sun five years earlier and was hired for "promotional" work, adding some welcome sex appeal to dry corporate events. Many young women she was only 25 would have been devastated by losing a leg, particularly if they earned a living from their good looks. But in one way at least, it was the best thing that ever happened to Heather, because it instantly provided what she she seemed to crave most: publicity. Within two weeks of the accident, she was negotiating the sale of her life story from her hospital bed. The People won the bidding with an offer reported to be in the region of £180,000 and opened its first double-page spread with a classic tabloid tear-jerker: "Gorgeous model Heather Mills gazed down at the stump where her shapely left leg once was and wept..."
No doubt to the irritation of The People, Heather was talking freely to some other newspapers about how she was on the brink of hitting the big time as a model, about how, during her bleakest moments, she tried to "think of others who were suffering", about how she had tried to end her "whirlwind romance" with Rafaelle Mincione but how he insisted on sticking by her. By the time she was up and about on an artificial leg, she had become something of a celebrity, described as "the courageous model" or the "tragic model". With her determination not to let her disability blight her life, she was an inspiration to young amputees, happy to be photographed with what she referred to as her "stump".
In November that year, she began thinking about doing something to help landmine victims in Bosnia and Croatia.She had discovered that there were thousands of discarded artificial limbs in Britain not being used. Undaunted by advice that prostheses need to be individually made and fitted, she rounded up 4,500 unwanted artificial limbs and organised a convoy to Zagreb for a filmed report broadcast on BBC1's Good Morning with Anne and Nick. However, Croatia had little need for second-hand limbs shipped from Britain. Every Croatian citizen had the right to be fitted with prosthetic limbs; virtually all fees for fitting and rehabilitation were paid by the Croatian Institute for Health Insurance.
In 1995 she wrote her autobiography, Out on a Limb, which would be hailed a bestseller. (It was republished in America in 2002 as A Single Step.) She recalled a childhood so bereft of love that she ran away from home at 13, joined a travelling fair and ended up sleeping under the arches at Waterloo station. Much of this was pure fantasy.
Heather was born on January 12, 1968, and grew up in Washington, Tyne and Wear, the middle child of Mark and Beatrice Mills. By Heather's account, her parents' marriage was not made in heaven. Mark Mills, a former army officer, was a feckless, social-climbing wife-beater who was incapable of showing affection towards his children, and dragged his family from place to place as his fortunes waxed and waned. She described an incident, while at primary school aged seven, when she and her friend Margaret Amble were "kidnapped" by the local swimming teacher. He was meant to take them to a swimming gala in Darlington but instead held them in his flat for three days. Heather said he only fondled her but took Margaret into his bedroom each night. Her former friend, Margaret, says this is a wildly exaggerated account, but she cannot talk any more about it, as she is about to sue Heather for breach of privacy. Her solicitor, Graham Atkins, confirmed a suit is pending.
When Heather was nine, her mother ran off with an actor, Charles Stapley, leaving her children in the care of their father. Beatrice had met Stapley when he was appearing at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and they set up home together in Clapham, south London. Heather assumed many of her mother's household duties. A few years later, Mark Mills was sent to prison for 18 months for fraud. Heather claimed that this happened when she was 13 and that her brother, Shane, was sent to stay with his grandmother in Brighton while she and her sister, Fiona, moved into the flat in Clapham her mother shared with Stapley. Friction soon followed. Heather admits she was difficult, and she ran away from home a few weeks before her 14th birthday. She wrote that she found refuge with a travelling fair, where she was given a "tiny caravan" and a job making tea and cleaning the fairground equipment. "I'd open tins of hot dogs, set up the sugar in the candyfloss machines, get apples out of the crates and coat them with toffee. I was a gofer, but I didn't mind... To me, living on the fair was like being born again."
Her idyll apparently came to an end after six months, when she found her best friend, Peter, dead in his caravan with a hypodermic needle in his arm. "Every instinct in my body was telling me to run..." she said. She claims she ended up sleeping in a box under the arches at Waterloo station for four months, washing in the station toilets, eating at soup kitchens or stealing food from supermarkets. She then moved in with friends who had a flat over an off-licence near her mother's flat. According to Heather's timetable of events, this would have been near the end of 1982. But school records indicate she and her sister stayed at Usworth comprehensive in Tyne and Wear until April 1983, when presumably her father was sent to prison. They were then enrolled at Hydeburn comprehensive in Clapham on June 6, 1983. Heather remained at Hydeburn until July 2, 1984, when she left, aged 16. She was, in fact, enrolled at school the whole time she was meant to have run away from home.
The next character to appear in her narrative, under the pseudonym of Mr Penrose, was the owner of a jewellery shop in Clapham where Heather said she got a Saturday job. Mr Penrose was in reality Jim Guy, the owner of Penrose Jewellers. "Everything she wrote about me was lies," said Guy. "I never gave her a job; she just hung around and made tea. She told me her father was dead. The only thing that was true was she nicked stuff from the shop." Heather admitted in her book stealing a roll of gold chains from him and selling it to buy a moped. When Guy reported the theft, she confessed, was taken to court and put on probation.
When she left school she returned to Tyneside, where she hooked up with an old school friend, Steven Leighton, to whom she surrendered her virginity. She was on the dole for a while, then she did a brief spell as a waitress in a Newcastle restaurant called Amigos and at a casino called the Grace club, before persuading Steven to find a flat where they could live together. Two weeks after they moved in, she left him.
In innumerable interviews, Heather claims she started modelling and successfully bought and sold two franchise businesses before she was 18 which is odd, since at that age she was working as a cocktail waitress in a Soho club called Bananas. Here she met Alfie Karmal, a man she would later marry. Karmal was 31, divorced, and the sales manager of a catering company. He was smitten the moment he set eyes on Heather and they embarked on a passionate affair.
Karmal encouraged her to try her hand at modelling and shot her first portfolio of pictures. When she complained she was not getting enough work, he set her up with her own agency, Excel Management, in Marylebone. In her book, Heather said the agency was a great success and was later sold to a rival agency. Karmal says it collapsed and he used the name for a shell company to set up a nightclub in Luton. "I began to realise," he said, "that she had difficulty telling the truth. She told me a lot about her past that turned out to be embellished or even fantasy; she told me so many fibs that if she'd said it was raining I'd have checked."
Around this time, Heather met Ros Ashley, a model and former mistress of Adnan Khashoggi, the billionaire arms dealer. Khashoggi loved to surround himself with pretty girls and Heather could soon be found among them. It is a part of her life she has never talked about. Through the Khashoggi set, she met Eli Aboutacka, a Lebanese businessman who allowed her to use his Chelsea apartment, and bought her an MR2 sports car for her 19th birthday.
Throughout this time, Heather was maintaining an on-off relationship with Alfie Karmal, explaining her frequent absences on modelling assignments abroad. In summer 1988 she decided she wanted to marry Alfie. Being Heather, it was she who did the proposing. Alfie agreed and they spent the weekend looking at churches where the ceremony might take place. A few days later she announced that she had got a modelling job in Paris. She left Alfie again, then called from Paris to say goodbye: she was not coming back. In her book, Heather asserts that her contract in Paris was with a cosmetics company, unnamed, and that she would be earning £1,500 a day. Another factor may have been the presence in Paris of George Kazan, a diplomatic representative of the ruler of Qatar, who claims that he and Heather became lovers. Heather had apparently met Kazan through Eli Aboutacka.
Heather had been gone for six months when she called Alfie Karmal, out of the blue, to say she was on a ferry from Calais to Dover and would he pick her up? Karmal, still besotted, drove to Dover to find Heather contrite. He was not able to get the full story from her, but gathered she had been mixed up with some rich Arabs and had to leave Paris urgently. "It was very seedy but I ended up giving her the benefit of the doubt, as I always did."
Heather by now was literally begging Karmal to marry her. He agreed on one condition that she would see a psychiatrist about "her problems with the truth". She attended six sessions at a private hospital, two of them with her fiancι. "I believe Heather lost her sense of reality at an early age," he said, "when her father told her to lie to the rent man about not being in. Most children are told not to lie and this shapes their conscience. But if you're told it's all right when you're young, lying becomes an automatic response."
The marriage took place on May 6, 1989. Heather looked stunning in a white lace dress and Alfie wore a white tie and tails. They moved into a large four-bedroom house with a swimming pool in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. Their first year of marriage was, says Karmal, their happiest time, but problems soon arose. Karmal was busy with his business interests while Heather languished at home. She became depressed after suffering an ectopic pregnancy and a miscarriage. To cheer her up, Karmal offered to pay for her to go on a skiing holiday in Yugoslavia with the children from his first marriage and his ex-wife, with whom Heather had become close. It was to be Heather's 23rd-birthday present. Heather fell in love with skiing and her ski instructor, Milos. At the end of the holiday, she returned to Hoddesdon determined to go back to Slovenia, and to Milos. She sold the BMW convertible and some jewellery Karmal had given her and disappeared, again, out of his life. The couple eventually divorced.
Mrs Karmal exchanged her comfortable life in the English suburbs for a bedsit in a terraced house in Ljubljana, but had no regrets. "I'd have lived in a cardboard box on the streets," she wrote, "if it meant I could be with Milos." She began training as a ski instructor and picked up occasional modelling assignments. On June 27, 1991, simmering tensions throughout the Balkans erupted into a full-scale civil war. Heather and Milos escaped by car across the border into Austria and made their way back to London, where they moved in with Heather's sister, Fiona. She explains in her book that during the few months she had spent in Slovenia, she had become deeply involved with the country and its people and wanted to do something to help, so she set up a Slovenian crisis centre, where refugees could make inquiries about their families at home and get advice about finding work. She also accompanied food-and-medical-aid convoys to Croatia almost on a monthly basis. "As the fighting increased our convoys sometimes became caught in the crossfire. Once, while we were inside a hospital helping to move elderly patients into a cellar, the shelling started again and we had to dive for cover as glass and masonry flew through the air. Three people died in the ward I was helping to evacuate, but I didn't feel at all afraid."
Sometime afterwards, Heather described being shelled and seeking cover in a trench, where she huddled next to the bodies of two dead soldiers for an hour. Curiously, she made no mention of these adventures in the interviews she gave to the tabloids after her accident. Throughout this period she found time to continue modelling in England and was on the books of the Anne Scott agency. "So many negative things have been written about Heather," sighed Anne Scott, "that I really don't want to say anything about her." Well, I suggested, why not say something positive? "Oh, all right. She was a nice girl, a hard worker and had a good personality. She was fine for promotion work."
Milos was long gone by the time of the accident and, despite reports about how Rafaelle Mincione was standing by Heather and how they were planning to marry ("the intensity of our love was incredible"), it never happened.
The publication of Out on a Limb in June 1995 marked Heather's emergence as a fully fledged celebrity as well as a tireless charity worker. She was invited to Downing Street to receive a Daily Star Gold Star award from the prime minister John Major; The Times presented her with its Human Achievement Award; she took part in a swimathon organised by the Olympic gold-medallist Duncan Goodhew. No wonder it was soon being put about that she had been nominated for a Nobel peace prize. It is now established in her biography that she is a 1996 Nobel peace prize nominee, something that is impossible to prove or disprove, as the identities of all nominees are kept secret for 50 years after their nomination. All that can be said is that nominees are proposed in the preceding year by previous laureates, eminent scholars and "qualified institutions or individuals". With the best will in the world, it is hard to imagine these worthies had heard of Heather in 1995.
Heather also claims the British Chambers of Commerce presented her with its Outstanding Young Person of the Year award and created the Heather Mills award, to be donated annually to a young person who had overcome hardship or disability. This came as a surprise to the British Chambers of Commerce. "We've never had an Outstanding Young Person of the Year award," said its spokesman, Olly Scott. "Neither do we have a Heather Mills Award."
None of this is to diminish the genuinely good work she undertook. She always found time to visit amputees and bolster their spirits by demonstrating how little she had been affected by her accident. She set up a charity, the Heather Mills Health Trust, to raise money for child-amputee victims worldwide and to lobby for the NHS to provide better prostheses. Judging by an interview she gave in January 1998, one could have been forgiven for thinking she was a superwoman. She was a rollerblader, scuba diver, mountain climber, tennis player, horse rider and skier "her downhill speed matched that of the German world champion" who was training for the winter Olympics. But in her private life, romantic happiness was elusive.
After the departure of Rafaelle Mincione in 1995 (she called their wedding off 24 hours before the final fitting of her wedding dress) she "fell madly in love" with Marcus Stapleton, a tennis-tournament organiser. She soon fell out of love with Stapleton and in love with the TV director Chris Terrill, 47, who made a documentary with her about Cambodian landmine victims. Terrill was besotted by Heather and proposed to her on a fishing boat going up the Mekong river. They returned to Britain in July 1999 and announced their intention to marry, but fate intervened in the form of a phone call from Sir Paul McCartney.
In May 1999, Heather had been asked to present an award at the Daily Mirror Pride of Britain ceremony at London's Dorchester hotel. Among the celebrities in attendance was McCartney, who was there to make an award in memory of his late wife, Linda. On the night her Cambodia film was broadcast, McCartney rang Heather at home, said he would like to help her with her charity work and suggested they should meet. Soon afterwards, it was revealed that McCartney had donated £150,000 to the Heather Mills Health Trust, and gossip columns were full of innuendo about the exact nature of McCartney's interest in Heather's charity.
Six days before Heather was due to marry Chris Terrill, she called him from an airport and called it off. She said she was going to Greece. In fact, she flew to New York, where she met McCartney. A number stories of started to circulate about why she had walked out on Terrill: one was that she had discovered he was an MI5 spy tasked to undermine her landmine work because it was hitting the profits of the British arms trade; another was she had found out he was gay. Now pursued by the media, Heather was less adept at dealing with questions. She is on record as saying: "[Paul] is a very caring, compassionate and thoughtful man. I suppose that's why he was drawn to me." In April 2001 they announced their engagement.
That same month Heather gave an astonishing interview to my colleague Jasper Gerard, in which she revealed she was considering an offer of a peerage from the Labour government, that all the parties had invited her to stand as a parliamentary candidate and that she had backed out of a meeting with President Bill Clinton because she did not think she could be seen publicly endorsing the Democrats. She also let drop that she was the No 1 woman speaker in Britain, No 3 in Europe and No 7 in the world.
The actor Charles Stapley, Heather's effective stepfather for many years, says he is no longer interested in talking about her, but he is on record describing her as a "damaged personality" living in a "confused fantasy world". Conversely, Keith Kelly, the director of Adopt-A-Minefield, is full of praise for Heather, who became patron of the charity after it merged with the Heather Mills Health Trust: "Heather is 100% more positive than anyone I've ever worked with."
Subniv Babuta, a BBC producer who has worked with her, says she is dedicated, generous and kind, and "has star quality; her presence fills the room". "She was gritty, funny and brave," said the journalist Madeleine Kingsley, who accompanied Heather on a landmine tour. Richard Matthew, the director of the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs at the University of California, Irvine, which has established a Heather Mills McCartney Fellowship in Human Security, says she has made a huge contribution in the anti-landmine campaign: "Her work is something in which we can all take pride."
Marriage to McCartney in June 2002 catapulted her into the international celebrity A-list. Interviewed on CNN's Larry King Live, she "popped off" her false leg and invited King to inspect it. The talk-show host asked her if her false leg was not a "turn-off" for McCartney. Not at all, she said, not him or any of her previous boyfriends.
"Every guy I've been out with has asked me to marry them within a week," she quipped. Subsequently invited back as a guest presenter this year to interview Paul Newman, Heather turned in a performance variously described as "embarrassing" and "simply awful". While Newman became increasingly taciturn, Heather prattled away, oblivious to his discomfort, talking about the work she was doing in Afghanistan to fight the heroin trade (a new dimension, previously unmentioned, to her charity endeavours) and the problems created by the "poppy growers back in Kuwait". Kuwait? Could she have meant Kabul? Heather also suggested to the bemused film star that he should follow her example and turn down future awards.
Stories continued to circulate that McCartney's children deeply resented their new stepmother, but Heather kept denying it. She told New York magazine that she got on brilliantly with Paul's fashion-designer daughter, Stella so brilliantly, in fact, that only two weeks previously Stella had issued a press release emphasising how much she liked her new stepmother. This was denied by Stella's publicist, who pointed out that Stella never discussed her private life and that no such press release would have been issued.
The question remains: why does she do it? "Most people avoid telling lies that can very easily be disproved," explained Professor Aldert Vrij, author of Detecting Lies and Deceit: The Psychology of Lying, "but people who have told many lies in the past become over-confident and think they can get away with it. A common reason for lying is to enhance your status you have an idea how you want to be seen by others and lie to achieve that position."
Heather would not be interviewed for this article. Her publicist, Anya Noakes, said she had "no plans" to undertake further interviews. Understandably, the McCartneys' formidable PR and legal team are fiercely protective and swing into action whenever a threat to her reputation is perceived.
Two years ago she won £50,000 in libel damages from the Sunday Mirror after it wrongly alleged that only a small proportion of the money she had raised for earthquake victims in India had been distributed. Last year an independent production company making a documentary about her for Channel 4 was subjected to a barrage of dire legal warnings when it became clear that the programme-makers were investigating the claims she had made about her life. No legal action followed the broadcast.
When Anya Noakes heard about this article, she called me to warn me that the Sunday Mirror had had to pay Heather "a lot of money" after publishing unsubstantiated allegations about her, and that she would not hesitate to sue The Sunday Times if my article damaged her charity work. My suggestion that it would be in her best interest to set the record straight about her life met with no response.
Watching Heather's performance at the gala evening in LA, one could only marvel at her confidence as she took over the show and delivered her ill-judged speech. "I might not have bothered to put up the dough," a departing guest observed, "if I'd known we were going to have two hours of Mrs McCartney and 45 minutes of her husband."
The great irony of the fantasy life that Heather Mills McCartney has constructed for herself is that she never really needed it. With her brains, beauty, energy, ambition, courage and talent, she could surely have got where she is today without rewriting her life story. She clawed her way out of an unhappy childhood, started out with nothing, shamelessly made use of her ability to bewitch men, turned a horrific accident to her advantage, became a minor celebrity in her own right and married Paul McCartney. The true story is just as remarkable as the fantasy.