The incredibly successful Hoppen girls share their secret to success and let us in on their family dynamic.
For a woman of 30 (at the time of publishing in 2015), Natasha Corrett has built an impressive business. She runs her own food-delivery company, Honestly Healthy, and already has three cookery books under her belt, based on her own alkaline diet. Her achievements are perhaps partially influenced by her heritage – her mother is the interior designer Kelly Hoppen, known as much for being the tough, shrewd investor on Dragon’s Den as the Queen of Taupe. Kelly herself started working at 16 when she designed a friend’s kitchen and discovered a winning entrepreneurial streak. In turn, Kelly’s mother, Stephanie Hoppen, remains a formidable presence on the art scene, running her own gallery in Walton Street and with an international schedule that would make women half her age quail. Kelly was also the step-mother to Sienna and Savannah Miller (she was married to their father, American banker, Ed Miller till 2003) and they too have gone on to achieve fame and success as Hollywood actress and fashion designer respectively.
So is the empire-building instinct inherited or taught? It’s certainly rare for three generations of women to have accomplished so much across three different fields so I was curious to understand the family dynamic in which the Hoppen women have thrived and honed their skills.
Given their combined workloads, it took several attempts to arrange a meeting but early this year I finally ring the bell at Kelly’s new premises near Ravenscourt Park, West London. From an unassuming cul-de-sac, I enter 9,500 feet of open-plan space set with sofas, made squashy and inviting with grey crushed velvet cushions. Candles scent the air with lemongrass and miniature plants in glass bowls add vivid spots of colour that glow with spring freshness against Kelly’s signature taupe backdrop. Upstairs, under the eaves, is Kelly’s ordered office where she greets me in thigh-high crocodile-pattern boots and lush grey cashmere.
Natasha bursts in. ‘Budge up,’ she laughs, wriggling into her mother’s armchair and nestling against her. Natasha wears her dark hair pulled back almost severely, in contrast to her mother’s exuberant corkscrew curls. She is eating a bowl of her own fennel and pear soup and is an advertisement for the efficacy of her diet – slim, clear-skinned and bright-eyed.
‘Why can’t I go on your detox diet?’ asks Kelly.
‘You can’t train if you’re just eating smoothies and soups Mum,’ retorts Natasha, rolling her eyes.
‘Why not? I’m Superwoman,’ laughs Kelly and starts fiddling with Natasha’s bracelets.
‘You gave me those,’ says Natasha.
‘I know but I want them!’ giggles Kelly.
‘You’ve got the same haircut as Sienna!’ cries Kelly as Savannah arrives from Stroud, where she lives with her husband and four children.
‘What label’s that?’ asks Natasha and Savannah yanks at the neck of her iridescent top to try and look.
After much hugging, Savannah settles down and plops sugar lumps into her tea, despite Natasha’s mock frowns of disapproval.
I feel I am intruding on a close family gathering but they are immediately open about the highs and lows of family life. ‘The hardest point in all of it was when Ed came to live with me,’ says Kelly. ‘I was 28 and Tash was five and at first when Savannah and Sienna arrived, it was like an amazing sleepover but the reality was that it was Tash’s home and suddenly it was being shared. When you give birth you’re not given a leaflet and Ed and I worked very hard to bring the three kids up. In the end it was a unit that worked.’ She turns to Savannah: ‘I remember when you rang me up and said, “Now I know what it’s like!” and now I want Tash to have a baby so I get all the praise I deserve!’ she jokes, nudging her daughter.
‘When Tash joined the girls boarding at Heathfield, my business really took off,’ she continues. ‘Ed supported me hugely. You balance it. I always picked the girls up from school and gave them supper and then I’d go back to work either at home or just across the road where the office was. I enjoy juggling.’
She still does and is celebrating 40 years since she started her business. She moved premises just before Christmas and has so much new work that she’s had to resign from Dragon’s Den. Yet family is paramount.
‘Three years ago Mum was filming for Channel Five and I snapped my Achilles heel dancing at a wedding,’ says Natasha. ‘Mum just dropped everything to come and be right by my side immediately.’
‘Her priority is the family,’ agrees Savannah. ‘So much so that she hates it if we don’t text back straight away. She’s brilliant at holding us all together. Last summer we all went away to Capri together. She’s an amazing granny. My middle daughter, Lara, six, kept asking Kelly, “So you were married to Grandpa Ed?” and Bali, my three-year-old, would say, “Gwanny Kelly, I love you.” Kelly took Bali and I to a proper Capri sandal shop and bought her a beautiful pair of sparkly sandals. My kids are feral so making them sit round a table every day at mealtimes taught them how to socialise. It’s so important and Kelly’s really relaxed, accepting and patient. She never flaps.’
‘No – you’re the one who gets stressed!’ retorts Natasha, laughing.
‘I know,’ giggles Savannah. ‘But Kelly said I was a really good mother and should be proud of myself.’
‘Because you are a really good mother,’ insists Natasha. ‘I think Mummy looks up to you and is awestruck by how you do it, having three under ten.’
Making the family sit around the table at mealtimes was a habit Kelly inherited. ‘My mother was an antiquarian book dealer and ran her business from home so I spent my time with all her Bohemian friends – writers, artists, actors. South Africans are very sociable and we’d have parties but I hated having to sit there at the table where you literally had to put your hand up to be heard,’ says Kelly. ‘But the point about families is that you can’t be precious or feel hurt. The main thing is that we’re all there for each other. As I’ve got older, I’ve got a lot calmer. You level out and it all becomes more manageable in your head though there are still days when you think your brain will explode – but then Tash will come in and give me a hug.’
‘Or I’ll phone up and blabber about some problem down the phone,’ adds Savannah.
‘My mother says that my biggest achievement has been to bring up my family with all the step-children together,’ says Kelly, taking Savannah’s hand and stroking it. ‘You have to love them the same.’
‘Though you love me more!’ jokes Natasha.
I ask Kelly how Michael, her brother, a successful fine art photography dealer, fits into such a feminine picture.
‘He doesn’t!’ she laughs.
Kelly leaves for the National Television Awards where she’s a guest of the BBC. She hugs both girls warmly. ‘Don’t say horrible things about me!’ she cries as she goes.
‘I’m very close to Granny Steph too,’ says Natasha after Kelly has left. ‘Granny’s a huge part of my life and I dedicated my last book to her. Sometimes she’s my first point of call. She’s the typical family head. She’s 70-something, sharp, running her company, flying round the world. She’s amazing.’
‘She’s probably even a spy or something,’ jokes Savannah.
‘My Mum and my Granny are the two most inspirational people on the planet, juggling business and family,’ says Natasha. ‘They’ve done it all before, If I listen to them, I won’t make mistakes.’
So what advice has Kelly handed down to her girls? ‘She only gives advice when she sees you’re struggling,’ answers Natasha. ‘Then she might say, “Based on my experience…” But you’d be silly not to take it given she’s been there, done that and got the T-shirt several thousand times. But then if we don’t listen to her she says, “Pull yourselves together!”’
‘But I quite like that – there’s no room for self-pity,’ says Savannah. ‘You pick up stuff from her by default. Watching her made me see that if I worked hard I’d get from A to B. She was always honest and open so there were never secrets. And she always believed in us. When things were down, she’d show us a way of flipping them. She’s able to be quite objective and her overview is incredibly helpful. What I took from my childhood with her was inspiration. Kelly’s always so upbeat – no such thing as an obstacle, a bad day or a moan.’
‘That’s true,’ adds Natasha. ‘I’m dyslexic like Mum and she made me focus on my strengths, always saying, “Do what you’re good at,” and she’s been so supportive since I’ve been running my business. She’s my biggest fan.’
I wonder how she is as a mother-in-law. ‘We’re all very powerful in our own right so if a man was going to feel threatened he’d have gone a long time ago,’ says Natasha. ‘My fiancé [Simon, whom Natasha is marrying later this year] and Mum have a lovely relationship. If shit hit the fan she’d stamp on it really quickly but I’m happy to have someone really protective over me.’
I ask about Kelly’s partner, retired businessman, John Gardiner.
‘He’s fun and sweet,’ says Savannah.
‘She’s definitely bagged a good one,’ says Natasha. ‘We were at a party and I told Mum, “That silver fox is checking you out.” They didn’t talk that night but they met again at a dinner and they’ve been together two years and nine months. If she was here, she’d just light up, she’s so in love.’
After an hour and a half I have failed to discover a single note of discord in this typically modern messy family spread over a series of relationships. Even Kelly’s earlier breezy dismissal of her brother is down to the two of them simply being too busy to meet regularly (Michael has four daughters of his own). All the girls have inherited Kelly’s ability to juggle.
‘As a family we’ve always tried to find that balance between town and country,’ says Natasha. ‘When we were kids, Mum’s friend, Carol gave us a cottage in Wiltshire so we went out of London every weekend.’ Today Natasha still rents a cottage in Gloucestershire and Kelly and John also share a rural retreat.
‘My husband is a wild adventure type and wouldn’t survive in London,’ says Savannnah. ‘In Stroud everyone’s shuffling around in their handknits, which is wonderful but I need to be in London two or three days a week or it’s too easy to slip into slipper-socks mentality.’
What distinguishes the Hoppens as successful career women is that beneath the high-octane, sophisticated polish lie down-to-earth women who are honest, open and humorous about their struggles with relationships. Despite all the divorce and heartache, they have built careers they enjoy and appear to be genuinely happy. ‘Kelly always says you’ve got to look forward and see the good in everybody,’ says Natasha. It’s a simple, homespun adage but is clearly a touchstone that works for the Hoppen women who personify an extraordinary combination of career urbanite and country bumpkin. They are a mix of country and town temperament that keeps them making lemonade from even the sourest lemons life has thrown at them.
Originally featured in our May 2015 issue.